My tenth grade art teacher taught me never to draw from a photograph. I don’t actually recall him telling me why, but I have since realized that it has something to do with the difficulty of producing a convincing image from one that is viewed in two rather than three dimensions. He wasn’t saying that all art must be drawn in “plein air” (outside)—the entire class took place in an indoor studio. But he did want us to learn to see what things look like in real life, the fullness of people, places and objects. Lately I have been thinking about his advice (and all the ways I have ignored it) and I wanted to give my own point of view on the subject.
I agree that it is important to draw from life when possible. While I don’t have any specific proof, I certainly understand the intention behind that concept. BUT I still have a few things to say in favor of drawing from photographs. For one thing, drawing from photographs can greatly expand your subject matter. You can draw things you have never seen in person. Or you can draw things that you have seen in person and were not able to draw at the time, like your cat who won’t sit still for more than a few seconds.
I have recently become a fan of drawing from my own photographs. It’s great if you can use your own pictures (whether or not you are the most stellar photographer) for a few reasons. It allows you to draw what you have actually seen, how you saw it; to choose your own subject matter; and to select your own composition for the piece. Photography is an art in itself, and translating personal photographs—particularly those you took just for this purpose—into drawings seems like a pretty special thing to me.
Below are three examples of photographs I have drawn. I don’t usually display the pictures next to my drawings, mostly out of fear of them not looking enough alike (at least I felt that way when I was 100% into photo-realism. I’ve loosened up a little since then). It’s also nice to leave a little something to the imagination/ style of the artist instead of comparing everything with the reference photo.
“Fruit Plate” is from a photo my friend took the morning of my wedding as we got ready. I don’t think she will mind that I used it! While it’s tempting to make critiques and explanations about this one, I will just stick to pointing out that it was my second colored pencil drawing ever, and I didn’t have any Prismacolors then so there was little to no blending occurring. I like how it has kind of an illustration vibe to it, even though that wasn’t what I was initially going for.
“Seagull on a Post,” which premiered on the blog in December, was my first Prismacolor drawing, and my first attempt to draw water ever! I could feel and see such a huge difference with the new pencils. This post isn’t about these drawings per se, so I won’t elaborate too much, except to point out that I had some fairly good positioning going on with these drawings, but need to work on color matching.
“Monk Trees” was the first photograph I remember taking with a lot of intention (and giving a cool name); I actually drove home to get my digital camera (before smartphones! Whoa!) and capture the scene. I don’t think I intended to draw it at the time, but I did feel a certain unique connection when I did end up drawing it.
In conclusion, I think you should draw what you want to draw! Whether you are sitting in a studio (office, bedroom, whatever) or on a bench in the center of town, or a beach, draw a picture. Or take a photo and draw it later. I say there are benefits to both.
Note: If you do draw from someone else’s photograph, you have to be careful to use free photos or give credit for/ pay for the ones you used. I don’t know the details about crediting photographers to create your own work of art from theirs, but I am pretty sure that you aren’t supposed to just draw something you found on Google and sell the artwork. (Luckily all of my tenth-grade sketches drawn from Google images are not nice enough to sell.)
I would love to hear other points of view in the comments below!