I was reading Darren’s blog ( and it raised for me questions about whether I value the ability to paint or draw from one’s imagination more than from reference photos. Is there still part of me that thinks I can’t draw and somehow the use of reference photos is cheating? I know that this is not the case. Great masters drew having subjects sit for them – certainly not out of their head. Portrait painters today frequently use reference photographs. After all, how long can one person sit still?

Perhaps I would like to be able to draw from my imagination as it would enable me to draw what is non-existent in this world – such as dragons!

I know that I am perfectly comfortable that I am unable – or unwilling – to produce highly realistic portraits. I admire the skill involved in photo-realism, but frankly unless it is an extremely interesting subject to start with, I often find it boring and lifeless. This may seem strange because the pictures are in fact extremely life-like… but they somehow (mostly) lack feeling / emotion for me.

I also avoid realism because the pursuit of it feeds my perfectionism. I cannot obsess over details when someone has blue skin. I cannot be tentative with a crayon which I know can never produce the level of detail that is required to generate a realistic portrait. Art is a rich, delightful experience for someone like me because for once, it cannot be wrong or right. Perfect or imperfect. It isn’t like sports where you win or lose; or exercise where your fitness or strength can be measured, or gardening where you get a plant to flower or not; (or in the case of my rosemary plant stay alive or not). Art is a wonderful thing where rules can be dodged. I didn’t embark on art thinking that it would be a good counter to my perfectionism… but what a glorious discovery that is.

PS: For anyone reading my previous post,… it is slightly ambiguous and I thought I should point out that both my parents are perfectly fine. I was writing it after talking to someone who is needing to make some difficult decisions regarding the care of his father.


Posted on February 25, 2009, in Art, Waffle and Nonsense. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I would like to put forward the view that all art, wether it is copies of an image or drawn from the imagination is still a copy. Perhaps paintings of imaginary animals or scenes of outer space could fall into the “imagination” area. However most of these I think may be based on something some artist has seen and adapted. Even modern art is made of shapes and things people have seen before. Art should be there for enjoyment. Where the image came from is not important.

  2. I agree with Yendi. Art is art regardless of the inspiration or even the motivation.

    I do, as Lysh said, feel that art that is from your imagination tends to have more magic to it!

  3. oh and yeah, realism shouldn’t be a goal as the more realistic you paint the more it just looks like photograph and no one cares who paints those water drops on soft drink machines!

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