Working From Life

There is much to be said for painting, or drawing, from a live set up.  In today’s digital age photography couldn’t be much easier, making it very convenient for artists to work directly from their computer monitors.  And why not?  It’s a tremendously useful tool for doing all sorts of things.  It’s great if you need to zoom way in for a closer look at some detail.  You can also edit and manipulate your reference photos to make them into anything you can imagine.

However, cameras do not see the way your eyes do.  They only record a limited range of values, far less than what you and I are able to perceive from life.  That’s not to say that cameras don’t take amazing images; they certainly do!  But your eyes are better at seeing color and value and subtle nuances that the camera just isn’t able to.

Here you can see my shadow box with a simple still life.  It allows me to do small set ups which are great for doing studys and small oil sketches. If you are an artist who only works from photos I would suggest that you take a little time and make your own little set up area.  It doesn’t have to be a shadow box or anything elaborate.  It can be as simple as a an end table by a window or a shelf next to a lamp.

However you choose to work is up to you.  I like using both methods and find they each have their pros and cons.  I’d love to hear from you and get your thoughts on the matter.  Send me some pics and maybe help me improve my own studio!  Thanks for reading!


Posted in Blog.


  1. I never really thought about our eyes being able to see more than the camera. I’ve always been impressed with just how much cameras can see. Will have to think about and pay attention to that from now on.

  2. It’s much the same as what a painter deals with. The darkest value you can ever paint is black. The lightest value you can ever paint is pure white. If you take color swatches and physically compare them to a scene in front of you, you will find shadows that are darker than black and highlights that are brighter than white. That’s why your relationships within a painting are so important. Because your range is limited even subtle changes can make a big difference.

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