Freehand vs. Projection

Home / Education / ARChives / Foundational Discussions

Freehand vs. Projection

From Virgil Elliott

Published before 2005


[...] When I draw my design on my canvas or panel in charcoal, which is one of the various ways I work, I refine the drawing with a kneaded eraser as one of my drawing tools, taking out whatever does not end up meeting my ultimate approval, and the result, at the end of the drawing stage, might look to some like a traced projection, if they did not know any better, yet it is always done freehand (I have always been against the idea of tracing projected photographs, as anyone who has ever studied with me can verify). Soft vine charcoal erases easily. I routinely alter shapes from the actual proportions of the subject in order to compensate for optical illusions and to make the lines and shapes more artistic, as part of the process, yet the appearance is that of faithful rendering of the subject. I reduce the size of the head somewhat, relative to the body, and make all sorts of adjustments that are not obvious. Once I am happy with the drawing, I usually strengthen it with thinned paint on a rigger brush, and let it dry before commencing with the next stage.

The first image on the Techniek page of Helmantel's web site looks like it could have been done the same way I describe my process above. I would not presume to say it was done from a projected photograph on the basis of that image.

I do know one painter who projects photos for still life painting, or at least he did years ago when I had contact with him, but I don't see why it was necessary, or why anyone with a good eye would choose to work that way. I can say with assurance that he did this, though, because I've been in his studio and discussed it with him on more than one occasion, seen his projector and the photos, etc. I think he could do just as well or better by drawing it out freehand, but I suppose he lacked confidence in his ability to do it that way and get a good result. I encouraged him to do it without the camera and projector (some 18 years ago), and he might have taken my advice since I last spoke to him, I don't know. After tracing, he would paint the picture looking at the still life directly, set up inside a black box with a clamp light as the only light source, and would end up with a highly realistic image. He's very wealthy today from selling his paintings, which he cranks out, one after another, following pretty much the same formula every time, usually silver pitchers or bowls and some kind of fruit. He has always been very astute in his marketing acumen. My impression is that he is mostly interested in making lots of money, moreso than maximizing his potential as an artist, but he does have a family to feed.

Rubik would probably assume, if he were to see one of my works in progress at the end of the drawing stage, that it was a projected image traced onto the canvas, but I'll make an open invitation, to Rubik or to anyone else who might be interested, to visit my studio and watch me work, or ask me to draw something any time we might meet anywhere, if there is any question. I almost always have a drawing kit handy, or at least a pencil or pen.

Virgil