Drawing from life or photography
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Thread: Drawing from life or photography

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    "The study of still life is one of the best ways of learning to draw." - Successful Drawing by A Loomis.

    http://www.archive.org/stream/practi...ge/n9/mode/2up

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    Drawing from life is always ideal but if you don't have real life access to something a photo will do. I just don't recommend learning about color from photos.

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    This thread should be useful on understanding why drawing from photos may not be so good: http://www.conceptart.org/forums/sho...d.php?t=221546

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Beatrice View Post
    There are, though, some pitfalls I have encountered and learned to avoid, with using photos, that you might want to consider:

    1) Photos are not a good way to learn to draw; they are great for informing finished work, but not for learning to draw. To learn to draw you need to either imagine or look at a 3d thing, then learn how to recreate that in 2d. The way an artist identifies with and recreates his subject, whether real or imagined, is very different from how a camera does it.

    2) Photos are not good for overall scene lighting and value structure. The real world has something like a million times more light and value range than a photo (or a painting). In real life you can see an intensely bright sunny day, and also a huge range of light within an area that's completely in shadow. Photos and painting can't do this - we have barely any range of value to work with compared to real life. So painters need to be very, very sensitive to this and ration or budget their values carefully. Cameras have their own way of doing this. You take a photo in bright day and either the lit areas are whited out, or the shadow areas are murky, or both.


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    Both are good. Alfred Steiglitz and Paul Strand are worth a persusal. The stuff we look at for learning purposes are only interesting for their ability to answer our questions... I'm sitting inside right now and outside is night time and I don't give a shit because of the simple fact that it has nothing to offer me right now, I'm not curious about it. I'm saying that so much bright light or darkness or colorfulness or 3Dness doesn't matter if all I want to know is a question of geometry, or pose etc.

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    Armando is right.
    But an off the cuff, general answer is that drawing from life (screwed up bits of paper, your coat on the chair, the coffee cup, a pillow, broken bricks or Nicole Kidman lying naked in the middle of the floor for you...) is a much more benificial thing to do.
    The reason is that without considerable experience beginners tend to end up making a copy of a photograph of Nicole Kidman rather than Nicole Kidman herself.

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    No reason not to do both. You've got photos, you've got life. As a beginner you're more concerned with basics like volume and proportion anyway, which photos aren't bad at showing. If you're working from life as well and think about what you're doing, no reason you can't learn to compensate for the weaknesses of photos as you go along.

    With all the caveats listed above, of course.

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    You're going to learn more drawing from life. Especially if your ultimate goal is to draw your own designs from imagination. Drawing from imagination is more like drawing from life, then drawing from pictures.
    However, you can still learn a fair amount drawing from pictures.... Just don't neglect drawing from life completely.

    Drawing from life, even still life, offers you a ton more small bits and pieces of information that a till image from a photo just doesn't pick up.
    Drawing a person from life... Camera picks up just one,m instantaneous state of that person, and there's no way to tell if the image captured their essence, or some awkward transitional state (down to micro expressions). Drawing that person from observation, the artist can filter the transitional, and focus on the essential, and make the person come alive, capture their character, the impression of the person we get after interacting with them fora while.

    Photography, even high end professional photography can have difficulty picking this up.... you miss taking the pic at the right time, and you can lose the 'right' look.

    I'm painting a still life right now for a school class, and when I take a picture of it (I have to because we don't get enough class time to do the whole thing from observation, I take a number of pictures, few with slightly different exposures, and few from very slightly different angles (left eye, right eye, leaning a bit etc... It's still kind of bleak compared to actually being there, but it's better then nothing.

    Last edited by Conniekat8; November 10th, 2011 at 11:23 PM.
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    That's a good point Chris Bennet. The gripe that I have about these life vs photography threads is that the answer is usually "the most important thing in drawing from life is that you translate 3D to 2D", which is a misdirection, even though the representation of 3Dness is important. The most important thing in either case is to make a compositional sequence.

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    We are surrounded by a vast amount of man made and natural objects so there should never be a shortage of things to draw.

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    Yes, a photo is only reached for out of practicality. If I had the resources to hire a model I would do it every time. With portrait commissions, the sitter does not have the time or, if it's children, the little sods don't have any patience!

    A beginner learning the skills has every conceivable form and lighting effect within the very room they sit in.

