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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Drawing Better (Part 2)

The Art of Painting, ca. 1666-68, Jan Vermeer.
Yesterday (the item below) I covered in some detail the three major motives as to why artists produce art. I also discussed the three major sources of inspiration artist rely upon today and the fact that none of them are relevant as to the motives. Artists are thus free to choose whatever type of source material best suits their needs, skills, work habits, and disposition. Among those resources is the use of photos. Artists have been using them for about 150 years now. They have used them in a number of different manners from simply holding the photo in one hand and drawing with the other to collaging them onto their canvases and painting over and around them. Among the ways artists have used photos, especially in the past one-hundred years, is to transfer them to their canvases through the use of some form of optical projector. Actually, this technique predates photography, going back to the development of lens crafting during the 17th century (mostly in northern Europe). The highly respected Dutch painter, Jan Vermeer (above), used a camera obscura almost exclusively in this manner. 

Although the use photos in art is widely accepted today, artists have long been ambivalent about projecting photos as a means of transferring images to canvas or other surfaces. The layman, and probably many artists, quickly ask, "But isn't that tracing?" Yes, it is. But why is tracing such a dirty word as applied to art? Tracing is simply a means of drawing, and as it so happens, a quicker, more accurate means than the guesswork of freehand drawing. Artists have long looked upon freehand drawing as if it were some kind of "magic" art skill--the very definition of an artist. Tracing a projection destroys that illusion. It seems tantamount to plagiarism, even is the artist is working from his or her own photography.
Photorealist, Tjalf Sparnaay, of the Netherlands...
paintings or simply giant photos?
The question which then arises is, "If the artist uses a photo by simply tracing it in pencil or paint, why bother? Why not simply use the photo itself and call it art?" It's a valid question to which any professional photographer would quickly answer, "We do." But being a painter, the key word in the equation is "uses," not "copies." Artists, being artists, are prone to changing the appearance and content of their work as they change the media of presentation. Even the most dedicated Photorealist makes changes from his source photo(s), anything from adding color to combining two or more photos into a single painting. Once more, the Photorealist painter uses the photo, first as a source of inspiration, then tracing the projected photo as a means of obtaining the needed extremes in drawing accuracy, not as the final work of art.

Note: the grid is unneeded.
So, if working from projected drawings saves the Photorealist time and effort while improving accuracy, thus making the artist more efficient, then why shouldn't ALL artists, regardless of style, use such methods to replace traditional time-consuming, error-prone drawing efforts making up the all-important conceptual and preliminary preparations to paint? The most common answer to that lies in the word "traditional." That is to say, it's always been done that way...or perhaps, anything less is "cheating." That way of thinking, my friend, is academic brainwashing, the main purpose of which is to maintain academic cash flow.

Projection drawing requires a good photo, a digital projector, a firm base, a
darkened room, an easel with a drawing board, and a steady hand.
Let me state here and now that in a single day, I can teach a student to draw better and faster (thus more efficiently) using proper projection techniques than he or she can garner in a whole year of traditional college drawing classes. Moreover I've done so with over fifty portrait artists. AND, at the end of the day, their finished works are salable. Of course, good drawing neither begins nor ends with a video projector. Quality comes from both what is projected and what the artist does with the drawing after it is projected. That means good photography to begin with and exceptional painting or drawing skills applied over the projection.

Part 3, tomorrow, will deal with a course of study for artists in the digital age.

Norman Rockwell went to great pains to pose his models,
hire a professional photographer, try many versions, and make changes where he thought best. Can you count the differences between the photo and the painting? All his images were
transferred to his canvases using a slide projector.

1 comment:

  1. Can you contact me? - my email is

    Your article is completely wrong and I would like it changed.