Drawing or painting for me has always been better when working from life – I love it. While I work from photos and my imagination a lot these days, I owe most of what I am able to do now to years of working strictly from life. I still remember my first drawing from life, it was of a grasshopper. I learned a lot about that grasshopper while drawing him. How his head turned, legs worked, and what he ate. At the time I did not think too much about what the act of drawing was doing, that I was analyzing things as I drew them. I was seven or eight when I drew that grasshopper. Back then drawing was just something I did for fun, and it still is great fun for me. It was twenty some years later that I realized what I was doing by sketching Mr. Grasshopper.
Looking at a pile of photos twenty years ago I wondered why had I not used them. I was doing a lot of landscape paintings then, either going out on the spot and painting or doing them from my sketch book. I had a Hasselblad camera – one of the best cameras around then, and shot lots of pictures with it, yet I always turned to my sketchbook when I needed a reference. Once I found an interesting sketch to work from, only then would I check my photos to see if I had one to accompany it. Even then, the photo would just sit there as I worked from the drawing. Photos of things I had not drawn first did not carry the same interest or inspiration.
I realized the importance of drawing was that as we draw or paint, we analyze our subject. Was that what Robert Henry meant when he said, “There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual…”? Painting is the by-product of that understanding. As artists we gain a greater understanding because of the time we take observing life and the world around us. We are taking the time to “stop and smell the roses” I guess.
With photos we are simply seeing shapes and then copying them. Working from life we are experiencing life as we work. Not all painters are open to the experience of working from life. There are those who are locked in the belief that the photo holds the total truth. They paint from life but are locked into formulas and even though they are standing in the open air they do not see or feel the world around them.
I love looking at a painting that has the passion of the artist coming through. Their design is terrible, their drawing is off, and their color is pure imaginary – but the smell of country life or fresh cow manure radiates from their work. It is important to know how to draw and mix the right colors, but more important is having the understanding of your subject and a desire to capture that moment of understanding.
I study design and colors and I am constantly drawing, keeping my skills sharp so when the passion for a subject hits I can keep the spontaneity and passion alive in me – letting it fill my canvas.