In September, for many schools it’s the start of another school year, and if you are a DP visual arts student, you will be either returning for your 2nd year or starting your first.

Where to Start?

Of course, your teacher will probably suggest some initial directions that your art might follow to start with, but – depending on how much freedom you have – you might want to explore one of the most traditional routes in art-making: working from observation.


I have included here some of the student art created in response to my introductory assignments.

The basis of the assignment is working from direct observation of the immediate environment.


I asked students to go out and find a spot somewhere near our school and paint what they were looking at: here is the work of two of my students who went out into the local landscape to work (paint) from direct observation.



The photos show the stages of development of both landscapes.




What do visual arts examiners say about work from observation?

In the exhibition section, the 2018 May Subject Report says

“The lack of work from observation often reflects weak technical skills…Work from observation can improve candidates understanding of their work and the work of others…Technical competence comes from continued practice. It is not a good idea to include a ‘one-off’ artwork or first-time experience with a technique as a resolved exhibition piece. Focusing on in-depth development of a few skills may lead to stronger final artworks than dabbling in a variety of media/techniques.”

I think that work from observation can do a lot more than just improve your understanding of your work ‘and the work of others’ – in many ways it can be seen as fundamental to art-making, acknowledging and emphasizing the importance of looking and seeing.

Certainly, it’s a skill that will improve with continued practice and in most cases is measurable in assessment terms: for example its usually easy to tell the difference between a badly drawn, and a well-drawn chair, face, tree etc

Working from a photograph?

Of course, many artists since the birth of photography have used photographs as the basis for their creations, and photos are useful for capturing fleeting moments, but copying a photo is not the same as being there and looking at a subject that’s actually directly in front of you.

Copying a photo means you are just recreating a camera’s flat view of the world. And if someone else took the photo its not even your view of the world…

Of course, there is still a role for working from photographs if, for example, you want to continue working on a painting but do not have the object(s) in front of you. Referring to a photo of the objects will enable you to continue with your artwork – but there is little challenge or benefit in simply copying a photo if that is all you do.


The photo is already 2D, whereas the world is 3D, and the art you create while looking at/encountering ‘real’ objects, views and/or people will be so much richer than just copying a flat image: transcribing from three-dimensions to two is ultimately much harder than drawing/painting from a photograph, but the resulting art is  authentic.