Painting from life is important, it forces your concentration and helps you to improve your seeing skills. Painting is all about observation, there are so many hidden colors in the objects we look at everyday. Live set ups also improve an artist’s ability to capture perspective, proportion and form and value more accurately. It’s more difficult to paint from life than from photographs, but that is why it is so important to do it as often as possible–your skills won’t improve if you don’t challenge yourself.
I do just about all of my classroom demos from live set ups. My urban landscape paintings are generally done from sketches and photos I’ve taken on location, but my work on these types of still life studies greatly helps me when I am working on urban landscapes. I don’t feel compelled to mirror the colors as I see them in a photograph, instead, I use color expressively. In order to do that though, you have to have a good understanding of how color works in the real world. By studying objects that are in front of you, instead of relying on the color in photos, you become more aware of the subtleties and nuances in all kinds of surfaces. This allows you to be freer and more creative when you are using a photo for reference. We should always remember that a photo is not something to copy, rather, it is a departure point, a visual notation that reminds us of what it is that we find interesting about a place and time.