The Camera as an Artist’s Tool

I am taking a drawing class in which we sometimes work from photos, which by their nature, capture 2-dimensional records of 3-dimensional things, fixing a composition, and in so doing, eliminate several fundamental challenges of drawing.  I have long believed that it is preferable to draw directly from life, and to wrestle with the illusive third dimension, than to draw from photos.

But I am learning that there are opportunities in letting a camera do some of the work.  Compositions can be tested, cropped and re-cropped with ease, enabling quick explorations and unexpected discoveries.  A universe of subject matter can be accessed from the comfort of the studio.

Here is a painting by Charles Sheeler that I love for its stillness, sense of space, composition, color and subject matter.


 American Interior, 1934

From the website of the Yale Art Gallery where this painting resides, “American Interior is the last and most complex of Sheeler’s paintings of interiors. A master photographer, Sheeler used his own photographs as the basis for many of his paintings. He modeled this composition on one of a group of photographs he had made in 1929 documenting the living room of his former home in South Salem, New York. He photographed the space from above to create a steeply rising floor. In the painting, the cropped composition, oblique view, tilted perspective, and distilled contrasts of light and dark that flatten the forms and emphasize their geometry reveal the artist’s eye as a photographer. His modernist vision responded to the purity of forms and patterns found in American crafts, shown here in the Shaker box, textiles, and chair. In American Interior, Sheeler celebrates both the clarity and precision of the camera and his love for simple, handmade American objects.”

The camera can be an artist’s best friend.

In researching this blog post, I found that Yale Art Gallery’s website, in addition to access to its collection, includes an intriguing online magazine called “What is Art and Why Does it Matter?  I am reminded that computer is a great tool for virtually visiting museums and galleries around the world.

Reverse Glass Painting

 grandpas sampler 1

This Art Deco painting was made in the 1920’s as a gift for my grandfather by his older brother Jacob, a sign painter in New York.  Within the 6”x 8” frame are featured 6 painted marble examples, 8 painted wood varieties, gold and silver leaf, and a miniature picture of their long-gone home of origin, in what is now western Ukraine.  The initials are those of my grandfather, Abraham Warshaw.

The technique of reverse glass painting is an Old World skill.  Unlike the sequence of ordinary painting, fine details go on first, followed by the background. Colors and details remain vivid, protected by the glass.

Sign painters of that time were, on occasion, called upon to produce faux finishes and other trompe l’oeil effects.

The skill and care that went into the creation of this object make it a family treasure.

This photo is courtesy of me.

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10 Lessons from Hurricane Sandy


1.   Almost everyone can make do with less.  Of everything.
2.   After days at 48-55 degrees indoors, 66 degrees feels almost balmy.  We can all stand to lower the thermostat a bit.
3.   Everyone should eat by candlelight more often.
4.  A headlamp was the most valuable tool during the days without power.
5.   Disaster recovery is a full-body workout.
6.   The human race is split, more or less, 50/50 between self-absorbed jerks and good decent people.
7.   If you want the facts about looming weather, turn off your television and get your information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (
8.   Don’t wait for a disaster to appreciate and thank people whose vocation or avocation is to serve the greater good (firefighters, police, soldiers, committed volunteers).
9.   Mother Nature will always win in the end—we can’t out-engineer, out-build, outsmart, or outrun her.  Let’s work with her, not against her.
10.  Please, let’s all try to be less wasteful, more grateful, and more respectful of our planet. Treat it like it’s your own home.  Because it is.

sandy nasa

NASA photo of Sandy

Thanks to my friend Allison Thomas who, after her community and home were hit by the hurricane, spent nearly five days without electricity, and spent the following weeks helping others recover what they could of their damaged homes.  She wrote this list.

First photo courtesy of Franklin J. Schaffner, filmmaker of Planet of the Apes.

Feel free to share the content of this blog, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.

I invite your comments.