All of the images featured in this article come from archives of my own work so not to impose unwanted criticism. The intention of this article is not to categorize artists, but to categorize similarities of different skill levels of representational drawing. Please also note that skill level in representational drawing does not equate to the worth of an artist's creative ability. But skill in representational drawing is very important to have in a lot of art disciplines. It is a skill that takes a lifetime to learn. Skill does not come from talent. Instead, talent affects the perseverance, discipline, and desire of the individual to develop skill.What is Representational Drawing?
Representational drawing is a fancy way of saying trying to re-create something you see in real life on paper (or whatever you are drawing on). When we turn about 10 or 11 years old, or brains begin to develop a different perception of visual space than what we could understand before in the earlier years of elementary school. Some people can take this different perception and run with it, while others struggle and quit. No one has been able to pinpoint why this is but art teachers around the nation have several theories. The most supported theory is at that age, you begin to get highly critical of yourself. Just a few years ago, if a teacher gave you crayons, you were happy to color up any picture. It didn't matter if your mom's head was bigger than the house behind her or if your face had more lumps than a potato. But by as early as third grade, suddenly, you realize how unrealistic your drawings are and begin to equate unrealistic with bad artwork. Frustrations builds. Confidence plummets. If you can't draw that flower "perfectly" realistic, then why bother? These children that develop this notion become the people later in life that will say "I am not an artist. I can't draw." Notice how their work looks like it was frozen in time....still representing the world visually around them as they did before they came to the conclusion.
Children that bypass this hurdle of criticism either push it aside and draw whatever they want anyway, or are observant and are successful in picking up details that other kids miss. Some will argue it is an natural inclination and others will argue it is a fostered inclination. Either way, these children are today, people who like to draw. Let me also add that some people go through the criticism hurdle badly, but come back later to try again. These are people who start to develop their drawing skill later in life.
Before I move on, I want to again emphasize that how good you are at drawing DOES NOT make you a good or bad artist. If you have trouble wrapping your head around that, please have a look at this really inspiring artist who collaborated with a 4 year old to produce some really high-caliber artwork: busymockingbird.com/2013/08/27…How do we calibrate drawing skill?
Every person is different. Everyone learns at a different pace. Just like the music discipline, you don't have to be in band in high school to one day decide you want to learn how to play the oboe. Anyone at any age can start the process of developing representational drawing skill. The categories I am about to provide for you are based on information I have gathered from my profession as an art teacher. It does not measure artistic ability. Do NOT use this to calibrate yourself as an artist. This is only meant to assess specific samples of your work for the specific skill of representational drawing. It's not an overall assessment of the artist as a creative. For instance, I might produce a digital painting at a level 5, but I might also produce a sculpture at a level 1.
This is handy to know especially when thinking about submitting your artwork to groups or juried art galleries. I am also doing this to provide a resource to
because so many people that submit their work and have pieces rejected are still asking for the reason of the decline when what we look for is clearly outlined in the submission guidelines. This calibration is also specifically geared around illustration and figures within a drawing. You will notice me using the terms Low Caliber, Medium Caliber, and High Caliber. Consider High Caliber as the standard for professional art contracts. Game companies, publishers, and art agencies will generally not accept anything but High Caliber work. The Levels that have a
next to them are levels of artwork that generally get accepted in the AnthroCommunity
group.I will be starting the levels off with what a 10 year old is capable
of doing. So here we go!
Level 1 ------------------- LOW CALIBER
Beginning to Explore: At this level, the artwork can range from the artist trying to capture basic shapes up to showing interest in articulating specific details. What is Likeable
- You can figure out what the drawing is representing.
- Basic facial expressions and setting can be understood.
- Different characters are easy to distinguish from one another.
- Developing understanding of gestures.
What makes these examples LOW CALIBER:
- The first image was done on lined paper, presenting a lack of seriousness about the artwork.
- Furthermore, the artist did not crop out the scanning bed and the notebook spine, showing a lack of care/knowledge in digital image clean up.
