View Full Version : Do I get better by copying pictures?

11-12-2005, 06:41 PM
I am not very good at drawing, but I like to take pictures I like and try to copy them, and by doing that understanding why the artist made this and that like he did.

Is that good, do I learn to draw, or become better at drawing by doing this?

Thank you in advance for your answer. :)

11-12-2005, 07:04 PM
Hi Phynix,

Copying from artists who were masters at drawing is in itself a very good way to learn to draw. I'm talking about artists like Michelangelo, Dürer, Rubens, Raphael and other such master painters. But it's not going to help you a lot when you don't understand the basics of drawing these masters had to learn before they made such great art.

We have a great workshop going here on cgtalk, hosted by Rebecca Kimmel and myself to help beginning artists learning these basic drawing principles. I recommend learning these first. After that, there is also a thread were you can post mastercopies.

The workshop has been running for a few months, but you can join anytime you like and get feedback on your work. You'll find that copying masters is part of the exercises!

You can find the workshop here (http://forums.cgsociety.org/showthread.php?t=269026)

Hope to see you there!


11-13-2005, 05:15 PM
An artist who runs a workshop I attend espouses "master copies" as the #2 best thing you can do to get better. The #1 is drawing from reality. If you think about it, drawing from reality forces you to make a ton of decisions, but copying a drawing is about learning someone else's decisions. Ergo, if that someone else is a master, then you've probably got a lot to learn from.

It reminds me of studying jazz: you usually start learning how to improvise by memorizing solos of great musicians. As you memorize these solos, you usually write them down and study them: look for patterns, etc. Over a period of time, little pieces of each of these solos naturally become part of your own reporatoire, and you begin to sound like yourself, rather than anyone else.

The same principle applies here: as you copy different masters, you'll gradually pick up on cool ideas, and they subtly become part what you are.

11-14-2005, 08:25 PM
mrtristan is right, it won't hurt. By copying an existing drawing, you can learn how the other artist conveys form, texture, etc. The only way it can be not as useful is if you're just blindly and mechanically copying the drawing without trying to learn from it

11-15-2005, 06:31 AM
I really encourage you to copy pictures, but be extremely selective. I recommend Julia Margaret Cameron, for the way that she lit her models before taking pictures. Her photos
reveal form and are exquisitely composed.

Here's an example:


For now, use master photographers, instead of copying your own photos, or photos that don't have much artistic value (like most sport photos, family pictures, etc.. which are spontaneus, but with little thought or design put into). National Geographic has several books out with very good photos, also look at photo books by publisher Phaidon.

As for master painters, I recommend Sargent, Rubens, Ingres, Rembrandt, Repin, Zorn, etc..

Just be really selective, and don't just copy any photo.. pick subjects that are artistically portrayed and have a good sense of design to them.

EDIT: when you said 'pictures' I understood photos... wether that's what you meant or not, I think this info is still relevant and possibly one way to learn to draw. Like some have said already copying master work (master photos, drawings, paintings, sculpture casts, etc..) is a proven way to improve your drawing skill and enrich your taste. You sort of become a student of the artist and learn to problem solve like them. In some schools, they even teach master copying before moving on to working from life.

11-15-2005, 02:07 PM
Yes, one does get better by copying. What copying does is make you notice the difference between your own technique and that of another artist's. This improves your perception.

It's very hard to copy another artist's technique, but if you can, then you can begin to get into their minds and how they see the world. It's like reading a book. Copying a great artist can teach us many things that we never knew because copying is slow and painful and we begin to understand what that artist was about. It's also a way of honoring those that have gone before us and gave us our visual freedom.

Through copying we learn about ourselves as artists and how we as individual artists, see the world.

Elucid Concepts
11-15-2005, 03:10 PM
I guess its like playing an insturment. You first learn by playing and learning the great pieces of other composers, before you improvise yourself. However, for drawing though, I find its useful to know the techniques first, (For example, the proportions of the human body, the anatomy, stuff like that) so when you go to copy, you can see how the artist used those techniques.

