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Thread: "Tracing" and Photo Reference (AKA Why Greg Land is a Rotten Artist)

  1. #1

    "Tracing" and Photo Reference (AKA Why Greg Land is a Rotten Artist)

    A thread in the Art Challenges section prompted me to want to discuss this, and it seems like here might be as good a place as any. The challenge-starter made a comment:

    Quote Originally Posted by Ryan.Smith View Post
    If your image is picture perfect, I wouldn't worry about it, unless you traced.
    It's something I've always been a little perplexed by: comics fans are extremely "swipe" conscious, with entire websites dedicated to discovering who swiped who. It's funny, I'll admit it, and it gets even funnier to watch the fans try to decide what's a "swipe" and what's an "homage".

    But the same Tracing Police mentality also seems to apply to photographic references. "Use a reference, but don't trace" has always been the creedo to live by, but I don't understand it.

    As a working illustrator, I often make use of photo references and the best way to use a photo reference is with a lightbox. I'm assuming even novice artists understand (or maybe they don't and I'm naive) that even "tracing" isn't a guaranteed realistic end product or even professional or accurate, particulary when starting with photography and translating it to line art. It takes a great deal of intuition and experience to effectively use a photo reference and translate it into an attractive or appropriate visual, tracing or no tracing.

    Most illustrators I know with an even semi-realistic style lightbox photo references regularly. In fact, it was one of the first things I was encouraged to do back in school when I was training to become an illustrator. I did ask my illustration prof about it once:

    "But isn't that cheating?"

    "People rarely feel cheated when they're looking at an attractive, structured illustration."

    It happens in comics all the time, too. P. Craig Russell, Tony Harris, Alex Ross... I felt really bad for that poor guy who got in so much trouble for that Magneto painting a couple of years ago while Brian Hitch is clearly doing screen grabs off his DVD collection to lightbox nearly every panel of Sam Jackson/Nick Fury he's ever drawn.

    Anyhow, just a discussion point I thought about throwing out there. Am I missing something?

  2. #2
    [SUPPORTER] Bruce Lee's Avatar
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    This doesn't belong in tips or tech board. Better suited for the Break Room, I'd wager.
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    Absolutely Positronic xadrian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeremy Bear View Post
    Am I missing something?
    Just the 6-7 years of debate we seem to always have about this.

    /pops corn, gets comfy

  4. #4
    Ah. Seemed pretty clearly to be a "technique", but yer th' boss.

    6-7 years of debate? On what? Plagiarism? Copyright? Ethics?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeremy Bear View Post


    "People rarely feel cheated when they're looking at an attractive, structured illustration."
    True, mostly because most of the people who look at the finished illustration have no clue as to what the process for creating the image entailed. If they did know, I think they'd feel a little like they had wool pulled over their eyes. But since they don't, they look at it in awe.

    From an artistic appreciation stand point... and as an artist who appreciates craftsmanship, I place more value and merit in art that I know isn't traced. It's definitely a shortcut in my opinion and takes less skill to pull off than drawing what you see or what comes from your imagination. Tracing a photo of a man running or creating a pose with a gesture and building it up traditionally... to me it's clear what takes more skill.
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    Absolutely Positronic xadrian's Avatar
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    I think Loston meant that Tips and Tech is a place to share techniques you may have or ask for help with things like tools and programs and good reading and maybe tutorials.

    And yes, if you're relatively new to PJ, it's a discussion that comes up quite a bit.

    I will say...

    People rarely feel cheated when they're looking at an attractive, structured illustration.
    Consumers don't much care. Artists are the ones talking about it. I don't know of a good analogy, but does anyone remember finding about Milli Vanilli? Even if you didn't like the music, people (fans) didn't like feeling scammed and musicians felt slighted that a non-act had won a Grammy (later revoked.)

    It's all personal interpretation. One man's referencing and lightboxing is another man's swiping and cheating. It's all, as we've been able to find out - and such is art - highly subjective.