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    Yes, the best is to observe and pay attention to tiny detail of the real world around you everyday. It might make you appear to weird to others, because it would seem like you are in a constant trance whenever you are. But thats life being an artist

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    Ralph Steadman's paranoids, manipulated polaroids: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUDD3luh3KA
    I just think this is kind of interesting, he's not drawing from the photo but with it, the photo is a part of the art and not just a reference.
    What I've been thinking lately is that neither life or photos present themselves ideally. How many people would have figured out linear perspective without being taught it? Yet it is helpful to know when drawing from life, or imagination(without physical reference), or from a calculated design template. Arranging our lines in relation to our vanishing point gives the sign of depth, but this sign rarely shows itself with geometrical clarity in real life. In the same way there are other signs which could be called perspectives, ways of predicting how things would look, yet they are not taught online or in books but would have the same effect on someone's drawing as the usual perspective. I believe it would be more helpful and faster to have a dictionary of signs rather than using the shot gun method of drawing anything and everything from life, you would wind up getting more out of all drawing as is the case with the usual perspective.

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    FROM LIFE.

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    PERIOD.

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    AMEN.

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    Quote Originally Posted by armando View Post
    Both are good.
    No they really aren't Armando, especially when one is trying to learn, as in the the OP's question.

    Drawing from photos will teach you virtually nothing about drawing, seeing and composing...drawing from life will teach you virtually everything about it.

    Last edited by JeffX99; November 17th, 2011 at 08:05 PM. Reason: Removal of giant buzzer sound...'caue that was just not cool.
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    It's up for debate.
    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Bennett View Post
    Armando is right.
    He's agreeing that it's only important to gather information that's needed to compose the picture. There's is no doubt that life transmits more bits of information than a photo, just sometimes those bits are irrelevant. It's actually easier to teach someone about shapes using photos than life. But overall I would have to agree that for a beginner that isn't sure what they want to do, and who doesn't have a teacher, that it is best to just study everything from life. Yet art is an historical process, and there are things that won't be learned just from drawing from life or photos ie perspective, which is a kind of sign and a kind of composition. Raw imagery, whether it comes from life or photos, is just material for composition.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Bennett View Post
    A beginner learning the skills has every conceivable form and lighting effect within the very room they sit in.
    The set-up is easy, it only takes 10 minutes or less!

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    Quote Originally Posted by armando View Post
    It's up for debate.


    He's agreeing that it's only important to gather information that's needed to compose the picture. There's is no doubt that life transmits more bits of information than a photo, just sometimes those bits are irrelevant. It's actually easier to teach someone about shapes using photos than life. But overall I would have to agree that for a beginner that isn't sure what they want to do, and who doesn't have a teacher, that it is best to just study everything from life. Yet art is an historical process, and there are things that won't be learned just from drawing from life or photos ie perspective, which is a kind of sign and a kind of composition. Raw imagery, whether it comes from life or photos, is just material for composition.

    It's also about experience though.
    When you work from life you work from direct, corporeal experience: The smell, the movement, the light changing from moment to moment, the infinite, heady embrace of a presense that is the now-ness of a clock without hands.

    Looking at a photograph is experience by proxy.
    Therefore it is vital that the proxy experience is related to a first hand experience of what it represents.
    The problem occures when newbies do not understand the distinction.
    If they understand the distinction then photos can be used to a purpose.
    If they do not understand the distinction they begin to become a narcotic.

    It was Walter Sickert who said something like: 'Photography is to be used by the artist like alcohol - in moderation.'

    Narcotics used without understanding leads to dependency on substitute experience.

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    Quote Originally Posted by armando View Post
    It's up for debate.


    He's agreeing that it's only important to gather information that's needed to compose the picture. There's is no doubt that life transmits more bits of information than a photo, just sometimes those bits are irrelevant. It's actually easier to teach someone about shapes using photos than life. But overall I would have to agree that for a beginner that isn't sure what they want to do, and who doesn't have a teacher, that it is best to just study everything from life. Yet art is an historical process, and there are things that won't be learned just from drawing from life or photos ie perspective, which is a kind of sign and a kind of composition. Raw imagery, whether it comes from life or photos, is just material for composition.
    OK, since you feel it is up for debate then back it up. Provide a list of quotes or artists who advise and demonstrate you can learn as much from working from photos as you can from life.

