Yesterday I was reading the blog of a very creative and talented blogger. She had posted a painting that she did of a cup. She described her process, the first step was to photograph the cup. This was interesting, as she owned the cup. I commented with the question "Why not just paint the cup? Why paint from the photo?"
I have nothing against using photo references. I use them when I cannot take the actual thing (usually a person) into my studio. I would always prefer to work from life, but it is frequently not an option.
It is frustrating to work from a photo. Why? Because photos lack information. Colours are different, usually colours are missing. Whole bits of what you are trying to paint or draw disappear into shadow. You can' t see what is happening around the corner, you often can't even see that there is a corner. Volume flattens in too much light. I spend hours in the studio trying to re-imagine all that is missing from my reference photos.
Now granted, the blogger I was speaking of was painting a study. And it turned out okay. Maybe she got what she was after.
But when I asked her why she didn't just paint the cup, she answered that she isn't good enough at painting.
That got me worried.
It is true that when you paint from life you have to convert it from 3-D into 2-D -- but this is a lot of what drawing is. And if you want to learn to draw it is the difference between taking the dead end road or the ongoing journey. If you work from photos to learn to draw and paint, the drawings (or paintings) might look better in the beginning, but you won't get very far. (this is not intended as any criticism of the creative blogger. I am sure she knows what she wants.)
My advice to anyone who wants to advance their drawing and painting skills: Do it from life. Painting an actual teacup will take you further than painting (or drawing) a photo of anything. This is nearly always true, but especially especially when you are still learning.