Recently I asked, “How would cp (coloured pencil) artists (and most other artists for that matter) cope if there weren’t photos to use a s reference material?”
The responses I received were both interesting and varied. Not everyone understood the question. Some saw it as a ‘fait accompli’, a negative statement about how some artists work. Then the topic of ‘imagination’ was raised, fortunately more in the positive than the negative.
I surveyed a number of groups that I belong to. Not all responded, but the majority of those who did were well aware of the (potential) shortfalls of relying on photos for one’s art. The value of drawing plein air was raised as was drawing from life. It was refreshing to see that so many recognized the need for basic drawing skills.
We have been bombarded with media of all kinds (with some yet to be invented), its seductive brilliance has made producing art faster and easier than ever before. Most artists use photos at some stage in the production of their work. Commission artists need them constantly to satisfy the needs of their clients, while others prefer to stay ‘indoors’ and use images either their own or from the Internet in the production of their art. Each to their own!
More often than not, I use photos in my work. I take my own, spending time at a particular place to get the ‘feel’ for my subject. I often research the physical and social history of the area to reinforce (and appreciate) what I’m trying to ‘say’ with my work. I also work from maps and occasionally I’ll use photos from other sources if I need them. I rarely use a single photo because there’s a danger that I’ll simply copy the photo. Is such imitation really art?
Working from ‘live objects’ is quite challenging. Drawing outdoors is certainly a test of one’s skills and patience, especially if you use coloured pencils. On one hand you have the moving sun, moving shadows, wind, maybe even a shower, noise, smells and let’s not forget the flies! Setting up a group of objects is a great way to come to terms with 3D objects, especially when it comes to light and shadow. I often set up a still-life outside and photograph it on-the-hour for say, 6 – 8 hours to see how the light and shadows change. Time-lapse photography is an excellent accompaniment to one’s observation drawing. The more grist for the mill, the better!
Photos are a wonderful resource and they are certainly here to stay, but are they draining artists of their imagination?