11-15-2005, 08:02 PM
when I copy photos for practice, I pick out one part of the figure. Like either the gesture or and arm, a leg or whatever, and then I just try to visualize it in a 3d space and I try to draw while thinking and figuring out what kind of shape it is, how it moves what it looks like from other perspectives and so on. I rarely try and copy a whole image, i just like to learn from it and it occupies some of my noneventful and very wasteful classes. Hopefully this gives you a look at how I try and learn.

hope it helps ;)

11-15-2005, 08:10 PM
I guess its like playing an insturment... However, for drawing though, I find its useful to know the techniques first, ...

As someone who studied music for most of his life, I'd say that musicians have to contend with developing extensive motor skills, which is part of "technique". In fact, I've yet to meet someone who's a good musician (well, classical or jazz musician) that hasn't been playing for at least 5-6 years. I also think that the motor skill thing is why I eventually lost passion in music: you spend a lot of time doing repetitive tasks, rather than creation...

In any case, I learned a couple of things about developing fine motor skills playing music, which can be handy:

When learning a motor skill, go slow, and do it right the first time, every time.
If you make a mistake, do it right at least 5 times before moving on.
If you make a mistake, your brain tends to learn the mistake. You can only "unlearn" the mistake by doing it right more often.

Now, this doesn't apply to "visualization" skills, because "right" and "wrong" are vague. But you could probably get way better at drawing if you did things like, draw 5 parallel lines with the same length, draw good circles, draw squares, repeat 5 curves in parallel, etc. (Note: this is a great way to learn brushes like the pallete knife in Painter.) The goal here isn't great art, but simply learning to avoid the undo button as you draw. Ergo, learning to have the brain think "i need a line here" and your hand just does it right.

For the complicated aspects of drawing, like "is this good anatomy", I haven't found anybody who learned it while avoiding drawing from life regularly. Visualization is amazingly complicated; you have to develop seeing detail in reality, understanding design principles in your work, 3D projection, etc. Using 2D references are nice training wheels, however, and if you need training wheels to have fun, well, that's what's most important.

11-15-2005, 08:30 PM
At first: Thank you! I hope many more people are going to post here.
Also to the people I spoke to by PMs, thank you for your insight and links. :)

I have allready learned so much, it makes me really glad to see some progress again after a long time with no such thing.

The tip with drawing straight lines and circles is very good! And also the tip that one should just copy master's work, is great. (Though I may have a rather unique impression of who is a master ;) ) but I do not like copying photos so far, it is to difficult yet to transfer them into my mind and then on the paper again. I am trying to learn all the basics and so far I am succesfull.
But so far I realised some thing: By copying other artist's pictures, I learned how to draw that particular picture, but not how to draw a similar picture by myself. I hope you get what I want to express. Learning the basics by reading those fabolous books which somebody kindly hosted on a server I allready learned so much more.
Though it is encouring to copy a good artwork one likes, because it is like: "Hey, soon I will be able to that without using another picture."

~hope I expressed myself well, English is obviously not my native tongue-

11-16-2005, 07:15 PM
@everyone comparing learning music to learning to draw. Yes, basically a musician learns by "copying" from advanced musicians. In a way, a classical musician does nothing else. But there's more to it than that.
All musicians also have to learn the basics of music, wether formally, like in classical music education or informally as in jazz or flamenco. You cannot improvise your own riffs if you know nothing of scales and chords.

The same goes for drawing. Unless you know the basics of drawing, copying a master painting/drawing isn't going to help much if you do not know how to "see" and transfer what you see onto paper, canvas or computerscreen. It's equally important to learn the "scales and chords" of drawing.

@ phynix

Glad to hear you have found something to help you along.

11-25-2005, 04:25 PM
I've never known a professional artist yet who didn't have a LARGE 'morgue' or collection of photos for reference. I have about 30 lbs myself.

