Sketching week 10: From photo but not from photo, penguins!

Sketching week 10: From photo but not from photo, penguins!

What are the pros of working from a photo?

1/ it doesn’t move.

2/ the weather in it is just an image, meaning a photograph of the north pole won’t make you freeze, you can take your time.

3/ it won’t fall on you, contrary to some models who stand in a pose for half an hour, fall asleep and collapse off the stand – if they are lucky they fall onto the students who catch them before they break a bone (then the model has to help looking for the pencils and watercolour minuscule tubes that flew everywhere during operation “catch the muscular guy”). (I’ve seen this happen twice, plus the classic lying pose “dead roman soldier” style and suddenly hearing “rrrr…zzzzz….rrrr…” in which case well, we let the model sleep as long as he/she doesn’t move, and we keep drawing… lol.

4/ if you use a picture you have taken yourself, you have no worries about copyright or someone coming to say: “it’s from a picture – look, I found it on internet too”

At this point you would probably say working from a photo is pretty cool and positive. Now, the topic has come often in the two years I’ve studied with Glenn, and the following is **MY** understanding of what he thinks about… what happens to be the topic of the week.

Photo? Yes it is cool in some way, you can draw a church that is in Rome while being in Paris. It’s used all the time as reference by most professionals in animation, comics, you name it.

But, and it’s an enormous BUT, if you copy the photograph you get into big trouble and you’d be better off working from imagination.

The cons of working from photos:

1/ you have to check for copyright first, of course

2/ it’s deformed, almost no photo, unless taken with an old fashioned “accordeon type” view camera with tilt / shift settings, will have massive distortion in the verticals, but we don’t see all the other aberrations because we are so used to watching photos.

3/ photos are (unless done by a pro) poorly lit, no sense of “the box” – the side of the building and people don’t look any different from the front, a photo is super flat, but again it’s a photo so we don’t question it (trace a bad photo and people will say “this drawing is wrong!” but the photo will look right to them ). In one case (photo) the brain will auto-correct the perception because the photo “must” be true, whereas it will not correct the perception of a drawing because it’s already labeled as a “interpretation”.

In short: drawing from a photo is in fact much more difficult than drawing from life or imagination, you have to unplug the bit of your brain that says: “it’s a photo everything on it is normal” and ask yourself questions about everything, you must simplify (are you going to draw each tile on that roof – huh? each one???) in a way that fools the eye, invent a light if there is none, calculating it in your imagination – you’d better know forms quite well before doing that, tough!

you can’t always change the point of view – you can if you know the place well, or have tons of photos of the same place.

A photo is a tool, and being dependent on it would be like taking a cab driven by a blind man and thinking “I can relax, I’m in a cab”. (apologies to blind people I was thinking of that old ad with the great Ray Charles driving a car on the dead sea and obviously having the time of his life)

In short: you want to draw a penguin – what do penguin’s feet look like? you are not too sure (neither am I – lol), so you dig out reference: photos and photos of penguins and you draw your own penguin, you don’t copy just any photo, you draw the image created in your head, “your” penguin.

It’s all drawing from imagination in the end.

I chose to take an old picture I took in Rome when I lived there, and painted digitally from it. Here it is:



The original image was very dark (crappy photo), no clear light direction. I had to simplify the architecture (which in real life is full of little itty bitty thick “lines” things that I don’t know the architectural name for.

The windows were black, I chose to invent what they looked like. Also I decided to indicate only a few bricks and a few tiles of the roof (your eye got fooled, I’m ready to bet: you think this building is all brick…. even though there are only a few showing, whereas on the photo there were bricks showing everywhere on the building!)

Glenn liked it but thought I could add to the 3D aspect of the building by playing with the light. there is no real light in the photo or in my painting, and I could invent one. he painted over it, during the critic and yes, of course, having one side lighter, roof walls shadows and all made the building pop out in a magnificent way. Glenn is not scared of changing things, I am, I am in fact confused by reality, he looks at it as just a starting point, all he does is really from imagination.

This was the last week of the sketching class! I can’t recommend it enough, I learned tons, and had really a lot of fun doing it. I’m going to do it again soon.

The next class session is at the end of september (writing this in 2015) check out to find out more.

In the meantime Glenn is doing a sketching tour in London and Dublin, I can’t go but I wish I did, they are going to have such fun!!! He’s also going to teach in Santorini (a greek island that look like paradise on earth, Portugal and…. do some animal drawing in Paris (and i’ll be there!!!).

Look at the academy page for details, and if you really live too far from Europe, sign on now for the next semester, for there are a lot of people who want to sign up and only a limited number of places.

I can’t give any better advice to anyone than “work with Glenn, you’ll learn more in a week than in a year in a good school”. Everybody agrees with me (and I’m not getting paid to type this – don’t I wish I were! lol, I just want more great artists around cause I want to see great art, read good comics etc).

Make the most of your summer, change between media (I will), discover new ways of drawing and have fun!.

And see you in September, I’ll be redoing head drawing for the fifth time but from a comic book, cartoon point of view, it should be fun (hopefully it should be fun for Glenn too, I’ll do my best to draw fun characters).

And if you need something to read on the beach:

Herrigel: “art of Zen archery” (I’m not kidding) it’s public domain

Stephen Pressfield: “war of art” (and NOT “art of war”)

and of course Glenn Vilppu’s Sketchbook of drawing manual (on

Best wishes and see you soon, all sunburnt and relaxed!

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