I am talking about rendering a tree without the tree itself. Da Vinci believed that you needed to be in nature to depict nature, I agree with Da Vinci. However, skilled artists can manipulate nature to serve certain functions. But to answer the posed question: you can't create something visually more stimulating than the natural world.
Walking outside and experiencing nature, I tend to get ideas about depicting a more interesting leaf, but still a leaf that exists in the world. I've been reading a lot lately about the animator, Hayao Miyazaki, who believes that depictions in his medium of animation need to be enhanced versions of the real world. All this leads to ideals that are a standard among the artists whom I admire. In fact, I would say without idealizing nature, there would be no poetic quality to a drawing. The natural world has its own ideal harmony as well. The leaves on the tree have an order that tend to cross my eyes with complexity, but as I draw, I fall into a rhythm of idealism where I try and capture the spirit of the limb or shrub.
I sat outside today and let my hand find the curves and the texture of the leaves. And I found deep happiness as I realized that I can never truly capture the air of the trees, birds, sounds and everything around me.
I have been lucky enough to see a few oil studies painted by academic painters in some great museums. But these are a drop in the paint bucket in the amount of studies that most great artists produced. Inspired, I took a step forward in my studies and decided to complete a canvas of oil studies.
What I learned as I looked at my hand and painted was that accuracy and practice go hand in hand (no pun intended). The more I paint, the more I practice and the more accurate I get to creating a solid study. These sheets serve the purpose of being studies for large paintings without further reference to the model. Because the model won't always be available to study. So academic artist must be accurate with the brush and be able to "copy and paste" to paint the same hand when it matters in a larger, more finished work.
It really is like being able to manipulate an image through photoshop or another photo editor, but the bonus of doing it by hand, is the fact that it's more time spent with a brush in my hand. I feel like there truly is no error in a great academic painting. I'm going to let the errors happen in the studies and sketches, but everything has to be rendered for a reason in the finished piece. This is kind of a scary notion, to be a human creator of images over and over again. But I try to remember, no one is ever going to care about these oil studies in the future, much of the audience will only see a finished piece. But when I put brush to canvas for the final painting, I don't want any chance that I didn't think of something beforehand. Plus, it's very satisfying to see myself grow and being able to paint with a purpose.
How can building a house teach a painter a valuable lesson?
As I was walking outside, I saw a house under construction and overheard a conversation that made me think. One builder was asking the other which tool to use and the other builder replied with "Use which ever tool will fit that window." They were talking about taking out a pane of glass, but it made me realize that that is the right attitude for painting.
As painter's, we are all employing the same tools. Brushes, Pigment, and Oil is the bare-bones recipe for a painting. Add many hours of practice (Which I am still working on) and you've got the makings of a work of art. But why do so many painter's put limits on themselves? It is very enticing to only use a specific palette because Sargent used that palette or Norman Rockwell used that painting medium. But they only used it because it served their purpose. I believe that a well-rounded artist can say "This is what I need now," just like the builder of that house. So maybe studying the tools of the trade and having many hours with the brush in the hand is all that is needed? But you also have to smart about how you use your tools.
Be creative with your tools and Cast off the limits that you put on yourself.
I can only imagine the tremendous amounts of drawings that great artists produce. I think it's truly what separates everyone into ranges of "talent." As I begin studio paintings, I always think, "How will I approach this painting?"
Of course, a lot of my ideas start with an image that I have in mind. I do believe the composition must come from within and no one can implant a great composition into one's imagination. So I use my imagination to create and enhance what I see, but how do I gather my material to paint?
A lot of artists believe in the power of photography, but photography is merely realism. Bouguereau believed that if you are an artist, then you can do better than realism. He would idealize and enhance features. Even his self portrait from 1879 depicts a noble looking man with moderate features. Even though photographs of him show a short, stocky man with a large nose and small eyes. But he was able to do better than nature and present himself in a better way. That's the point of painting. The limits of Photography can be broken with drawing. If you choose to work from photographs, you are limiting yourself and stopping yourself from drawing.
Drawings are useful for the present moments and for future works, which is why I titled this post as such. If you see a plant on the ground that would serve a purpose, stop and draw it. Don't immediately allow yourself to take the easy route of photography. Every time I draw, I feel my hand connecting to my eye. I would liken it to the passive activity of watching TV versus the active reading of a book in that one washes over you like a wave and the other requires skill to enhance learning. Developing an idea, learning through the process and enhancing life through drawings are the high road.