Why Drawing From Life (and Studying “Realism”) is Important

Recently on this site’s Facebook page, an artist named Tony asked about why it was important to draw from life, since what he’s doing is cartooning (drawing in his own stylized way). I explained as best I could, but wanted to expound a bit on the subject.

Art students are often told to “draw from life” (as opposed to drawing from photos, or your imagination) because our art should, even if it’s highly stylized, emulate life. You can’t make a convincing “cartoon hand” if you don’t know what a real one looks like. Your stylized, artistically modified drawings look more convincing (even if they are not remotely “realistic” anymore) when you understand what you’re stylizing.

First, the “drawing from life” part. (As contrasted with drawing from photos.)

“Portrait of Girl, from Life” sketched in about 20-30 minutes.

I drew a lot of portraits from photos, starting when I was a young teenager. I’d draw my favorite actors and actresses. (Like a lot of kids do.) That meant drawing from photos. I became pretty good at it, for my age. I occasionally drew from life (my friends would pose for me) but not nearly as much as from photos.

When I first took a Life Drawing class (drawing the figure) in college, it was extremely difficult at first. A serious adjustment, and a grave blow to my ego at the beginning! I had always assumed that I drew pretty well, because I was doing a decent job of it with photos. But I still had a long way to go in developing my drawing skills.  Continue reading Why Drawing From Life (and Studying “Realism”) is Important