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Friday, February 17, 2017

Drawing Better (Part 5)

Luncheon on the Grass, 1862, Edouard Manet
For generations, those denigrating the use of photos as artists' source material have preached a negative dogma of almost religious intensity. Quite frankly much of what they preach has some merit. However, in virtually all cases, their objections boil down to the misuse of photos by artists who have never had one ounce of positive training as to the proper use of such input. Yesterday I went into some detail in providing such instruction with my DO list. Beyond that, though, some such instruction can best be conveyed in warning artists as to what they should never (or very seldom ever) do in working from photos, whether projected or otherwise. Herewith is my DON'T list:

A portrait from a flash photo.
Noticed how most facial modeling
(especially the chin) is lost.
 1. Avoid at all costs photos having a single light source emanating from the camera (flash photography) or from directly behind the camera. I've criticized the iconic French painter, Edouard Manet, several times for just this fault. Manet can be excused somewhat in that he was one of the first artist to employ photography as source material. In several of his paintings, his Luncheon on the Grass (top) for instance, we see the detestable flattening of his nude female figure in the foreground resulting from the primitive flash powder frontal lighting of his day. The effect is consistent among all four of Manet's figures but most noticeable in the nude figures. The same fault can be seen in the portrait at right, except it should be noted that even the slightest differences in lighting (left to right) adds subtle contours to the facial features.

Few, if any, artists drawing on location, would add a
parallax effect to their work. Thus, when seen in a painting,
parallax cries out as to the use of a photo as source material.
2. When photographing architecture, especially up close, parallax is a problem. Don't ignore it. The painter should, in all cases, make every effort to keep all vertical lines in his or her work from tilting (usually inward). With some degree of skill, parallax can be corrected in the photo-editing stage. Otherwise, it must be addressed using a straight-edge when the image is projected. Sometimes, when the photo is shot from a distance, correcting architectural verticals is fairly simple or unnecessary. However, with tight interiors or when structures are shot relatively close to the camera, such corrections can be quite extensive, involving not just the edges of buildings but doors and windows as well. You cannot just partially correct this problem. 

The Large Bathers, 1887, Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Pointless
action from the early days of painting from photos--
a painted snapshot--19th century paparazzi style.
3. Beware of action photos. Until the invention of photography taught painters how to see and imagine action in their art, virtually all painting was static--posed--often for many long hours. Photography legitimized frozen photography...but not in painting. Only if and when an artist is willing to give up all pretense of traditional art renderings, as in painting sporting activities, are action photos acceptable as painting source material. In painting, frozen action for the sake of action is usually a misuse of photographic sources. Animals and children playing might be considered an exception.

Though this scene is obviously an exaggeration, but it underlines the pitfall of failing to "edit" unnecessary content.
4. Don't overdraw. Photos often capture even the tiniest details of a scene. Unless they're into Photorealism, most painters don't. Just because you can discern details in your projected photo does not mean you must render them. Lighten up...loosen up...leave stuff out, especially if it detracts from the main focal point of the painting or is irrelevant to the overall theme. An exquisitely painted glass of wine in a landscape detracts, rather than enhances the scene. It's nothing more than embellishment. Even if the content is easily discernible in your photo avoid using it simply to "decorate" your scene.

Don't let photographic aesthetics impose on your artist's instincts.
5. Discard photos which are "too perfect." Photographers are often "in love" with symmetrical compositions. Yet painters tend to avoid the formal in favor of the informal (and if they don't, they should). There's nothing wrong with near symmetry. A balanced composition, in terms of masses, is one hallmark of a good painting. The key here is to avoid reproducing picture-making habits predominantly used by photographers and seldom by painters. Here's where a painter having a good photography background really pays off.

Rogers vs. Koons--changes not transformative enough.
Cariou vs. Prince--changes significant and transformative.
6. Don't Infringe upon obviously copyright photo images. If you wish to paint from an outstanding photo while contemplating few (if any) changes, ask permission from the photographer and pay for the privilege if necessary. Quite apart from any legal ramifications (except in dealing with large corporations) infringement lawsuits are rare unless the artist is rich and famous. However, as an artist (who likely also has work under copyright) it's the right and moral thing to do. But, having said that, the courts have long ruled that if the artist makes "substantial" transformative changes from the original source, then the work is considered new, and thus becomes the artist's own property. Combining two or more photos (especially the work of different photographers) would easily fulfill the definition of "substantial." On the other hand, cropping a photo and painting only a portion of it, does not. When it comes to changing art media (photo to a painting) the predominant color is gray. For all practical purposes, images shot by photographers who died before this date in 1947 are now in the Public Domain (no longer under copyright).

Choose, edit, project, draw, paint.
That's all there is to it.
As with any such list, this one (and yesterday's, below) are probably incomplete, but hopefully encouraging and informative. Working from photos, much less projected photos, isn't for everyone. Left-brained artists will often find doing so too confining and tedious. Their right-brained counterparts likely have used photos for years (often exclusively) and may want to "bite the bullet" and invest a few hundred dollars in a digital projector for learning and experimental purposes. If they don't like drawing from projected images, the projector, hooked to the right input, will at least make the next Super Bowl a lot more thrilling.

It's cheaper than buying tickets.


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