Recently I had someone comment on my free portrait guide ad that the ONLY way to draw is to draw from life. Basically: if you draw from photo reference, you’re doing it wrong. 

Let’s just say I have a few things to say about that.

Hi my name is Carrie and I want you to proudly call yourself an artist. Here on Artist Strong I help creatives like you build your skill and develop your unique artist voice. Today I want to talk about drawing both from life and from photo reference and why I want you to learn both.

First off, as soon as there is an ultimatum in my life, especially around the arts, I can’t help but want to argue. It’s in our generally rebellious nature, no? As a rule (haha), I’ve found people spouting very black and white rules about what constitutes “real” art operate from a place of judgement and fear. 

Artist Strong is a place where we value people showing up for their art, and if you’re new to this space or need a reminder:

I actually don’t care if you’re skillful at art.

I care that if you want to make it, you make art.

What I’ve found over the decade or so of teaching online is that MANY creatives fear their lack of formal education (or gaps in education they enrolled in) has somehow limited their skill and ultimately their success as an artist.

Lots of things to discuss here. I went to school and studied art but had no foundations course of study. It was kind of expected I already knew how to draw and we began investigating concept. What did I want to say with my art? So clearly studying art doesn’t necessarily remove that concern around skill development.

The other thing: when people worry they are lacking in skill, it creates concerns that bleed into their creativity. Am I qualified or good enough to explore this new medium? What about paying for expensive materials? Am I wasting supplies? Do I have to sell or exhibit my art? What if I can’t find my unique style yet?

But. When we actually address those fears and fill our learning gaps, this builds our confidence. It gives us a boost and we start asking ourselves, “if I can draw anything I want, what now? What should I say?”

Now. Let’s go back to, well, I’ll call him Joe. He proclaimed the only way to learn how to draw is to draw from observation, from life. And there are benefits to drawing from life. It is a more difficult skill than drawing from a photo because you have to translate something 3D to a 2D surface and maintain an illusion of 3D on that two-dimensional surface.

This is a great skill to develop and use and truly, if you want to draw anything you want, or maybe even what you imagine, learning how to do this is absolutely going to serve you and this goal.

As will drawing from photo reference.

In this skill you already are observing something in 2D, but you have to replicate what you see, which includes observing illusions such as foreshortening and figuring out how to communicate the same form.

Before we wrap up today I’d like to take a minute to thank today’s sponsor.

Today’s video is brought to you by The Artist Strong Studio, our patreon community who believes in and wishes to support this space. If you: 

struggle to find regular, meaningful feedback from your peers, 

live somewhere that has limited arts programming,

Or maybe it’s hard to get out a lot and you still want that creative accountability and support of artist peers,

Artist Strong Studio is a digital studio space for makers. If you create art, craft, and you want meaningful connections and support, welcome!

Currently we meet twice a month on zoom to help each other show up in the studio and make more art! There is also a private community space away from social media (our fb away from fb) and a quarterly Q&A all for the cost of one coffee a month. To learn more visit

Practicing both of these activities will absolutely help you build the confidence you need to create whatever you want. 

And if you just want to draw for fun and have no interest in developing skill, that’s ok too. Do the self-reflection necessary to really identify what you want from your art so can start making choices that align with those desires. 

Thanks for watching! Be sure to subscribe to Artist Strong then share below: do you know what you want from your art? What is that and what’s one step you can take today to get closer to it?