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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Simple Approach for Using Reference Photos in Painting

'A Colorful Hillside'            8x10         pastel        ©Karen Margulis
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 I'd like to chime in on a recent discussion online regarding artists being copiers.  Specifically when it comes to copying reference photos. The majority of my work is done from reference photos.  I am well aware of the pitfalls of using photos so I work hard at using them to help my paintings rather than hinder them.

 I don't ever want to copy a photos no matter how much I like it! And I encourage the same for my students.

I am always looking for ways to allow me to use my photos to help me interpret the scene rather than make a copy of it.  For example I will only use photos I take myself. I actually prefer bad photos since they give me freedom to make the painting better than the bad photo.  I like to print out my photos on regular printer paper....again making them less precious and easier to make changes.

Lately I have been using a new way of working with photos. I learned about it at an IAPS demo with Marla Baggetta.  She paints from the tiny photos on a contact sheet!  I think this is genius!  What a wonderful way to force you to interpret a photo and be more expressive.  You cannot see the details in a tiny photo so you aren't really able to copy the photo!

My painting along with the reference photo
Most photo programs will allow you to print a contact sheet. I use iphoto and I am able to choose 12 photos and they print all on one page. (a great paper saver as well)  When I scan this sheet of tiny photos I can immediately see the photos that have good painting possibilities. I can only see the big shapes, interesting lights and darks, interesting color notes. But no fussy details!

If you are looking for a simple way to help you be more expressive in using your photos then try using tiny contact photos!  Thanks Marla for the great tip!


Marian Fortunati said...

Great ideas, Karen... I never use good paper to print photos and often print them small, but haven't tried the contact photos or thumbnails. Really a good idea to force us to use our artistry rather than copy a photo.
My favorite painting of a family member was done because I didn't come prepared to a class having forgotten to bring reference photos. I was forced to use my cell phone photo... tiny... It worked well for me... forced me to invent quite a bit which made the painting more "painterly".

Karen said...

Great idea to use your phone photos Marian! I'll have to try that! Thanks for sharing!

Sea Dean said...

Great tips Karen and Marian. I also use poor photos so I can embellish. I find if I use detailed photos my work gets too fussy. When I take reference photos I set the camera to a small size so I don´t use much memory and it is less detailed.

Anonymous said...

This sounds like a great idea!

robertsloan2art said...

This is so true! Back when I was a street portrait pastelist, I used to sometimes have clients come up and give me a spouse's driver's license to paint from. I knew I had to get the likeness without copying the photo. Or they'd want their uncle who wasn't there and stood fourth in the back in a group family snapshot with his face 1/4" tall if that big.

Yet I managed to get those likenesses. Little photos give you all the detail you need for a painting, especially in pastels.

I don't use a film camera, I use my iPhone. But I can always look at my photos right on the phone for the sight of them on a small screen, same thing.