Tracing vs Freehand Drawing: Where people LOSE THEIR DARN MINDS

One of the most contentious topics among artists is whether it’s okay to trace photos, use other drawing aids, or is drawing freehand the only way to go? These types of discussions often devolve into INSANITY. Why is that? Let’s discuss.

“Fluffy Tuxedo Kitty” 6×6″ oil on panel.

First, my personal disclaimer:

  • Drawing and art tools are just tools. There is no such thing as “cheating” (as long as you’re not dishonest) and the use of a particular method or tool does not make you “not a real artist.”
  • Nobody is telling anyone what they MUST do. If you’re happy with how things are for you now, keep doing what you’re doing!
  • If you’re relatively new(ish) to drawing and painting and feel a little overwhelmed by anything in this post, just bookmark it and check back in a year or so. No rush. Just keep drawing and painting and enjoying yourself!

WHY THE INSANITY WHEN IT COMES TO DRAWING VS TRACING?

I think it’s a combination of ego, defensiveness, purism, and … defensiveness.

Let’s identify our two groups:

  • Artists who believe that freehand drawing is an integral part of drawing and painting realistically.
  • Artists who say, “Whatever works!” and “Da Vinci used drawing tools so it’s good enough for me!”

Some of the “Drawing is integral” crowd can get very “purist” and make claims that anyone who doesn’t draw isn’t a “real” artist. That’s carrying it too far. There are many artists who use drawing tools a lot, perhaps because their freehand drawing is weak. But their artwork looks great and they sell. How is it that they’re not “real” artists?

Some of the “Da Vinci did it!” artists are too dismissive and (sometimes) butthurt when anyone suggests that there should be more freehand drawing in their life. Maybe they’re in denial. “I can draw but…” or “It doesn’t make any difference!” The hard-core defensive ones will even say, “People say they draw freehand just to brag. It’s a bunch of extra work for nothing.”

And so, we have egos clashing and craziness. And we keep on coming back to debate it again and again. (Me included!)

Drawn from a live model, in pencil.

I’M A DRAWING EVANGELIST, NOT A DRAWING PURIST

Okay, so I’m one of the freehand drawing people. I occasionally use a four-square grid (like you can see here on my other blog) but not that frequently.

I’m a drawing evangelist because it is a skill that has given me many opportunities and advantages.

Because I can draw, I can draw from life (not copy a photo). Photos “lie” to us and when we always use them as reference (as we are forced to do if we can’t draw well freehand), we get stuck in a rut of repeating the “lies” that photos show us in colors, values, and edges. And our paintings suffer for it.

Before and after studying under the amazing artist Adam Clague.

BEFORE AND AFTER

“Before,” I could draw accurately (the “before” painting was, ironically, painted from a live model). But I didn’t like my colors. They were too warm, they didn’t look natural. I sold my art, but sales were often “meh.”

The “After” painting was done after I attended a workshop taught by Adam Clague. That painting sold only a few hours after I first put it up for sale online. (Which happens sometimes—but not that often! 😉 )

Long story short, Adam teaches his students a different way to “see” color, values, edges. He prefers to have his students work from life (rather than photos) when possible. What he taught completely reformed how I painted.

After attending his classes, I immediately started to sell a whole lot more paintings. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this changed my art life.

Even when I use photos as reference, my paintings look better than they did before. That training I got in Adam’s class helps me know how to better adapt and work around the shortcomings of photos.

AND HOW FREEHAND DRAWING MADE IT POSSIBLE

Adam’s teaching involved a lot of working from life and being more completely aware of the limitations inherent in photos. The best way to learn this is to work from life a lot more.

And that’s why I’m an evangelist for freehand drawing. Because those who can draw freehand are not stuck with only using photo references. And not being wholly dependent on photo references is where it’s AT, baby, it’s where it’s AT.

“Matthias” 8×10″ oil on canvas panel. Painted from life at Adam’s studio. I hadn’t really started taking lessons yet but was starting to show some improvement under his influence.

