Photographs are a wonderful tool for artists and have been used for well over a century. I’m teaching a class on painting from photographs and wanted to create a demonstration of how a photo can best be used.
I would guess that most artists who paint in a realistic manner use photos at least some of the time. I know that I have boxes of photos from years past when film was developed. Now, with digital cameras and phones, we have thousands of images available to us. Digital photos are also easy to use on a computer and crop or change as needed. I use an old laptop in my studio for this purpose.
For some reason, some artists seem to be ashamed of using photos but I consider them just another tool. I always paint still lifes from real life but might take some photos of flower bouquets to save for future reference. And I love plein air painting so most of my landscapes are painted from life. However, I take plenty travel photos for later use. I also participate in life drawing studios which is great for building hand/eye coordination, but many figure paintings are from photos. And it goes without saying that I only paint from my own photos; never from commercial or other pictures which could violate copyright laws.
We haven’t had much snow here yet this winter but we had a couple of inches a few weeks ago. I took the dog for a walk in the woods and the snow made the beeches really stand out. Beech trees are native to this part of the country but we don’t have many on our property. They make pretty good firewood and were chopped down long ago (before our time). However, we’ve noticed a resurgence of beech trees since we moved here over thirty years ago. They hold their leaves over the winter so the orangey color contrasts nicely with the snow.
As you can, my original photo was wider than the format I chose (16 x 20) so I cropped it to a more interesting composition. I divided my canvas into thirds each way (nine squares) and drew directly on canvas with a brush loaded with a darkish color. The canvas had been primed in red.
I usually start with the darks and then add the midtones and then the lights, starting at the top of the canvas. As I was painting, I realized that the painting was a bit drab with the overcast sky and muted shadows. Although the beech trees gave it some color, I want to put more oomph into it.
Therefore, I decided to make it a sunny day and added some sunlight streaking in from the right, with a brighter sky and some clouds behind the distant trees. This defined the path through the woods much better. I added some sunlight on a few of the trees to bring them out more. Ah, it’s great to be an artist and to change the world to suit myself!
The point here gets back to what I said at the beginning of the post. A photograph is a tool. It’s the artist’s job to use what we can, to add more or to change whatever we want. I certainly think the sunlit painting has much more appeal than the original photo. What do you think?