- Coloring lines going in different directions demonstrates lack of skill in coloring techniques.
- Demonstrates poor knowledge of the art elements and principles (i.e. contrast, unity, composition)
- Lacks understanding of proportion (a lot of you refer to this as anatomy)
- General media technique feels "unfinished" and sloppy.
Level 2 ------------------- LOW CALIBER
Growing Pains: The artist begins to capture not only detail in shape, but details in gesture and in value. What is Likeable
- Characters are clearly represented with specific details and expressions.
- Begins to show basic understanding of light and shadows.
- Demonstrates a growing understanding of media techniques. (Using pencil in one direction like supposed to this time!)
- Better understanding of negative shapes and positive space develops.
- Shows an interest in using/blending more than just basic colors.
What makes these examples LOW CALIBER:
- Although overall presentation is neater, messy lines compete for attention
- Media techniques are still very developing. Artist is still blissfully unaware of the "don't use dodge & burn for shading" rule in photoshop.
- Still lacking in elements such as contrast and unity.
- Still very figure focused and not a very interesting composition.
Level 3 ------------------- MEDIUM CALIBER
Focus Shift: The work becomes less about specific details only and more about the composition as a whole. What is Likeable
- Character personalities are becoming very clear.
- Demonstrates a growing understanding of foreshortening and contrapposto in figures. (Actions start to speak louder!)
- More focus on an over-all presentation of the image. Careful thought about figure placement shows.
- The artist's understanding of proportions are becoming more realistic/ believable.
- Shadow and highlights are becoming more obvious.
What makes these examples MEDIUM CALIBER:
- Still shows a hesitancy towards contrast.
- may still include digital image clean up hiccups and low understanding of image resolution. Big Hiccups can make the artwork fall back to low caliber status and thus not accepted by the anthrocommunity group.
- No knowledge of color theory yet demonstrated. Shadows are still handled in grays and darker shades of the hue.
Level 4 ------------------- MEDIUM CALIBER
Application and Experimentation: Having built good amount of confidence in drawing the figure, the artist begins to play in the "fun stuff". This is an art level that a lot of artists get stuck at without formal training or community/networking resources. What is Likeable
- Characters resonate emotion. Proportions are reasonably accurate.
- You start to really see the artist's "flavor" develop at this level.
- Understanding of color theory, composition, movement, and unity begin to be applied.
- Strong positive shapes and negative spaces are developing.
- Demonstrates a good understanding of medium techniques to create a unified artwork.
- Neatly presented, clear understanding of digital image clean up demonstrated.
What makes these examples MEDIUM CALIBER:
- Compositions may contain an unsure purpose or direction.
- Use of art elements and principles are not consistently successful.
Level 5 + ------------------- HIGH CALIBER
Demonstrating Professional Skills: The artist can tackle any shape or form and applies the art elements and principles successfully with every finished artwork they produce. Every mark is purposeful.
What makes these examples HIGH CALIBER:
- Compositions communicate the purpose of the image clearly.
- Utilizes different art elements and principles within an artwork to achieve a desired result consistently.
- Artwork is neatly presented, very clear, and eye-catching.
Does this Level mean there is no more to learn?
absolutely not. Artists that can create professional level work still have lots to learn!
It took me about 14 years to develop my representational drawing skill from a Level 1 to a Level 5. It's not easy. It takes desire and dedication.
What I hope you get most out of all this is that you can be a little more honest with yourself about your skill level when submitting to groups. If you know your work is a lot like a level 1 or 2, then submit to a group that accepts that level of work. You are bound to get more helpful feedback from artist who are growing at the same pace as you. Same goes for Level 3,4 & 5. If you are honest with yourself, you will most likely know why something was accepted or declined. I also hope you will understand where you are at in your skill developing journey and continue to pursue your drawing no matter what is said about your work or where it is accepted. We all start from humble beginnings. We are all learning and growing.