WORKING FROM LIFE: YOUR ART MAY LOOK DIFFERENT (BETTER)

I like this blog post from the Oil Painters of America site and often refer to it when this subject comes up. But will people read it during the heated debates? I fear not.

So, to summarize:

  • There are benefits to painting more from life and less from photos. In order to paint from life, you need to be able to draw well. (I’ve already covered some of this.)
  • The paintings of those who always copy photos often have white highlights, black shadows. That’s the color information photos give us but in real life, there’s far more nuance and beauty in shadows and highlights. Photos miss a lot of this beauty.
  • Those who copy photos a lot tend to depict all edges as sharp because that’s how a camera captures the edges. This is not how the human eye “sees” edges so paintings with all hard edges may not look as natural.
  • Artists who only copy photos often have no difference in the color temperature of the lights and shadows. This is not how color temperatures work in real life.

The author of the blog post says they can often instantly tell who paints from photos all the time and who doesn’t. That is a very revealing statement. It means that those who are too dependent on photos have a “look” to their paintings that can be spotted right away—and that is not necessarily a good thing.

SO THAT’S WHY…

It “matters.” Schools, teachers, and ateliers who insist that their students draw freehand are NOT making them work needlessly just for the sake of working. There’s a genuine benefit there.

If you don’t want to add more freehand drawing to your skillset? I get it; you’re not alone. Maybe you were taught years ago to use tools and you figure, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. You don’t want to be nagged or made to feel guilty. I understand.

But I’m an evangelist because I worry that you might regret missing out later. And that’s why I wrote this whole post. (Hope it wasn’t too annoying! 😉 )

RESOURCES:

Please remember that you don’t need a class to work from life! Just draw or paint anything you see around you. It’s all good. (However, a heads-up. If you use mostly photo references—even if you always draw freehand—you might go through an “adjustment period” as you get used to working from life. Don’t be discouraged. You’ll get through it!)

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I guess it’s time

…for a website update.

Like many of you, I’m stuck at home, waiting out this scary pandemic. Fortunately, I’ve got adequate supplies (including cat food!) at home, so I am settled in without much panic at the moment. Therefore, what else is there to do but update my blog? Right?

I’ve done some painting since this blog was last updated. Here are two oils (randomly selected):

Band of Light – oil on panel, 6×6 inches
Foolish Passion – 6×8″ oil on canvas panel

A lot has gone on since my last update. Some scary, some big, but a lot of good.

But to quote Tim Conway Jr (who I listen to a lot when I paint), “Who cares!” Who cares about all my personal travails at the moment? This is an art blog so let’s talk about art.

I’m planning on revamping this site a bit so there should be more posts coming soon. What better time to do it but now?

Yeah, like a lot of artists, I’ll be painting a lot…since I’m at home anyway, it’s a perfect time.

I hope everyone else is doing well right now. Stay safe, stay home, study a lot, and if you are an artist, paint a lot!

Be back soon.

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Two new cat head paintings, long and rambling updates

It’s been a very long time since I’ve posted to this blog, and there’s a good reason for that (which I’ll get to later in this post). Forgive me as this will be long and rambling!

NEW PAINTINGS

First, I want to share two of my latest cat head paintings:

Black and White and Fluffy (#2) 5×7″ oil on oil primed panel. I used a reference photo by a photographer on the “Paint My Photo” community.

 

Perky Young Orange Kitty, 6×8″ on canvas panel.

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Behold a Pale Orange Cat & super-mini studio setup

I’ve got a few new cat head paintings to post, but first, the latest news:

“Pale Orange Cat,” 5″ x 7″ oil on Pintura Painting Panel

Another painting completed tonight! This time, I finished this little painting at a most unusual working space: my computer desk!

As I mentioned in a previous post, these are desperate times for me (studio-wise) because now I am fulfilling my duties as a part-time caregiver for a family member. Gone are the days when I can gallivant away to my lovely studio and paint until the wee hours. I must stay homebound and be a caregiver. (And that’s okay. It’s family, after all!) I finally developed a workaround (a small studio area) to allow me to work in a very cramped space, but tonight, I decided to go even smaller.