  7. #7
    your teacher was just a swiper thats all.

    the reasoning that people like a well structured illustration is true, but hey you can apply that to many scandalous topics. In some ways it is a manner of technique, and what your trying to achieve with the picture at hand, but honestly where do you draw the line, are photo manipulation the same type of art as other things? Or maybe modified xeroxing, because really in some cases, its just a high tech way to do something similar, and the same reasoning applies.

    Only thing i can think of why a teacher would say that is if you look at illustration as being about the bottom line, which to some degree it may be, but if youre an artist, thats not usually what its about. and if youre a viewer, your opinion tends to go down with each layer of deception.

    Far as the proving ground thread i think the goal is to train yourself and learn how to learn from reference without completely jacking it. To learn from a pic, without becoming a xerox machine.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Physicdesigns View Post
    your teacher was just a swiper thats all.

    the reasoning that people like a well structured illustration is true, but hey you can apply that to many scandalous topics. In some ways it is a manner of technique, and what your trying to achieve with the picture at hand, but honestly where do you draw the line, are photo manipulation the same type of art as other things? Or maybe modified xeroxing, because really in some cases, its just a high tech way to do something similar, and the same reasoning applies.

    Only thing i can think of why a teacher would say that is if you look at illustration as being about the bottom line, which to some degree it may be, but if youre an artist, thats not usually what its about. and if youre a viewer, your opinion tends to go down with each layer of deception.

    Far as the proving ground thread i think the goal is to train yourself and learn how to learn from reference without completely jacking it. To learn from a pic, without becoming a xerox machine.
    I don't think you're being entirely fair, Physic. 95% of the photo references the prof/illustrator in question used for his own work were from photographs he took himself. Actually, in terms of business ethics, I've rarely met a man that was more forthright than him and he always felt that photo references were pretty much a given for any photo-real project.

    I'd also disagree that drawing without reference takes "more skill". It takes a different set of skills, that's all. I'd been illustrating professionally for years before I began integrating photo reference into my own work. It's impossible to use references adequately if you're not already seasoned in the ways of dimension, structure, contrast, perspective, etc.

    Example: I'm working on a short comic at the moment where I required a picture of Dubya. It didn't need to be a caricature (which is good, because my caricatures suck anyhow), but rather a realistic depiction. I could have spent 12 hours getting numerous references for George, getting to know his facial features and structure to the point where I could do something that looks kinda right... or I could find a photo that's extremely close, interpret it with a lightbox, editing the details and composition to match my needs, and get it near-exactly right.

    Maybe it comes down to the age-old question: what's more important? The experience of the artist and his or her aesthetic development? Or the experience of the audience?

    Me, I think they're both important, but the audience should win every time, particularly if one method of communicating does it more effectively.

    By the way, I've never seen a Xerox machine that's capable of turning a photograph into beautiful lineart. It still takes a competent, skilled and seasoned artist.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by xadrian View Post
    I don't know of a good analogy, but does anyone remember finding about Milli Vanilli? Even if you didn't like the music, people (fans) didn't like feeling scammed and musicians felt slighted that a non-act had won a Grammy (later revoked.)
    I'm not sure that analogy's entirely appropriate, given that I'd never advocate lying about anything.

    But it raises a good point: is it fair to base our opinion of a piece of art on what we know about how it was produced? Did The Beatles's music suddenly start sucking when Lennon compared the group to Jesus? Of course not, but it didn't stop people from burning their albums.

    Quote Originally Posted by xadrian View Post
    It's all personal interpretation. One man's referencing and lightboxing is another man's swiping and cheating. It's all, as we've been able to find out - and such is art - highly subjective.
    True dat, homes. I do enjoy getting other artist's perspective on the issue. It seems like comic fans in particular are particularly rabid about references and I'm only trying to understand why.

  10. #10
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    For me, what it really comes down to is whether or not the artist has the right to use the photograph.

    If you've hired a model, or just got one of your friends to pose for your pictures, and then you wanna slap that picture down on a light box, then go right ahead.

    If you open up an issue of Maxim and decide that you like one of the models, and then slap that down onto your light box, well...
    Argue with me if you like but I'm right. - Justice41

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