Imaginative drawing—with and without reference
How do you draw something that you can't see directly—such as a Chasmosaurus, a Phoenician, or a bog troll?
Alan North of Alan's Art Log came up with an interesting way to think about this problem.
• One way is to draw observationally from actual models, props, maquettes, and reference.
• The other way is to draw the scene purely out of your visual imagination.
You get better at the first method by learning to sculpt maquettes, improvise costumes, and by building a reference file. When you draw and paint your final picture, you observe those reference elements and composite them together into the picture.
You get better at the second method by developing your visual memory, and by learning to construct figures and forms convincingly.
Alan presents his idea in this video review of my book Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist. You can watch the video on YouTube at this link.
I think that in practice an artist needs both skills working together. References, no matter how good, will only take you only 20% beyond what you can draw or paint purely out of your imagination. Having a good sketch that you did out of your head is really important for guiding the interpretation of the references and for keeping the statement unified.
Drawing or painting without any references whatsoever can lead to repetitive or mannered solutions, and to missing out on surprising nuances of lighting or foreshortening that would never have occurred to the imagination alone. Those nuances often carry the force of truth, and make the scene believable.
You can get a signed copy of Imaginative Realism at my website. It's also available on Amazon.
Alan did a blog post version of his video.
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