11-25-2005, 05:34 PM
The simplicity of it is you are trying to be successful. Successful in your art that is. You can define what "success" means to you in this context.

The keys to being successful at anything are hard work and effort. Terms like inspiration, motivation and momentum come into play but these are all secondary to the effort.

10% of the time you are truly creative and everything is flowing. The other 90% of the time "becoming successful" in art is just plain and simple hard work and effort. Once you begin the process of work the creativity part takes care of itself along with the other terms mentioned above.

I would suggest just drawing anything as much as possible. Drawing from life has so much relevance to everything you draw so that has obvious importance.

Master copies seems like a very valid and worthwhile way to improve your art. This is what I have read and what I have heard. Thinking about it - it does make a lot of sense. Success leaves clues. Those that have been successul have already put in the time and effort into figuring things out.

As long as you copy and ALSO understand then you can only improve.

11-25-2005, 06:33 PM
I've done master copies for years, and am constantly trying to close the gap between my copies and my own work.

Master Copy done about a year or so ago:


30 minute drawing done from photo reference last night:


I'm not saying that one can ever become a 'master' ~ it's nearly an impossible goal ~ but the higher your goal, the better you will eventually be relative to where you are now.



11-26-2005, 02:34 PM
Another drawing from the 15 Minute Sketchathon (http://forums.cgsociety.org/showthread.php?t=295498&page=1&pp=15) ~ this one actually took 45 minutes, in 15 minute segments. :D ~ But, was done from photoreference. Master copies definitely inform your work...

Since this piece took longer than 15 minutes, it's posted on my Anatomy Thread: (http://forums.cgsociety.org/showthread.php?t=292483)

Additionally, there is this Master Copies Thread which I encourage everyone to check out / participate in:

Master Copies - Post Your Copies From The Great Masters! 2D/3D D/T DRWG/PTG/SCULPTURE (http://forums.cgsociety.org/showthread.php?t=257446)


An update: total time spent on drawing: 1 hour.


Reference image:

11-26-2005, 05:52 PM
oy as long as ur getting some milage on ur hand anything goes..of course u will learn through copying..i copied photos thru highschool only to never look at them today..makes sense

11-26-2005, 10:28 PM
A 30 minute :D drawing from the 15 Minute Sketchathon (http://forums.cgsociety.org/showthread.php?t=295498&page=1&pp=15) thread...everyone is welcome to join in! :)


(http://photo1.dukenews.duke.edu/pages/%20Sports%20Information/Track%20and%20Field/2000-2001%20Season/Action/Men%27s%201600-meter%20relay.hr.jpg) Done from Photo Reference (dude on the left). (http://photo1.dukenews.duke.edu/pages/%20Sports%20Information/Track%20and%20Field/2000-2001%20Season/Action/Men%27s%201600-meter%20relay.hr.jpg)

11-27-2005, 12:36 PM
soo basically its a 2 in one piece eh?:D

11-27-2005, 01:48 PM
*snicker* :D Hehe, nebz, for that torso, it's more like a 5 in 1 piece! Nifty! :scream:

11-29-2005, 05:57 PM
Rebeccak: Your sketches are so beautiful!

Beside the ones you already posted, are there any other master artists you can list? I'm graduating real soon from school and really need to improve in human anatomy. The professors here alway stress about how important human anatomy is and how it's almost mandatory for you to understand in order to get a job in the industry. I'm trying to get into the video games industry after I finish school. :)

11-29-2005, 08:57 PM

Thanks!! :) I hope you will check out this forum I moderate here on CGTalk:

Artistic Anatomy and Figurative Art

We have literally TONS of resources there for folks interested in Anatomy.

Check here for the best links on the forum:

Tutorials, Workshops, Anatomy Reviews & More ... [links within]

If you are interested in Master Copies, check out:

Master Copies - Post Your Copies From The Great Masters! 2D/3D D/T DRWG/PTG/SCULPTURE

Hope to see you on the Anatomy Forum! :)



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