Can You Learn to Draw by Copying?

How Best to Learn to Draw?

By Vladimir London

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As the Drawing Academy tutor, I am often asked questions on how best to learn to draw.

There are many people who will copy someone else’s artwork to learn how to draw. There are also artists who draw pictures from photos.

So, what is the best way to learn? To copy or not to copy, that is the question.

In the video presentation “Drawing from Photos Vs. Drawing from Life,” I explained why drawing from photos limits one’s ability to become a proficient fine artist. To summarize the presentation,

I will mention few points here:
1. Drawing from photos makes a copy, not an original piece of art.
2. Artists get used to copying flat images, which re-wires their brains into thinking two-dimensionally while drawing.
3. Once a two-dimensional cognitive process of drawing is established, it is very hard to re-educate oneself to draw from three-dimensional reality. Some artists lose the ability permanently.
4. Copying flat photos teaches artists to draw what they see, not what they know. This limits creative development and the ability to draw from memory or imagination.
5. Copying from photos does not require thinking in three dimensions, and therefore the artist doesn’t use the principles and rules of constructive drawing. Without good skills in constructive drawing, it is next to impossible to make skillful, realistic drawings from life.
6. Copying photos does not develop one’s understanding and use of perspective in drawing. Lacking such skill will cause mistakes when drawing objects in perspective.
7. Copying portraits and figures from photos demands no knowledge of human anatomy. This severely limits the artist’s ability to draw figurative artwork from life.

There is a positive side to copying from photographs, though. If you don’t want to become a fine artist but instead want to become a skillful reproducer, then drawing from photos will help. By copying photos, you will develop the ability to recognize and reproduce lines, shapes, and tonal values. Such skills would be very useful for a restorer, for example.

You may ask: “How about copying someone else’s artwork?” Some art schools advocate such a learning process, especially for beginners. It used to be, and still is in some ateliers, a part of the art curriculum.

I have to say that copying art is still copying; however, don’t misunderstand. Copying from the Great Artists gives something else that every proficient fine artist must have –good taste in art and style.

Copying the Old Masters allows you to develop better drawing techniques, understand what makes art beautiful, and discover time-honored drawing methods and techniques.

Art education needs to be built on the rich heritage of the past. It is like building a house on a strong foundation. That is why in the Drawing Academy I have included one video lesson that presents my sketchbooks with copies drawn in the National Gallery, London.

I encourage you to take your sketchbooks and go to museums to copy great art. By copying the best works of art, you will learn how to make your own art better.

There is one word of caution though. Don’t make copies exclusively. Copying great art works best in combination with drawing from nature, models, and life.

By solely copying someone else’s drawings and paintings, you will run into the same pitfalls as if you were drawing from photos. After all, drawings and paintings are flat images, and you have to develop a three-dimensional way of thinking in constructive drawing.

Drawing from sculptures is different, though. When drawing ancient Greek and Roman busts and statues, you enjoy the benefits of learning classical style and the proportions of the human head, face, and body. By drawing three-dimensional objects, you will develop the necessary skills to help you in drawing life portraits and figures.

Now, let’s examine how this theory applies to the Drawing Academy course. In this course, video lessons are presented on a flat computer screen. You may say that learning to draw from videos contradicts my arguments for drawing from life.

There’s no controversy here! The Drawing Academy course is not for copying tutors’ artwork from a screen or photos. I encourage you to learn the necessary information from the video lessons, but to practice drawing from models, nature, and life.

The Drawing course is about gaining valuable knowledge on how to draw, including:

  • Information on drawing materials and how to use them
  • Rules of perspective
  • The Theory of Golden Proportions
  • Use of proportions in compositions
  • Principles of constructive drawing
  • How to render tonal values
  • Human anatomy for artists
  • The proportions of the human face and figure
  • How to draw portraits
  • Drawing human figures
  • And many more.
In the Drawing Academy you will learn how to draw whatever you can see or imagine.

The course is valued at $4,455 (45 lessons at $99 each). However, you can get the complete course for only $257. This is equivalent to the cost of one cup of coffee per day! You can also purchase it in three monthly installments of $97 each.

In the Drawing Academy, you will get by far the best value for your money!

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