Drawing from Stock Photos and Memes

I’ve talked about my affinity for stock photos on many occasions. In previous posts, I’ve written about royalty free images, photo spamming on social media, and my general love of memes (which tend to lean heavily on stock photos). I just find these images to be very appealing from a portrait study perspective. The facial expressions and/or subject positions are often slightly exaggerated or made to convey an obvious intent, which is quite useful when you are still trying to learn how to portray specific emotions or actions via pencil drawings. Some expressions are quite subtle and difficult to capture, so these stock photos are great for practice.

As I discussed in my write-up on royalty free image site Unsplash, there are some important usage rights considerations involved, depending on what you’re doing with them and where you got them. When I published my book Pencils and Process, I didn’t use any of paid stock image-based drawings without obtaining licensing first. I actually did end up purchasing rights from Shutterstock for commercial use of one of them, which was mostly done as a learning experience. Otherwise, I just declined to use anything that I had to pay for possible commercial use. So, as I mentioned from the top, for me most of these random stock images, including the ones found in memes, are great for portrait studies and practicing but probably not much beyond that.

I have a massive “drawing ideas” folder, both on my phone and in Google Drive, to store things that might become drawings someday. It contains images and so forth from a wide variety of sources. I’ll list a few here – perhaps that might help you, the reader, with your own ideas:

  • Photos I’ve taken that might transfer well to artwork (usually of my family)
  • Stock photos I randomly came across in online articles – often from The Onion interestingly enough.
  • Internet memes, randomly saving the ones with interesting compositions (or that were especially funny)
  • Browsing Unsplash, intentionally looking for drawing ideas
  • Browsing r/redditgetsdrawn (on Reddit), again intentionally seeking ideas
  • Googling a person, if I’m wanting to draw a specific subject that I’m a fan of or something (from a movie, show, sports team, etc). This one is probably a no-brainer, but I thought I’d list it anyway for thoroughness’ sake.
  • Pulling screen captures from YouTube, again if I’m looking for a specific person I want to draw

So, leaning into the “Internet meme” category, and also stock photos since they are so interconnected, I’ve done more sketching along that path. This time, I’ve gone with a drawing of the woman made somewhat famous from the “distracted boyfriend” memes. This series of memes first became popular years ago, but has still managed to stick around on sites like Memebase and Reddit. Basically, the typical setup involves captions over the characters in a standard “not doing what you’re supposed to” theme. I’ve included some examples in this post of some that I thought were funny. Although I admit, a couple might be extremely specific to me – I do wear a lot of black shirts, and I literally just ignored a semicolon in favor of a good ol’ dash.

The scene I decided to draw is the same woman, but without her usual partner. I could say it’s because I don’t want to promote his scandalous ways, but really it’s a simple matter of finding this particular stock image more interesting to draw. This scene features some great shadows and contrast, which is normally one of the top factors for me, plus a bonus challenge of trying to draw someone eating. I think this one came from an article by The Onion, who also use these stock image stars from time to time. I find these to be quite fun for casual sketching; in fact, I would really like to do more meme-based drawings. I’ll share the final version, then discuss the process.

Interestingly enough (to me anyway), this might actually end up as my last colored pencil drawing for a while. At the moment, I’m completely captivated by learning how to oil paint. I wrote about my first experience already, which chronologically came after this drawing; I just couldn’t wait to share it, so it “jumped the line” in terms of blog posts. I went absolutely crazy this past weekend, starting five new projects. I’ve now done nine paintings! A pretty shocking fact to me, now that I’m thinking about it. There’s a lot to talk about there, so while I’m so energized towards art, I may be quite backlogged in sharing them.

Anyhow, for a “last colored pencil sketch for a bit” portrait, I like how it turned out! The high contrast original stock photo was great for this. I think there was good fidelity to the model – one of the first considerations I have is, does it look like the person? Check mark on that one. I think I did a good job on color matching as well, and surprisingly, matching color and shading on clothing. I even did fine on the hair, which is sometimes difficult for me. The biggest weakness with this one, perhaps not surprisingly, is the background. The table and chair are nothing special here, which has long been my colored pencil Achilles heel. I’ll write more about this later, but a big surprise about painting has been how much I’ve taken to backgrounds in paintings. It seems much easier to me than colored pencil backgrounds, which definitely wasn’t something I expected.

So, to sum things up. Will there be more memes/stock photo artwork coming at some point? Most definitely. Colored pencil though? Probably not for some time – at least as long as I’ve got all this positive energy flowing regarding painting. I feel so inspired by learning something new that’s fun, I can’t help but imagine I will want to keep rolling with it. Not to disrespect colored pencils of course; I enjoy drawing and always will. It’s just that painting is fresh, and somehow adds a level of fun I never anticipated.

There we have it – hopefully WordPress blog readers enjoy paintings, because I’ve got quite a few of them coming this way! And along with all of these paintings, I’ve got lots of thoughts to share about the learning process and on painting in general. It’s interesting to me how much colored pencil drawing aligns with using oil paints. Naturally, they have more differences than similarities…but I sort of expected almost zero carryover, whereas I’ve felt like the last five years of colored pencil work really helped ease the transition. Right now, the only limit is how quickly I can actually put these thoughts into words (actually quite a limiting factor all things considered). More soon I hope!

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