I keep hearing that it's better to draw from live models and still ives, when learning to draw, rather then from photos... but I never caught on why that is?
I've gotten a lot more into observational drawing lately, but on occasion there are photos I've taken, that I want to turn ionto drawings... then I hesitate, wondering, what am i cheating myself out of?
Anyone know more details about why?
Is it because there's a certain skill that a well rounded artist should nurture - which is reducing something from 3D view, onto 2D paper, or is there more to it?
Well the way I had it explained to me, when you draw directly from a photo, you're drawing something that is flat and already altered from being compressed in a file. So you're missing out on details or if you're painting the values might be screwy.
With drawing from life you're working your mechanical skills, but more importantly your observation skills. Having to squint, do some blind contour, being able to see actual shapes and values is critical stuff to have under your belt.
Practicing both ways helps since we'll always need photo reference for something.
Short answer: No. Long answer: If you use the forum search function, you'll find many threads on this topic.
This is a good topic to read through. It asks the question, "Why make a direct copy from a photo when there is already a photo of what you're drawing?" It argues against being a human copy machine and recommends using photos for reference instead.
I wanted to find some various quotes from Elwell and Jeffx99 that have come to mind but they could be anywhere...so I'll try my best to restate the basic points.
Professionals can recognize a photo drawing from a life drawing (and I suppose the layman too if he/she knows what to look for.)
Some reasons are: Perspective. Photos flatten a 3D image into 2D. This can cause distortion, particularly if the subject is too close to the lens. Drawing from life is when YOU translate 3D into 2D, rather than letting the camera do it. This lets you see with two eyes and depth perception when you translate the 3D.
Another reason is lighting. Photos have a specific look about them because of the various camera settings and/or photo-editing. They often have high contrast, enhanced colours, less value. Jeffx99 says if you're using a photo for reference it's good to have a single light source with a wide range of value so you can capture as much form in the subject as possible. Otherwise it's washed out and looks flat. Good for photos, bad for drawing/painting.
Also related to lighting is colours. The colours in photos are often tampered with, again either by camera setting and/or photo-editing, and they can often be too bright or too dull for painting. They won't accurately represent what we see in life drawings.
There are probably more reasons and I'm sure others will point them out, that's just all I can think of at the moment. Hope it helps.
Edit: Good point from Red Rice about learning observation skills. It's imperative when drawing in 3D to actually know what the subject looks like in 3D rather than just guessing from a 2D photo. Plus the whole thing about understanding values in life, lighting, how it works, etc. is also important. You can't gain that knowledge by copying inaccurate 2D photos.
Last edited by manlybrian; May 27th, 2011 at 03:25 AM.
And then God said, "Let us make man in our likeness and our image. Let us make him ridiculously hard to draw so that poor artists everywhere will have to spend 10,000+ hours failing repeatedly before they can begin to capture the form and likeness onto a two-dimensional surface." And there was man. And it was good. And artists everywhere lost their minds.
It ain't bad...it be SUPERBAD! (insert funk bass riff). Yeah, tons of opinion and discussion on it to be found for the searching.
Short answer is no, not if you know what you're doing.
This may be a generalization but you don't really find accomplished artists who learned to draw and paint from photos. You find plenty that use them extensively once they know what they're about, but not for learning. And of course no one is going to confiscate your photos if you're caught, but what happens is the more you work from life the more you realize just how limited and skewed photos are. At the same time you begin to understand what you need to do to be able to work from them effectively as your skills develop.
As for the technical "whys" there is plenty scattered about.
Thanks a bunch ManlyBrian, Red Rice and JeffX99 for good pointers and links
I've been wanting to occasionally pull out a photo of an interesting subject to sketch... sort of semi observational, considering it's not sitting in 3D in front of me, but not completely copying it either. I aslo started having friends and relatives approach me with photos to draw this or that for them....
Sounds like if I stick to standard observational sketching and drawing 80-90% of the times, especially while learning, and do an occasional photo if I don't have the access to the subject that inspires me at the moment, I'm not going to do serious harm.... but don't want to make a habit of it.
Also sounds like past the basics, being able to draw something artistic from reference photos is also a skill to be developed.
Whew - so I don't have to go hide them between the matressesAnd of course no one is going to confiscate your photos if you're caught
Again, thanks for your patient pointers, even if I'm asking a boring noobie FAQ
Last edited by Conniekat8; May 27th, 2011 at 04:08 AM.
