10 Ways to Make Your 2D Art More Interesting

I have always been a 2D based artist, not for lack of trying to branch out. I can make a 2-dimensional plane on paper look 3-dimensional, but when it comes to actually constructing a 3-dimensional object … my brain just does not work that way.

vernacularvillageroofI studied interior design in college, and I remember dreading the 3D model portion of each semester-long project. This is the one and only photograph I have of any of my models, and it is taken in aerial view because that was literally the only acceptable angle I could manage. At least this one wasn’t cut out of a Lucky Charms cereal box. Yes, I really turned in a model covered in pictures of colorful, Leprechaun themed marshmallows. Yes, it was sad. Now they have 3D printers for this crap.

For other artists out there who only travel in the world of 2D, it can be easy to feel stuck in a rut materials-wise. After all, you can make sculptures out of anything. 

0fb57244bef63cbbd90a127239d15868

No, really, I mean ANYTHING …

 

If you think outside the box, “flat” art on paper or canvas doesn’t have to be limiting. Here are 10 ways I’ve found that can spice up your current drawings or paintings, no matter what style you enjoy working in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Add Text
transformation

Transformation, 18×24 Mixed Media, Do-All of Bay City’s Annual Art Clash Award Winner

Adding pattern based text, small print from books, magazines, or the newspaper, automatically adds not physical but visual texture to a piece. It is a simple, intriguing way to add the appearance of greater detail to your piece, whether it is ripped and layered in the background or cut into shapes to fill in focal objects in the foreground.730a10c1435c579f6052846f164896a9

The meaning of the words don’t have to be important. Or, you can choose theme appropriate text and emphasize certain words to add to your piece’s meaning. This is a popular technique borrowed from art journaling and found text poetry.

 

2. Include Texture
the dance

The Dance, Awarded Best 2D in Creative 360’s Piece By Piece Exhibition 2015; 18x 24 prismacolor pencil, ink, watercolor, fabric, book pages, embroidery thread

2D doesn’t have to mean completely smooth and flat. Oftentimes painters paint with a palette knife, slathering on thick layers of paint to create an uneven surface that raises and dips to create visual interest. Gesso can also be used to build up an uneven surface on canvas. Another option is applying mixed media elements to paper to create a textured surface. In the piece above, I crumpled white fabric and dipped it in glue, applying it to the surface for the ground. I crinkled and rolled strips of book pages for the raised texture in the tree trunks and branches.

3. Accent With Metallics
the peacock

The Peacock, Awarded Best 2D in The Midland Artists Guild 2015 Juried Exhibition, 11×14 prismacolor pencil

Varying the surface sheen in a piece is a way to once again increase the visual interest, thus drawing viewer’s eyes and keeping their attention. Metallics are definitely something you want to use with restraint, but when not overdone they can really elevate a piece. It is harder to tell in a photo but in the drawing above, I used silver prismacolor for both the sleeves on her dress and the streaks in the pattern on the brim of her hat.

4. Include Pops of Color
hopeful

Hopeful, Award of Merit in The Midland Artists Guild 2015 Juried Exhibition. 11×14 Prismacolor Pencil 

Adding elements of color amongst an image of mostly black and white is a technique inspired by photo-manipulation. Photographers have been tinting black and white photos since long before Photoshop was ever conceived.

902fa847868c397eded214cf4c8fee5f

Our eyes are naturally drawn to contrast, and including a bright color or two within a sea of black and white provides a “surprise” for the viewer.

5. Draw Viewers To The Eyes

I may be a bit biased because eyes are my favorite part of the face to draw or paint, but then there is that famous saying, “eyes are the windows to the soul”. There are quite a few articles floating around online about a scientific study that found that staring into someone’s eyes for 10 minutes straight can even cause hallucinations. All this suggests that eyes themselves are something of an intense element. Whether depicting people or animals, using visual elements in your piece that guide the viewer’s eye to meet the eyes of your subject is sure to keep viewers locked on your piece longer, and to create a more dynamic composition.

6. Don’t Ignore The Background.

I used to be guilty of being a huge background-ignorer. Now, you don’t want a fully fleshed out, detailed, photo-realistic background all the time, and in some pieces there is a lot to be said for white space. But, there is a difference between a background looking purposefully understated to emphasize the main focus and a background looking incomplete, like the artist just ran out of ideas and didn’t want to bother. There are two pieces shown above, one from 5 years ago on the left and one from 2 years ago on the right. Notice the difference something as simple as some softly outlined trees makes. The background is still mostly white, but it looks complete.

7. Collaborate With Other Artists

This is a hard one for me, because I honestly hate collaborating. I’m the kid in school who dreaded partner assignments. I always wanted to work on projects alone, even if it meant I had to do triple the work. I have a hard time letting go of control and not getting to make all the creative decisions myself. However, you learn so much from working with other artists, especially if their style is the complete opposite of yours as was the case in the two collaborations above. Do I necessarily like the collaborative pieces above better than the work I traditionally do on my own? To be honest, nope, but that’s not the point. I practiced techniques and styles I never would have attempted otherwise, which has given me ideas in other pieces I’ve done on my own.

