We launched leggings! Step into a world of individuality.


I know this is going to annoy a lot of people, but it has to be said. Before you start reading, may I clarify that I am NOT saying artists MUST use photographs and I am not even saying it is better to use photographs. What I AM saying is that if artists wish to use photographs to work from, then it is not a sin. I use them all the time. I rarely copy directly these days, but I use photographs as a catalyst for my work … a launching pad, so to speak. I copy basic lines from the photo and then discard it and allow my imagination to take over.

This photography/painting debate is an argument that is worldwide. Many artists deny ever using photographs. I agree, it’s nice if you can paint from life, but I’d like to try to prove that those of us who use photographs as reference are NOT breaking any rules. Even before photography, artists used the camera obscura.

Here, as a result of much research over the last day or so, are some photos that will nip in the bud any claims that famous artists don’t use photos. I always remember reading once that there are two kinds of artist … “those who sometimes use photos and admit it and those who sometimes use photos but don’t admit it”.

Please note that I am quoting (as close as I can remember) and the above quote is intended by me to be tongue-in-cheek. I am quite aware that many artists NEVER use photos … and that is cool.



















So … if it was good enough for them … :)

yes, I use photos a lot of the time. I don’t do photo-realism though … too time-consuming and too much like hard work :)

For anyone interested, here is a little about my methods of using photos:

It is only now and again that I do a straight copy of a photo and usually in black and white anyway. I use photos as a jumping off point. I may draw a few pencil lines to indicate the outline, but when it comes to the actual texture, etc.

Here are a few more I did from photos, in case anyone reading this thinks I copy exactly what I see.

Here is one I used a photo for, but it is clear that I discarded the photo pretty early on in the painting process:

I based this on a photo I took of our cat Mao. The background is from my head and no-one could accuse me of doing a photo-realistic representation of a cat :)

This was done from three or four different photos. There is also a lot of my own imagination involved in this. I only used the photos to get the perspective right and the form of the cat.

And finally, here is an insight into the way I work. The following three paintings were all done from the same photograph (taken by me):

Currently unavailable for purchase


For decades i have been hearing the same old grumble … “artists mustn’t use photographs to copy from or to refer to …”


painters, using

I am a retired man who enjoys expressing himself in pencils and paints. I have had two solo exhibitions in my home town and I love Redbubble. I get as much pleasure from viewing the works of other artists as from creating my own.

View Full Profile


  • helene ruiz
    helene ruizalmost 6 years ago

    great references!~

  • Lee Wilde
    Lee Wildealmost 6 years ago

    Excellent journal entry. If I had the time I could add at least another 20 famous artists who painted from photographs.

    Some which immediately come to mind are: Andy Warhol, Duchamp and of course, Francis Bacon

    Bacon preferred working in isolation, as do I. I regularly use photographic reference images. I used to clip images from magazines but now I’m fortunate in that people send me their photographs from all over the world to use in my work.

    I’ve seen this question raised many times on other art sites and once read a remark posted by an influential art critic in the US…who said that, “…it is usually just the amateurs and those with no idea what they’re talking about who endeavour to demonise the use of photographs in art.”

  • If you have any examples I’d be delighted to see them. edwards121@tiscali.co.uk


  • Lee Wilde
    Lee Wildealmost 6 years ago

    I’d also like to add that anyone who calls themselves an artist…who asserts that they have never copied anything ….is either a barefaced liar or a fool.

    As a 4 year old, left to my own devices for the greater part of every day, I taught myself to draw by copying illustrations (and photographs) from my mother’s sewing pattern books.

    Its part of who I am and why I am the way I am. There were long lonely hours spent gazing at the glamorous women in their beautiful clothes…..wondering who they were….where they were going.

    I eventually outgrew copying from books, but I mention this to make the point….that we live in a world full of ideas. There is culture…music…art…film….fashion….current affairs…..everything….every other person we encounter…..nature…the elements…..

    Of course there is inspiration all around us and I think its rather ridiculous of those who argue that its alright to look at everything….absorb and filter, deconstruct and reinterpret anything and everything…… but not photography.

  • Thanks for writing two excellent replies. It’s nice when people trouble to give me feedback … thanks. Art is like music … everyone gets their inspiration from various sources and I don’t see why photographs should be an exception. As I said, even the artists in the Middle Ages used a camera obscura.


  • I’ll be a gentleman and not say who scolded me for using photographs; in case you know the person :)


  • adgray
    adgrayalmost 6 years ago

    BRILLIANT David just brilliant!
    You have collated an excellent case here that should put paid to any criticism of the use of a tool such as a photograph for reference! It is just a sketch made by a tool … just not a sketch pencil/charcoal!
    I think the people who wont allow art to be created however it is created want us still to live like cave dwellers & spit paint on our hands onto the rock roof! – & then they’d still find something to complain about! I believe that they are just jealous they didn’t think of it too!

