Why Not Just Take a Picture?

“Why not just take a picture and use it to make a drawing or painting”?

I have been asked this question by some of my artist friends.  So, why don’t I just take a picture instead of standing out in all conditions on the beach painting waves or, why do I bother driving an hour and a half over the Coast Mountain range to draw and sketch the animals at the zoo while being surrounded by crowds and stepped on by screeching children? I mean, after all, I can get hundreds of images online, right?

I could reply with the answer that I have heard so many long time artist respond with when asked how to grow and improve, that one should “draw and paint from life”.

But, I would like to add something a little deeper. Something that I find more meaningful, and hopefully you will too. Ironically enough, my answer is in the photo above!

I love drawing and painting from life, even when it is uncomfortable. Yesterday, I spent two hours sitting on a stone floor drawing several sketches of this beautiful cheetah with only the glass separating us. Even though I couldn’t touch her, I could see the pattern of her fur and way her spots swirled over her form. I could see the ripple of muscle as she stretched and the way the fur on her back moved on her lean body when she got up to turn so she was facing the sun. 


Most importantly, we both shared deep looks into each other’s eyes. She would slowly blink and then I would. I would slowly blink, and then she would. 

I believe all this and more becomes part of your drawing. It certainly becomes part of the memory that is invoked when you use your sketches and notes for reference, even if you still need to use your own photo reference for a few details. 

Ink on Strathmore Toned Gray paper.

There is an exchange of spirit or energy when you draw and paint from life, even when it is a collection of rocks. While it might not be important or even known to the people admiring or buying your work, it can be important to you.

If you don’t do a lot of drawing and painting from life, I encourage you to try it. You might be surprised when you make unexpected connections and observations, often when you least expect it. 

If you do draw and paint from life, I would love to hear your reason. Please feel free to leave a comment! 

One final note, the cheetah’s name is Darleen. She lives with her sister Mary Jane at the Oregon zoo. I don’t always know the name of my subject but these two are very special to me!

-Renee

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