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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

A Key Tip for Painting from Reference Photos

'Sea of Poppies'        9x12               pastel            ©Karen Margulis
available   $165

I love painting from photos.  Most of my paintings are done from reference photos.  I do love to paint from life but I am not a plein air purist. I rely on photos.  I  see students struggle with their paintings and most of the time part of the problem is caused by the reference photo....relying too much on the photo for their painting decisions.

Have you ever heard yourself saying "I put 'x' in the painting because it was like that in the photo"?  

Photos have their own issues and if we copy what we see in the photo we often create problems in our paintings...color, value, composition problems are easily transferred if we try too hard to paint what we see in the photo.  Read on for my tip for avoiding this potential problem.

My demo board for the video


Think of your photos as if they were video thumbnails. You look at a photo which is simply a moment frozen in time. You took the photo so you were there. You experienced the scene with all of your senses. If you look at the photo you can turn on the video....replay the scene. Try to remember the colors you saw, the interesting shapes, the sounds, the warm or the cool, the breeze, the smells. Allow the photo to take you back. 

Now when you are ready to paint look at the photo and  try to pull out the things that you recall. These are the things you want to put in the painting. Everything else isn't as important. Allow yourself to simplify or rearrange the elements in the photo to best express your scene.

 How did I use this tip for today's painting?

My reference photo
  • I took the photo of these poppies early in the summer. They were in the median of a busy highway. I had to stoop down low to get the road out of the photo!
  • I looked at the photo and I replayed the video in my head. I felt the breeze. I smelled the grass. I remember crouching down to frame the flowers. I was there!! 
  • When it was time to paint I looked at the shapes of the trees and hills and decided how to rearrange them to make an interesting composition. I pulled out some of the color I saw and enhanced it. I changed the orientation of the composition. 
  • I put the photo aside and allowed the painting to develop from my memory. I made it personal and not a copy of a photo.

You can see this video demo on my Patreon page this week.

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