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Thread: Art Myths

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    Art Myths

    I believe a lot of problems that us ametuers have in learning how to do the types of concept art that the professionals on here do is from mixed understandings. The more I read from art books and tried to get advice from others on learning how to draw (and paint) I always get different perspectives and often heard the same ones thinking it would have to be true then. Such as, copying anatomy from photographs and books is cheating (or simply copying a photograph is cheating). I believe it's true that drawing from life is better, but why? Nobody ever ask the art teachers why and they usually don't know themselves. I think this is just an "art myth". Like if you look at Norman Rockwell. Most of his books out there describe his technique and often shows how he always uses photoreferences from his neighbors and so forth for his paintings. ... If you take someone like Jon Foster, Michael Whelan or Brom who mostly use no reference for their characters (correct me if I'm wrong) ... perhaps another way of looking at this is they make highly rendered comic characters (they use lighting and line much more realisticly). They have a very good knowledge base understanding of how light, color, tone, edge, etc. work (realism). We look at their work and think "it looks so real", but actually, no camera could make reality look like that, unless it was extremely altered. It's an illusion and part of what draws us too it. So copying from photographs and other artist's works we have to figure out how this is going to help us gain knowledge to create an illusion of depth, lighting and realism. This is a lot of what Andrew Loomis's books are about http://www.fineart.sk/ .... I don't believe there is really any kind of "cheating" in making illustrations, but we are often drawn to illustrators that make certain types of realistic illustrations that have a certain feel and look to them. I think it's extremely easy for us ametuers to believing "art myths" and make up our own, fully believing in them. So how do we know if we're giving sound advice or just another "art myth"?


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    Speaking from experience, I believe it is much easier to draw from life, and consequently easier to learn through, because it is much much easier to see and think three dimensionally... to really see and understand the forms in space.

    Just the tiny movements of your head, and the fact that your two eyes give you binocular vision (two slightly different views of the subject), changes immensely the amount of visual information you can get from a subject. You cannot get this from a two dimensional photo.

    It is too easy to fall into the trap of copying shapes and values when drawing from photoreference. Not to say that you cannot learn from this, but you certainly will not learn the forms in space as well as you could from life observation.
    - Rockstar Ninja Artist Extraordinaire

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    I agree with you, Nimrod! ... Drawing from life is better, but it's understanding why, which you described, that most art teachers and ametuers don't understand. Knowing how to draw forms in space, learning to have that 3 deminsional thinking is what drawing from life helps you with. But if your studying anatomy, learning the bones and the muscles, constant copying of the bones and muscles with the understanding of forms in space, instead of just focused on shapes and values, can be done from books.

    But the point of all this is that it's too easy for us ametuers to believe these "art myths". To think that copying is cheating is simply just not true. This is the kind of information that a lot of ametuers will stick too and never be able to advance (or at least not as fast). I would seriously beleive that most of the professional artist (concept artist) that people on this forums admire have mostly learned from copying other artist. I think we often just like to look at it as, "Jon Foster seemed highly influence by Phil Hale". (Of course I don't know if that's true, just meant as an example). The point is that copying should not be looked at as something negative, but positive. Again, I know a lot of professional artist still use photoreference to draw and paint from.

    It seems the more I learn the more I realize that there are a lot of things that people believe about this particular type of art (concept art, realism, etc.) that's kind of limited or "art myths". For another example, speed painting. I think this is the same as Colored Roughs. There's nothing wrong with calling it speed painting, of course, it's just that a lot of ametuers or art teachers will differentate or seperate the process of painting in such a way that it gives the impression that .. that's the way drawing and painting is suppose to be done. That a Plein Air cannot be considered a color rough or vice versus. I'm simply saying these are "Art Myths"

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    did they have cameras back in William Bougereau's day?

    as the saying goes, 'there are many ways to skin a cat'...or something.

    It totally depends where you're at and where you're going what's best. The whys vary depending on that too.

    -Rob
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    I'm not really sure what you mean by what you said, Nousefraname. But yeah, they had photography then.

    Art Myths

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    I'm going to correct you on one thing, and that is that "most art teachers don't know why life is better". Every art teacher I've had has been able to tell students why only copying from photos is not as efficiant. Most people want to be able to do it solely from photos because it's easier, you don't have to leave your own desk, and well... they usually want a short cut for getting really good, really fast, and there's no such thing. It all comes down to mileage. Rockwell and all those catz were able to paint from photos well because they had done toooooons of life drawing/painting so they understood how the forms worked in 3 Dimensional space. I don't use photo ref for any of my concept work, but the only reason I can do that is because I've spent thousands of hours drawing from life. People that draw only from photos become slaves to them, from what I've seen. Alex Ross for example, can't paint anything without reference. He said so himself that he uses photo reference for every single element in every painting. That works for comic covers I guess, but when doing concept work you need to be able to pull things out of your head really fast, and at all kinds of angles, which you would have a hard time doing if you only see things in 2Dimensional photos. There is nothing wrong with using photos, but you can't become reliant on them to pull out a basic, anatomically correct figure. You have to find a balance.