    The camera is a tool, the computer is a tool just like a pencil paintbrush or quill! Am I any less of a writer because I use a computer – and thus can correct my mistakes before it is seen by all?

    Why don’t I hand write it and send it to a literary agent who then sends it to a publisher who hand balls it to a department where whatever person is free edits it and then sends it to a person to type it out who then sends it to the printer to create the backwards typeset who then prints it and sends it to a proof reader to pick up on the print errors who then sends it back to the printer to correct who then sends it back with whatever other errors detected etc and finally when there are no errors or minimal enough to ignore the first run of books is created and sent to the critics who then decide if it can be published for the general public! and then if it’s good enough someone types it into the computer to be archived!

    Yet if I make furniture or throw a pot I cannot use electric tools! I throw the best pots on an old wooden kick-wheel from the 1800s and I create the best square, tight, dovetail joined, french polished, furniture with hand tools!

    Get with the planet people and stop imposing your own decided standards and desires upon others! We all do things differently! and thus the results and the bit about “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” creates the values!

    I am with you – your art is stunning and whatever means you use to create it is justified by the beauty of it we all enjoy!
    B R A V O !!!

    [& how co-incidental that it just happens to enhance the explanation of Ekphrasis brilliantly too! lol]
    Chookas! X♥X

  • A great reply … thanks. I’d like to bet that many of those artists who shun the use of photographs also think that using rulers, erasers and compasses is a dreadful thing too. And they would probably burst a blood vessel if they caught anyone using white paint in a watercolour :) My teacher at school (back in the sixties) told us never to use a ruler or an eraser. I once met a commercial artist and he used lightboxes, tracing paper, rulers, compasses, erasers, mixed-media … you name it. For him, the end result was what counted.


  • Anita Inverarity
    Anita Inverarityalmost 6 years ago

    I totally agree- we take our refrences where we can and certainly sometimes I do and sometimes I dont take from photos. Cool references you have added. I dont think there’s an argument to be had really xxxxx

  • bites
    bitesalmost 6 years ago

    Top job on the research Dave A+, tis a true story : )

  • adgray
    adgrayalmost 6 years ago

    I Soooo looooved the lightbox!!!!!
    I would love to have one now!!! lol
    BUT I found out that the PC Screen is a brilliant one!
    You pull up a blank word page tape your pic to the screen then your blank paper over that and voila!!! lol – see a TOOL!!!! lol
    no rulers erasers etc … they truely are in the parchment & charcoal world! lol
    Love your work sweetman! X♥X
    Chookas! X♥X

  • “sweetman” … haha … are you saying I am a humbug? :P


  • adgray
    adgrayalmost 6 years ago

    especially peppermint ones!!!
    I have even made them! lol
    red and white stripes or green and white or …. lol
    the liccorice ones were interesting! lol
    Chookas … uuuummm …. hunnybee lol
    Yes I love honey too! lol X♥X

  • You’re a funny lady :)


  • Orla Cahill
    Orla Cahillalmost 6 years ago

    Excellent find Dave! I haven’t seen these before.

    I have just read your article above as I have just found it when I went back through my pages of activity over the last few hours. I have to say I totally agree with you. I believe many artists won’t admit to using photos when they do and many will admit to using them. I have to say though that I think it can be fairly obvious when looking at a painting whether a photo has been used or not. When executing a drawing as a finished piece, I like to work from the real thing but when executing a painting I will almost always use a photo reference unless I’m creating a pattern or an abstract. And I see you too are familiar with the use of ‘Camera Obscura’ by the Great Masters. Well as I said in my previous article, if it’s OK by Leonardo, it’s OK by me. At the end of the day the artist is copying an image anyway, whether it’s from real or from a photo, it’s still a copy. One artist isn’t more of an artist than another just because he doesn’t use a photo. And the artist can interpret whatever way he likes. Every artist has the freedom to chose their own style, medium, theme, subject matter and method. At the end of the day if the artist produces a piece of work that he is proud of and that brings aesthetic pleasure to others, then that’s a great piece of art and something to be proud of. :)

    Bye the way Dave, I’d love to know where you found all those wonderful image references above. Are they all from the same website or book ?

    Orla :)

  • Some are from a website, but most are from my very large collection of art books.


  • Catherine  Howell
    Catherine Howellalmost 6 years ago

    an awesome journal entry!! Certain artworks I have done do actually come from my mind, BUUUUTTTTT… I absolutely, at times, do use photos for references in the creation of my work. Thanks, Dave!!

  • .. and if a wonderful artist like yourself can use photographs then I feel it’s okay for other artists to use them. Your results prove you are doing the right thing.


desktop tablet-landscape content-width tablet-portrait workstream-4-across phone-landscape phone-portrait

10%off for joining

the Redbubble mailing list

Receive exclusive deals and awesome artist news and content right to your inbox. Free for your convenience.