Model or No Model, That’s the Question

Paint or draw with a life model, or without a model and ‘just’ a picture? That has been a discussion between artists for a long time. David Hockney wrote a book on how Renaissance artists used mirrors, lenses, and a camera obscura to develop realism, perspective and chiaroscuro. He shows in his book when this thinking started in art history, and which artists are using it and which not.


Timeline of art. The lens is used around 1450.

Surprisingly, Hockney, marked which artists didn’t use a kind of camera, and those are the artists I like the most: Rembrandt, Rubens, Matisse, Michelangelo and so on. The artists he marked as using a kind of camera where Vermeer, Ingres, Frans Hals and others. It’s not that I don’t appreciate these artists, but I really prefer the first group (evidence is abundantly found on my bookshelves….).

Read this book and see this Youtube movie!

In the beginning of the Covid times we were very strict: no model and no studio assistant. For me that was a big change because I always work with a dancer, my model. The dancer gives me inspiration.

I searched through my old drawings and prepared the paper with a transparent acrylic and started to paint over my drawings, instead of using a live model. Now that was fun!

I noticed that working alone also gives me much more time to mix my colors better (because with a model, I always want to hurry up a little). After three months working in my studio like this, it was full of half-finished paintings. I brought the paintings to Holland to show them to my family and friends. And of course, there were some big mistakes in the anatomy. For example: the ears were to low placed and not in perspective, some things which are not possible for a human being (placement of the arms and legs) and the biggest mistake was that many paintings were missing some space between the rib cage and the belly.

Next to some anatomy mistakes, I was also missing the personality from the model in my paintings. Hence, I start working again with a model on the same paintings. The beauty from a live model is that you see an evolution in bones and muscles, not a thought or interpretation from me. This means that some things I paint are totally not natural to my dancer, or even not physically possible.  If you work with photos of the model, you will get a moment, a second, but you can’t see if this moment of movement fits with your model, the dancer. Plus, you get all the typical ‘photo-mistakes’ like too strong lighting, or almost no cold or warm reflection light, and a big problem: a one -eye distortion of perspective.

And then my biggest problem: Where to abstract, where to keep the painting figurative. With the use of photo, you have no way to change the model. Without a model my pallet of choices is limited, but with a model I can search for a solution, so I can bring it to a better level of abstraction.

Beautiful example from Breitner, where abstraction is more important then figuration.

So, after 3 months of working without a model, I am happy to work again with a model!

Download here a movie of my painting ‘Orange, from drawing to painting’!

ORANGE (159 by 97cm, oil on panel, 2020)