I thought I’d share another lesson from the class that I’m teaching about painting from photographs. Frankly, this process can be as complicated or as simple as you want to make it.
In this example, I have a real photo – you know, the printed kind – from a biking trip that I took through Provence, France many years ago. I like to browse through the old photos and inevitably I see a new subject that I overlooked before. In this case, I remember exactly how I felt cruising through the olive groves when I passed this old stone church one morning.
The original photo included more subject matter than I wished to include in my painting so I cropped it to fit my canvas size. This is easy to do if it is a digital photo, but in this case with a real picture, I used paper L-shaped pieces to manipulate the photo (not shown here.) I don’t usually need to do this anymore since I’ve been painting for so many years but it’s a good hack for new painters.
For the purpose of the class, I actually scanned the photo and used these images to demonstrate.
I divided the selected picture area into thirds each way and then placed the church on one of the intersections. This generally makes a nicely balanced composition.
The prior week we had discussed NOTAN – the theory of making your image extreme black and white in order to seek balance in the composition. Here, I manipulated the image by computer to show a high contrast in black and white which is essentially NOTAN. Here is a link to a very good explanation of NOTAN by artist Mitchell Albala.
I then showed a regular black and white photo to the class so they could get an idea of the values. Again, you can use the trick of a piece of red gel to get the same effect. (Click here to see an earlier post about using red gel.)
The next step was to demonstrate to the class my procedure for painting the scene in color. In oil or acrylic, one usually starts with the darks and works towards the light. Watercolor usually proceeds the opposite way with laying in the lights (or reserving the lights) and adding more and darker color as the painting progresses. There are several demonstrations of both of these methods under the tab Artworks at the top of the page.
The takeaway here is that composition can be enhanced for using old photos as painting materials by manipulating the size and shape of the photos, taking care of the placement of the center of interest, and selecting pleasing balance and contrasts of lights and darks.