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    I mean, there are different reasons why certain things should be done some way for certain people and other ways for other people.
    There's really no single 'best way'...only a 'best way for you'.
    Analytical thinking and a bunch of trial and error are how you discover what that best way for you is.

    So far as life vs. photos is concerned, if you're content on understanding the world visually as one would percieve through just one eye, then photos are where it's at.
    buuut, if you want to be able to portray things with all the extra stuff that 2 eyes allows for(ie: depth & volume) then work from life.

    What I was referring to on the William Bougereau thing was that he probably didn't work from photo reference all that much...and even if he was able to, it was black & white only.
    The key is to understand what you see rather than just to see what you see. Being able to see around something is a tremendous advantage in getting to understand the forms.

    -Rob
    My Sketchbook
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    Phuzion - I guess I am talking strictly from my own experience about why art teachers never seem to know why you copying from photographs is not as efficiant. That is something that's only relevant to the individual.

    The topic is "Art Myths" and I was using an example that "copying = cheating" is simply a myth, it's not true. Our perspective on how illustration and concept art is supposed to be approached, looked at and learned... might not be true. Often when I was in art classes, students would say they drawed something and said they didn't cheat. They meant, they didn't use a photograph to copy from. But then we learn in art history, for realism, that it used to be common practice for students to copy master works in museums (a practice that is still done). Also even in William Bougereau's days, i believe he "only" painted from life. I don't think Bougereau really painted anything out of his head, but used local orphaned kids and so forth for his paintings. I know this is a concept art forum, but I believe this forum really includes illustration for bookcovers, packaging, comics and so on as concept art also. There are plenty of professional artist, besides Alex Ross, that rely heavily on copying from photographs (drew struzan, sonya hillos, Boris Vallejo, Julie Bell) and I'm sure they make a great living at it! And I don't doubt that professionals like this might have a hard time drawing the figure anatomically correct out of their head. But who cares if they feel they are successful and making a great living at it?

    But I believe the point of the arguement has turned to be really about if you can learn to draw concept type art from copying. If you just copy photographs of rock stars heads all day, well duh, your not gonna get anywhere. Your only refining certain skills to draw portraits from photographs
    We want to be able to draw out of our head so we can do artwork like concept,comics, bookcover illustration and so forth so we have more control and faster at it (as well as other reasons). But can we do this from copying? Wouldn't you agree that comic artist learn to draw comics from copying from their favorite comic artist and then manipulate styles to create their own? There are certain principles that make up what most accept an anotomy drawing as being "comic art". If you drawed solely from life, with all the values or even just contours, it wouldn't appear as "comic art". And to learn to draw this from any angle and perspective, you do want to have a good understanding of how to make this illusion of 3 demensional objects (anatomy, enviroment) on a flat surface. So if you don't have a teacher that can teach you, you can learn from such books as Andrew Loomis http://www.fineart.sk/ how to draw realism, an illusion of 3d space on paper. What your doing is constantly "copying" drawings from loomis's books to get this understanding of depth, form, volume and so on. You obtain how 3 deminsional space works by breaking down forms to more simplier shapes and forms and so on. Then there are books of photographs of the nudes for learning the anatomy such as,
    Anatomy for Artist
    where you copy photo's to understand anatomy better. So with a better understanding of how 3d works from Loomis's book, you can copy from photographs to better understand anatomy, enviroment and so on. If you can take a photograph and draw out the figure facing in a different direction and even perspective...then you have a good understanding of form in 3 deminsional space.
    But still, the point is, "copying is cheating" or even "you can't learn how to draw by copying photographs" is a misconception. It's simply not true. It's these Art Myths that often confuse us ametuers and keeps us from learning how to draw more effeciently, because there's not a more comprehensive understanding of what is meant by that.

    NoUseFrAName - you said,
    So far as life vs. photos is concerned, if you're content on understanding the world visually as one would percieve through just one eye, then photos are where it's at.
    buuut, if you want to be able to portray things with all the extra stuff that 2 eyes allows for(ie: depth & volume) then work from life.
    ............. Can you give an example of this? Photographs do show as much depth and volume as a drawing from life, doesn't it? When a painting is rendered so realistic by a professional from reference, can you tell if they used photo's or from life for the reference?

