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Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Important of Reference Photos

'Heavenly Peace'.            9x12             pastel                  ©Karen Margulis    
available $165  
There is a bit of a controversy among some artists. It involves the use of photos for painting reference material. Some purists feel that the artist must always paint from life. Photos are unacceptable. Other have no problem at all with using photos. I fall in the middle. I do use photos for 95%of my work but it is my time spent painting from life that helps me interpret my photos.

I recently read an interview with Albert Handell on the Oil Painters of America blog.  Something he said resonated with me. This is also how I feel about working from photos.

" Yes, I paint from photographs. But the painting does not look like the photograph,  yet, there is no painting without the photograph. So what’s happening? I think the photographs touch something inside of me,  which awakens and inspires me…".  Albert Handell

Photos are the same for me. They touch me and they bring forward the memories of the place and time represented in the photo. I am then able to tap into those memories which help me paint with passion, interpreting what I remember rather than copying everything in the photo. 

Photos can be useful if you give yourself permission to make the changes needed to tell the story you remember. But it is important that you only use YOUR OWN photos. And that is a topic for another post!

the small dark reference photo
TIP:  In teaching workshops I have discovered that one of the biggest problems artists have with painting struggles can be traced back to choosing the wrong photo. While I give myself permission to make changes to my photos I have a rule of thumb.......if I have to change more than 3 things then the photo probably isn't a good reference.  I will cover this in much more detail on my Patreon Page as part of our January topic of study!

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njart73 said...

Hi Karen,
I enjoy your blog and find it very inspiring. I use my photographs as a starting point. I approach the photo as if I were outside making any changes that I want to. As the painting continues I let the painting tell me what it needs. Sometimes I may "follow" the photo more closely in one painting then in another I will put it aside after starting. I paint from memory, my photos, { cell phone cameras are addictive} & outdoor studies. I have found that engaging the landscape outside is very important. It doesn't matter whether one takes out a full painting kit, a pad & some pencils or a cell phone camera. Whatever is observed is drawn upon when painting. That is important because as you had noted photos do leave out some pertinent information regarding light & shadows. However one decides this issue, no photos or using them it is up to the artist. It does not really matter how one starts it is where they end up. Besides with the rise of lyme and other tick borne diseases photos can be a tremendous asset in gathering information & ideas from areas that may not be safe to venture into.

Vanessa said...

I find it truly depends on the subject matter. I use photo references often especially for portraits or those with figures. I find that they help you to maintain proportions, scale etc. And where form is important they are great for analyzing light sources and shadows. For me the challenge over time has been knowing where and when to depart from the photo. But I think that’s something we learn over time as we build our confidence and style.

Landscape painters seem to master this so well. Often when I look at your photo references Karen it’s hard to believe that was the reference you used because you’ve transformed it so beautifully!