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Old 05-19-2008, 09:23 PM   #1
Marvin Mattelson Marvin Mattelson is offline
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Life vs Photo




Assuming that a portrait created from photo reference is intrinsically inferior to one painted from life is putting the responsibility on the process rather than the artist. If only it were that simple. You can paint from life until the next millennium and never do anything worthwhile.

I've seen incredible paintings done from life and beautiful paintings done from photos too. However, the vast majority of portraits I've seen are poorly thought out and ineptly handled regardless of whether from life or photo reference.

I believe that injecting the quality of life into a painting comes from the artist's heart, intent, knowledge and talent. Painting from life involves knowing what to look for in order to bring it to life.

I work from a combination of photos and life sittings. I say, why not get the best of both worlds.
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Old 05-20-2008, 09:38 AM   #2
Marina Dieul Marina Dieul is offline
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Thank you Marvin for pointing that photography is just a tool.

Personnaly, I like good paintings whether it's done from photo, life or imagination, and a bad work from life will always be inferior for me to a good work from photo...

The big problem with the use of photography comes from the lack of competence : people don't realise that if they want to use this tool, they have to master it : it means to have a PROFESSIONAL level in photography, not only in painting. It means spending hours and hours of practice... It' a huge amount of time and efforts to be able to reach a professional level in both jobs : painter and photographer. There is no shortcuts.

If you don't want to spend hours working on your photographic skills, it would then be better to work only from life.( and there's nothing wrong with this choice)
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Old 05-20-2008, 07:33 PM   #3
Marvin Mattelson Marvin Mattelson is offline
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Hi Marina,

I couldn't agree more. Mastery of all of one's available tools is an obvious goal if one aspires to be a master. Of course mastery of the tools is merely a step in the right direction. Becoming the artist we dream to be takes far more than just mastery of tools, but the foundation must be strong for the structure to fully manifest.

I've spent many years developing my photography skills (pun intended) as well as my computer skills. I try to use everything I know to my best advantage. I see two glaring weaknesses in most portrait art. Bad reference photography and poor drawing skills. The painting workshops I lead are in great demand but my drawing and digital photography workshops don't attract nearly as many. This amazes me because I believe both are at least as important, if not more so.

I think that if the old masters were alive today they would absolutely take full advantage of todays technology and couple it with their extraordinary knowledge. Great artists are always looking to utilize whatever will make themselves more effective. Vermeer used optical devices. Bouguereau and Gerome both took full advantage of photography and look how they raised the bar.

The biggest problems with photography (inaccurate values and colors, and visual distortion) can easily be avoided if one knows what one is doing. Coupled with working from life, an artist can play from a real position of strength.

Why try to replicate the efforts of the past, regardless of how great they were? Why not aspire to create the greatest work ever produced?

That's my story and I'm sticking to it!!!

Thanks again for responding.
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Old 05-20-2008, 11:24 PM   #4
Michael Fournier Michael Fournier is offline
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Using Photos vs copying photos

Oh yes marvin I feel right at home It's been two years since I have been active and this topic is still being debated.

I think you are correct a well taken photo can be a great tool and I still have reference photos. I used them so I could continue to work when my live reference was not available. Or in the case of illustration work when live reference was impractical. But I would warn against just copying reference.

I have seen good artists paint very nice images from a combination of some very poor photos (by poor in the sense that they were nothing special as a photo) And I have seen artists produce very weak paintings from excellent photos.

In this thread:
Go for excellence in portraiture
http://forum.portraitartist.com/show...hlight=William
I do not feel bill meant to imply artist never use photos it was how the photos were being used he objected to. After all he admits to painting from photo reference himself.

You also have the skills so you can use photos and not fall into the trap that many artist do when painting from photos.

I may not have the same ability that you have but I feel my drawing ability is better then most (when I have been drawing regularly) but when I was under pressure to produce work to pay bills I took commissions to paint from photos supplied by the client that I knew were not good enough or were far from what I felt would make a good painting. But I did it for the money. I struggled for hours and days trying to paint from these bad images only to produce a painting that was junk. The client liked it but I would not even sign my name to it.

But I have produced some very nice paintings using a combination of live sittings and photo reference I took myself .
If you your studio has proper lighting the photos will be very usefully but if you have no idea how to light your subject even painting that subject live will not be any better and the photos will be of little use.

So yes painting from life alone is not going to make your painting any better then one painted from a photo. But copying a photo even a great photo is not going to produce a great painting ether unless you know what to do with the information in your photo and just what makes a good painting. And you also must know how to produce a better image then the photo.
I see a lot of work that I would rather hang the original photo on my wall then the painting done from it.

Jack Martin said it best to me this way when critiquing one of my illustrations: He said, "You have to bring more to this then you did you have to do what photoshop can not do." I felt I had a great painting but when I looked at it that way I knew although It was very accurate It could have been done it in the computer I simply had very nicely painted copies of my reference.

