Sight-Size Comparative Measurement

Drawing from Life versus Photography

At London Fine Art Studios, we only work from life, whether from the plaster cast, still life, portrait and figure model or landscape. We believe it is essential to work from life and the best way to improve our drawing and painting skills.

Since the advent of photography in the mid 19thcentury, 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, focus and colour. At London Fine Art Studios we believe it is the best way for a student to improve their draughtsmanship.

Working from a plaster cast is essential to understand mass and proportion. Still-life helps us with composition and colour. Once these have been grasped, the life model or landscapes is the next stage to capture energy, temperature and colours.

There are so many decisions we make as an artist when translating the 3-dimensional onto a 2-dimensional picture plane. These decisions about edges, focus, value and colour saturation are key to the creative process. We are making so many conscious and unconscious decisions as we draw. With a photograph, many of the decisions have already been made. Furthermore, a photograph can often flatten and distort an image. 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 tool 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, our role as an artist is not just to imitate nature or a photograph. Photography in itself in an incredible art form and can capture amazing images to inspire us. But working from life adds an energy, whether this is from the figure model or a changing landscape, pushing our artwork 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.

Seeing and interpreting the world through your own eyes will always be the most inspiring and vivid way to draw and paint what you see.

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