Five Elective Classes Any Illustrator Student should take

Anatomy Class

What’re the biggest problems I see with young arts? Proportions, proportions, and proportions. It’s amazing to me how many young artists moving from high school to college have an issue with proper proportions and anatomy. I was in the same boat, too (I still struggle with this myself, so I shouldn’t be the pot calling the kettle black). For me, I was so excited to draw cartoons. I focused so much of my time and energy on cartoon and anime anatomy that I never developed a feel for the fundamentals. I know that this can be one of the more boring classes, and so many young artists I see want to jump straight into drawing cartoons, but having an advanced understanding of realistic human anatomy (ergo, “rule” of proper form) helps you break those rules when doing cartoon anatomy. Or if you are someone who enjoys drawing realism, then an anatomy class is a must, especially for artists who want to go into science fiction or fantasy art.

Environmental and Perspective Class

Another huge issue that I have and that many of my peers have is rendering environments with interesting and (most importantly) correct perspectives. Perspective is one of those elements in a drawing that when done correctly can make a work of art dynamic, visually stunning, and extremely successful. However, if done wrong or too simple, the drawing appears dull, lazy, or just plain awkward to look at. Environment classes teach the artist how to not only make great scenes but also how to design characters that go along with the background. So often I see high school and middle school artists focus all of their attention on drawing characters, and they leave the background empty. Remember, a background is almost like a character in and of itself. It has a unique visual rhetoric and conveys emotion. Taking a couple environmental art classes seriously helps build those foundation skills to render gorgeous scenes which make the character and story enticing.  

Sculpting

This seems like a subject that is totally out of left field. I thought so, too, when I was studying two-dimensional art. Then I had the horrible realization when I was drawing a character from the back. It was hard for me to fully visualize the character on a three-dimensional plane. It’s important to understand an object, character, and environment from several different perspectives and positions, especially for animators or concept artists. Making an object and planning how a viewer is going to perceive it from multiple points is so fundamental. Sculpting teaches the artist to visualize a subject as a tangible, lifelike object.

Art History (Western and Non-Western)

This can be such a boring subject with the wrong professor, but this is one of the most important classes that I could recommend. In another article, I talked about looking into previous artistic movements in order to find your own original style. This is a great class that will expose you to dozens of different artistic movements that you might not have ever heard of. However, with that being said, it’s also important to never limit yourself to just one worldview. Many artists I know usually only take a Western art history class where they study works from the four great masters of the Renaissance or of the accomplishments of western artists, but, if possible, always take a class on Non-Western art. The reason I suggest this is because the art market is so incredibly diverse. There are other marketable styles that can reach a global audience and, oftentimes, schools are guilty of teaching just European art as their core art history class and offer maybe one class on South American, Asian, Native/Indigenous, or African art. Remember, knowledge and beauty don’t come from just one source.

Sequential Art

When people think of Sequential Art, the first thing that usually pops into mind is comic book art and graphic novels, but those aren’t the only examples. Plenty of animation students and illustrators gain a lot from these classes for illustrating children’s books or for storyboarding. This is one of those amazing classes that teaches narrative structure and planning. In illustration, the goal is to make a single still image that is supposed to convey the entire message, but, in sequential art classes, the goal is to make a series of images that flow together to make a readable story. Again, this class may not be for everyone, but narrative and story structure are so important for illustrators that want to go into fields like children’s/young adult literature, graphic novels, storyboarding, animation, etc.

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