This morning I found a great Muddy Colors post by John Jude Palencar in my feed reader: using the Mug Shot Roundup photos from The Smoking Gun as a drawing exercise. I love this idea and I think it’s excellent advice, for several reasons:
- It gives you a fixed and regular schedule for your drawing time
- You get a bit of leeway by having a variety of photos to choose from
- Many of the photos are hilarious and would probably be very fun to draw
- Your drawing exercises would have a very consistent look because of the predictable format of the mug shot
- The mug shots were created by the government, so there are no copyright restrictions on their use in your work
One of my biggest complaints is that, as is typical of mug shots, you will only get a photo of a person from the shoulders up. This is great for polishing your portraiture, but the exercise isn’t useful for developing a more thorough understanding of the rest of the human figure. And if you have an interest in drawing environments, animals, or other stuff, forget about it.
On a more personal note, I consider myself the kind of person that is on a constant lookout for beauty and happiness, and looking at a mug shot for 40 minutes does not contribute to my sense of well-being. The act of drawing a mug shot feels like I’m immortalizing a low and humiliating point in someone else’s life. That’s just not my style.
That being said, I think I can offer a refreshing alternative if drawing mug shots isn’t your thing either: The Commons on Flickr. The Commons is a collection of public photographs that were provided by a variety of cultural institutions. All of the photos are free of copyright restrictions, so you can use them for anything you want. By simply visiting http://www.flickr.com/commons/, you will automatically get a random sampling of photos from The Commons.
Here’s why I think you’ll benefit from getting your drawing exercise inspiration from The Commons:
- The variety. The people in these pictures are in a plethora of poses, costumes, and come from vastly different backgrounds. There are also thousands upon thousands of photos to choose from.
- The context. You’re not just getting a stale, blank background. You’ll see people in a real, lived-in environment, interacting with what’s around them.
- The history. The vast majority of The Commons photos are old-timey, which means that they depict people, places, and things that you would never encounter today. You might even learn something.
- The themes. With The Commons, you’re not stuck within a particular theme every week. Your exercises can be as varied or specific as you want. Maybe you just refresh the Flickr Commons page and pick a random photo, or maybe you want your exercises to be only about cats, or carpenters, or cake, or… You get the idea.
- The beauty. Just check out my leading photo. Many of the photos in The Commons were taken by amazing photographers, so the compositions and the lighting in them are stunning. With time, studying from these great pictures will train your eye for your own projects.
When you’re done with your exercise, you might want to also add some tags or comments to the photo you were working with. That way, you make the collection more accessible for future searches and you help make it easier for others to find great sources of inspiration.
If you have any other good sources for drawing exercises, I’d like to know about them! Just leave me a comment so I can check them out.