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About drawing on canvases using photos as reference

Hi everyone, I am more a photographer than a painter and I would love to use my photos as reference, but I would like to redraw them before painting, essentially just to use them as a substitute of a life scene without relying too much on them.
The more I think about it the more I find this two problems.
1) I like to draw in big shape and not directly with if I do this with charcoal on the canvas it will be a mess.. So I need to draw the scene as big as the canvas on a big sheet of paper and than copy the outline onto the canvas again? Did u ever face a similar problem?
2) using photos u have all the time of the world and that's difficult to manage for me, I can go on and on.. what is your approach to this? 

Here is an example in black and white about my drawing, very few lines and more shadows and light.
Thanks for reading!



  • Actually you would be an excellent oil glazer.  get some white, blue, and brown paint and do this with a brush on black painted canvas.  Then you can glaze color over the top. It will be epic.
  • Bobitaly

    Suggest that you work directly on the canvas with burnt umber, citrus solvent and linseed oil to produce a wipeout or underpainting in a tonal rather than a linear style.

  • You're an artist. 
    Your question 1.  I don't believe you have to transfer anything  - get your big shapes and that is your instinct and Mark Carder emphasizes in his videos with the dark values first - you see shapes which is beautiful.  I find this man fascinating as well - watch what he does with charcoal! 

    your question 2:  perhaps Mark Carder can help with this - I find painting from photos a hindrance.I understand your conflict.  I don't know the answer.

    I love painters who use shadow and light so am drawn to your beautiful drawing.  It is lovely.

  • @Julianna:  The above video shows why if you really want to be a good painter, I think you have to get your mileage in drawing from life.  In fact a lot of people should focus exclusively on drawing, and when I say drawing I don't imply just linear drawing.  Lots of charcoal drawing, and ink wash drawings.  It really helps you understand value and how light interacts.  Otherwise all you will really be skilled at is copying photos, which there is nothing wrong with but if you want to transcend that I think you have to put a lot of hours into life drawing.
  • Thanks to everyone for your answer and opinion.
    Yes @dencal I tried this with my painting but I didn't do the oil priming so I ended up painting with brushes because paint was not "sliding" on the surface..

    And thanks @Julianna but I don't consider myself an artist..maybe one day! For what concern Vincent Desiderio i knew him and I even watched all of his videos on yt, seems we like same things ahah. He is great painter and art historian, he had a difficult time in life but he transformed this into great art pieces. Thanks for sharing this with me!
    What is beautiful about forum is we can share a passion or a topic outside of this I wouldn't know someone to share with..:)

  • That's absolutely right @JeffAllen. Drawing is essential, I like to draw and I paint like "drawing". Problem is I am not able draw from life what I want to paint cause are particular subjects, expecially subjects in my photos. Ideally I should reconstruct the scene in a studio, like Caravaggio for example did, but it is not possible for me...from here the problem to treat the photo like a "live scene", and for now my doubts are all there aha
    Painting from life is the best I think together with drawing but for the subject and scene part a big limitation, avoiding this for me means painting still life which I don't like or places that I'm not related to. 
  • @Bobitaly, I wasn't implying you can't draw, actually the opposite. My reflections were on the topic in general not aimed specifically at you.  Based on your drawing posted here, you appear to have an excellent grasp of value, structure and light.  You are thinking about drawing how a good painter thinks.  

  • Thanks @JeffAllen :) yes I was not trying to say u said I can't draw, sorry if u understood English is not perfect. I wrote what actually is coming in my mind lately about painting in general. I never thought I could oil painting, I tried in the past and what came out was so horrible I put everything apart for some years ahah thanks to Mr Carder and his brilliant and easy way to explain how this medium works I tried to mix red blue and yellow and boom! Maybe for now I'm putting the stick to high for me and I should just relax and finish what I'm painting now..but u know once the painting virus catch u..  thank u for all your kind responses, Art brings people together cause everyone here struggle searching for "beauty", maybe it's the path in itself the real answer.
  • I've noticed something when switching mediums.  Sometimes when you switch mediums it becomes so overwhelming you forget the basics, because you naturally become so focused on how to handle the medium instead.  One of my mother's friends has been painting in water colors for 30 years and was very good.  She understood the basics such as value and composition etc.  When she switched to oils, its like she forgot all that stuff and I really think it is it just that fact that the handling of the two mediums is so different it freaked her out. 

    So if that is your issue, limit your pallet more and paint something simpler.  Even a still life of simple objects like a box and maybe an egg with some simple directional light.  In addition, limit your pallet to white, brown and blue.  This will feel more like drawing and maybe be less overwhelming.  As you get more comfortable introduce more colors and/or more complex subjects.
  • Thank you @JeffAllen sorry for the delay but I missed the notification. I decided for now to finish my painting and to do more charcoal sketch from life even if I'm not gonna paint them, just for fun. For the photo part problem maybe I have just to take it easy, painters were using watercolor and sketch before the Studio painting part. Maybe I will find a compromise between the ultratech part we have now and the "ancient" way. I wonder when people say someone have to paint from life if they paint only models or the city where they live..
  • @Bobitaly:  I wouldn't not paint if I were you.  And there is nothing wrong with using new tech (e.g. photography).  I guarantee the old masters would have used those sorts of tools if available to them.  My point above about life drawing, is that you learn things from it that you can't learn by copying photos. I think a lot of people use photos as a crutch rather than a tool.  It is a quicker easier path, and they miss stuff along the way.  Also what I say next may contradict what I just said, but if I had to do it over again, I would have studied constructive drawing methods first (see books by Loomis as example).  Once I obtained some mastery over that thought process I would have then moved onto life drawing and then to painting.  i would have avoided a lot of bad habits going that route.  So how would I fit Mark Carder's method into that mix?  I would introduce how he teaches about mixing colors at the painting stage.  His thought process and how explains the process of thinking about and mixing colors is very straight forward and easy to grasp for a newbie.
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