Monika Murray's
Artistic Affairs
My Art Blog
Copyright 2011 Monika Murray Art. All rights reserved.
Welcome to my art blog.  I hope you'll enjoy the journey
through the wonderful world of art history, oil painting and
other art related topics just as much as me.  I write these
articles to express my passion for art and also because I'm
a knowledge seeking individual and I love to learn more.
April 17, 2011

Paint from Life or Photos?
This is a question that most likely haunts a lot of artists especially beginning
artists.  When I first started drawing and painting I worked exclusively from
photos.  My photo subjects were always there for me, they didn't change
positions or clothes, they didn't go bad if I left them on the table for few days too
long.  In other words, photos were very convenient.  I used to get annoyed and a
little upset when I heard other artists stating that painting from photos is bad
thought my work was pretty good, after all my drawings and paintings looked
things a little differently and only now I understand the irony of the previous

Back in October I decided to give myself a little artistic workout and paint some
studies from life.  I picked random single objects: fruit, vegetable, booties or
bowl and painted them sitting directly in front of me.  I gave myself a time limit
as well, anywhere from 1 hour to maximum two days.  The objective was to
paint what I see in front of me and not what the camera tells me I see in front of
me.  I wanted to see what the hype of painting from life was all about.  I found
the results quite staggering.  The studies I painted from life looked different
than those I painted from photos!  The number one difference was the depth
and edges.  My studies had a lot of depth to them and subjects had softer
edges than those I painted from photograph.  They looked a lot more real.  
Below is the example of my work from photograph and then from life.  Judge for
yourself.  These paintings were done 5 months apart.

As you can see in the painting on the left the edges and shadows are darker
and sharper where as in the painting on the right the edges and shadows are
much softer.

After my experiment I came to the following conclusions:

1. Painting from life is very good for you.  Whenever you can, try and do little
studies from life even if you don't have a lot of time.  Just set yourself a time
limit.  This is not so you can produce a masterpiece but rather so you can learn
to observe.

2. Using photographs for reference is still fine but as long as you don't copy it
exactly.  Try to observe your subjects in real life, sketch them as often as you
can.  In doing that, even if you have to use a photo reference you will know
where to adjust your work so your subject looks alive and not just photographic.

3. Painting from life trains your eye to see things that otherwise are not easy to
see.  The camera makes it easy for us to distinguish differences in values and
colors but in real life these differences are a lot more subtle.  It's this
subtleness that makes the subject come to life.  

Being one of the artists that paints in layers I totally know that it's not always
possible to paint from life (Heck, we probably even shouldn't.  How else are you
going to capture that fleeting gesture if not by a photograph?).  My paintings
take me on average six months to create and there is no fruit or vegetable that
will last that long and no child that will look the same in that amount of time (if
you look at my paintings you'll see that I love to paint children).  I have to rely on
photos in some way to keep doing what I love to do.   I do however sketch from
life a lot, I do occasional alla prima quick studies from life and most importantly
I observe, observe and observe.   I am no expert by any means, in fact, my
artistic journey has just began but I love to share what I have learned already
and that is:

"Use photographs as references when you have to but don't become a slave to
them.  Don't copy them exactly.  Sketch from life, paint from life when you can
and try to learn to notice differences between subjects in real life and how
those same subjects look in the photo.  And remember, whenever your artistic
aspirations allow you to paint from life exclusively, do it.  It's clearly the best way
to go."
"Three Pears", 2010 Painted from Photo
"Lean on Me", 2010 Painted from Life