Drawing from Life versus Photography
Since the advent of photography in the mid-1850s the relative merits of drawing from life or from photographs have been much debated.
Drawing from life offers an in-depth understanding of the fundamental principles of figurative art: proportion, volume, gesture, values, edges and colour. It is therefore the best way for a student to improve their draughtsmanship. Photography, by contrast, tends to flatten and distort a lot of these elements making it harder to translate effectively onto a two dimensional surface. In the same way, a painting in the flesh as opposed to represented in a book, will always be more informative.
Nevertheless, photography can be a useful aid to help with the drawing or painting process. Many artists working on portrait commissions find it useful to take reference shots to help with elements such as background, clothing, drapery and composition. Photography is also useful to study motion or extreme poses that are too difficult for models to hold for sustained periods of time.
However, when it comes to developing professional work the artist must dig deeper than a photograph to represent something with true meaning. Photography can capture some amazing images to work from but the energy a model exudes and the dynamic poses they hold never fail to help artists take their paintings to the next level.
Figure models can become costly but there are so many ways to get around this. Drop in sketch clubs are more economical and good for encouraging speed and versatility, it is also possible to sketch from a lay model and if neither of those are viable options there is always the mirror!
Ultimately translating from a photograph, which is someone else’s vision, can never be as inspiring or as vivid as seeing and interpreting the world through your own eyes.
At London Fine Art Studios, we only work from life, whether from the plaster casts, still lifes, portrait and figure models or landscapes. We believe it is very important to work from life in the initial stages of your training, and only to resort to photography in your own private studios as an aid and not a sole resource.