Paint Basket Art Forum

Author Topic: Is it wrong to paint from a photograph?  (Read 4365 times)


  • Master Artist
  • *
  • Posts: 7135
on: October 15, 2012, 12:46:32 PM
I had a situation where I was showing a retired art teacher my watercolors that I have done from my course here on Paintbasket.  She asked me where I got my subjects and I told her that they were templates and that sometimes I use them and sometimes I just copy them.  However, it was the technique that was the important thing that I was learning.   Then I showed her other paintings I did by myself and she asked where I got the idea and I said that I used a  reference photograph.  She became quite indignant and said "all you are doing is copying!"  I told her that in order to sketch something or paint something, I needed to look at how it is shaped.  Whether I looked at a live tree or photograph, what is the difference.  She shook her head and said I had to use my imagination and sketch from my mind.

Since I am relatively new at this wonderful hobby, I just wondered, how you felt about this.  Is it wrong to use photographs as a basis for your artwork?  What are your opinions on this.

Mary Lou

Faith is the opposite of fear.

lynn p.

  • Canvas
  • *
  • Posts: 2604
Reply #1 on: October 15, 2012, 12:55:55 PM
Njnj girl --Yes, I have heard this before also.  My mother is quite an accomplished artist and all of her work is from her imagination but she intends for it to be surrealism.  She believes that painting from a pic or from live model or established still life is just a different, but very valuable kind of art.  I agree.  Look at the old masters--far more accomplished than many artists of the modern era-and they painted from live models.  Even Vermeer invented something like a modern day camera to capture his images.  Interested in what others think.


  • Global Moderator
  • Easel
  • *****
  • Posts: 1722
    • Maryna Moolman Art
Reply #2 on: October 15, 2012, 01:01:24 PM
I grunt when I read this.

To be honest even the most accomplished artists learned by copying, you need to see and do to grow. Even in my own paintings I still draw out the picture from a photo etc.
I think it comes with many many years of painting etc that you can paint from your head.

I am a writer so I need a plan to work from when I write, an outline to call it, so the same would go for art.  ;)
"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see"


  • Paint Brush
  • *
  • Posts: 788
Reply #3 on: October 15, 2012, 01:07:00 PM
I get mad when someone says this  :fight: and most of the time it is someone who wishes she could paint like you but can't.

I use anything I can to get inspiration to paint and like to use photographs especially when I paint animals.   I like to get the proportions as accurate as possible.   Try paint and animal out of you head???....You would have to be very very good.

Wait let me have a  :coffee: to simmer down.    :2funny: :2funny: :2funny:
Choose to make every day a good day


  • Master Artist
  • *
  • Posts: 5323
    • NC Wren Fine Art
Reply #4 on: October 15, 2012, 01:17:42 PM
Then she shouldn't ever use photographs to paint from.  I've seen plenty of artists use photographs-it's a technique that isn't unique to the Paint Basket.  If one's goal is to paint-why put up more obstacles to learning?  :thumbdown:

I took a quilting class several years ago.  The ladies there prided themselves in being purists.  No machine sewing was allowed.  I found it to be intimidating and gave the class up.  They managed to suck all the joy out of it.  I certainly don't believe that quilts sewn together with machines are inferior to those hand sewn together.

We are so blessed today with all the things available to us.  We can progress at a much faster rate using technology that is available to us.  We don't have to let weather, or travel hinder what we want to paint when we want to paint it-OR who we choose to learn from!  :smart:

Be an encourager. The world has plenty of critics already. ~Dave Willis


  • Palette
  • *
  • Posts: 372
Reply #5 on: October 15, 2012, 01:36:51 PM
Narrow thinking produces narrow results.  In my humble opinion, art is about creation.  There are dozens, hundreds, thousands of ways to create art.  Using a pencil to copy a template is still more creative than using a pencil to write out your grocery list.



  • Artist
  • *
  • Posts: 3338
Reply #6 on: October 15, 2012, 02:10:35 PM
Nina  :flowers: :hug:
Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the ground each morning, the devil says. "OH NO, SHES UP!"


