Saturday, January 10, 2009

So what about it?

August Tree Study
colored pencil on Stonehenge
4.5 x 6.5 inches
©Ann Thompson Nemcosky

Working from photographs, that is. In my last post I talked a little about the value of drawing from life. But there is that other method, drawing from photographs, that is often talked about with embarrassment, if mentioned at all. Well, I am here to say that yes, of course I work from photographs as well as drawing from life. Many of my ACEOs are drawn from life. And my sketchbook works are almost always done from life. But for finished colored pencil pieces I always work from photographs.

There are many advantages to working from a photo. I think the problem lies in works that try to only duplicate the photograph. These become more about exercises in skillful rendering than anything to do with making art.

Anyway, how do I use photographs to my advantage when making a colored pencil piece? The first, and most important criteria for me, is that it must be a photo that I have taken. With landscape imagery I need to feel a connection to the place. I have to have been there, experiencing that scene first hand. Once I have a photo I want to develop into a colored pencil work, I adjust it in Photoshop. This allows me to quickly play with various crops for format and composition. I also play around with adjusting the contrast, color and saturation of color. These are all my decisions that will influence the final piece. When I have something that I am satisfied I can work from, I print out my reference. Once the drawing begins I rarely stick exactly to the reference photo. Sometimes the photo is just a mere suggestion, a starting place.

With that in mind, when I take photographs while out and about, I usually don't care too much about the composition of the photo itself. I know I will be editing out stuff, cropping, etc., when it comes time to actually use the photo, if I use it at all. And sometimes the photograph is just a really bad photo, but there may be an element there that appeals to me, so I'll work with just that. Like in the example above. This is a study for a possibly larger work, to try out color combinations and what support to use. On the left here you see my very poor photo reference that I used to make this drawing. And this photo reference is cropped out of a larger scene from an equally not so interesting photo. I may or may not try another composition from this photo. But my drawing will probably look a bit different than the photograph anyway.

So how do you use photography in the creation of your art work? I would love to hear from others about this.

14 comments:

Spinneretta said...

Interesting thoughts and tips :)
I like to use photography for things that move- or practise.
For instance, when drawing a proper drawing of the kids, a photograph because they move so fast I can only sketch them otherwise!
I like to use them for practise in newer media or textures- I used some magazine photos this week for practising bird feathers in coloured pencil. Sometimes I use photos for working on when I am otherwise uninspired :) Most of the time I do prefer from life images, but have been known to photograph something because I really liked the play of light. i.e. sunset. Then I use the colours I remember but the light patterns in the photo.
I think for me, photos are more memory aides or practise :) And if it stands still, I'll draw from life LOL.

owenswain said...

"while out and about" - sounds positively Canadian, eh? {no worries, I am Canadian} :)

I sometimes use photos as a reference and sometimes to compose with which may also include using my computer.

purplepaint said...

Ann - this is just beautiful! Thanks for stopping by my blog and for your comments. :) Marva

Margaret Ann said...

Your works each have such exquisite blends of color...scrumptious! :)

Pippa said...

Wow, truly beautiful, Ann, and especially inspiring because of finding great art in bits of photographs which would otherwise have made it into the bin.

I like the play of light very much!

And I agree that a photograph should be a starting point, otherwise one falls into the trap of wanting to render it 'perfectly'. (Of course I speak as a newbie!)

I wish artists would be less embarrassed about using photo references! It is certainly true that most artists feel hesitant to mention it, or you hear disparaging comments about it, and for the life of me I can't figure out why. It doesn't make the art which is born from it any less valid or REAL!

Your blog is an inspiration to me, thank you so much for sharing your art and your insights!

(: Pippa
Pippa's Porch

Rita said...

I use photos quite frequently and, actually, I sometimes puposely look for the bad pictures. In those "rotten" photos there's sometimes a colour that comes out that I wouldn't have otherwise noticed or some other effect that allows me to look beyond what's simply in the photograph. For portraits though where exact detail needs to be done I do prefer the best quality photo I can get my hands on.

Having said that, I do a fair bit of drawing/ sketching from life (although probably not as much as I should) and I understand the limitations of photos and that they don't capture everything that you would see "in person" with your eyes.

Artists shouldn't be embarassed about working from photos as they're simply another tool for creating art. Also, some mediums, such as coloured pencil, are so time consuming that to do a piece featuring a subject that moves (ie- kids, animals, etc) would be very difficult without a photo.

I say "hooray!" for using photos... just learn to use them in a way that expands your creativity. :D

Jennifer Rose said...

since I don't see that many tigers and african birds in Scotland I have to use a photo and usually its someone else's unless there is a zoo nearby with the animal I want to draw there. If what I want to draw wont move in the course of drawing I would prefer to draw from life, but with something like still lifes, especially if I'm using CPs, I still take a photo in case things get moved accidentally (or I eat the subject :p) Nothing wrong with using a photo even if you didn't take it (well as long as you have permission from the person who did take it), like Rita said they are just another tool to use.

Physhy said...

I like your pencil sketch. Re photos: without photos, people would visibly age in front of me while I attempt a portrait, their expressions changing from pleasant anticipation to just plain desparation. So, I created a photo reference file, (Tony has taught me a lot about Adobe Photoshop). The time needed for watercolor washes to dry makes working from photos a necessary tool for me.

freebird said...

Thanks for sharing your process. I have just started learning how to use Elements. I need a bit more before it is as useful to me as it is to you but I can see it's definitely worth the trouble of learning.

Carolyn said...

I use photos when I don't have the time or the inclination to sit out in public drawing. For example, when it's raining out, or when I'm with friends who don't have the time. Also, when I want to draw something with a lot of detail and it will take multiple days to finish. In these cases, I like to make a sketch and also take some photos as I am more observant when drawing from life.

Mary Timme said...

Well, I like to draw wildlife and there isn't a lot of that in suburbia--although some would disagree. Occasionally, I'll spot a fox racing along the drainage ditch near our house or a coyote doing the same, but it is always way early in bad lighting and I'm not sharp enough to get my camera before they are gone.

So, I use photos in magazines and where ever they are to draw from. These usually take me a week or more to do and I always say this is from a photo if I drawn it true to the picture or enlarged from a photo of etsy, etsy size and changed with whatever I've changed on it.

I had some really good photos I took at the zoo that I was going to use and then in the racing around and trying to get them in a certain program they were mostly erased and now I have get more of my own. But, since I'm just learning, I don't feel a lot of guilt. I'm using some or all of the composition (hardly ever all!) for practice and to see how true to life with what I think is the essence of the animal showing.

kazumiwannabe said...

Very interesting! Love what you did here from the photograph. Lovely soft, warm atmosphere. I draw from photographs too, when the subject moves too much or because I'm too shy to draw in public and then, I try to photograph the exact setting I want to draw. And maybe it's because I'm still a beginner, but I don't really feel a difference between working from photos or 3d reality.

Ann said...

Thanks everyone for your insightful comments. And I agree with you all, photography is just another tool, well worth using to its full advantage. Thanks everyone for stopping by :)

Sherry said...

Your colored pencil work is lovely, and because I also do colored pencil I know that it takes lots and lots of time. I cannot imagine doing a colored pencil piece without the aid of a photograph. Time, weather concerns, and my love of having all my tools at hand make me a studio artist. I use my own photos (unless it's for Virtual Sketch Date) because I actually saw the place or object, it's something with which I am familiar - so I don't draw African animals unless I visited a zoo. I try very hard to not reproduce the image precisely, but to adapt it, simplify it. I try to create a composition that is pleasing, something you do very nicely.

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