Monday, June 22, 2015

Photos: Tools of the Trade

There is a debate among painters now and then over whether to use photos.  Some artists are strictly anti-photos, although using technology is becoming not only widely accepted but admired in many artists' work.  There is a sense of snobbery towards those who paint from photos; 'if-we-wanted-a-photographic-work-we'd-take-a-picture' sort of attitude.  I've been guilty of that.

After being scanned, enlarged and printed
In taking college classes and giving private lessons I have been a 'work from life' promoter.  I also do a lot of work from my imagination- most of my cacti are pulled from my mind and not from life or photos.  I really do still hold to the belief that learning to draw from life rather than photos is the only way to go, but...

Arizona Hedgehog, endangered species.  I think.  Either that or Claretcup Cacti.  I can't tell the difference...
There are times when a photo is an important resource.  For example, on our camping trip to Arizona's White Mountains a couple of weekends ago I was taken by the tiny cacti we found growing up in the cracks of the rocks.  I should have sketched them and taken notes about how they grew, ect.  I was too tired/lazy and took a heap of photos instead.  Now I want to make a painting about those little gems and have no idea how to draw them true to their real-life habits.  This is where my 'cheater' tools come in handy, with apologies for ever being a snob.  What can I say?  

Ready to be transferred to my watercolor paper
As I began drawing the blossoms about twice their real size, I found that they were still not as large as I wanted them to be for my painting.  Enter my scanner.  After scanning them into iPhoto, I can make them as large as I want.  I print them back off larger than I drew them and then arrange them onto my full-sheet of watercolor paper.  Kind of like playing paper dolls.  Love the scanner.

Graphite paper, a dear friend!  
A graphite sheet placed under the print-outs makes transferring them to my paper a snap.  When I have used this sheet all up, I will buy another.  Or four.  This one has lasted me for a couple of years now.  I love the stuff.  It's still my original drawing, it's just been 'adjusted.'  Hooray for only figuring out all of those petals once!

I'll bet Rembrandt would have LOVED a computer to draw from.

Sitting with my full sheet on a board for support, I can sit by my computer and enlarge details on the screen to help me see how these blossoms grow, how the thorns project and what patterns they make as they intersect each other.  They don't have to be arranged just like the photos, but knowing the angles they lean at as they lift away from the cacti, where their thorns are placed and where they emerge from the little round bodies of the plant gives me the power to make my composition my own.
Now that the blossoms are transferred onto the paper, I can draw in the plants and thorns freehand. It's getting more complex and I'm getting more excited!

So, I'm not a total purist.  In the debate over using photos vs. not using them I am a fence sitter.  Those who feel that using photos is leaving 'art' and entering 'pretty picture' territory will be shocked. Oh well, I'm actually just me.  How I produce my work, the processes and inspiration I use are my own and the tools I utilize to get me there are, in my opinion, not nearly as important as what I produce.  So there.

Come again!  Alice



RH Carpenter said...

I believe in using whatever works to get to the final piece, and that includes photo references, scanners, enlarging photos, etc. The final artwork is the outcome and all those other things are just tools of the current trade :) I know this painting will be lovely and will show the hand of the artist in the painting (and it already shows in the composition you've created rather than just tracing a photo).

Anna Lisa Leal said...

Great stuff! I am a believer in using the tools of age. The world is not "flat" - we progress! I look forward to seeing the progression of the piece!

Alice Jo Webb said...

Rhonda and Anna Lisa, it's so good to connect to others who are traveling the same road I am on. Thanks for all the support!