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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Breaking Free From Reference Photos

'Daisies on My Mind'           11x14         pastel       ©Karen Margulis
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I had a revelation this week!  It has to do with using photos for painting reference.  I paint from photos most of the time and since I teach in the studio rather than plein air....my students also paint from photos.  Unfortunately using photos tends to create many problems.  Photos have issues and when we use them we often just transfer these issues into our paintings. (more later)

I always encourage students to use photos they have taken themselves!

It is my mission to help students to use photos for inspiration and not to rely so heavily on them. One of the things I am trying is blocking in a painting without the photo using only the black and white thumbnail. This usually elicits a collective groan from the students. How could they start a painting without the photo!!   But this week one student made an important point. He stated that he wouldn't be able to start the painting without the photo because  he wouldn't know what the place looked like. (it was one of my landscape photos)

Great point. And the perfect reason why we need to use our own reference photos.  It is very hard to paint a scene that you haven't visited yourself. If you use someone else's photo you have no personal connection. When you take the photo....you were there. You stood at that place and felt the air, smelled it, heard it. It becomes personal.  It will be much easier to paint it because it is in your mind. The photo is no longer a crutch because you are intimate with the place.

The first step in breaking free from photos is to use photos you have taken yourself!

Tomorrow I will share how I work with my photos. Today's daisy painting was done without the reference photo. I stood in that field of daisies and soaked it all in which allowed me to recall how it felt.


David King said...

Great post Karen, this is a point I often make myself, (though I have no students.). I honestly don't understand why anybody would want to paint something they have no personal connection with anyway. I'd go even a step further in that I usually try to paint something I have sketched before (usually pen and watercolor). One of my best paintings is based entirely on my memory and a sketch I did on location, (I had forgotten to pack the camera for that trip).

Arti said...

Great painting..I would love to know more about the use of photos- I use them all the time!

Karen said...

Thank you David! I agree with you about the sketching! One of my personal favorite paintings was done from I sketch and notes I took on a plein air trip. Thanks for sharing!

Karen said...

Thanks Arti! I plan to talk more about the use of photos!

Catherine said...

Hi Karen. I do agree with you so very much. I am starting to teach watercolour painting and am encouraging the same. I am also quite concerned about the copyright issues when students and fellow artists use other people's photos without permission. It seems to be a pervasive thing.
I would really like to see which picture you have referred to as "one of your personal favorites"! How can you pick just one? All of your paintings are my personal favourites?
P.S. My right arm has healed well enough to paint a little again! Yay! :)

Meredith Adler said...

Thanks, Karen. You keep hitting the nail on the head, writing exactly what I most need to read about. I can't wait to read more about using photos as inspiration!