After art school I did Illustration work and most of it was so formulaic that I just did that very thing I used Adobe Illustrator and photoshop and scanned in my reference and manipulated it in the computer. Why bother painting a copy of the reference in paint when I could achieve a better copy faster in the computer (notice I did not say a better painting I said better copy)

But I no longer have any desire to produce copies I want to produce original creations. I do not care if the painting is a accurate copy as long as it is accurately drawn the way I intended. I am not saying to except bad drawing and when working on draw well accuracy is the goal once you can achieve that goal that is when the fun starts. Sometimes not coping the reference as it is can produce a more convincing and more interesting image then an exactly accurate copy. But If you start out using photos alone and even going so far as to trace photos you simply can't get more then what is in the photo.

Now that said I have seen many paintings that the artist was not even able to get a accurate copy of a photo never mind go beyond that.
So as a tool to train your eye I see no difference in copying a photo vs copying a old masters drawing except by copying the drawing you also learn line work and technique buy copying their technique.

I often pull out old reference photos and do detail drawings from them it is a great tool but when I was a actively working artist I would spend 3 mornings every week at a open studio life drawing session and I find that there is no substitute to drawing from life.
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Old 05-21-2008, 10:16 AM   #5
SB Wang SB Wang is offline
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After three M's with previous posts, my M is in hiding:
Vermeer set a good example of using tool but not limited by it..
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Old 05-21-2008, 10:35 PM   #6
Marvin Mattelson Marvin Mattelson is offline
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Michael, I agree totally that copying a photo will not make a great painting, but neither will copying from life. It is the understanding that the artist brings to his work that makes it something more. How to strategize the construction of a painting is the commonality I believe that distinguishes the work of all great artists.

SB, Look deep. I'm sure you can find your inner M.
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Old 05-22-2008, 08:56 AM   #7
Michael Fournier Michael Fournier is offline
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First it was your nice post Marvin that sucked me in to this thread to begin with I feel you are correct that a painting done from life is not better just because it was not painted from a photo. And it was not my intention to say it was.

I did not post to counter your point just to add a caution to those that might use photos as a shortcut. Never mind that they are missing out on one of the greatest experiences in art if you ask me. I Love the interaction between model (or portrait subject) and the artist it just adds something to the experience that painting from a photo will never have.

Now when I am working on details or backgrounds it is great to have a photo that never moves never complains about posing for too long. The lighting in a photo never changes with the weather or time of day. A fleeting expression can be frozen and the sun never sets in a photo. There are many advantages a photo can have over live subjects so if used in combination you are correct you can have the best of both worlds.

So can we agree the debate it is not photo vs life but a debate between; uninspired, poorly executed and poorly plained vs inspiration, a mastery of your tools and great plaining.
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Old 05-22-2008, 09:52 AM   #8
Patricia Joyce Patricia Joyce is offline
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Marvin,
Thank you for your post It helps us students a great deal to read your posts. You create for us hope that we can learn to paint beautiufl portraits, as we envision them; ie the personality, the life, the spirt, mannerism unique to each person. I understand that a painting is successful, also, if you can grasp that we live in atmosphere and one of the largest goals of a student is to study masters' works to see how that atmosphere is created.

When using the photo reference one must have acute recall of the sitter. The more time you spend with the subject, interacting, the easier that recall becomes. I believe a great master portrait artist has a special ability to absorb the personality/spirt of their clients. When I paint/draw my subject I spend allot of time thinking about that person and I have been complimented time and again for my abiity to capture essence.

In conclusion, I do not believe it is wrong for students to use photography, however one must remember it is a tool, just like calipers are a tool. And I am convinced the great inventor Leonardo, would use photography as well. He did use cadavers, didn't he!!

I hope I speak for students who need encouragement every step of the way, that painting portraits is not completely mystical, but that there is a way to learn to SEE, to ABSORB, to RECALL, and then naturlaly to accurately DRAW. If you cannot draw/paint from life you must spend time with your subject...

May today be a day with paint under your fingernails...
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Old 05-22-2008, 08:30 PM   #9
Marina Dieul Marina Dieul is offline
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Here is what Harold Speed was writing about his own experience in 1917 :

"It was not until some time after having passed through the course of training in two of our chief schools of art that the author got the idea of what drawing really meant. What was taught was the faithful copying of a series of objects, beginning with the simplest forms, such as cubes, cones cylinders, &c. ( an excellent system to begin with at present in danger of some neglect) ,after which more complicated objects in plaster of Paris were attempted, and finally copies of the human head and figure posed in supended animation and supported by blocks, &c. In so far as this was accurately done, all this mechanical training of the head and hand was excellent; but it was not enough. And when with an eye trained to the closest mechanical accuracy the author visited the galleries of the Continent and studied the drawings of the old masters, it soon became apparent that either his or their ideas of drawing were all wrong. Very few drawings could be found sufficiently "like the model" to obtain the prize at either of the great schools he had attended."
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Old 05-22-2008, 09:03 PM   #10
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Vermeer in hiding:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/maggiesworld/1839233133/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/50487705@N00/1151419/
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