Portrait Drawing: Live Models vs. Photos

Savannah Tate Cuff
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Duration:   4  mins

Portrait artists have a choice of working with live models or working from photographs, and each has its advantages and disadvantages. Artist Savannah Tate Cuff breaks down some of these pros and cons for us. First, Savannah notes that working from a live model can be inspiring and sometimes challenging. Poses can shift, making it hard for beginners to compensate, but in time, observing and choosing between different poses can be a fulfilling experience for any artist.

Working from photos is less expensive, with no live model fees, and allows you to paint those who are unable to sit for the necessary length of time. The photo option gives artists a wider range of subject possibilities. Savannah points out that if you like drawing models in challenging poses, you’ll gain flexibility and have more choices with photography, as a model may not be able to hold a challenging pose for a long time. This depends on the pose, the model, and the artist, of course, so you may be able to work with live models in challenging poses with no problem.

Savannah notes that with photos, she has a tendency to copy more of what she sees and add more detail; this can be a positive if a lot of detail is desired, but if you like a more impressionistic painting or drawing, too much detail might work against your aims. In addition, a camera perceives light differently than the eye. You may see darker shadows and stronger highlights in a photograph. If you do want to work from photos, take your own photos so you can control the lighting and take notes on the model’s angles and positions. With experience and practice, you’ll gain an understanding of the benefits of each alternative for yourself.