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Thread: Is reference and life drawing THAT important?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    Divjake, Albania
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    Talking Is reference and life drawing THAT important?

    You constantly hear it all the time.
    A lot of artist suggest it all the time, as a great way to practice.

    while I think that life drawing is a fundamental aspect of learning how to draw, people misunderstand it and practice it in a kind of wrong way, generally speaking.

    in forums you see users drawing naturally from their imagination and all you can see is people suggesting them to draw from life because of the many errors in anatomy or shading or whatever and you usually find yourself agreeing to them.

    Lately I'm thinking is is becoming more of a misconception.
    I believe that a lot of people who follow this advice do it the wrong way.
    Drawing from life should be a process of studying more than of mindless drawing what you see.
    I feel that concept artist more that any kind of artists should be studying how things work rather than how to draw from life.

    I may look like I'm lowering the importance of life drawing but what I really want to say is that I feel people in general are following life drawing in a point that it makes their art look dull and with no life, to a point. Of course that anyone that has a lot of experience with drawing from life will make art but in a lot of cases I see their art as shallow or without the freedom art needs.

    Feels like people forget to experiment and develop a style of their own.

    so what do you think?
    Is there a line between too much life drawing or does it not matter at all as long as you're drawing and painting what your goal was.
    And do you think reference can be a bad habit for some artists?
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  3. #2
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    Apr 2004
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    Oh, absolutely agreed! Direct drawing from life only helps so much - you need to learn constructive drawing (incidentally though, constructive drawing is usually what's recommended here).

    In addition to still lifes, figure drawing and landscapes from life, you also need to study anatomy and figure drawing principles, proportioning etc. Constructive drawing helps with the still lifes and landscapes too. And yes, also working from imagination a lot. All of these things are recommended frequently here though.
    "Figure drawing prepares you for painting at a high level" - Jeff Watts

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  4. #3
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    May 2014
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    Vilppu is a master of anatomy and you would think his stuff is from models but he always talks about not needing a model anymore and a lot of great masters didnt either. But again, it is great foundation to have.

    I think though, it is a misconception that artists are an organic camera. With enough time and basic skill you can copy almost everything. To me thats not what I want to be working towards
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  5. #4
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    Oct 2005
    Munich, Germany
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    On a scale between "not drawing from reference/life at all" and "mindlessly copying reference/ from life", most amateurs tend towards the first extreme, which is why "use refrence/ paint from life" is such a predominant piece of advice in the critique forum.

    Naturally, the other extreme isn't the optimal way to go either, as you correctly describe.

    But apart from the occasional human photo-copier (a species much more prevalent on dA than here), most beginners I see around here and on FB/ other forums still tend towards the first extreme, doing everything from imagination and not using reference at all. So I think that sort of advice really is here to stay, particularily since many beginners labour under the illusion that professionals only work from imagination.

    Working too much/ too literally from life is much less hurtful to a professional career in visual art than only ever working from imagination in my eyes. The optimum is somewhere in-between of course, i don't challenge that view.
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  6. #5
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    Sep 2009
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    Working from life and ref frees you, not working from life limits you, its that simple. Working from life is hard to master and that is why most beginners and amateurs avoid it, they don't have the discipline to do it until they master it. Those people also don't usually get anywhere with their art.

    As for learning constructive drawing, constructive drawing is learned from lots of life drawing to get really good. Its easy to draw out of your head at the level of comic book finish, not so easy when you are trying to paint like John William Waterhouse or John Singer Sargent; the degree of finish is orders of magnitude above any constructive artist, who just makes it all up out of their head.
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