Sunday, May 30, 2010


Someone in the comments asked about projectors. Was I pro or con on projectors? I would have to say I'm "agin em" Here's why.......

They won't do what people think they will. No one brings them up because they want to enlarge their sketches. The purpose of a projector is to copy photographs. But that won't make a painting. If it did, everyone could paint and of course few can. If the idea is to make a salable thingy, the projector might do it. As I have said before, every gallery I am in has someone who just copies photos literally, and they tend to sell pretty well. So you can use a projector to make a close copy of a photograph. But that's not a painting, its still only a photograph, but now it's made out of paint.

So it doesn't matter how you copy a photograph, whether you use a grid to square it up, or squint at it pinned to the corner of your canvas, its still the same thing. Copying photos is just busy work, it's drudgery and without creativity. Copying photos is the most boring thing imaginable.
I see so many paintings made this way in the magazines and they aren't compelling or interesting. I just turn the page. Anybody with the patience can do it, and a roomful of patient airheads with the same photo will all make the same painting. There are collectors who exclaim "it looks just like a picture and imagine the painting is "perfect" and for them it is. But it contains no art. Art comes from decision making, things like handling and design.

There is another problem with projectors. They give an absolute outline of a literal scene in front of you, or an object, but they don't give the information to describe the form within that object. Form is a construct that cannot necessarily be observed, it must be installed to some extent. A very practiced artist can do it, but a learning artist never will. Nor will they learn drawing by trying to copy photos. You have to actually learn to draw to have command over what you represent rather than being chained to the most cursory and literal presentation that is styless. So many people want a short cut, an easy way to be a painter. You simply have to be able to draw. A projector might seem like it will enable you to do that, but it won't.

So the answer is not projectors yes or no but, projectors, what use are they to an artist?


Anonymous said...

Hi Stape,
There was an artist at the La Quinta Art Festival here in the desert, one of the top venues in the US very difficult to get into; and his work looked like large colored photos, no sign of brushstrokes, photo values, colors and even a few fisheye distorted. As I was looking at the work I overheard the artist proving to a group of viewers that they were really paintings by looking at the back of the canvas. Than someone said, "That's amazing it looks exactly like a photo!"
I would have taken that as a negative but he seemed complemented. Terry

Robert J. Simone said...

I am flattered when someone says of one of my paintings, "That looks real." Or, "That looks like reality."

I cringe with disappointment if they say it looks like a photograph.

I like the thought that form must be
"installed" to a certain extent. Good points in this post. said...

It's MUCH easier to comment on the craft, rather than the art.

When someone doesn't know about paintings or art, it's an easy thing to say "that's looks just like a photograph" or "that looks like my kid could do that". Looking like a photograph gives them something to relate to and that's why they'll buy it; so they can say to their friends "this looks just like a photograph". Repeat it enough and people will believe that's good.

Love this post.

I guess Eurovision is on TV. I don't have a TV either. But I do have European friends...Germany won.Cute, fun song in English.

Lucy said...

It's interesting that Stapleton's seascape prompted the issue of projecting. There is a disconnect there. Those seascapes could not have been done with a projector.
The camera's eye is just not the same as the human eye. The camera is really not that accurate. The shapes are different when you compare to what the eye (and brain) see. Same even more when it comes to color. That said, Eakins used a camera and traced so do some other very good artists.
Those paintings are Ok, but "d take Monet, Avery,Cezanne... and Kearns any day.

armandcabrera said...

Great post. My favorite paintings are the ones that include the fuzzy spots in the background which were really depth of field blurs in the photos. They always make me smile.

Carol Nelson said...

Projectors can be a huge time saver. When I did my 100 Portraits in 100 Days earlier this year, it was ESSENTIAL that I quickly and accurately located the eyes, nose, mouth on my 6x6 panel. I did not have the luxury of time to draw, erase, redraw, correct, etc.

