Art: Mattias Adolfsson

Which is better: Drawing from real life, or using your imagination? That’s what we asked Sketchbook Skool fakulty members, and we got some surprising answers.

When sketching from real life, you have a model—but you can also get caught up in trying to replicate your subject perfectly. And drawing from imagination can be daunting, but ultimately freeing. It can break you out of ruts and help you develop a signature style.

So which is better? Our answer: Both. Our current community kourse Polishing combines drawing from real life and using your imagination to improve upon reality. Click here to check out a preview and enroll here for an experience that will take your sketchbook to a whole new level of reality! Meanwhile, here’s what some of Sketchbook Skool’s fakulty members think about drawing from reality vs. drawing from imagination.

  • I think all artists on some level need to draw from reality, just as a practice, and I think it’s a great tool of continually trying to draw from reality. But on occasion it can be interesting to see what’s in your brain. In your mind you have stored lots of stuff from reality. If you think about it, you probably have the image of a pig. You do not need to sit in front of a pig to draw one. And even though details may be wrong, it still looks like a pig when it comes out. And it sometimes can be quite interesting to see how full of life an image that comes from your imagination can be. —Mattias Adolfsson (one of the teachers in Polishing)
  • When you’re making a drawing, “images in the head” are vague things at best, points of departure. That initial spark-flash of an image or concept in our mind has to work its way out of the brain, down the neck towards the shoulder (with a quick and substantial pass through the heart if it’s the right kind of idea), down the arm and into the hand where this “image/idea” is force-fed into whatever tool it is that you’re using at the time and out, onto the blank page. After a journey like that, of course what spills out will likely have taken on a life of its own and might not have anything to do, in the end, with that initial image you had in your head... And that’s the fun part. —Jonathan Twingley
  • The story of a journey doesn’t just happen in objects and scenery. Sometimes there are ideas that I want to capture. Or emotions. Or discoveries or revelations. So I don’t force myself to just draw the literal events and sights. Sometimes, I just want to draw my sense of wonder. —Danny Gregory
  • Even if it's from imagination, it always starts with reality. The sketchbook is a tool to know and see the world. Even if my drawings are very "stylized" and not figurative, they come from an attentive observation of reality. Even the most crooked little houses are the fruit of careful observation. That's why I suggest you to draw whatever is around you, because you'll build a sort of vocabulary, something you have inside. And then when you draw it again, maybe you can refer to the image you have in your mind. —Fabio Consoli
  • Even when you’re telling a true story, be inventive, be creative, and yes, use your imagination. Try to think out of the box, and be fearless too; you need to be if you want to experiment. Dare to be vulnerable. When you are honest with yourself, and with your sketchbook pages, you are telling a story about your true self. —Koosje Koene

So whether it’s real or imagined, don’t be afraid of what comes out of your pen or pencil or brush. Even if it turns out differently than you envisioned, it’s still a completely original drawing that didn’t exist before you opened your sketchbook, and that’s something to celebrate! What happens when you let your drawings take on a life of their own?

Filed under categories: Fakulty, Inspiration, Interviews