Why not copy what you see?

Home Forums Practice & Advice Why not copy what you see?

This topic contains 5 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by Kim 5 years ago.

  • Subscribe Favorite
  • #576

    Hi, I'm new to the site, but I've been drawing my whole life (not very well though), and I've read in here that you're not supposed to copy what you see. It didn't really make sense to me since I saw my biggest improvement last year when I started to use pictures as a reference and got way better at drawing faces (even without the picture). It feels like I have a database of faces in my head now, so why not?

    Get more practice photos

    Support us to remove this


    It's probably because when you copy what you see only you start to have problems with drawing from imagination.

    For example the head; if you copy from photos only you'll have a hard time drawing the head from different angles (unless you have a photo for the exact angle that you want), but if you understand how the head is constructed (sphere, jaw, eye placement, etc) then you can draw the head from any angle you want. It's the same with figures as well. If you don't have a photo of the exact pose you want to draw then it's very hard to draw a figure unless you know the basic shapes the figure is made up of.

    But drawing with your eyes is an important skill too. It's actually a skill that I need practice on myself.

    I would suggest practicing construction. Take a photo of an animal and construct it using only basic shapes (cube , cylinder, sphere). And if that's too hard then maybe start with practicing drawing basic shapes from different angles.

    I hope this helped.


    I can definitely confirm that when I practiced only via "what I saw," I had terrible troubles drawing from imagination. Instead of being a study aid, references became a crutch I needed all of the time and couldn't escape from.

    And of course, I got to that place because when I started drawing what I saw, I did at first have big leaps forward in my drawing ability, so I kept doing it as much as I could!

    But I eventually discovered it could only take me so far, and was in some ways a backwards way to study, starting with the details of shading and individual features rather than the bigger picture of how the thing I was seeing was constructed overall.


    So the issue here is that this is a site that is about drawing gesture. You are trying to draw the gesture of an image in 30 seconds. You will make decisions on what is the most important to convey that pose and draw it with a few simplified lines. You might also have to exaggerate your lines to really convey the pose, which is what is meant by not copying what you see.

    Copying what you see definitely has it's value. There are whole courses dedicated to copying masters drawings or sculptures, but that's not what you're going for here.

    I see comments about not being able to draw from imagination, and would like to say that that is a completely different skill that has to be trained. Any subject that you study could then become a drawing from imagination subject. I can't remember where I read/heard this, but it was suggested that you should draw something 5 to 10 times with reference and then put all your studies and references away and then draw it from memory.


    suggested that you should draw something 5 to 10 times with reference and then put all your studies and references away and then draw it from memory.

    This is a great idea for an exercise! :)

Login or create an account to participate on the forums.