I just read a great post by Tina Koyama titled Practicing People of the 21st Century. She presents some great drawing exercises to improve the ability to capture people in motion. She also begins her discussion with the notion that “it wouldn’t be so bad…” if she drew from photos.
In my mind, this is THE biggest problem with the urban sketching movement. While we’re ready and willing to tell everyone that drawing from life, on location, is very valuable as a learning tool, we’ve nearly turned our backs completely on all the OTHER ways we can benefit our personal learning curves or are at least apologetic if we do anything that’s not on location. Copying master drawings, doing drawing skill exercises, visual memory exercises, AND DRAWING FROM TV, MOVIES, AND PHOTOS are all important to the development of an artist.
Truth is, you don’t learn much by going out and using your existing skills to draw something for the group throw down at the end of the day for the simple reason that you’re “using your existing skills to draw something.” Just as a baseball player doesn’t learn to hit home runs by playing baseball games, sketchers need activities separate from “creating art to show others” if they are to improve.
I happen to know that Tina, who draws all the time on location, also attends classes at places like the Gage Institute, Daniel Smith store, etc. She need not (should not) excuse herself for drawing from photos, regardless of her goal. I’m sure that she, like everyone else who wants to improve their art, could benefit from trying to make a hyper-realistic drawing from a photo, and there’s no need to be apologetic about it at all.
Just to put a bit of drawing where my mouth is, here is a page from my own practice book. That book holds pages of nothing more than me trying to draw straight lines in parallel or between two dots. There are pages of ellipses, all poorly drawn in evidence of my need for such practice. But since the topic here is drawing from photos, here’s a page of four 10-12 minute (sometimes I cheated on my 10-min limitation) faces. The source for them was Mr. Google. Are they perfect? No, but I’m practicing stuff I’m not good at – if they were perfect there would be no point.
This stuff is practice and neither Tina or I would post any of it except to talk about practicing, and maybe that’s the problem. People wanting to be urban sketchers only see the stuff we’ve done on the streets, sitting on our tripod stools. But, to improve, you need to be doing a lot of this other stuff and to feel proud, not guilty for doing it.