This blog is about Graphic Design, Vector Art, and Cartoon Illustration

April 19, 2019

What drawing from life is

I was talking to a friend of mine today who was asking about how different drawings are done. If you've ever seen someone do a drawing, it all looks the same, but if you've done some drawing yourself you know that there are, in general terms, three different ways to draw. They are: 1) drawing from a photo, 2) drawing from a formula and 3) drawing from life. And yes, everyone who draws does all of those things, and they tend to have a preference. My personal preference is drawing from life, so I'll talk about that.

I really don't have the patience to draw from a photo, I'm really just too lazy for that. Most of the incredibly-detailed drawings that you see use photos as a reference. I mean, no one sits at the zoo and expects a tiger to stay posed in the same position while they draw for hours. A photo is not "cheating" - it's simply reference, and many great artists, including Norman Rockwell, used photography for reference a lot.

By the way, since I'm going off on tangents here, I'll talk about drawing from a formula. That would be someone who draws without needing a photo, or looking at anything at all. The very best comic book artists draw from formulas. They have practiced enough to know what the hero's (or heroine's) anatomy looks like, and can adapt it just by using their imagination. This is quite a talent! My favorite comic book artist by the way, was Jack Kirby, who pretty much had a formula for beautiful women's faces, handsome men's faces, and ugly faces. They repeated over and over, but that was fine.

I really don't have the talent, or patience for those things - I draw from life. That is, I draw what's in front of me. If you want a drawing of you, I'll get my sketchbook and look at you. Drawing from life really doesn't mean that the subject has to be alive, it could be a "still life", which is usually an arrangement of fruit. I drew a lot of fruit in art class! Or it could be a live model, which we drew also. I like to draw interiors, like the inside of my little apartment in Phoenix while I was going to college (the drawing at the top of this post).

I started learning the technique of drawing from life from my high school art teacher, who said "spend more time looking than drawing". If you watch someone who draws from life, they'll look at the subject much more than their sketch pad. I especially liked the pencil "scribble technique" that allowed me to vary the values as I went along. I hardly have to look at the sketch pad at all, I just scribble, and the drawing creates itself.

I used to always carry a sketchbook along with me. A few years ago I started looking WAY more than I was drawing, and now I mostly just look. But in my mind I'm drawing. I'm always drawing, and that's why I didn't hear a word you just said.

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