Friday, December 5, 2014

Friday Thoughts | Tackling Taboos: Using a Camera Before Beginning a Work of Art

Triple Self Portrait || Norman Rockwell Behind the Camera

Have you ever heard the taboo that real artists don't copy or real artists don't paint from photographs?  Well, I'm here to tell you that this just isn't true!  Indeed these days, photographers are becoming painters (see blog post here), AND painters are indeed becoming photographers!  As you can see above, famous artist Norman Rockwell even used a camera to capture composition and details before his paintings as can be read about in the book:  Norman Rockwell Behind the Camera

Tattoo Sailor Art by Norman Rockwell Behind the Camera

There is a stigma that the camera is not for real artists; a real artist creates only from the mind.  But let me dispel this thought: some artists can do this, but many cannot and many do not.  Some paint from the mind, some paint from life (live models, props, and plein air), some do "Master Copies" (more on this next week), some use cameras and photographic reference, and some use a combination of all four.  Some artists use these tools until they build their visual memory enough to create from the mind.  No matter how artists create, many many artists use reference, and a lot of artists learn from reference.  It's something we artists shouldn't be afraid of.  Of course, nothing can truly replace drawing and painting from life, but we all have to start somewhere.

Many great artists use props and sets and costumes, as well as cameras (John Everett Millais, J.C. Lyendecker, Norman Rockwell, and Dean Cornwell to name a few)!  In a day where most people don't sit around for a portrait painting, a photograph becomes the closest thing!

Dean Cornwell at Work Painting from Reference (a Model)
Dean Cornwell at Work
Painting from Reference (a Model)

J.C. Lyendecker at Work Doing a Study for "Baseball Catcher," Saturday Evening Post Cover, May 15, 1959
J.C. Lyendecker at Work Doing a Study for "Baseball Catcher,"
Saturday Evening Post Cover, May 15, 1959

While I agree that a camera can be an unnecessary crutch and leaned on too heavily, it can also be a useful tool.

In order to become self sufficient, if you can't work solely from imagination, it is important to gather personal reference images.  How can we do this other than painting from life?  The camera.

But in gathering reference let's be sure steer clear of plagiarism:  In a day where cameras make references all over the internet and make plagiarism an easy out for the artist, we need to accept the fact that we can't get original ideas from other people's art/photography...etc.  The best thing today's artist could do to further their art creations is to put on a blind fold when it comes to the internet, and capture our own references.  If we want to make something of ourselves as an artist, we need to "man-up" and take our own images.  So I'm here to tell you, don't be afraid of using the camera in your art creation!  Painting from life is invaluable and essential to learning as an artist, but the camera can also be a useful aid and helpful to take that leap from copy-cat to self-sufficient.  And who knows, maybe one day you will be able to paint solely from your imagination!

(LEFT) Detail of Oil Painting (from Life Painting Class with Michael Miller) AND (RIGHT) Same Model Drawn from Memory\
(LEFT) Detail of Oil Painting by Mary Highstreet (from Life Painting Class with Michael Miller) AND
(RIGHT) Same Model Drawn from Memory by Mary Highstreet

My art professor, Michael Barton Miller, was the first one to encourage me to build a "visual memory," basically a visual reference library in your mind.  He said, "After each life drawing or painting session, go home and do it again.  This time from your mind!"  At first I thought, "Are you kidding me?!"  I am no exception: I never thought I could draw and paint solely from my imagination.  But, I took his advice seriously, went home and did it again (see above).  And thanks to him, I now have a great visual memory and catalogue.

So for now take a picture with a camera, and one day, take a picture with your mind.

. . . . . .

In memory of Michael Barton Miller.

tags: friday thoughts, fridaythoughts

No comments:

Post a Comment

I love hearing from you! Looking forward to your comments!