8. Carry Around A Sketch Journal
devotional gag reflex

Devotional Gag Reflex, 2011, Ink

Not only is keeping a sketch journal super stress relieving (the above was me relieving some of my fun relational stress by comically depicting how I felt in the moment), but it provides an arsenal of recorded ideas and references to use and combine in future pieces. Life is busy, and I strongly believe we forget most of our best ideas because they happen spontaneously when we are in the middle of doing something, and we think oh I’ll remember it later and of course that never happens. Making yourself carve out a specific time to sit down and sketch may be good practice, but it isn’t when you’ll get your best ideas.

9. Draw From A Collage
collagepen_0001

Oceans Away, 9×12 Ink

One of my assignments in Drawing 101 way back in freshman year of college was to create a collage, and then draw straight from it. This technique is a great way to organize the elements in a piece, and visually construct your conceptual vision. You end up with juxtapositions of disparate elements that you may never have placed together otherwise.

10. Be Purposefully Imperfect
wonderlandlt

Wonderland, 18×24 Mixed Media

This comes back to one of those things I learned through reluctant artist collaboration. I am a clean edged, smooth lines kind of person and I always used to look at smudges and drips as mistakes, not a tool an artist could use on purpose. Now, I am in love with it and every piece I create that includes watercolor has dripping or bleeding somewhere in it. For the longest time throughout art history, the purpose of creating a drawing or painting was to fool the eye into thinking what it was looking at was real, especially before photographs. The informality of declaring to the world, “Look! This is made out of paint, see the brushstrokes, see the dripping?” shakes up a piece, and the viewer’s expectation. In this particular piece above, the surrounding world was supposed to look as it would through the eyes of the subject, a child. The sketchy, imperfect outline of the colorful buildings behind help emphasize that.

Step out of that artistic rut and try something new. Other 2D artists out there, what do you do to add interest to your own work? What draws you to a piece when looking at a 2D work?

New Work: February

she is the queen of her universe

February – She Is The Queen Of Her Universe

This next piece in my new series is less somber than the last, and also more detailed with an abstract rather than realistic interior as the background. Even within a series, I have to have variation. This piece is meant to exude confidence, bravery, and control, and is filled with motifs of royalty and dominance.

12745399_10103719820616678_5019622012011515826_n

I began with the center and worked outward for this piece, doing all the pencil work first and dripping in the background last with both traditional and metallic watercolor.

12687897_10103717247837548_6832407670324330867_n

In the last piece for January, I used fabric as my one “3D” element of mixed media that I would add to the piece. With this piece, I had too good of a reason to use gems to pass it up. I set forth with tweezers, glue, and a lot of patience to for the first time actually bedazzle my art. Even the word bedazzling brings to mine gaudy jean jackets from elementary school, and adding sparkles to serious art is a fine line. My fear was that I would potentially turn my oh-so-classy, lovely heroine into a 90s barbie doll …

barbie

Luckily, this did not happen.

The design is now up for print on anything and everything in my redbubble shop, and art and ACEO prints are also for sale on ebay.

This was a fun piece to work on. I’ve been getting more and more into fashion lately, and I loved the opportunity to be inventive with her elaborate rose and branch crown, feather accents, and jewelry. A chance to immerse myself in my all time favorite color didn’t hurt. Let me know what you think!

 

 

The Art of Surprising Oneself

As many of you may know, I have a love affair with redbubble. Of all the print on demand platforms I’ve tried, they seem the most user friendly, visually appealing, and reasonably priced. For the past couple months I’ve been collecting photographs of my Express Yourself Artshop students’ work in preparation of opening our own shop, and the time has finally come!

I actually went to school for interior design, and the former furniture salesperson in me is so psyched about these throw pillows, because a good looking pillow really makes or breaks a sofa (even though they end up thrown on the floor 99% of the time).

I’d recommend that anyone in arts education do this, whichever platform you end up choosing. Many of the students have made the same surprised comment to me, “Wow, I feel like a real artist now!” And many of us can relate to that feeling – I know I can. A piece of art almost doesn’t feel real until it’s shared with the world, no matter how big or small that “world” may be. A drawing or painting on a loose piece of paper is one thing, but when it is matted and framed or transformed into a print product, treated and presented like the work of art that it is, it can take the new artist aback at first – “you mean  really did that?” Whether an artist cares about making money off of their art or not, there is something to knowing that other people are seeing the images they have created, that people even want to take something the artist has created home with them so they can look at it every day! Some artists make art their business, some may donate their art to auctions or causes or give it away to people. Still, the art has a life, it is being touched and seen, not in hibernation in some dark basement or storage closet.

If you’d like to see more, please visit our new shop celebrating artists of all abilities, artists that continue to surprise themselves as they learn that yes, they definitely are real artists!