I hope that my situation (and my solution for it) might be useful for other artists out there. Surely I’m not the only one who is dealing with a desperate need to paint, but only with cramped spaces available to work!

My very small

My very small “studio area.”

I did my painting on a computer table. Not even a “real” computer table, just some table that I’ve been using for my 20″ iMac. 

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Plethora of Cat Heads, other news

I’ve been remiss in updating this blog, so let me get right to it. I’ve got some news and some art to post. First off, more cat heads:

“Dilute Calico” 4×4″ oil on panel.

“Long Whiskers,” 5×7″ oil on canvas panel.

“Earnest Orange,” 8×8″ oil on canvas panel.

“I am Siamese if You Please,” 6×6″ oil on panel.

As has been already firmly established, I love painting the cat heads. These particular cat heads were a joy! Lots of fun, very diverse cat “looks.” And I feel I’m just getting started! I’ve got a whole lot more cat head paintings in me! 🙂

On to other news, I am a “featured artist” on Daily Paintworks this month, because the unthinkable happened—I got an award! Me! Who would have guessed?

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An homage to teachers…

(Please forgive me for being long-winded, but this is one post where I can’t  be brief!) TL;DR, I am very grateful to all my teachers, they changed my life and I can’t thank them enough.

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for some time now, probably at least a year. Now it’s a lazy Saturday and I guess it’s time!

I think most artists, whether we are formally trained or not, are inevitably influenced by other artists, either through direct instruction, or books, or some other means. I don’t think any artist lives in a vacuum, where they never are impacted by the creative works of those around them, or from artists in the past. I don’t believe such a thing is possible.

In my case, I’ve had many influences, and most notably have been my teachers. They’ve come from different sources—art school, community college, workshop, private lessons… all were vitally important. And all have my eternal gratitude.

I thought I’d mention several of them here. There are some who have made a tremendous difference in my life, and others who were important and memorable. I wouldn’t say that the teachers who were the most profound to me, were “better” teachers—it’s just that sometimes someone comes along at the right time, and gives you something when you need it most. So, to you, what they did was immensely profound.

So, here’s my list of thanks to a few of these teachers, going back from the start.

Shirlee Prescott Morgan

(Known as simply “Shirlee” to me!)

Shirlee Prescott Morgan, my first art teacher.

I started getting serious about art when I was about 13 years old. I drew, mostly, and struggled with painting and color.

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Back again, with a landscape!

“Tunnel View” 8×10″ oil on canvas panel.

I return to this blog, bearing a landscape. I don’t do many landscapes, something which I find a terrible pity, so I’m working on rectifying that, and here’s my latest effort.

Apologies for not updating the blog sooner, it’s been a hectic month—and a frustrating one—because other duties prevented me from painting as much as I’d like. I have several works half-done, but this is the first so far that’s ready to be shown. I’m determined to do more painting from now on. It’s been too long away from the studio, and that is unacceptable!

I did this painting at a recent workshop with Adam Clague, who is primarily a figurative painter but also is delving into landscapes (and doing a magnificent job!).

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My forced convalescence, and a review of “Art Marketing Boot Camp”

I have an explanation for such a long absence from this blog—an arm injury, from a fall I had when I was schlepping art supplies from my old studio to my new studio. Fortunately the injury was not as bad as it could have been (dislocated elbow that “popped” back into place, so it’s “only” a sprain), but boy does it hurt! I am taking it easy for a while. And as a result, I’m mind-numbingly bored.

So, since my activity is limited, I decided to order Eric Rhoads’ “Art Marketing Boot Camp.” Well, to be fair I already had the first DVD of his 3-DVD series, but I got the second DVD while I was pampering my lame arm. What better way to use my time?

