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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Interpreting a Reference Photo

'Walking in a Winter Wonderland'          9x12           pastel          ©Karen Margulis
I have taken over 30,000 photos in the last few years. That is a lot of reference material. As much as I love painting on location most of my work is done from my photos.  I use them strictly for inspiration. My goal is to make the painting more interesting and have more feeling than the photo.

In today's post I would like to take you through my thought process for this winter forest painting. What   were the things I considered when interpreting the photo? How did I decide what to leave out and what to add?  My reference is a quick photo I took on a walk through the Chicago Botanic Garden during an early November snowfall. It was cold so I just took quick photos.  I hope you enjoy a look inside my interpretation process!

my reference photo

  • I decided my concept for the painting was the idea of walking in a winter wonderland of beautiful trees and a gentle snowfall.
  • I loved the stand of evergreens in the foreground against the snow and purples of the distant tree line. The evergreen trees were my star. I didn't copy them exactly as they were in the photo but I reminded myself to make sure the trunks were not too regular and that the intervals between them were uneven and interesting.
  • I decided to eliminate the foreground brush and simplify it into some dark snow covered shapes. Why? There is a half-bush in the foreground so I would need to put more of it in the picture or eliminate it. I decided to eliminate it and simplify all of the other 'stuff'.
  • There is some red stuff in the foreground which I eliminated. The red wouldn't make sense in that spot. It would be too isolated and would draw the eye away from my trees. I liked the red so  instead I decided to add a touch of Burgundy/red to the tree trunks.
  • The sky in my photo was white and boring. I decided to make it pale blue with a touch of pale yellow. Why? Because I want to! And also because these colors were closer to what I remember. The photo overexposed the lights. I added these colors to my snow to unify my colors and make my ground relate to my sky.
  • In the photo there is a frozen pond. I actually didn't see it with my glasses off so I made the whole area just snow. (I paint without glasses) I like it better as all snow. It makes a more simple statement.
  • The snow covered ground in the photo is all one value/shade of white. I know that aerial perspective would change the way we see the color. In the painting I make the distant snow a dull rosy pink and the brighter snow is saved for the mid to foreground.  I also decided to put the immediate foreground in shadow so I needed to make my snow blue in theses shadowed areas.
  • It had stopped snowing when I took the photo but since I was there I remembered the snow. I decided to add the snowfall to the painting. This was my emotional response to the scene.
This painting is 9x12 on gray Canson Mi-Teintes paper with Terry Ludwig and Diane Townsend pastels.

In my Winter pastel classes we will be focusing on composition and how to take and use reference photos more effectively. I still have a couple of openings. Please email me if interested.


Reverend Cooper said...

Good post, Karen, Thank you

robertsloan2art said...

Thank you! I loved getting a glimpse into your process for interpreting the painting. I thought I saw the frozen pond in the middle ground, maybe you put it in without realizing it - it just looked like snow drifted over it and it was greenish under the snow. when I looked at the photo it was the same area I thought it was.

So I guess when you're painting impressionist, things are there even if you don't notice them! It fit in beautifully, and I can see why it looked like just more snow.

Gorgeous painting and really interesting photo. I think you outdid the photo with the painting by so much!