A photo shoot and some tips about reference pictures...

Regular readers will know that in my last post I shared a few sketches I've been doing of aerial dancers, inspired by this class I started back in October run by ArtsNK. Since then, the ArtsNK Dance Team used one of my sketches for their new logo, and then some of the girls offered to model for me in a photo shoot so I can get some high quality photos to work from.

I can't emphasis enough how important it is to work from high quality reference images. It will seriously make or break your drawing, and will make the different between 'a nice drawing' and a beautiful piece of art. The best portraits I've done for people in the past have always been those where the client has given me a really nice image to work from. What makes the best image? Detail, and lighting.

Detail is pretty self explanatory. If you're practiced at drawing faces, bodies, hair, whatever, you can use your knowledge to fill in gaps where the reference photo is perhaps a bit grainy or blurred. But everything is much more realistic and accurate if you've got all the detail in your reference photo to begin with. There are certain things that are so subtle, you can't make them up.

Lighting is less obvious, and something that a lot of people overlook, but it's the most important thing to try and control. And it doesn't have to be dramatic lighting, the kind that has lots of deep shadows and bright highlights. Sitting someone by a window is a common trick to get very soft and flattering light. The variation in light - obviously - brings out more tones, which in turn makes your drawing look more 3D when you render them. The bigger the variation between the lightest parts of your drawing and the darkest, the better. Good lighting also shows things like shadows, which are almost impossible to invent, but add another level of sophistication to your drawing.

So during the mid-term break in normal aerial sessions, I went to the aerial jam armed with a lighting kit I borrowed from work, and a DSLR. That's another thing - in my opinion, the quality of a photo taken on a compact or even a bridge camera doesn't compare to that taken with a full DSLR, but that's a subject for another blog post! If you don't have a DSLR, try and borrow one, it's really worth it. I'd asked the girls to wear black because I like the way it looks, and I wanted something neutral because I still don't really know what I'm going to do with this work. In hindsight, someone who is wearing patterns could be fun to draw, but anyway. I was planning on having a bit of a dance and then spending the last half hour or so just snapping away, and I ended up spending a full hour and a half, and could have done more if the session hadn't ended!

I ended up with hundreds of shots, but after narrowing them down to the best quality I've got about 40 that could make potential new artworks. It was really fun doing a shoot, and the girls who modelled for me look beautiful. I seriously can't wait to start drawing...

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All artwork (c) Emily Jane Cartwright 2009
The Art of Emily, Newark-on-Trent UK
ejc.creativeservices@gmail.com