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Artists have used endless tricks and tools to help them capture the image they were after, from lightboxes and lenses, grids and viewfinders, cameras, computers and more recently Photoshop. Many people use photographs as a convenient basis for their paintings. It obviously seems easier to sit and copy a static scene instead of battling the various problems of perspective, three dimensional space, colour, changing light and moving subjects.A word of caution though; cameras only have one ‘eye’ and can madly distort images, especially when zoom lenses are used. We find it hard to believe that photographs can lie to us so badly, and we don’t even notice the crazy distortions on many photos of moving people. Yet people faithfully copy, even trace, photos of dancers or sportspeople and can’t work out why the figures look so odd.

It seems like a simple solution, but it can be a very deceptive one. The single lens of the camera squashes perspective onto one plane, especially if the figure is moving. This distorts and flattens everything, so that a closer object becomes smaller and a more distant one becomes bigger. As an example look at this photo..


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You may have a problem seeing what is wrong with this at first; we are programmed to believe that photographs are ‘real’ images and cannot lie. Do you see how small the hand is? Flatten your own palm and hold it up to your face with the heel of it against your chin. Your fingertips will come right up to your hairline. That is how big a hand is!Now look at this

 These cricketers look believable until you realise that the man in the front is the same size as the man at the other end of the central strip (that’s the bit they run up and down). See my blog ‘Drawing on Good Measure’ (Archives, 6th March) on how to measure things  – and look like an artist. Just half a metre of distance between two objects makes an enormous difference. These two men, metres apart, can’t possibly appear to be the same size, but the camera lens has done just that.Someone who has worked from live models and studied three dimensional forms will be able to use a photo in a very different way to someone who has not. A photo of a hand, for example, will bring to mind all the hands an artist has studied in nature. The artwork will reflect that experience and embody much more than the two dimensional image. An inexperienced person will only be able to copy the surface of the two dimensional picture and the result is invariably unconvincing and insubstantial, even if it has superficial polish.

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Using a photo is different from letting a photo use you. A slavish copy of a flat image is exactly that; it takes human aliveness and consciousness to turn it into a work of art. Photographs can be useful aids but we have to be aware of their distortions or we will just copy them blindly. As artists, we have to infuse our work with all our skills of interpretation and insight to give it the kiss of life.I do use photographs sometimes. I take photos when there isn’t time to paint, and occasionally I capture something that looks like an interesting starting point. For example…..

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 “Machines can do many things better than people, but beauty created by a combination of hand, eye, personality and material is something we shall always need. In fact, there is a sense of presence which can only be created by an artist or craftsman”                                           Martin Gayford
I am starting my classes again after the long hot summer!
On Friday 19th September mornings I will be returning to the lovely gardens of Villa Bologna to resume the outdoor classes there.
From 20th September the Saturday Morning Drawing Club will get underway again in my studio in Manikata.For more details please click HERE and contact me if you need any more information at all.

I will also be teaching an exciting six week course for teenagers 12 – 14 beginning in October in Sliema. I’ll be showing them how to draw from real people, helping them to sketch quickly and for the last class we’ll be working at the rehearsals of a Flamenco performance.

Looking forward to seeing you soon!!

About Jeni Caruana

Jeni was born in England and studied at Uxbridge, Hull and Harrow Art Colleges before settling in Malta in 1977. She subsequently worked as a graphic designer and followed a post-Diploma course at Malta College of Art. Jeni has held regular solo exhibitions of her works and participated in numerous joint, group and collective exhibitions in Malta and abroad, representing Malta in UK, USA, Sardinia, Rome, Tunisia, Libya and Norway. Paintings now hang in many public and private collections. --- Works cover a wide variety of subjects and media, from landscapes to Prehistoric Temples, sand to ceramics, watercolour and acrylics to wooden sculptures. They are always based on good drawing and keen observation and always started on location or from live models. Intense study of the human figure has resulted in her ability to capture fleeting glimpses of people in motion. Visually expressing the emotional effects of music on the senses, her ‘musician’ paintings are a favourite subject. --- Jeni has been teaching drawing and watercolour techniques to adults since 1995. She regularly runs courses and workshops in drawing and watercolour for adult beginners and improvers, specialised courses in life drawing, watercolour techniques, weekend workshops and painting outings and also art for self-expression, meditation and relaxation. --- For more information please contact; Studio Address: - “Dar Il-Mistrieh”, - 15, Old Church Street, - Manikata - MLH 5202