Do You Have to be Such a Tool?

11 02 2015

Besides her art, one of the things I like best about watercolorist and teacher June Rollins ​ is her never-flagging positive and generous attitude about her art and art, in general.

In one of her recent posts – –  June opened up an interesting side discussion of camera obscura and other tools artists use to aid in their process.

The argument – carried on across a number of articles, blogs, and other threads – boils down to two factions:

1. Real Artists always free-hand draw their subjects. Anyone who uses a tool (camera obscura, overhead/opaque projector, grid – you get the gist) to help them draw is a cheater and should not dare call themselves an artist!


2. Artists have always adopted tools that make them more able to produce better (in their own eyes, for that’s all that matters) art. Get over it!

As with a lot of arty things, I formed a pretty quick opinion, but – as with some of my other hastily-formed opinions – after more thorough consideration of the big (overhead-projected-traced) picture; I’ve changed my mind. ( I love that about the older me, by the way.)

While I initially sided with the “must free-hand to be artist” argument, some brilliant counterarguments began to overtake me.  We do not doubt the physician’s commitment to his art because he chooses to use a stethoscope, instead of relying on his unaided ears.  Prima ballerinas are not less magnificent because they wear pointe shoes.  Beethoven was not diminished as a composer because he used more instruments than had been available to his predecessors.

Common sense led me to conclude that artist’s tools are no different: brushes, hammers, cameras, rulers, pigments . . . they are tools.

My now-well-considered opinion is that, to be an artist, simply have your own original thought. Once you do that, the manner in which you render that idea doesn’t really matter.

Engage brain.

Drop barriers.

Make art.





8 responses

11 02 2015

I agree completely. I have an eye disorder called Keracotonus that warps my vision. So it is difficult tp draw things except from photos close up. When computers arrived on the scene i loved them because i could use their graphics capabilities to overcome some of my vision problems. I don’t consider myself any less an artist ☺

11 02 2015

Glad to hear this resonated with you Greg. I am also glad to hear you are making art. Good on you!

11 02 2015

NICE my friend Paula!!!! As a 3-d artist the portrait, still life, nude always challenged me. I could do it from a photo but not from sight…..maybe my brain just doesn’t work that way! I still graduated with a full BFA (3.97). Use the tools….create!!!

11 02 2015

Thanks, my rocking artist friend. I value your opinion, you know.

11 02 2015
June Rollins

Paula, as with all your posts, I love your candid, entertaining, writing style. I would guess this tool is more used than not, by many artists who would rather not talk about it 😉

12 02 2015
Michael Eckert

I used a projector at Cumberland Perry Tech years ago during commercial art classes. We called it a ‘lazy Susan’ and it was an important piece of equipment back then before computers. Illustrators had to draw dozens of thumbnail samples. When one was finally selected for the final artwork, the drawing was resized and/or combined with complementary work to achieve the end design.

12 02 2015
Wendy Edsall-Kerwin

I was just thinking about this the other day. I remembered how when I went for my college interviews, the woman at University of the Arts looked at my work and said, “Oh, you work from photographs.” You can just imagine the disdain. It did spur me to take a life drawing class (pre-college) and do more live self-portraits. But I don’t think it makes you less of an artist to use a tool. Is Chuck Close not an artist? Is Vermeer not an artist? It’s all in how you use it. Unless you finger paint, you use tools. Who can judge which tools are allowable, the tool police?

12 02 2015

You hit the rivet on the head, Wendy.

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