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Sunday, January 08, 2012

Painting from Photos ....Good or Bad?

'Sanibel Surprise' 8x10 pastel ©Karen Margulis SOLD
Painting from reference photos isn't always bad. We often are told that it isn't a good idea to paint from photos. The key to a successful painting is to understand the limitations of photos. It also helps if you make time to paint outdoors or from life. Then you will better understand when the photo isn't accurate. I use photos to inspire me. I only use my own photos because I have a personal connection to the scene. Looking at the photo brings me back to the place and I can interpret the photo based on the feelings I had when I was there. I don't ever copy a photo. I like to pick and choose the elements that I think will make a good painting. I am not afraid to move things, change lighting, change colors. Because I like to work this way, one photo can inspire many paintings. Below is the reference photo for today's painting. Read on to see what I decided to change:




  • The lighting in the photo is flat and uninteresting. I decided to change the time of day to make it late afternoon with warmer light on the distant beach and the foreground in the shadows.
  • The beach grasses and plants are very busy and detailed equally from the foreground to the background so I simplified them and only painted some details. Leave something to the viewer's imagination.
  • In the photo, the green foliage/bushes are the same color and value from front to back so to create some depth I made the distant greens a bit cooler.
  • The Sky in the photo is blah so I changed it and emphasized more wispy clouds.
  • I chose not to add the palm frond on the right in the photo. There isn't enough information and it is distracting.If an element in the photo doesn't add anything to the painting....leave it out.
  • I only put in a few sea oat and really only hinted at them with a few broken lines. It is so easy to over do the grasses and sea oats and you end up with a fence. Less is more is something I try to remember.
This painting is on the new Canson Touch paper. Look for my review next week!

2 comments:

Sue Comtois said...

Thanks very much for the "art lesson." I paint using water soluble oils, so I'm always looking for bits of advice and, particularly, explanations of *why* something works or why it's best avoided.

(BTW, I loved your selection of favorite paintings for the year. They were all lovely.)

Karen said...

Thank you Sue! I appreciate you visiting my blog. Keep coming back for more lessons! I am trying to incorporate more information on my techniques into my posts!
Thanks!