My projector put a fuzzy image on the panel, but the proportions of the face were accurately there.
I believe the portraits I produced were art. There is no way one could interpret my fauvist colors and strong brushwork as being a photo.

The portrait I did of you, Stape, was done that way and I love how it turned out.

billspaintingmn said...

When I was a kid, my artist buddy and I would have drawing competitions. We competed on everything.
Drawing rock stars was a big thing, because we both enjoyed doing portraits.
Then we would have our friends vote on who's drawing was best.
(We were true Nurds all the way)
Most the time my artist buddy would win.
Then one day I went to his house, and his sister said, "go on in, he's down stairs."
I walked in and caught him projecting the photo onto a sheet of paper.
I called him a cheater, and got upset.
I had been drawing from circles, cones, and squares, as I was instructed.(I was a correspondence student with Art Instruction Schools.) So my drawings were always a bit off, or different from the photo.But I was capturing
bits of mood, and likness that the projector drawing wasn't.
It wasn't till years later, in the sign painting bizz that I was taught to use a projector to enlarge type and layouts to a billboard size.(Time is money!) so I made piece with the projector.
When I read that Norman Rockwell
used a projector, but would hide it when visitors were over, I felt
that it was a crutch, to help you "walk", then I realized it was just a tool to lay things out. You still have to understand form, and light & shadow, ect.
My intention was never to draw a photo, but to make art. Since I could not get Hendrix, and all the others stars to pose, I had to rely on a photo.

Dot Courson said...

I paint landscapes and it took awhile to learn to do it. I cannot imagine anyone improving a painting by tracing it or painting directly from a photograph. I teach a weekly class where students paint from photos and I demo using them and the comment I always get is that my work is not like the photograph - it's much better. Of course it is! But I am not a slave to the photo any more than I am when actually there observing nature en plein air. And BTW: I have blurry areas in my paintings that is not in the photo - it's called exaggerated aerial perspective to create more depth. This reminds me of (was it Zorn?) who had a lady comment that his painting looked exactly like the area (she passed every day). His response: "Well, Madam, the scene must have greatly improved since I painted it!"

Karla said...

I have been quilting for 30 years. This reminds me of the "purist" quilters who did not believe that a bed covering could be called a quilt unless it was all hand stiched without the use of a sewing machine. My first quilt was done this way. It took me nine months working on it every day!! Is it better than any of my other quilts? No! Did I use a pattern to make my quilts? Almost always yes. But I added my own flair with choices of fabrics, colors and stitching. Do the quilts still have artistic value-even if I didn't "create" them every single step of the way? I think so.

So are you saying photographs are not art? I would beg to differ. Even snapping a camera takes a brain and an eye to capture something interesting to look at.

How far do we want to dice and slice things?

Is there really anything new under the sun?

D. Malcolm said...

There shouldn't be any right or wrong way of creating art, and there shouldn't be any judgement as to whether a creation is good or bad. Each artist who creates is striving to accomplish a goal and what works for one individual may not work for another. If you as an artist are judging yourself against the "great artists", will you ever be able to rise above their talent by using the same tools and subjects that they did? Be open and differentiate yourself in ways that make your art stand out in some way. If that means using photographs , projectors or any tools necessary.(I'm still working on it.)

nancy said...

Carol, Dot and bill, thank you for your support of the projector and photo. I'm not a real artist more a faux artist by the standards set by a couple posts here. I have been mulling it over all day. I use a projector sometimes for the placement, you still have to paint it, naught? By the comments I said to myself, Nancy you better quit because your not a true painter, see I don't use the word ARTIST! But still, I want to paint. I know I don't have the skills of Mr cabrera and by some posts of his in the past I was quite discouraged because I knew I would never be up to his caliber of painting.
I love Carol's work and I know she is an artist so I will continue to plug along...and I'm going to be extra careful not to get fuzzy spots. hehe

Darren said...
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Darren said...
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Darren said...

Let's see if I can get the html adjustments correct this time!

