I have read that models posing live for an artist are a must for every artist. Those who paint from photos are sometimes frowned upon in the art community and are deemed as a ‘lesser’ or inferior artists. There is a lot of contention among artists on this issue. I believe there are huge egos, especially among hyperrealist artists as well as their sponsors in galleries and prestigious art shows, and jurists who are promoting this idea who have forgot about the tools and techniques of the past and those available to us today.
Sophie Ploeg, who is a wonderful artist known for her realistic figures and lace portraits makes a good point in her article, “For Artists: In Defense of Working from Photos” that using a photo reference is a tool to drawing and painting. It is a great way for people to learn their techniques. We have all seen those who like to put themselves on a pedestal and look down on everyone else. I’ve worked with quite a few of these “creative” types in the Graphics and Web Agency world where they only want to use you as a stepping stone in their career or to ignore you instead of mentoring and helping you grow in your career.
Working from life is a great way to learn the basics and teach your eye to see but for me I also have no problem working from a photo reference. Those who have seen my work know that it would have been tough for me to dig up some of the celebrities I have painted and cart them off to my studio to paint from ‘life’.
These artist who think you should only use live models are forgetting the technology that we have available to us today as well as the technology that was used in the past. There are plenty of techniques such as “The Grid” method, Transfer Paper, and projectors or light boxes. Today’s Photoshop techniques (especially for photographers) are a great way to create a composition and adjust photos for paintings or portraits. Although I have an Artograph Prism for photo transfer, I have never figured it out. It is very similar to the Camera Obscura used by past masters like Vermeer and may have been used in his paintings including “The Art of Painting”.
So this is one of the many tools that I use to create the images in my mind and to get them down on paper or canvas. Photoshop is a great tool to put your composition together as it is a quick way to see if your idea is going to work. I also do not like to have people around when I am working thus working from a live model, for me, is not an option. The images I use that I have manipulated are displayed in my studio on my iPad or computer screen while I am painting, so it is almost like it is from life. Plus how would you possibly get a pet or child to stand still longer then a second. Painting from photos is a must and for those who think otherwise have their paint brushes stuck where the sun doesn’t shine.
I’m currently working on a commission portrait for someone from across the nation. This would not be possible if it not for a photo. In this day and age, not to use tools and techniques available all for the sake of purity or to deem oneself as a ‘higher’ type of artist is just limiting. If techniques that made it easier for an artist to complete their work was good enough in the past it is surely good enough now with the technology that is available to us today.