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Old 06-13-2008, 09:46 AM   #1
Michael Georges Michael Georges is offline
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Bringing "Life" and "Photos" Together




Dichotomy

Did I spell that right?

We are artists who love to draw and paint people. At the end of the day, we are all doing the same thing - processing visual information through our eye and translating it through our hand.

The quality and consistency of that visual information is what is important.

Where it came from is really a matter of personal preference.

BUT, what is also important is our integrity as artists. I don't mean integrity as in ethics, but the whole fabric of your ability to process and translate visual information into beautiful art.

Drawing skills are the foundation of that integrity.

And that, I believe, is where much of the dichotomy is occurring. There are many of us who use photo reference.

The majority trace the image, or project the image, or have the image printed on the canvas itself....and then we render.

But for many of us...if we had to sit down and look at the photo reference and draw it out freehand...

We would be lost...

And so we call it "a concession to speed" and try not to look over our shoulders very often.

It is a case of the emperor having no clothes and we are all pretending that there is nothing wrong.

Wrong.

BUT...there are those who use photo reference, and do it very well. Marvin Mattelson is an example. But you will also note that Marvin can also draw what he sees from life very accurately.

His integrity as an artist is not broken.

He has developed photography into his process and he teaches it and does it well. But I think that Marvin would acknowledge that every artist should know how to draw what they see and draw it well.

Other artists paint almost exclusively from life. Bill Whitaker and Sharon Knettell are examples. Both have painted from photos and may still in the future - and they too have developed drawing and painting from life into their process and they teach it, and they do it very well.

Their integrity as artists is not broken.

Where your visual information comes from is a personal preference.

We make portraits for money and most of us are not wealthy. We have busy lives and schedules and dogs, etc. Many of us need to paint in order to keep painting and not go off to be a barrista at Starbucks.

But it is not a decision of photography OR life.

It is photography AND life.

Take back your integrity.
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Old 06-13-2008, 01:37 PM   #2
Marvin Mattelson Marvin Mattelson is offline
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Thanks Micheal,

I appreciate the kind words. Although I do work from reference photos, in combination with life sittings, I teach my students to paint by working from life, clearly for the reasons you state. One needs the skills of accurate drawing and of being able to evaluate and interpret what lies before one's eyes, regardless of the source material.

In my portrait workshops I take a photo of the model from each student's position and then give each student a print (see below). This helps them to check that the model is in the right pose, but more importantly, it allows them to see the differences between real life and the photo, so that when they must work from photos, they understand what they need to alter so they can make their paintings more lifelike.

One of the things my clients often remark about is how much more alive my paintings look, compared to the source material. This is because I'm never literally copying my reference photos. Rather, I'm converting them to the way I know things look when observed directly from life.

Conversely, I believe that most students (and more than a few mature artists) are simply copying what lies before them, even when in a life class. I just don't think the perception of form in space is being considered at all, because what I see are tons of academic paintings and drawings that look totally lifeless. So I don't think learning to paint from life is necessarily "The Answer!" I also don't think that making the work more painterly is the solution either. There are more than a fair share of flat, pseudo-Sargent paintings out there, too.

I think the answer is in learning how to evaluate and understand your subject matter. To me that's where it all starts. This is how I train my students.
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Old 06-13-2008, 04:13 PM   #3
Michael Georges Michael Georges is offline
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Hello Marvin, and thanks for your reply.

I agree that just copying is not enough - though for most of us, it is where we must start to understand how to replicate the form in truth. I think that as skill progresses in representing what we see, then consideration can be given into "how" we choose to translate what we are seeing - considering as you say, the form in space and composition.

I like the idea of having a photograph and the live model there to compare. What a great tool to teach the shortcomings of photographs and how to interpret them.
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Old 06-13-2008, 06:55 PM   #4
Enzie Shahmiri Enzie Shahmiri is offline
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As one of Marvin's " repeat offenders" as he likes to call students who take his workshops repeatedly, I have to add the following observation.

