a watercolor artist compares his rough sketch to his final painting as he sits in front of his subject material: a geometric gated structure outside

Observational Studies in Art: Capturing Real-Life Subjects

This article will delve into why drawing and painting from direct observation is essential for artistic growth and how artists can improve their skills through this method.

Observational art is creating art by directly studying real-life subjects or photographs, not relying on imagination. It captures the image of the subject as a work of representational art.

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artist paints a park from observation

  1. The Essence of Observational Art:

Observational art requires artists to study subjects on their own terms. By keenly observing light, colors, forms, textures, and more, artists can recreate their subjects as realistically as possible. This method not only challenges artists but also infuses their artwork with energy and originality that cannot be achieved when using photographs as references.

  1. The Benefits of Drawing from Life:
    paper on drawing pad set up for drawing from observation outside

Drawing from life provides a unique experience for artists that cannot be replicated by using photographs. When interacting with the subject firsthand, artists gain valuable information and insights that enrich their work. Whether drawing a portrait, an object, an animal, or a landscape, artists can infuse their personal feelings and thoughts into the artwork, making it more expressive and vibrant.

  1. Tips for Improving Life Drawing Skills:

an artist works on a painting from observation on a city street corner
a. Art Fundamentals: Before attempting direct observation, artists must develop a strong foundation in art fundamentals, including proportion, depth, form, value, and composition.

b. Framing: Using a frame or viewfinder can help artists focus on specific areas and create a more effective composition.

c. Starting with Grayscale/Pencil: Beginners are advised to start with grayscale and pencils, allowing for better control and correction while learning to discern highlights, midtones, and darks.

d. Staying Still: To maintain consistent perspective and accuracy, artists should minimize movements and maintain a comfortable position while drawing from life.

e. Constantly Looking at the Subject: Observing the subject constantly and spending at least 50% of the time looking at it helps artists accurately depict what they see rather than relying on preconceived notions.

f. Creating Effective Shapes and Proportions: Focusing on large shapes and correct proportions lays the groundwork for a successful drawing and enables artists to visually measure the subject.

g. Adding Details and Texture: Paying attention to techniques for adding texture and details enhances the overall quality of the artwork.

h. Applying Artistic License: While direct observation aims for realism, artists can still apply their personal style and ideas, making the artwork unique and expressive.

  1. Six Things to Look for in Observational Drawing:

finding out what to keep in mind when drawing and painting from observation
a. Shapes: Identifying and drawing basic shapes helps simplify complex subjects and leads to greater accuracy.

b. Lines: Drawing the contour lines after defining the shapes enhances visual interest and communicates the form and texture of the subject.

c. Values: Determining the darkness or lightness of colors and accurately reproducing them conveys important information about light, form, and textures.

d. Form: Relationships of values in the subject create the illusion of form, which adds dimension to the artwork.

e. Textures: Using directional marks and relationships of value produces the illusion of textures, adding depth to the artwork.

f. Colors: Matching colors as closely as possible is essential, but value is more critical in accurately representing the subject.

an artist on a beach paints from observation on an easel

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Observational art is a fundamental aspect of contemporary art, enabling artists to develop their skills and infuse their work with a sense of authenticity and expression. By drawing from direct observation, artists can unlock new dimensions of creativity and enhance their understanding of art fundamentals. The provided tips and elements of art serve as a guide for artists seeking to improve their observational drawing skills and create more impactful and meaningful artwork.

artist works on an en plein air painting from observation

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