Drawing From Photos And Proud Of It

I just read a great post by Tina Koyama titled Practicing People of the 21st Century.  She presents some great drawing exercises to improve the ability to capture people in motion.  She also begins her discussion with the notion that “it wouldn’t be so bad…” if she drew from photos.

In my mind, this is THE biggest problem with the urban sketching movement.  While we’re ready and willing to tell everyone that drawing from life, on location, is very valuable as a learning tool, we’ve nearly turned our backs completely on all the OTHER ways we can benefit our personal learning curves or are at least apologetic if we do anything that’s not on location.  Copying master drawings, doing drawing skill exercises, visual memory exercises, AND DRAWING FROM TV, MOVIES, AND PHOTOS are all important to the development of an artist.

Truth is, you don’t learn much by going out and using your existing skills to draw something for the group throw down at the end of the day for the simple reason that you’re “using your existing skills to draw something.”  Just as a baseball player doesn’t learn to hit home runs by playing baseball games, sketchers need activities separate from “creating art to show others” if they are to improve.

I happen to know that Tina, who draws all the time on location, also attends classes at places like the Gage Institute, Daniel Smith store, etc.  She need not (should not) excuse herself for drawing from photos, regardless of her goal.  I’m sure that she, like everyone else who wants to improve their art, could benefit from trying to make a hyper-realistic drawing from a photo, and there’s no need to be apologetic about it at all.

Just to put a bit of drawing where my mouth is, here is a page from my own practice book.  That book holds pages of nothing more than me trying to draw straight lines in parallel or between two dots.  There are pages of ellipses, all poorly drawn in evidence of my need for such practice.  But since the topic here is drawing from photos, here’s a page of four 10-12 minute (sometimes I cheated on my 10-min limitation) faces.  The source for them was Mr. Google.  Are they perfect?  No, but I’m practicing stuff I’m not good at – if they were perfect there would be no point.

This stuff is practice and neither Tina or I would post any of it except  to talk about practicing, and maybe that’s the problem.  People wanting to be urban sketchers only see the stuff we’ve done on the streets, sitting on our tripod stools.  But, to improve, you need to be doing a lot of this other stuff and to feel proud, not guilty for doing it.

6 thoughts on “Drawing From Photos And Proud Of It

  1. Practice is practice — wherever it comes from, and all of it’s good. Glad to see that Mr. Google is providing what you need that way, too. I didn’t mean to sound apologetic about drawing from photos — it’s just that I don’t usually enjoy it. 😉 The book I’m using, however, has finally made it fun for me. Maybe just the intriguing arrangement of images by theme.

    • If your comment was the first time I’d heard it from an urban sketcher, I wouldn’t think much about it but it’s a common theme. If you’re not working on location you’re doing something wrong and so urban sketchers are always making excuses when no excuses are necessary. How many times have you heard the reverse from people who don’t draw on location. “I don’t really like drawing on location so I draw from photos. Hope that’s ok.” (grin).

      BTW, that book looks fun, though Mr. Google provides me with “people shopping”, “people sitting”, “groups of people” and pretty much any occupation you want. Then there are the dogs, cats, elephants and baby Yoda (grin). Have you used any of the life drawing sites like Croquis Cafe or timed photo sites like Line of Action? They are lots of fun.

      • I tried a couple of the life drawing sites a while ago, and right before I remembered the 21st century book, I tried to get Sktchy — until I realized it was not available for Android! I actually prefer using old-fashioned books, though, because I spend too much time looking at screens as it is. I think it’s too easy for me to get lost in Internet images — I seem to get less distracted if I can just flip open a book randomly.

        • I can relate to all of that. I’m a book junkie so any excuse to buy one is good with me (grin). The thing I like about the life drawing sites is the timed drawings. Croquis Cafe is just like a real session, with the model changing positions, etc. These places let me do 30s, 1m, 5m and 10m drawing exercises without me having to do the timing. You’re right about Mr Google, though. He can be very distracting.

  2. Hello Larry!

    I know a bit about your feeling. But then, if we do not practice or take courses (in my case MANY courses) how can we improve? It’s not always convenient to draw outside. So photos are better than nothing. With printed photos I take more time to observe and take notes.

    Urban Sketchers group have their own rules and it’s OK. If I work from photos or other images, I just don’t publish on their social media pages.

    For your information, here is a link to a very interesting site for practicing figure drawing, faces & expression, https://line-of-action.com/

    Have fun !


    • Obviously, from what I wrote, I agree. No practice, no improvement. But how many urban sketchers do you know who only draw when they go out with other people and then only to complete a drawing? I was talking to those people.

      It’s not about USK rules. It’s about an attitude that you can get better at art by doing what you know over and over and only with the idea that you’ve got to complete a drawing.

      I love Line of Action, particularly for practicing animal drawing. Thanks for mentioning it, Diane.

Comments are closed.