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How to draw accurately from memory or life

How to draw accurately from memory or life

Question from David

“I can’t seem to be able to draw accurately from memory or life. I can copy a picture, though. Is it a mental block, or have I taught myself the wrong way by copying photos?”

Feedback from Vladimir London, Drawing Academy tutor

Dear David,

Many thanks for your question.

Copying a picture requires very different skills than those needed when drawing from life or imagination.

When copying, the following skills are not needed and are therefore not developed:

  • choosing a type of perspective that suits the best for a particular case to minimize distortions
  • using linear perspective to establish the spatial relationship between objects
  • using aerial perspective to give depth
  • using rules of foreshortening to depict planes that are parallel or oblique to viewer’s line of sight
  • constructing objects in drawing as if they were transparent to build better shapes and avoid their intersection
  • using an axis of symmetry and helping lines for proportions, angles, and intersections
  • developing the knowledge of a human anatomy and body proportions
  • gaining awareness of the sequence of steps that is required to draw realistic-looking, well-proportioned figures and objects
  • and so on…

How to draw accurately from memory or life

How to draw accurately from memory or life

Of course, when such critical skills are missing, you will have challenges when drawing from memory, imagination or life.

On the other hand, copying develops a different set of skills:

  • seeing “flattened” objects in two dimensions
  • copying outlines of objects instead of “building” three-dimensional contours on the surface of an artwork
  • judging and repeating tonal values or colors of flat images into an artwork

Such copying skills are good for a reproducer, so even if your inspiration is to be able to duplicate photos as hyper-realistically as you can, you would fail from the very beginning—photo equipment would do it better than you.

However, if you want to become an original fine artist who can draw whatever you see or imagine, then copying pictures will not help. Quite the opposite, copying will suppress your ability to draw from life and imagination because the needed skills listed above would be replaced by copying skills.

The ability to make good drawings from life is not the equivalent of copying what you see in the real world. It is much more. Above all, it requires you to draw what you know, not what you see. And the challenge with this is that people do not see what they don’t know, so drawing it realistically is not possible unless you have a good knowledge of constructive drawing principles, proportions, perspective, anatomy, etc.

How to draw accurately from memory or life

I hope this clarifies why you have challenges drawing “accurately from memory or life” and what you need to do to develop good drawing skills.

Best regards,

Vladimir London
Drawing Academy tutor

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