I first heard about these DVDs from one of my Facebook acquaintances (Lori Putnam), who gave a glowing review. She attended the first Bootcamp seminar (in 2012) and followed the advice offered to the letter. Her career skyrocketed within a year! Rhoads is well-known in art circles, has a popular blog on marketing, runs some extremely successful art magazines, and so I think he’s got a lot of credibility. Here’s my take on the DVDs.

ART MARKETING BOOT CAMP DVD (I and II) REVIEW!

Screenshot from “Art Marketing Boot Camp” with Eric Rhoads.

OVERVIEW: While these DVDs are pricey, I think they have value and I do recommend them. The lectures are engrossing and very timely.

Art Marketing Boot Camp DVD One” covers many valuable basics, advises artists to consider what they want, what they are willing to do and what they’re aren’t. Most importantly, he encourages artists to believe that they can make a living from art—the “Starving Artist” story we all grew up with can be a myth. But we must market ourselves! This doesn’t come easy for artists, as our natural inclination is to do the work and expect buyers to magically materialize. But that’s not how it works in the real world.

The first DVD in the Bootcamp series is on one disk, and is almost 4-1/2 hours in length. There are three sections to the DVD, the first section a little over an hour long, the second section (“session”) is a little under an hour, and the third session is 2 hours and 21 minutes.

The DVD was filmed at a Plein Air convention in 2012, with speaker Eric Rhoads lecturing. He shows PowerPoint-type pictures and slides to illustrate his points. He’s a good speaker and very articulate and affable. Occasionally the video cuts away from the Plein Air convention and we are shown Rhoads talking, adding extra information or clarification, while speaking in front of a white screen. (See screenshot above.)

Powerpoint-like graphic from the “Art Marketing Boot Camp” DVD.

The DVD picture and sound quality seems good. The aspect ratio of the DVD is 4:3 (“Fullscreen”) which means you’ll have black bars on the right and left side of your widescreen TV or computer monitor. (I’m not complaining, I’m just explaining!)

I highly recommend this DVD, if you can afford it. It’s full of specific and timely information, and I believe Rhoads when he says that if you follow even a fraction of his guidelines or advice, your art sales will increase.

Art Marketing Boot Camp DVD Two” is on two disks, and is also around 4-1/2 hours in length. The first disk of the set has two “sessions.” The first session (“How to Build a Brand”) is 1:40 hours. The second session (“Web and Social Media”) is 1:08 hours.

The second disk in the set has one session, “Landing Galleries,” and it’s 1:36 hours in length.

Unlike the first DVD in the series, this DVD was shot in widescreen (16:9), so you won’t get the black bars anywhere on your widescreen TV.

Widescreen DVD screenshot from “Boot Camp” DVD 2

A lot of the second Boot Camp DVD is filmed in a studio (with white background) instead of at the Plein Air convention, but plenty of footage is from the 2013 convention as well.

In this second DVD in the series, Rhoads brings in guest speakers, which were a welcome addition. Don’t get me wrong, I thought everything Rhoads had to offer was fantastic, but added variety is always helpful.

I’ll be honest, I haven’t finished watching the last session (about galleries) but I really enjoyed his lecture about branding as well as social media and the web. One thing that did cross my mind was, that the social media/Internet info has a limited shelf life, so while I still think it’s relevant (as it was only filmed in 2013—a year ago as I type this), there’s going to come a point when the Internet info will become stale.

Some guest speakers wait to give their presentations at the Plein Air convention.

The price of these DVDs are a bit steep, but I viewed the expense as an investment in my future. I’m going to try to take the advice seriously and implement as much of it as I can. I encourage other artists to do the same! Order the DVDs here.

Note: It seems clear to me that the publishers of these DVDs take their copyright seriously, so I have no intention of violating their copyright in any way! I show these few screenshots under “fair use.” I don’t intend to share any more content from these DVDs. Buy your own!

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Recent Road Trip photos

Continental Divide, Colorado, June 2014

Here’s a non-art themed post! I thought I’d post some pretty pictures from some summer road trips I took this year. I went to Colorado, Texas, and Arkansas. (Two different trips.)

