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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Finding the Right Reference Material for Painting

'Wandering'          12x18                pastel            ©Karen Margulis
painting available here $165 
 I used to spend hours on what should have been a simple task. Finding and preparing my reference photos for my paintings was a process. First I would spend hours going through online sources. I used the Wet Canvas Reference Image Library. Then I would narrow it down to a few and print them out....at least 5x7 on photo paper. They had to be big so I could see the details.

Not anymore. Not only did I waste ink and paper printing out large photos, I did myself a disservice. I wasn't painting things that meant anything to me. I was painting things that looked nice or looked easy enough for a beginner. My paintings lacked something....they lacked Me!  I now work only from my own reference photos and my paintings have become my own.

I encourage my students to work from their own photos but the biggest question I get from them is "How do I know what to take pictures of?" Great question for all of us who work from photos and the answer requires some contemplation on our part.

My tiny reference photo and the underpainting....alcohol wash
It seems like the answer is easy. Just go out and take pictures of things you like. First you really have to figure out what you do like. You may have a lot of different subjects that intrigue you. But stop and think about what really gets you excited.....when you see it you immediately want to paint it. It doesn't have to be a thing, it can be a quality or maybe a certain mood. It can be intangible but you need to identify what that something is.

The things that cause us to stop and pause are a clue to our passions. These are the things we will paint the best. These are the things we should look for when collecting reference photos.  Here is a good rule of thumb.....if something makes you stop, if it makes you smile,  take a picture if you can...or remember it and sketch it. Try to record it and take note. These are clues to our personal vision. Gather these clues and use them when you paint.  Here is a quote that reminds me to do this:

"The things you are passionate about are not random, they are your calling"
                Fabienne Fredrickson

Some artists prefer to work only from life. I do as well but I also enjoy working from my photos. I remind myself that they are clues. They are not meant to be copied. In this way they help me. I took many liberties with today's painting. The photo reminded me of things I liked. I made the painting my own.


robertsloan2art said...

Oh, I can see the advantage of this, no question. At least now I do have a good digital camera on my Kindle, so my florals are mostly from the clinic garden which has a lot of variety and color to it.

I'd love to expand that to taking my own zoo photos too, but for the most part I have to settle for memories. In three years I made it out to Golden Gate Park once to paint outdoors. I can't wait for the day I get to sketch at a zoo but I will probably spend that entire day in the Big Cat house so it'll be a good thing I go alone. I have never met anyone else who'd want to spend the entire day at the cat house.

Lynn Norton said...

I agree with Robert. I tend to travel with my husband (a non-artist), so photos are best on these occasions. When walking in the Alps, I could spend ages on one view, turn around and find another one directly behind me - he would never stand for that! Enjoy the cat house! I'm off later this spring to a local zoo to do the big cats and also the collection of amazing birds they have....by myself, of course!