Having attended many a workshop by other artists as well, I have noticed that painting a successful portrait requires skills beyond that of being able to work from life or copy well. These are but steps towards learning to paint, but do not make you a master painter.

The artist has to learn what distinguishes stellar portraits from the mediocre ones through educating himself by studying the works of Master's. You can be in a city of beautiful sights, but if you do not have the proper map to guide you, it will take forever to successfully reach your goal. With you map of knowledge and your reference then you get to tackle the next objective, which is as Micheal pointed out :

Quote:
The quality and consistency of that visual information is what is important. Where it came from is really a matter of personal preference.
Those serious about portraiture explore every avenue that is given to them and to assume that they belong to camp A or camp B because of the way their portfolio develops is a misplaced assumption.

Every one knows that painting requires the juggling of an insane amount of information and brings with it new challenges, challenges which can not be worked through even if there is a studio set up. You simply have to paint and paint and learn from each mistake. To remain focused and alert to every little nuance that can make or break a painting is a constant struggle. Not every painting will be a knockout, regardless how hard the artist tries, because there are too many variables that come into play.

What seems to be lost in all these discussions is the effort put forth by the individuals who try to master and excel in all these tasks.

It takes a lot of time regardless how you work, to overcome your shortcomings. If we want to see improvement in the overall quality of paintings produced, than as forum members we need to allow our fellow peers to grow in their skills rather than offer deafening silence of our disapproval or shoot them down with attacks.
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Old 06-13-2008, 07:20 PM   #5
Dan Landrie Dan Landrie is offline
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Old 06-13-2008, 07:48 PM   #6
Michael Georges Michael Georges is offline
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Quite right Enzie.

The banner on the top of the forum says "A forum for professional portrait painters and serious students"

This must of needs mean that we will see those of all ranges of skill from student to master here - at least that I think should be our hope as it would mean a vibrant forum.

I think we are also a competitive lot and sometimes do not recognize or give credit where someone has come in at one level, and made significant strides and put in a lot of effort to improve. You are certainly such a person and I applaud you and your hard work.
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Old 06-13-2008, 10:41 PM   #7
Enzie Shahmiri Enzie Shahmiri is offline
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Thank you Michael!

Marvin how I yearn to take moreworkshops with you. I have to win the lottery first and maybe then I can ask you the billion new questions I have ! ~ LOL
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Old 06-13-2008, 11:26 PM   #8
Laurel Alanna McBrine Laurel Alanna McBrine is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Georges
The majority trace the image, or project the image, or have the image printed on the canvas itself...
I was kind of shocked when I read this comment. I certainly hope it is not true. I particularly feel strongly that no painter with integrity would present a client with a touched up photograph printed on canvas and call it a work of art.

I first learned to draw heads on 8"x11" typing paper and my reference was usually a tiny school photograph, usually no bigger than 1"x2" or so. I think it was a good start, as I really learned to see and duplicate the shapes. No tracing involved because of the size differential.

With regard to saving time, I would think that just drawing the subject would be much quicker than setting up projectors or, heaven forbid, having a photograph printed on canvas! Painting is a process of corrections and whatever you put up initially will need fixing. Trying to color within the lines of a perfect tracing will not make a wonderful portrait. This subject reminds me of that book by David Hockney, Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters, wherein he could not believe that the old masters could draw freehand just because he couldn't do so.

Marvin is brilliant at coming up with the best way of doing things, and having the model right there, especially for color information, and a snapshot as well (to check where you are going wrong when the model is on break) is very efficient.
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Old 06-14-2008, 06:02 PM   #9
Chris Saper Chris Saper is offline
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Marvin, I couldn't agree with you more! Once students see how poorly the photo presents visual information, compared to the living person in front of them, I think they also appreciate that it
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Old 06-15-2008, 01:00 AM   #10
Enzie Shahmiri Enzie Shahmiri is offline
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[QUOTE]I completely agree that teaching students to get control over their photographic resources should be a key part of portrait painters
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