Last time I wrote about why I have chosen to work from photographs when doing self-portraits. A logical question arises from that discussion: If I can take a photograph, what is the point of drawing or painting a portrait from it?
There are several valid reasons to do so. My primary reason has been to practice my portraiture skills on an easily accessible subject who won’t feel imposed on, won’t try to tell me not to show her wrinkles, and doesn’t charge modeling fees. A photograph sits still for as many hours, days, or weeks as necessary. It can be digitally adjusted to test the desirability of changes in lighting, color, contrast, background and more. And it doesn’t complain if, after all that, “it doesn’t look like me!”
Another important reason is the very fact that drawings and paintings simply are not photographs. To my way of thinking, art is—or should be, to some degree—interpretive. Photographs can be interpretive, also, but rarely to the same degree as a manually produced image in which even slight exaggerations of line weight or adjustments of color or brushwork can express the artist’s feelings about the subject or suggest some otherwise invisible aspect of the subject’s nature or character, as I have done in my portrait of a gregarious woman from Barbados (#150306). This “artistic concept” applies not only to portraiture but to landscape, still-life, and other subject matter, as well.
Some painters entirely shun the idea of working from photographs. I fully understand and sympathize with their reasons for this attitude. But I cannot entirely agree.
The first argument I often hear is that photography cannot provide true replication of color and light. However, when the artist has a thorough understanding of color, and of light’s effect on it, this problem can be overcome to a great degree in interpretive painting.
Another common argument is that photography captures a limited scene at a single moment, whereas interpretive painters often want to capture the essence and emotional or energetic continuity of the scene that carries beyond a single, instantaneous depiction of it. Although this sense of continuing action is not easy to convey when working from a photograph, an astute and observant artist who knows the subject matter well can apply that understanding to the artwork to suggest more than most photographs will have been able to record.