Drawing from Life

Myra Naito
4 min readSep 8, 2022

An Opportunity for Improving Your Drawing Skills

Are you drawing from life? (Photo credit: 123RF.com Image ID: 39635406 Copyright: pressmaster)

Drawing from life is an essential skill for any artist. With the internet, the temptation is to do a Google search for reference photos. I’ll admit that I do it too. It’s just so convenient!

In reality, I work primarily from reference photos. It’s the nature of what I do. Roughly 80% of my commissions for pet portraits are of animals that have already passed on. The owner forwards a handful of their favorite pet photos and I work from those when creating the portrait.

The other instance where I might use reference photos is when I’m drawing animals that couldn’t possibly see in person. Underwater sea life, lions, and tigers. Outside of going to the zoo or on safari, I just don’t have access to them.

But what difference does it make?

First and foremost for my work, the subject in a photo doesn’t move around. Even if I could draw to the caliber of my pet portraits in just five minutes, have you tried getting your pets to sit still for that long, much less retain that precious expression? Also, the lighting in a photo doesn’t change, reflections don’t change, weather isn’t an issue (if you’re doing landscapes), and if you don’t finish your drawing in one sitting, the photo won’t change.

So What’s the Problem?

So far, drawing from photos sounds pretty great, right? So why bother drawing from life? Why not Google what you’re looking for or go out and take a photo of what you want?

Primarily, even with the most high-tech, high-res camera, some distortion takes place. Think about it. It’s impossible for it to not happen. You’re taking a three dimensional image and flattening it out into a two dimensional photo. When you do that, several things happen.

  • Perspective becomes slightly skewed
  • Spatiality (the relationship between objects) becomes distorted
  • Dimension of objects and people become distorted
  • Color almost never matches real life
  • Value almost never matches…
Myra Naito

Freelance copywriter who is passionate about art and fitness. Check out my art blog at mnatiodesigns.com/blog/ or follow me @mnaito_fineart .