    Here's my list: Loomis, Bridgman, Richard Schmid, Nicolai Fechin, Gurney, Sargent, Hudson River School guys, Impressionists, the Old Masters, Jeff Watts, Glenn Orbik, Craig Mullins...and many, many more. They all recommend working from life.

    Also you might want to keep in mind the OP's original question which was quite simple, rather than go off in some abstract philosophical direction about composition. Even so, photos work directly against the ability to see and discover composition, because they are fixed and do not allow shifts in perspective or POV. But yes, in the middle there you're right about studying everyday things from life.

    But sure, I'm up for debating.

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    You are not up for debate because you do not understand the artists that you like to name drop. You speak for yourself only. You didn't understand what Chris wrote because you also wrote"rather than go off in some abstract philosophical direction about composition" while simultaneously aggreing with his post. It was pretty philosophical. He's taking about making an animistic work of art, transfering the experience of life into a physical object, making a "transfer", a metaphor... otherwise it wouldn't be possible to draw a smell, would it not?
    All you have to say about comp is "rule of thirds".
    The gist of my original post is: we look at stuff to answer questions. From this I say that what we look at is only important if it answers the question.

    This is my main point: what we look at is only important if it answers the question.
    Is this true or false?

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    Quote Originally Posted by armando View Post
    You are not up for debate because you do not understand the artists that you like to name drop. You speak for yourself only.
    OK...so you're not interested in backing up your point. Because it is dead wrong. But you are correct that I only speak for myself. It just happens to be in keeping with all those artists I mentioned.

    And of course I understood what Chris wrote...that's working from life 101...the transfer, capture and interpretation of experience into a work.

    Back it up Armando, that's all I'm asking. Really isn't possible to debate when you won't back up your assertion that working from photos is as good as working from life. You want to take a position 180 degrees opposite common sense, practice and wisdom of some of the best representational artists out there, that's fine. But when you get called on it don't lay on more bullshit and tell others what they do and do not understand.

    But whatever, the OP, and others reading this, are free to read all those artists I mentioned and discover for themselves the differences between working from photos and working from life.

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    Respond to this:
    "what we look at is only important if it answers the question.
    Is this true or false?"

    true then I'm right
    false then I'm wrong

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffX99 View Post
    And of course I understood what Chris wrote...that's working from life 101...the transfer, capture and interpretation of experience into a work.
    Then I would have expected to see it at the top of your list of fundamentals. You're a naturalist plain and simple.

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    I have a related question: If drawing from photos is a waste of time, why is drawing from master copies good?

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    Quote Originally Posted by papageo View Post
    I have a related question: If drawing from photos is a waste of time, why is drawing from master copies good?
    I think because it puts one in a place where you are both processing and understanding technique, while also seeing how the master solved particular problems of form, light, composition, color, emphasis, etc. They really only provide much benefit if you really try to pull off a true copy...or as close as you can. Far too often you see people just doing a half-ass attempt which really bears little resemblance to the original in execution.

    At least that is what I have come away with on the few I've done.

    Armando, debate is not just you asking further questions without backing up your point. To me making a statement is a given...it is an axiom of creation...therefor it goes without saying that the first fundamental is making a statement. I don't know what it means to be a naturalist plain and simple? But you say it like it's a bad thing? Not to mention you've never seen my non-objective, abstract work to my knowldedge.

    In the end you're getting all wrapped up in some high-faluttin discourse when all the OP was asking was, for a beginner, is it better to work from life than photos (to learn how to see and draw I presume). Your answer was they are both good. Prove it.

    Just respond with a list of artists who back up your argument or stfu.

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    Work from everything, and whatever you want. You're not going to "break" yourself. Worst case scenario, you make some pictures that aren't as good as you think they are, but you'll figure that out eventually.
    Learning about photography will teach you more about composition than working from life ever will.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Elwell View Post
    Learning about photography will teach you more about composition than working from life ever will.
    How, pray tell?

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    Because composition is one of the most important elements in photography.


    As to the whole silly debate there's merits in both. Hence why you'll see some of the best sketchbooks on here have people taking interesting still frames from movies and drawing them, try telling them they aren't learning anything by doing that. For a very beginner probably best to draw from life but the most important thing is just to draw plain and simple. I don't see the point in limiting yourself. In my opinion there are some photos that capture angles and perspective you could never do with a real life setting unless your in some crazy position which would be impossible to draw in and you can learn quite a bit from them.

    Last edited by JFierce; November 19th, 2011 at 01:45 AM.
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