  • Master Artist
  • *
  • Posts: 7135
Reply #7 on: October 15, 2012, 02:13:09 PM
Oh, so happy to hear that I am not alone thinking that it was only her opinion.  I agree with you Lynn, that there are many different forms of art and all have value.  She is apparently a purist, like your quilters, Ncwren.  :crazy2:

At this point in my life, I am doing this for me, for fun.   I am sure once I have learned the techniques and sketched and sketched, I will be able to do things from my imagination, but that should not de-value what I have done so far.

 :thankyou:, too,  Northbound,Val, Tina and Maryna for your opinions on this.  It makes me feel much better.
Mary Lou

Faith is the opposite of fear.


  • Administrator
  • Master Artist
  • *
  • Posts: 14128
    • Draw With Nolan
Reply #8 on: October 15, 2012, 06:58:02 PM
no offense but that lady is speaking utter rubbish and I get very upset when people do that  :tickedoff:

From the very first cave drawings art has been created by copying, from memory and using all the tools available to the artist. It was only here in the last few decades when "the establishment" decided you needed to "think like an artist" to be an artist. What nonsense!

If we had to paint everything from imagination, we would never be allowed to paint realistic paintings from reference photos or be allowed to experience the excitement of going outdoors to paint en-plain air or use the grid to accurately redraw a city scene on the canvas or hold your knife up to match a colour of the subject in front of you.

If the grid was good enough for the ancient Egyptians and the camera obscura was good enough for the old masters, then the latest technology is good enough for me.

Everything in life has a process to it, from tying your shoelaces to painting to generating electricity, so why is everybody else allowed to follow the process to get the correct result, but an artist must pluck everything out of thin air?

All that counts is the end result - what the painting looks like hanging up on the wall and the pleasure the artist experienced getting to that result. To those that enjoy painting everything from memory or imagination, then good for you, go for it. As for me I prefer to use ALL the tools at my disposal to produce my art and that includes my memory, imagination, grids, overhead projectors, computers, step by step painting techniques and yes, even paint and brushes.

Who is the better more versatile artist? I know who thinks they are the better artist....

Rant over  ;D


  • Global Moderator
  • Master Artist
  • *****
  • Posts: 21533
  • SMILE, It's a brand new day!
Reply #9 on: October 15, 2012, 07:02:23 PM
 :2funny: After reading this little 'rant', I wiped all of mine!  :2funny:
I have only one thing to add.... I suppose DaVinci's Mona Lisa is a piece of ca-ca since he used a model and not his imagination.....  :whistle:
Cheers, Val

�Creativity is allowing yourselves to make mistakes. Work on knowing which ones to keep!�

- Alvaro Castagnet

Tony (ASM)

  • Canvas
  • *
  • Posts: 2538
  • I'm Tony from Halifax, UK
Reply #10 on: October 15, 2012, 07:20:13 PM
I learned a long time ago that, despite sharing free music theory/song practical lessons on Youtube, I was always gonna meet the cantankerous jealous prats and, believe me, I have! They watch through 30 of my lessons without a single compliment or, thanks yet, they find a minor fault and shout it from the roof tops and slag off my teaching!
Music theory, like art, has many ways of being presented and taught. A seemingly complex subject where those who have mastered it, think they own the crowning glory of dominion and, their snobbery prevents sharing its 'secrets' and, they quick to criticise those who do.
Art has a journey to a desired destination. People like the aesthetic beauty created by artists and, like a story but, they don't generally like the mystery of the rainbow of art to be unweaved!
''Don't spend life going forward in reverse, just glimpse the rear view mirror now and again then, focus on what lays ahead''.
(Tony. ASM 3rd July 2013)


  • Master Artist
  • *
  • Posts: 7135
Reply #11 on: October 15, 2012, 10:37:20 PM
Bravo, Nolan, well said.   :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap:   It is the end result that counts, and how we get there is our business!   

I thank all of you for your input. 
Mary Lou

Faith is the opposite of fear.


