Let’s Get Real

Art is very much about “finding” ourselves. We have to explore a lot of things, I think, before we can truly know who we are as artists and how we can best approach the creative process. It takes a while. Like Meriweather Lewis and William Clark, American explorers from the early days of our nation, we have to set out on our own “Journey of Discovery”, traversing a broad landscape, encountering both friend and foe, and learning at each step along the way.

In the past, I’ve had a bit of a “try anything” attitude when it comes to art. I’ve often jumped in to projects and challenges only to realize later that it just wasn’t “my thing”. Now, as I become both older and wiser, I’ve learned that “discovery” is not only about finding what is valuable but also about recognizing what’s not. Exploration is a process of digging up treasure and discarding dross.

Finding our own style in art is a two-part process, I’ve come to realize. It’s as important for me to know who I am NOT as it is to see who I am, or at least, who I aspire to be.

I can say with absolute confidence that I am not and never will be a “realistic” painter. Hyper-realism? Interesting, yes, and I toyed with the idea of learning more about it. In the end, though, I know it’s not a skill I want to develop and certainly not a style I want to incorporate into my art.

For what it’s worth, “realism” comes in various varieties. All artists, I believe, can benefit from learning basic realism — proper drawing, shading, and blending techniques. A good reference for improving these important skills is Drawing for Beginners: How to Draw and Shade for Realism by Jasmina Susak. An element of realism is important in any representational art we do, and basic drawing skills are foundational for art.

If you’re already a bit beyond beginner, you might find another book by Susak to be helpful for additional improvement. How to Draw with Photorealism: Drawing and Shading Techniques – Beginner to Advanced takes pencil drawing to the next level of realism. She presents a lot of drawing exercises and provides a lot of helpful information about pencils and papers. To my eye, her drawings aren’t as “photorealistic” as some, but as I’ve said before, there are different levels within the scope of realism in art.

Of course, realism is found not only in drawing but also in painting, and if you’re interested in developing skills in this area, you might want to check out Exploring Hyperrealism: Drawing and Painting Techniques by Marti Cormand. It’s at this point that I bow out. While hyperrealism is mind-blowing, it’s simply not for me.

For the truly hard-core realists, Mark Crilley offers The Realism Challenge: Drawing and Painting Secrets from a Modern Master of Hyperrealism. The sales blurb for the book starts right off with the question, “Are you up for the challenge?” I can quickly reply, “No,” and leave it at that. But if you’re interested in learning hyperrealism, you might find a lot of good information in Crilley’s book. A look at the Contents page reveals chapters on Simulating Shadows, Adding Color, Advanced Surfaces, Transparent Objects, Metallic Surfaces, and Manufactured Objects. Not for me, but maybe just what you’re looking for.

I’m content to deal with representation rather than realism in both my drawings and my paintings. I want viewers of my art to know what they see, but I also want viewers to quickly see that they’re looking at a painting, not a photograph. I want viewers to see brushstrokes, splotches of color, and other elements that differentiate painting from photography.

Richard Estes

Perhaps the greatest master of hyperrealism is Richard Estes whose works focus mainly on scenes of New York City. His art was the subject of “Actually Iconic: Richard Estes”, broadcast by PBS last year.  It’s an hour-long documentary, definitely worth watching. While I don’t believe it’s available yet for online streaming, you can learn more about the program here, and you might find it at a film festival or rebroadcast on your local PBS station.

Note: The “featured image” for this post is one of his works — The Jones Diner in New York City.

There are many other artists who work in a hyperrealist style, and the link below will show you 40 works that will leave you in absolute wonderment. Well, that was my reaction, at least.

40 Hyper Realistic Artworks That Are Hard to Believe Aren’t Photographs

But let’s be realistic here — pun intended. Do we want to create artworks that can be mistaken for photographs? I suppose for some artists, that’s definitely the intent. I know from browsing various art groups, the comment, “Oh, I thought that was a photo!” is often taken as the highest form of praise. So, yes, there’s something to be said for realism.

I got that reaction once, with one of my earliest acrylic paintings, back when I was just beginning to explore acrylics and realism. Yeah, from a distance, if you’re not looking too closely, maybe it does resemble a photo of an actual tube of acrylic paint. It was an interesting artwork to create — part of an online lesson — and it alone was enough to convince me that this wasn’t the sort of painting I wanted to do.

Acrylic Paint – Acrylics on Canvas 9 x 12

Indeed, exploring ideas outside of our usual “comfort zones” can be exciting, but as we begin to find our own style, to know our personal “likes” and “dislikes” in the creative process, I think it’s better to stay close to what’s comfortable and familiar to us.

There’s nothing wrong about realism — hyper or otherwise — and if that’s what you choose to pursue, there are many helpful resources available. I’ve learned, though, that it’s not where I want to go with my art, so I’m happy to step back and watch others while I paint my loose, impressionist landscapes.

Indeed knowing who we are is important, and that includes knowing who we are not.


  1. When I check out what other artists have created, I must say I prefer good art. Good art can be found under many categories.
    I didn’t know hyperrealism exited until I relocated from Europe to Canada in 2004. For many decades I had assumed and I actually was always told back then that the worst ever is trying to copy a photography. I didn’t even have any camera until 15 years ago. Therefore, I was doing drawing and painting for many years without any need for a photo. Sure, you can only paint what you see that, not like legs of a fly and similar things.
    I prefer somewhat realistic paintings with a dose of artist s own input which is what I do.
    I have seen excellent abstract works also, but few, way fewer than there are on the internet.
    For me personally, that’s too simple, too less challenge, but other artists implement nice concepts and ideas, so, it’s fine.
    I like looking at hyperrealism works, but since I paint and draw from real things I won’t be creating hyperrealism works.
    I still think art is more than reality.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “Art is more than reality.” Yes! What a beautiful statement. It sums up quite nicely how art includes so many other things — thoughts, emotions, moods, atmosphere. Thank you so much for sharing your experience of art.

      Liked by 1 person

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