Drawing from Unsplash Photos
My free time has been pretty well monopolized recently, first with writing a book, and then with figuring out the ins-and-outs of independent publishing. Now that the book is out and that’s mostly off my plate, I hope to have a little more time for drawing. Because I have been somewhat less active on the artwork front, I’ve accumulated a larger than usual backlog of ideas. That’s sort of a nice feeling since I’m so often unsure what to draw next.
Of my inspirational backlog, I’ve actually got two drawings that I started but never finished. I did an outline of a Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot sketch, but my disappointment in the Dallas Cowboys perpetual mediocrity as a football team caused me to lose interest. I also started a sketch of Dirk Nowitzki, based on the cool retirement send-off at his last home game. I’m not sure why I haven’t finished it, but for now, it’s on the shelf. Another project, which I have moved forward with, is a drawing based on photographs from a site called Unsplash. If you haven’t heard of it, Unsplash is actually a somewhat controversial site. It’s a stock image provider, but with the noteworthy twist that the images are free to use! We can probably best sum up what they are about using Unsplashes own words:
“All photos published on Unsplash can be used for free. You can use them for commercial and non-commercial purposes. You do not need to ask permission from or provide credit to the photographer or Unsplash, although it is appreciated when possible.“Unsplash’s licensing page,
Sounds pretty great from a consumer standpoint, right? Free images for commercial use, including selling derivative works like drawings/paintings. Compared to licensing a photograph through Shutterstock, which tends to be around $10, and Getty Images, which can run into the $100s, that’s pretty sweet. There are a few criticisms, though. First, there is the important fact that paid royalty-free (meaning one payment required, not a per-use fee) sites like Shutterstock offer some legal indemnification. So, if you get sued, they will cover up to a certain amount of legal fees and damages. Unsplash doesn’t include any such protection.
That’s not the only risk, though. Photographers agree to license their photos for free on Unsplash, but what about the subjects? Sites like Shutterstock confirm model releases are on file, but Unsplash doesn’t. It’s up to the user to contact the photographer and confirm that they have a signed model release. Likewise, it’s important to make sure that no brands, logos, or otherwise trademarked things appear in these photos. If you’re going to utilize an Unsplash image for a commercial purpose, you’ve definitely got to be careful and do some of your own follow up with the photographer.
It’s divisive to photographers too. Some feel that providing their work for free does the profession harm (like this person). But others say it gives them visibility from images that may just sit idle on their computers otherwise (like this guy). Despite the controversy, I spent some time browsing the site and decided to do a few sketches based on interesting photographs. Although they don’t require photographer credit, I’m definitely going to provide that for each one. Interestingly enough, I’ve actually drawn something from an Unsplash photographer before, but I didn’t know it; my “how to” post image was originally from Unsplash (I found it in use by WordPress for an ad). So, my second Unsplash-based portrait is the subject of this post!
Of course, this sketch is in my favorite pose – the head-and-shoulders portrait view. Here’s the final result, followed by a discussion of the process:
I’m actually sort of proud with how this one turned out. Honestly, it wasn’t especially tricky; as I mentioned, this is essentially my favorite pose. I’ve had a ton of practice with the head-and-shoulders straight-on portrait view, so I wasn’t exactly pushing myself. Regardless of the challenge level, I felt good throughout the drawing. All of my usual methods and techniques for shadows, lines, and burnishing were fairly effective.
I selected this subject because of the deep shadows, but unfortunately shadows also represent the biggest miss of this portrait. There should have been darker shading framing the face, under the nose, and under the chin. While it’s certainly an improvement over my drawings from even six months ago, I still see room for improvement. I can still be fairly timid about using bold colors and high contrast, and I hope to work on that in the near future.
A sort of new wrinkle here was the prominently featured jewelry. I don’t have much experience with shiny stones in necklaces, so that was an interesting thing to try. The gemstones themselves I think look pretty good and simulate reflected light fairly well. The gold settings and links are just okay…not terrible, but sort of dull looking overall.
I took quite a few progression shots of this one. Here’s the .gif of this portrait as it moved forward:
This was a good experience overall. As I mentioned above, I’m planning on doing a few more Unsplash-inspired portraits. I probably don’t even need to do more browsing, because I’ve got at least half a dozen in mind already. Not that I’ll draw all of them…or will I? (cue dramatic music)