Road trips, with the intention of seeing pretty scenery, are a family tradition. I like seeing attractions like Disneyland too (I grew up going to Disneyland at least one or more times a year) but to be honest my favorite thing is to go see beautiful mountains, beaches, and lakes. And take lots of pictures. Maybe do a painting or two. (I had hoped to do some painting this time, but it was not to be! How foolishly optimistic I was to think I’d have time . . .)

On the way to Telluride, Colorado, June 2014.

Some of these photos will make great reference for paintings later, though!

Ouray, Colorado. Pretty tourist town with a stunning view. June, 2014.

We also tried to see some galleries and such in Colorado:

Ceramics exhibit at The Art Center in Grand Junction, Colorado. June, 2014.

We were investigating some spots in Colorado, because we’re talking (just talking, mind!) of moving there eventually. Colorado has some wonderful galleries and resources for artists. I loved The Art Center (not to be confused with Pasadena’s Art Center).

Aromatic trees in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. August, 2014.

In August I went to Texas and Arkansas. What I saw in Texas (I didn’t see much) was mainly a bunch of dead armadillos by the side of the road. I need to explore Texas more at a later time, because it is a great state!

In Arkansas, I wanted to see Crystal Bridges (a fantastic art museum in “Wal-Martville,” aka Bentonville, AR), and then visited the lovely tourist town Eureka Springs (about an hour away from Crystal Bridges). I took a lot of photos inside the museum, which I must transfer to my computer and prepare for publishing online.

Having lived the majority of my life in California, I have been spoiled by the intensely aromatic incense cedar found in the Sierras and other mountainous areas. When you drive up to Yosemite (which I have done countless times, it’s my favorite place!), your nose is suddenly struck with this glorious, pungent “pine” smell. Impossible to miss. I always associate it with the mountains.

So it makes me sad to not experience the same strong smell in Colorado or the forests in Arkansas. BUT—there is still some hope, because occasionally I get a whiff of it. In higher elevations in Colorado (Rocky Mountain National Park), I smelled the glorious pine smell. Not as strong as incense cedar, but unmistakable. And the same wonderful smell could be detected, albeit fleetingly, in Eureka Springs!

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Escape to Colorado

The reason for no activity on this blog for a while is simple…I went on an impromptu vacation to Colorado, to paint! Except I never did paint. Too many other things were crammed into each day.  At least I return to the studio shortly, with many photos I can use as painting reference. But it’s not the same as painting from life.

Here’s a couple photos taken on the trip and edited on my phone.

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A view from the car.

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On the road to Grand Junction

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“Male Profile” and my new studio

I’ve been absent from this blog for too long! That’s mostly because I’ve been busy migrating all my stuff to a new, bigger studio.

I have waaaay too much stuff, particularly art stuff, like panels, boards, paints, brushes, and other art STUFF. My previous studio, while very cozy, was too cramped for all my STUFF. One day I snapped and said, “This is it!” and decided to move to a new studio, which is far roomier.

But first, a new painting. “Male Profile,” again using my fave model, Jason Aaron Baca (photographer Portia Shao).

“Male Profile,” 6×6″ oil on panel.

I tried to go with a looser feel in this portrait and think I like the direction I’m going. The palette was simple—I don’t think I technically used a Zorn Palette, but I did try to keep it limited. Really loving the limited palette these days.

Now onto the studio—it’s not huge, but so much bigger than my postage-stamp-sized previous studio. Not that I didn’t love that studio too (got a LOT of work done there!) but I was running out of room, fast. Something had to give! And this new studio can accommodate a computer & scanner, and even a little kitchenette of sorts (hot plate, dorm fridge, and so forth). Very conducive to getting a lot of work done, I hope!

View of Studio

This is just a small view of the studio, which still needs to have more STUFF schlepped in to it. I’m trying to be sure to protect the carpet from the oil paint, as you can see with the variety of rugs and so forth littering the floor!

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