I've been following a very interesting discussion about how artist's produce their art, and I thought I would like to tell you something about my process. Because I am an Animal Artist and a Realist - although not a Photo Realist, and because I don't want a plethora of strange dogs, cats, and horses (even if there was room!) in my studio, I work from photographs. I'm a slow painter, and I like the solitude and peace of my studio, so that is another factor in why I choose to work from photo references. Most of the photos I use are taken by myself, but some are generously given to me by a friend or they are provided by a portrait client.
When I am doing a portrait, I need to get the most accurate image possible. However, I don't trace or project, even with a portrait. I learned how to draw at Art School (I chose Fine Art rather than Graphic Art), where we would have been tossed out of class if we had tried to trace or project. If anyone had suggested painting over a photo, I think our Drawing, Life Drawing, and Painting teachers would have fainted. We were there to learn the traditional ways of drawing and painting and I am proud to be using those methods of observation, sketching, measuring, and grid. These things are hard to use - photos lie, (distortion) and measuring or grid can so easily get out of control. The width of a pencil lead can make a difference! And you have to know when to ignore the measurements because your experienced eye is telling you that something is wrong. The best tool an Animal Artist can have is an excellent understanding of their subject - anatomy, hair coat, and expression - that and good observation skills, as well as an undertanding of proportion and perspective. After 20 plus years, I am still working on improving these things.
The photo above is of my acrylic painting "Something In The Air" along with the reference photos I used. As you can see, I don't adhere slavishly to the photo. Even with a portrait, I usually use a combination of several photos. The clipped English Setter photo was sent to me by a friend (her photo, her dog) and another friend sent me a photo (hers) of geese in flight. The landscape was taken by me. This was not a portrait, so I changed things to fit my vision for the scene I wanted to paint - changing the season and adding a full hair coat to the dog. I did some thumbnail sketches for placement, then did a detailed drawing on newsprint, where most of my agonizing over the drawing takes place. When I finally got what I wanted, I transfered my own drawing to my panel using tracing paper and then I was ready to paint.
This time consuming, intensive, nervewracking method obviously isn't for everyone, but it is the only way I want to work.