Anyone can draw stunning portraits from photographs if they have the right tools, techniques and patience. Using a photo reference is, for many artists, a matter of convenience. It may not be how an artist develops a work foremost, but it is a useful method, especially when you want to capture a likeness and don¹t have the luxury of having your model available at all times. Taking photographs is the easiest way to get references of a subject you wish to draw or paint. Portrait painters, for instance, often go from photo to painting because it is not often possible to complete a commission working solely from life.
Using the camera to create a photo reference doesn¹t magically take photo to painting. There is a lot to assess in the process of painting from photographs, and plenty of pitfalls. That¹s why it can often make sense to start drawing from photos first, so you get a handle on how to use photos without the time commitment of a major painting. This free photo reference guide from Artist Daily gives you the lay of the land in a really accessible way.
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The decision of drawing from photographs or from real life should be a matter of choosing the practical path. Both have their own benefits. Drawing from life will allow an artist to see a fuller value range than what can be observed in a photograph, while drawing from a photograph of a child, say, rather than asking the child to pose, can make a difficult task much more manageable. Knowing how to use a photo reference and that there are certain limitations to that process is important for every artist to understand. Such issues include getting tunnel vision or adhering too closely to the photo so that end result looks stiff or unnatural, and losing the subtle play of light and shadow on a form or object. Learn how to overcome any limitations with these free techniques and steps for successfully drawing from photographs and turning your favorite photos to paintings. Discover the three common mistakes that often arise when working from a photo reference and how to avoid them, plus tips on how to get a good photo to work from in the first place.
Drawing from Photographs: The Right Tools for the Job
What materials can’t artist and instructor, Sandra Angelo, live without when working from a photo reference? Discover the tools she finds necessary for the task, why they’re important, and her preferences based on years of experience.
Sandra Angelo explores the positives and negatives to using a photograph as a reference for a drawing, as opposed to someone sitting for you while you draw them. A lot of artists concentrate on drawing eyes when starting a portrait. Some concern themselves with the general shape of the head, while others may find that likeness resides in the mouth. But many beginners are filled with trepidation at tackling the most changeable, finely detailed, and idiosyncratic feature of a person: the hair.
Drawing Portraits from Photos: Where to Begin
Angelo discusses how she uses a photo reference in her own work, often beginning by taking many photos of a sitter and then creating a contour drawing pencil sketch of the major shapes she sees. This allows Angelo to use a photo reference as a stepping-off point, interpreting the image early on in the process so that she establishes her own vision and is not constantly referring back to the photo reference as her be-all guide.
Expert Tips on Using a Photo Reference: Art that Looks Like the Real Photo
Angelo also recommends working from a large photo reference and even using a grid kit when starting out. By far the section I found most informative was the section in which Angelo discusses the three common mistakes that often arise when working from a photo reference and how to avoid them, plus the portrait photography tips she includes so that you know how to get a good photo to work from in the first place.