Friday, September 28, 2012

What I learned this summer...

Okay, technically is was last summer but the warm weather in GA still feels like summer to me.

First - a little about me...

I have been drawing, doodling, and sketching since I was in first grade (probably before that but I don't remember much younger than that). I witttled away time in my elementary school classes by drawing the characters on the many wonderful posters and banners that teachers used to decorate their classrooms. I was scolded in class when I colored tree trunks purple and car tires orange. I guess you could say, that I was thinking outside the box. In fourth grade, I read The Cartoonist by Betsy Byars and made my first connection to reading.

My love of drawing continued through high school and into college where I majored in Environmental Design (city planning) in college. My classes were focused on drafting so I was taught how to use a straight edge and angle to create buildings in perspective. For the color pieces for presentation, we (the students) were instructed to use the AD markers and colored pencils from our supply list but given no information about how to use them. While my drawing skills improved, it was because I was sketching buildings every day and not because of any teaching I was given. I took figure drawing for fun but it wasn't soo much fun because, like my drafting classes, we were told to draw without instruction about how to draw.

After graduation, I went on to FIT in New York and earned my BFA in Toy Design. I designed new toys every week for 2 years. I was taught how to present the information on the page for a final presentation drawing, but again, not taught how to draw - just where to place the elements on the page. Actually, we weren't taught that either - just told when we were doing something wrong and shown other student work that was done better so we had to figure out the rest of that lesson. Again, I was given basic drafting lessons which at that point made me want to scream with boredom because I had earned a degree in it. I took a ton of classes on advertising, design, model making - none of which had a "how to" element in the syllabus. It was assumed that by getting ourselves into that program, we could already draw.

After FIT, I designed toys for a few toy design companies for years. My ideas were great, my presentations good - but I never felt that my art was better than okay. My designs and ideas were good enough to get over 200 toys produced and sold in major retail stores. I wanted my artwork to be better and didn't know how to do it. At this point, I held a Bachelor's degree in City Planning and a Bachelor's degree in Fine Art in Toy Design and still hadn't had any drawing lessons.

Years later and another degree accomplished, I taught middle school art and technology. I taught students how to draw, paint, and sculpt in art class and drafting, engineering, electronics, and mechanics in technology. I taught them from a knowledge based on what I had to taught myself. Based on what my teachers had assumed that I already knew (but was never taught). 

Eventually, I wrote and illustrated my first picture book, Flap (due out November 2012). I developed my style for the drawings based on a combination of drafting and toy design. The illustrations were a lot of work but I enjoyed creating the characters in a form that lets others see what they looked like in my mind as I wrote the story.

Summer 2012, I created a plan to work on improving my drawings skills. I love the artwork created by Will Terry. The warmth of the lighting, the expressions on the characters, the look of texture on the surfaces. I purchased some of his video tutorials on Folio Academy and learned a huge lesson about my drawing skills. Actually, a life changing lesson. He showed an example of what most people think is a good drawing, a finished drawing. Then he showed how that drawing was actually only fifty percent complete. I was amazed. Totally amazed. I had been creating drawings with light and shadow but nobody had ever said, "That looks good, now take it further, add reflective light."

Will Terry showed me what I had been missing in my art. That doesn't mean that I can take my illustrations the other fifty percent of their journey to completion, but it does mean that I know where they need to go and I have an idea of how to get them there.

I highly recommend taking classes from the artists at Folio Academy. They are afordable, convenient (since you can watch them anytime from anywhere), and include high quality instruction.

Will spoke on one of his tutorials about using a program called Brushes to copy the colors used in photos - to help train your eye to find the light, shadow, subtle gradient changes that make texture appear from a two dimensional piece of art. Below is an example of my "copying technique" before learning from Will Terry how to take my drawings to the next level:
Here is an example of how my copying technique improved from the lessons taught by Will Terry:

Now, someone tell me why I spent seven years of college and $70,000 to try to learn what Will Terry and the Folio Academy could convey for under $100? (His videos are actually $30 or less, I bought several.)


  1. Wow! That's incredible Alison! it was really interesting to hear about your background, and how little some of those places you'd think taught drawing actually taught. But how amazing that after all that money and school it was Will Terry's convenient inexpensive course that really taught you something valuable! :)

  2. I enjoyed getting to know you more! So glad you had an enlightening experience! I'm interested to know what kind of toys you've developed!

  3. Thank you for sharing, not only your bio, but your technique. Must pass this to DD, who says she can't draw unless she copies a photograph. I like your image distillation.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing so deeply with us. One would certainly have expected those places to give more "how-to" -- sheesh. How wonderful that you had such a good experience with Will Terry's courses. The difference between the two bird illustrations is stunning. You're obviously going to go from great to fantastic now!

  5. Alison, came to you via Will's Facebook page. First congratulations on your success and hard work! Second, I feel the same way! Lovely work, enjoyed reading your blog post!

  6. Great website! I look forward to reading more...I came here via Debbie LaCroix. It is amazing how an inexpensive course such as this can produce such stellar results. I was an art major & I've definitely learned more from different formats, such as youtube & workshops, than from some of my puffed-up professors in college. Keep up the good work!