Drawing from life is rare for most high school students
Drawing from life is hands down the number one, absolutely essential thing to do that essentially all high school students fail to do.
This problem is so prominent, that drawing from direct observation is now the rare exception among high school art students. Just doing this one directive will distinguish your work from the crowd, and put you light years ahead of other students in terms of developing your drawing skills.
Beyond just standing apart from the thousands of other student who are copying from photos, drawing from life is an amazing, enriching experience that will provide the foundation for a strong drawing skills. Read this article that Prof Lieu wrote about the importance of drawing from direct observation, and about the bad drawing habits that develop as a result of drawing exclusively from photographs.
Drawing from life takes patience and time
Only problem is, when you draw from life, you have to work a lot harder to train your eye, work in less convenient situations, work at a faster pace, and interpret the image on your own. Drawing from life requires a lot of patience and willingness to practice regularly. Progress is generally slow, not very visible, and won’t produce immediate gratification. The fact is, the vast majority of students really are unwilling to invest that kind of time and consideration in their drawings.
It is easy to see why students have only learned to draw from photographs: photographs are much more convenient than drawing from life. If you want to draw a portrait, you don’t have to ask anyone to pose or sit still for you. Need to draw an elephant? Just do a Google Image search and in one second there are hundreds of options to pick from.
Drawing from photographs is a limited experience
It’s rare for a photograph online to have exactly what you’re looking for. If you are drawing a hand in a specific pose, it’s really unlikely you will find that exact position in a photograph online. Consequently, most students compromise their image or just end up making up the hand up out of their imagination, which never goes well. How many people can draw a convincing hand, with good anatomical structure completely out of their heads?
When students draw from photos, they don’t have to work remotely as hard to get half decent results. A photograph has done all the work for you, you’re looking at an image that is 2D and transferring that image to a 2D drawing. When you draw from life, your eye has to work much harder to translate the 3D objects in space in front of you into a 2D drawing.
Precisely copying a photo is not drawing
Drawing is not about turning yourself into a human xerox machine and trying to create a perfect replication of a photograph. There is nothing artistic or creative about copying a photograph, it’s simply a sterile, mechanical process that is dull and boring to look at. However, most students don’t see this process this way. In most high schools, the norm is that whoever has the most photo realistic drawing is deemed to be the best, most skilled artist.
This is a complete contradiction from what most art schools are looking for. There are thousands of high school students who aspire towards making photo realistic drawings, so it’s startling to hear that actually, that’s not what an art school wants to see in a portfolio for admission.