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    right and wrong are concepts created by the human mind to justify their action or inaction. basically, what im saying is you have the ability to decide what is right and wrong, as does every other useer here. People will always disagree with you, even if you can present them with absolute truth. The main reason, at least from what ive read to not use photorefence is the fact that the artist couldnt get depth. if the artist understands perspective then he can pull it off. my "opinion", is that use whatever neccasary to make your art the best it can be. when its hanging in a gallery its not going have underneath it
    artist: bowlin
    meduim: oils
    photorefence: yes, he used several.


    get your ideas from your head. know what you want to draw before you whip out the photo's. Even use a combination of life and photoreference if you must. let me end with this. targete even said that 85% of illustrations use photorefence. look at what he creates. he is probaly one of the best painters in his genre i know(not personally). to quote mr targete,"Yes and no, depending on the specific project. The thing many people and artists have to realise is that 80 to 90% of commercial illustration is created with the help of photo reference, be it stock photography or pics from a model shoot. However, the most important thing for an artist is not to become a slave of photography. I try to have a balance of imagination and realism in my art - they work in harmony. Dynamic action and pure passion comes from the artist. This is relevant in much comic book art. There is no better feeling then being able to draw purely from your imagination."

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    There is no better feeling then being able to draw purely from your imagination."
    I second that.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bowlin
    I'm not really sure what you mean by what you said, Nousefraname. But yeah, they had photography then.

    Art Myths
    Bouguereau would never use a camera. He taught Layendecker, who, upon finding Normall Rockwell using photo reference for his models, became upset and walked out.

    Drawing from photo is good for practice or for reference info. But drawing from life is MUCH better. You can see SO much more, and it's 3D.

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    ............. Can you give an example of this? Photographs do show as much depth and volume as a drawing from life, doesn't it? When a painting is rendered so realistic by a professional from reference, can you tell if they used photo's or from life for the reference?
    well, photographs don't really show depth...a series of photographs of the same thing taken with different lenses at different distances...they would show depth, and perhaps give you a sense of things enough that you could learn it.
    Close one eye and look at things.
    Now look at the same things with 2 eyes.

    With one eye you can't change focus or percieve depth...only shapes. Your mind will translate the shapes to calculate perspective and thus calculate the depth, but it doesn't actually percieve the depth.
    With 2 eyes you can look at an edge or at the empty space between your face and the edge.
    Shapes vs. Forms = Photos vs. Life.

    -Rob
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    I don't think people understand that personally I like drawing from life. I often draw other artist drawings or paintings, trying to obtain some sort of insight also. Personally I want to be able to just draw from my imaginations too, but I'm realizing that there are other ways of developing an idea for a painting.

    thebluepuppy - you said
    get your ideas from your head. know what you want to draw before you whip out the photo's.
    that is one way of doing it, but I beleive the reason a lot of illustrators do multiple thumbnails is that they try to develop an idea on paper as they go along. Often after the thumbnail, a lot of professionals look for reference and then consentrate on the roughs, perhaps more reference, then tight renderings. I'm just saying how you develop ideas for a painting has many different approaches.

    But again, the topic is Art Myths and I'm using the example that "copying = cheating" is not entirely true, that it is a myth that a lot of us ametuers often fall for. thebluepuppy is supporting this by telling us that the majority of illustrators use photoreference. And I agree with him that "the most important thing for an artist is not to become a slave of photography". Even RefrigeratorCo says that drawing from photo is good for practice or reference. I think most people are agreeing that copying isn't necessairly cheating.

    NoUseFrAName - when I asked to give an example, I was saying, show me a painting that was done from life and then take a photograph of the same composition and paint from the photograph and show me what your unable to achieve compared to the life painting. As far as the one eye, two eye situation, one eye can focus on things close and far. When you paint from life your transforming it to a 2D surface, just like you look with one eye. I'm kinda particular about this because my first painting teacher in college only had one eye. He was a freakin pirate!! ... Serisouly, he only had one eye and his paintings showed as much depth and realism as anyone with two eyes.

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    I'd be thrilled to see some examples of that...especially if he worked from life.

    and example-wise, yes, a copied photo may have as much depth as a painting from life, but only because it was copied. You don't LEARN depth and forms from photos, only shapes. (unless of course you get the series of photos like I described earlier)
    Photos can help you learn anatomy...but not as effectively as it is to see the anatomy in 3D...

    Learning is the important part in all this.

    Illustrators that use photoreference, yes, they make real art, and art is the end, not the means by which it's achieved(unless of course the process is intentionally it's own art too lol) but they limit themselves tremendously because when you LEARN all the understanding of forms/perspective and anatomy that you can't get from just photos, you can do so much more as an artist.
    Therefore, it's no myth that learning from life is more effective.
    Photos show light, but they don't show how light works. Life does.
    Photos show shapes, not forms. Life shows forms.
    Photos give the illusion of perspective. Life has the actual properties of perspective.

    Now I'm not knocking books...I mean photos/articles that will help you to study life more effectively are good. Photos and books aimed at teaching you how to make art are effectively getting you to make eggs with no chickens inside if metaphor serves me correctly.

    -Rob
    My Sketchbook
    Encouragement keeps me swimming , even in the undertow of disappointment.

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