I think with me the damage has already been done. For as long as I can remember I've used photos as reference material. I don't think I've ever really focused on copying the image, but more on capturing the pose and a likeness in the face, but still... I've been taking live drawing classes and sessions and noticed it's way harder. The comment about having to make your own interpretation from 3D to 2D really rings true.
Could I bother anyone to post some examples of "wrong" drawings? In the sense described in previous posts?
I was just looking through the thread that manlybrian linked to, that talks about Darrel Tank fivepencil method... and it made me remember advice from the art classes (I just took my first two fundamentals classes, 2D design, and drawing 1)...
Something that was being impressed in both classes is that whenever we make a piece, especially the final piece, we want to find the right balance between artistry and technique. We don't want to have one overwhelm the other.
The fivepencil method made me think of what we were being taught, that a highly developed and refined technique can overshadow, or come at the expense of the artistry. That the most successful pieces have a pleasing balance of both.
Drawing from observation - it's never exact documentary copy, it's a picture of our experience of the subject. Lack of technique and technical ability can take away or skew the impression we are trying to create. Heavily focusing the technique, can take away the human touch that our interpretation of the subject can infuse into the picture (drawing, painting etc...)
Being fresh from my first observational drawing class, I remember there was a lot of emphasis on editing and interpreting what we see, deciding what's important, what characterizes the subject, what may be detracting extraneous information. Seems like when we have a photo next to us, we get a bit lazy and neglect that editing process, and when inexperienced, we tend to fall back and want to copy everything... and I suspect if we're inexperienced, we can get lulled into technique exercise.
/end thinking out loud....
I think I just answered my own questions too.....
my poor braincell needs an IcyHot compress now.
Even at a pro level people who work from photos for too long hurt the quality of their work. Even for guys like Rockwell who had mad skills, it is apparent when you compare it to his earlier work from life. It is still good just not as good as it was.
So I'd be careful; as everyone has said no one will come and reprimand you but you can rarely give up working from life for very long without it becoming obvious in your work no matter what level you are at.
When I say working from life I don't mean every image you paint has to be painted from life. Just make a commitment to paint from life as part of your normal routine, regular life drawing classes and regularly going outside to paint color studies or finished small paintings.
something can only be 'bad' in relation to what you want to achieve from it. do photos contain all the information you need to perform your art, or do you need something more from a live motif?
**Finished Work Thread **Process Thread **Edges Tutorial
Crash Course for Artists, Illustrators, and Cartoonists, NYC, the 2013 Edition!
"Work is more fun than fun."
"Art is supposed to punch you in the brain, and it's supposed to stay punched."
The problem with photos is following some pre-existing image instead of making your own artistic decisions. It is too easy to forget thinking and become a stupid copying machine.
What makes it worse is that a photo adds a layer of indirection between you and your subject. Instead of figuring the structure and light out based on what you see, you have to figure the structure and light out based on how it got registered with an imperfect instrument and made into a 2D image that you see. And even worse, by the time you're skilled enough to get anything approaching the same level of information from a photo as you can get from observing the subject directly, you typically no longer need a photo to work from - except as reference to make your working process faster. (Unless you are one of those artists who make a career of copying photos, which is a thing that I personally would not want to do.)
So it's not "bad" per se, it's just really unproductive for a beginner.
Human have two eyes. Cameras have one lens.
It's not bad unless that's the only thing you do.
drawing from life usually allows you to see the object or subject in a three dimensionally environment, besides drawing from life allows you to use all the senses (usually walking around the subject, feeling the texture, etc...) rather then using 1/2 of your eyes to understand the subject. Empirically speaking, of course.
photo ref. allows you to understand things that are either too hard to get to, or dangerous to experience.
Saying using photo reference makes for flat drawings implies that any imaginative work you will ever do will not live up to your reference or life drawings, doesn't it?
Because if you're working from imagination you're going from "No-Dimensions" to 2D?
I understand there is a wrong way to use photo reference, but if you're boxing everything out before going into contours:
Then I don't understand why photo reference would distort your drawing as long as your not directly copying the reference, but using it as a tool in your process.
Err is it bad to paint from life digitally? :X I can't afford oils ATM. Need to get a job again.....
