Graphic design prowess - Paints and brushes

Jackson Pollock didn’t begin his career suspended over a canvas, metal pot of household enamel in hand. Behind Pollock’s unique approach to painting lay a rich background in representational art and a fearless, experimental streak. You can take a similarly adventurous approach to hone your graphic design prowess, exploring various creative mediums to gain a better grasp of what makes artwork.

1. Improve Your Understanding of Color

There’s more to color than red, yellow, and blue, and real paint can help you understand the nuances of hue. Back in the 1920s and early 1930s, Germany’s Bauhaus school taught its students how to master color theory and how to create color palettes for different occasions. Bauhaus is no more, but you can use its techniques to learn the relationship between pigments and come up with color sets of your own.

Color wheels, which you’ll find at most art and craft supply stores, can help you get started. Colors on opposite sides of the wheel are complementary, whereas colors next to each other are analogous. Triadic colors positioned at 120 degrees on the wheel also work well together. Online and local courses can teach you about other color concepts, like additive and subtractive ways to mix hues.

2. Hone Your Tone

The tone goes way beyond black and white and into shades of gray, which are perhaps best explored on paper using graphite and charcoal. Tonal value can make one element pop and allow another to fade into the background. Shades of light and dark can help you communicate emotion and can strengthen the power of your design.

Try painting on white paper or canvas using only black paint, diluting your medium with water or oil to achieve various tonal values. Swap out your black for colored paint and try the same technique again. Then, add a selection of other colors and notice the interplay between light and dark. You can use your experience to create more compelling logos and visually interesting flyers.

3. Think in Three Dimensions

Thinking in three dimensions gets easier if you’re actually working in three dimensions. Creating and handling objects can help you generate lifelike logos and engaging 3D graphics. If you’re not sure what the shadow on a particular shape should look like under a certain type of light, make your shape out of a modeling compound and create a physical setup.

Three-dimensional design can also make texture easier to grasp — literally. Needle felting techniques generate fuzzy, tactile results, while mixed media on canvas can help you recognize which textures work together and which don’t. Throw a pot and allow your hands to glide over its slippery surface; then, fire your work and compare how the end result feels with how the wet clay felt under your fingertips. Take your newfound enlightenment and apply it to your daily design process.

texture and depth demonstrate graphic design prowessPhotos courtesy of and copyright Free Range Stock,

4. Explore Outside the Box

Many designers sit in cubicles or in confined workspaces all day long. Stepping outside the box, so to speak, and exploring other artistic media can help you find new inspiration. Consider clearing an area on your desk to work with colored pencils for the morning instead of diving straight into Illustrator. You can scan and digitize your design afterward or leave it in your sandbox.

Investigate a medium you’ve never explored before, simply to see if you can work with it. If you try a new technique and your design fails, you’ll push against the boundaries of your artistic prowess and improve as a result. If your design succeeds, you’ll surprise yourself and find confidence anew.

5. Learn by Example

You can advance leaps and bounds by learning from other creative people. Many designers are self-taught: if this sounds like you, consider studying design theory, which can really help improve your existing skills. You’ll explore font origins when you learn about typography and discover optimal element positioning when you analyze grid theory. Consider an on-site course to learn using physical media, rather than relying on software.

Part of many art classes, design theory takes you beyond the confines of a Photoshop tutorial, equipping you with the knowledge you need to create impressive designs all by yourself. So go ahead: probe the Golden Mean in pastel and get a little messy.

6. Expand Your Business

Delving into an array of artistic mediums can help you build your skillset and expand your business. You don’t have to be able to draw to be a graphic designer, but if you take a drawing class and improve your ability, you could add an illustration to the list of services you offer clients. You might also save money by completing illustrations yourself, rather than outsourcing them.

Many graphic designers keep sketchbooks on hand long after they complete drawing classes. Sketching what you see at lunchtime or after work can help you keep your skills alive and can make it easier to come up with fresh concepts on the fly. You might also meet potential clients while out and about.

7. Get Inspired by Nature

Before man-made structures took over the city landscape, the natural world reigned supreme. Fractals within flowers and lines in sedimentary rock all become clear when you take a closer look. A photography course can help you discover naturally occurring shapes and colors and can reveal the mutually beneficial relationships between rock and plants. You’ll come away with a set of pictures you can use in your design business as well as a clearer view of the world around you.

For an even more authentic experience, consider equipping yourself with plein air painting. Artists have painted outdoors for millennia, matching color directly to the landscape for a really authentic result. You’ll stride back into the office filled with fresh ideas, both as a result of the painting itself and also simply because of the time you spent in nature.

Graphic Design Prowess - Success Just AheadPhotos courtesy of and copyright Free Range Stock,

Go Get Started Today!

You don’t have to fling paint at the wall to be a great graphic designer, but it can certainly motivate you. Exploring other artistic media can help you develop unique concepts, which set you apart from the crowd and make your skills more desirable. In short, to find success, look beyond your computer and strike out into the wide artistic vista.

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