At 18 or 19 years old, inspired heavily by the works of Norman Rockwell, I focused heavily on drawing photo-realistic artwork. It used to fascinate me that a human being could draw another human being so accurately. But once I figured out the technique(and believe me it's a technique, not a talent) I got bored very quickly. The end result may look amazing, but the process made me feel like a human xerox machine, except less accurate. It's like copying pixels one by one, for hours at a time, one dot at a time, like a machine. Really, that's all it is. Sound like fun? It's not. Here's a pencil sketch from when I was about twenty years old:
I learned that photo-realistic artwork requires very little skill, very little thought, just TREMENDOUS PATIENCE. It's more about pleasing the crowds, less about self accomplishment. Once I figured that out, whatever mystique Norman Rockwell used to have disappeared immediately. I later found out that he used a projector to shoot photos onto his canvas so that he could literally copy the image. Lame Norman, very lame. Ever see a painting of Rockwell's that wasn't photo referenced? Of course, in his day, photography was still a relatively new technology, and realistic drawings at that level of accuracy was a highly celebrated novelty. Today it's a parlor trick and nobody cares. At least I don't.
Since then, I've focused on drawing from my imagination, only studying real life to better my ability to draw from scratch. To me, art is about expression, about creation. The process is far more satisfying than the end result. Sure, a photo-realistic drawing may wow the crowds, but there's nothing quite like the feeling of having built something totally and completely by myself, without the use of drawing aids or parlor tricks, no matter how crappy the end result may be. I'm prouder of my crappy lunch break napkin sketches than any of the other drawings I did during my Norman Rockwell wannabe phase:
That's why comic book artists like Alex Ross, and to a lesser extent, Adam Hughes never really appealed to me. I mean, I love their work. How can anyone say it doesn't look fantastic? But to me, deep down, I know that all they're really doing is copying photos.