Drawing From Photographs

12 Oct 2009

More than 5,300 artists entered one, two, or three works of art in the contest sponsored by American Artist and Utrecht art supplies, and I was one of the three judges that selected the award winners. It was both a challenging and rewarding experience, and I discovered some incredibly talented artists to profile in upcoming issues of our magazines.

Winter Glow
by Neal Hughes, oil, 16 x 20. Private collection.

This painting was selected as "Best of Show" in
the Utrecht 60th Anniversary Art Competition.

While marking the contest entries on a scale from 1 to 10, I did take note of the great number of drawings created from photographs. How do I know the artists worked from photographs? There are three telltale signs. First, there is usually a stiff, mechanical look to artwork that is slavishly copied from a photograph. That’s because the artists feel obligated to draw every line exactly as it is in the snapshot. Second, the drawings lack subtle midtone values because photographs tend to exaggerate the contrast between lights and darks—soft grays either turn to bright white or deepen to become part of dark shadows. Third, the drawings are overloaded with details that distract attention from the center of interest. That’s because when painting from a photograph, we feel obligated to draw every tooth on that smiling face and every tree in the background.

So what can artists do when they are forced to work from photographs because they can’t hire models or travel to picturesque locations? The answer is for artists to recognize the problems that can come from drawing everything the camera records and to approach the creative process as if they were looking at the real subject. We aren’t likely to count all the teeth when a live model poses for us, and we don’t see every branch on the tree when we are outside drawing. Those are some of the recommendations included in a free article you can download from our website simply by joining our community of artists: www.artistdaily.com. This free, downloadable article is the first in an informative series offering advice, lists of materials, special techniques, solutions to common problems, and recommendations for making significant progress. You won’t want to miss all this valuable, free content, so sign up today!

Download Free Article:  Draw People from Photographs

Related Posts
+ Add a comment


Kisu wrote
on 20 Oct 2009 4:48 PM

Hi!  Those 3 telltale signs sound more like just 2; drawing too literally from a photo reference seems to be at the root of signs 1 and 3.  I have to disagree, however, that this is a problem exclusive to those artists using photo references, and is prevented by painting or drawing 'from life.'  I've seen *plenty* of studio work involving both human models and still life set-ups that are absolutely plagued by the exact same problems!  Much too rigid, and WAY too fussy, unnecessary detail.  Plein air painting seems to be much less afflicted with these overpainting or overdrawing problems.  The issue of untrue shadows is probably one that I can see as a photo-related problem, but in the historical past, deep shadowing in art  was admired and called 'chiaroscuro,' right?  At any rate, photos are not a problem if they're used with discretion and intelligence.  And painting from life does not guarantee a problem-free result.