I usually like having reference photos or real life objects in front of me to get inspired by when creating an artwork. Even though I am not particularly interested in taking the hyperrealist route, I use photographs because they remind me of details that I may or may not choose to include in my painting (or drawing), and might otherwise forget. I have found that, at times, it is these little details in photographs that my painting was lacking in order to become great. Perhaps when I become experienced enough as an artist I will have sufficient information stored in my mind to be able to paint anything without needing a reference, but I really doubt it. There are a lot of very experienced people out there that use reference photos and most of my favorite artists in history did as well. Having something to look at, even if you aren’t trying to create a perfect replica of it, is super useful.
This said, I have to admit that I am very much against tracing and even using grids (after you have arrived at a certain level of ability). I don’t even like to print out reference images, but prefer to work directly from my computer screen or from real life. Many artists recommend printing out the picture before starting a painting and working from it in order to ensure colors, values and proportions are true to the image. If you are going for something very realistic or simply believe it will be more comfortable for you, go ahead and print the image. I personally don’t because my style doesn't involve recreating images 100%. Even if it means my version of the reference will end up slightly distorted, have colors that may look a bit unnatural, or certain angles don’t completely make sense, I like this more because there is more of myself in my artwork. I view imperfections and deliberate modifications by the artist as good things. All of this is my opinion and my personal way of working. Finally, tracing doesn't help an artist exercise observational and drawing skills as much as drawing from life or from a separate image does. I really recommend not doing it after you have surpassed that initial level of drawing, no matter how hard it may be at first.
Getting back to photography, making time to take photos of the subjects you are most drawn to is incredibly important for an artist. In a previous post I talked about how sometimes it’s difficult to make time for this. I've shared links to sites that offer free quality photos that you can use to create artwork from and even sell (click here to go to this post). These sites are lifesavers for us who have a full or part time job aside from being artists and don't always have the time necessary to do an actual photo session. I don't think there is anything wrong in using photos that aren't ours in these cases, as long as we have permission to do so. I believe that using them to get daily practice in is SO much better than doing nothing at all. However, there is nothing as rewarding as creating an artwork completely on your own, from start to finish. Going though the process of brainstorming and visualization, finding the actual object(s) you want to shoot, sketching out composition ideas and arriving at the photo that you will later be using to create your artwork, may be a lot of work, but it is totally worth it at the end.
Photography is definitely an art form in itself and learning to take perfect photos takes a lot of learning and practice. I took my first Photography class when I was in High School and later on took a course in university in which we were still actually processing photos in dark rooms (man do I feel old)! It is important to know that simply taking a photo doesn't ensure that it will be able to be used for a drawing or painting. Things like resolution and lighting can make a photo extremely difficult to work with and even result in bad art. Below I am sharing a few key things to keep in mind when taking reference photos for your artwork. As artists, we should spend more time doing drawing and painting than taking photos, so we should make the process as simple but effective as possible.
Things to have in mind when taking reference photos for your art:
Here are a couple of good pictures I ended up with that I will definitely be using to create some paintings. Try not to get too hungry!
Thanks so much for reading! I hope this was helpful!
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