  • Paint Brush
  • *
  • Posts: 539
  • "Live your life and forget your age." N V Peale
Reply #12 on: October 15, 2012, 11:12:36 PM
I agree with all of the above!  We should be able to use all the tools available to us to create our art!  When copying from a photo, we are basically copying from the real thing, only it's "frozen" in that moment, rather than changing as we work.  And, of course, we need to have proper permissions, credits, etc. if it's not our own photo.  But, to think that we could alway just pull stuff from memory is ridiculous!

So, in the classes here we use a template, so we can focus on learning the techniques.  We all use the same template, and no two paintings look the same!  That is what is so great about art.  We won't make the same thing even when we copy!!

Those that get all in a snit about the "rules" need to mind their own business!  We see things every day that give us inspiration - real life, photos, other art, etc.  All of that goes into our minds, and then we bring our interpretations out into the open when we create.  That's our unique take on what we see.  It's our art, our creation!  To limit what we can use is putting our art into a box, making us small, or looking behind our backs to make sure we are doing it right!  Where's the joy in that?  Where's the creativity?

Artists used to paint with their hands, sticks, whatever, using berry juice, mud, etc.  Then they started mixing their paints with purchased ingredients, using paint brushes.  Now we buy our paint in tubes, often using the same brands and colors as others, so we aren't really unique in that way anymore.  Does this mean we are cheating?  Drawing freehand, or using a scanner, tracing a photo or picture, aren't all these valid ways to get our subject matter down?  Maybe using photoshop to plan our work is cheating?  When does it end?   Art is Art!  The end product of whatever tools we use, and the effort and creativity we put into the finished product - that is OUR art.  Hand-pieced, machine-pieced, hand-quilted, screen printed or painted, whatever we are doing has many ways to get to the end product.  We have so much technology toavailable to us today, ways to push traditional art into a whole new area, mixed-media, photos overlaid with paint.  Who are we to say what is valid or not?  Let's use everything we can to get what we want in the end!!

I'm sure glad I didn't take art from that art teacher!! 

"Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties."  Erich Fromm


  • Palette
  • *
  • Posts: 401
Reply #13 on: October 16, 2012, 11:19:53 AM
  :think:  I have a teacher that more or less said the same thing. I didnt get it either because I see no difference between real life versus the photographs. Still after a year and half, I am trying to glean what she's trying to say. What the teacher said finally made sense, I learned it this week though thru Tony's comment. Tony noticed it. The glass photo that I used, you couldnt see the water rim. But we know in real life and in our "mind", there has to be a water rim. So maybe it is one of the pitfalls of solely relying on photos. So maybe the "mind" she's talking about is what you have collected about the subject in real life. Like the light efects, texture, color etc...We see all that in photographs but maybe there could be some aspects that the camera omits like how it feels/taste(Pls dont eat paints  :sweat:).
I am not condemning, defending or whatnot but it just happened recently that I had a  :idea: eureka moment about this very subject. I have nothing against photos and I use photos too. I am just trying to glean what she's trying to say.
 :sweat: Sorry Tony I am not singling you out :flowers: :smitten:. Just a relevant example that I can think of that everyone here can relate when they see the photo example I used.

 I think the methods are irrelevant in appreciating any forms of artwork. It's very subjective.

Peace everyone! :party:


  • Paint Brush
  • *
  • Posts: 985
    • Drie Koele Kippen
Reply #14 on: October 16, 2012, 11:39:29 AM
I just read these post and replies and i have the same problem...only it is my partner that thinks and tells me over and over again, that art is only art when it is something new, not done by somebody else before. It is hard to explane that i am learning and that even the old masters copied from life.
He does like some of my paintings, but when he sees that i used a reference, it isn't art anymore, just a copy. I am happy that i now have my little studio, even he needs it sometimes when he has orders to send. So i can paint much more freely. Except drawing and watercolour i do downstairs, he likes the drawings that i have made, but to be honest, i try to hide the templates. So i am glad that i now use the grid so it looks to him a little more on drawn by myself,...but still i am copying.
The funy thing is, yesterday when going for a walk, with my backpain, he said that i could do some plein air painting, while looking for mushrooms. Sometimes.... :tickedoff: :knuppel2: :2funny:
"Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow."
Ralph Waldo Emerson


SimplePortal 2.3.7 © 2008-2021, SimplePortal