Been doing that along with painting from photos D;
Working off of/studying from photos can be excellent(thinking of drawing when I write this). I haven't read all the posts on this subject but have yet to hear anyone talk on how sweet photos are for their simplification. Photos are great for compacting values and blatantly 2d'ing that shit into x4awesomeReadability. Sure they lie but really.. for the most part, atleast in terms of learning to draw from imagination, how many people end up rendering every subtle value that life drawing affords anyway?. End products generally are high contrast, vastly simplified versions of reality.. far closer to that of photos than that of life.
Of course I'm not getting into fluidity and gesture and all that jazz.... that said, even then photos can get you there.. working for the most part off of others drawings(ie your fav artists) can yeld amazing information.
Trying to absorb anatomical information in life classes I found frustrating and daunting.. because its 3D ..my mind gets swamped. 2D ref is a better starting stone for sure imo.. hell.. I'll be learning anatomy for ever and mostly from photos/anatomical books.
I say abuse photos and life work. Of course there is something to be said for knowing the rules before you break them, ie knowing values and how the the figure operates in 3D before you start attempting to skillfully construct figures etc in 2D but I'm confidant that if you never had access to real people(highly unlikely) and were left with nothing but photos.. you'd do just fine.
Nevermind that fact that photos can afford you content you'd never actually witness first hand. If it wasn't for online porn as a learning tool I'd have to physically immerse myself in the industry. Theres no-way I could fit that in my family duties.
Of course, working your imagination muscle is really important.
In my case, while I was wasting last 20 years of my life in a career I hated, I spent all that time being a somewhat talented wannabe artist... Dabbling with a lot of things. I developed decent skills of redrawing or copying what I see in another painting or a photo. However, I found something was lacking translating that into my own work and ideas (I never seriously went through any of the how to draw books that I see people here use - that could be part of the problem).... But, knowing I can draw something from photos, I kept telling myself, eh, I can do that if/when I need to.
Then this year, after the economy ate my 'real job' I decided to make myself start taking art fundamentals classes at a local JC, to see what it's all about. I thought briefly I may be a tad advanced for beginning level, but on the other hand, I also didn't know what I was missing.... so I decided to start at the beginning. Even after just two classes, 2D Design, and Drawing 101, I feel like what I can do has suddenly skyrocketed.... even though compared to most of the talent here, I'm a complete noob.
I can't quite put my finger on it yet, buit there's something to be said for classic artfundamentals training, and making yourself go through observational drawing exercises. I no longer feel limited to having references and assembling what I want to draw and make from photograohic and artist reference books and images. All of a sudden, I can pick up a sketchbook, and sketch anything around me... and turn it into a future reference. Even things from my imagination are easier to draw.
Part of the reason I asked the initial question in this thread is because I don't want to stifle this process. I'm so excited about the whole thing now, I'm almost miffed I have to wait another 20 days before the 'life drawing 1' class starts.
Unlike us mere moderately talented mortals, I suspect that to overcome not having art fundamentals training, one really needs to be but super SUPER talented.
I think the biggest pain in the butt with life painting for me is finding what to paint. I heard something about beginners seeking the extraordinaire when the professional can make the average seem extraordinaire. I'm in that n00b stage where I'll look around for something to paint in a landscape but will spend 2 hours trying to find it and it'll be too late ;(. GRRR...
One example are the 'desk clutter' drawings in my sketchbook... for a month, he made us do a daily sketch of desk clutter or vegetation clutter, in your home, garage, patio anywhere around you.... to try and develop sketching habits, and to start developing seeing something in what on the surface seems like nothing special. Another thing he kept telling the class is, make a point to draw 'ugly things' too... as ugly things can have a lot of visual interest.
I *think* also aas a part of drawing from your surroundings, we develop skills to compose and frame this or that detail out of what we see. In a photo, most often, this part is done for you. Especially a photo that someone else took.
Hmmmm, the more I think about this, the more reasons I find how using photos as a learning crutch can stifle the learning process. Especially for people like me who have the urge to do something with art, but are undecided on the final direction they want to take, and need to acquire decent basic skills....and experiment before deciding the main course.
It is like zen, or martial arts. You can only explain it in vague, inadequate terms. Do it. Commit yourself to it and you will be rewarded in ways you couldn't even imagine before you started. Then you will understand.
Or don't do it, and you won't understand.