Great post Stape!
I concur wholeheartedly.

At the same time, I feel for those who, for whatever reasons have to resort to using photo reference. Nowadays, if every artist stopped using photos there would be no portrait painting. Given the state of some of the genre at the moment, that would be no loss! As I've mentioned here before, my career as a portraitist is about over due to the locals who use photo reference. IMO, it's the sitter's fault though.

Still, I don't begrudge those who use them (unless you're a student, then you must stop and learn to see nature!).

While I failed miserably when I tried it, I do think it possible to use photo reference (as in reference, but not blindly copying one to one). Theodore Robinson, among many other 19th and early 20th century plein aire artists seemed to succeed.

Armand, agreed as well but for one caveat.
Some are trained to finish off a painting by focussing on the center of interest and adjusting the all of the edges according to that focal point. This results in a certain type of DOF effect (although wholly different than the obvious planar DOF seen in a photo). Velazquez's later works have this look to them. This is part of what has been called it a unity of effect or the tout-ensemble as written about by Roger de Piles in his book, Cours de Peinture par Principes.

Sorry Stape and everyone else, this is starting to seem like my blog! Off to prime more canvases.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Those guys are evrywhere. Every gallery has two and they all paint just the same.

Stapleton Kearns said...

If they say it looks like a photograph I cringe too. Then I spit venom out of my incisors.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I looked up Eurovision on youtube. I didn't care for the song but I thought the young girl who sang it was very attractive.

Stapleton Kearns said...

The camera may be accurate but art is not science, accuracy is only so useful in constructing poetry.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I prefer the blown up shots of colorfully wrapped candies myself.

Stapleton Kearns said...

A projector can be a timesaver.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Have you read"how I make a painting"
by Norman Rockwell?

Stapleton Kearns said...

I don't paint from photos in front of students. I think it encourages them to imagine that is how I work.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I have offered no opinion about whether photographs are art.I stated that photographs are not paintings.
Quilters never win, and winners never quilt!

Stapleton Kearns said...

D. Malcolm:
You can choose not to judge the work of other people. I intend to continue.I believe very strongly that some art is better than others. I feel I am vastly inferior to Rembrandt for instance.
I think that believing in quality in art is the first step towards achieving it. How can you achieve that whose existence you dismiss?
Did you mean you are uncomfortable when people judge your art?

Stapleton Kearns said...

We paint because we love it, regardless of how well we do it. All of us are looking up in awe at those who did it consummately well. That I will never approach Rembrandt doesn't reduce the pleasure I get from doing it. I am careful though to make sure no one ever hears me sing.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Photography makes portraiture faster thus cheaper. But the quality is inferior to portraits made from sittings.
The world doesn't really need more cheap inferior quality art.Some joker will soon start a company e-mailing the photos over seas to be copied by the Chinese for pennies. Then the whole American portrait painting gig will be stripped back to only the high end folks who do it from sittings.

D. Malcolm said...

Hi Stape,

Thanks for responding to my post. Judging art is such a personal thing. Chuck Close has had tremendous success from using photography and it's interesting to note he was inspired by Jackson Pollock. These are a few of the "greats" that I aspire to as an artist. Certainly something must be said for their capacity to be original and unique. I think we just disagree as to what makes a great artist.

Sara Winters said...

I avoid projectors. Usually when I want to use one, I am just being lazy and trying to avoid the challenge of actually drawing. Not saying everybody should avoid them, but for me, myself, and I- its a crutch and it hurts me in the long run. Drawing accurately is not like riding a bicycle, it takes constant practice. If I rely on a projected image to give me my proportions, I tend to lose the ability to see them on my own... which I still have trouble with... shhh! Don't tell anyone!!!!

Jo-Ann Sanborn said...

This blog contain some of the most interesting serious art discussion on the web today. The company is so esteemed that I rarely comment, but love reading it all. Thank you, Stape, for providing, leading, and poking us all now and then!