Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Shall We Paint From Photographs?

Since I'm known as an outdoor painter, I am often asked if I ever paint from photographs. I would love to be able to say, "no, I only paint from life", but that would simply not be true. I am a busy person with a busy schedule and don't have the privilege of devoting all my daytime hours to painting. I paint around teaching, family needs and housekeeping. HOWEVER, other than teaching, the rest of my activities remain as flexible as my painting schedule so that I can devote as much prime time to painting as possible. I have to say here that I have an understanding and encouraging spouse that is supportive of my work. He encourages me rather than discourages. I appreciate him very much.

So, back to photography. What part does it play in the scope of my painting?

When I am on location, I always carry a digital camera with me. I photograph what I am painting plus other interesting things in the area. However, I NEVER take snapshots. They are a total waste of time. My photos are carefully taken with the idea of a painting. In other words, I look for line and shapes that converge or are in juxtaposition of one another creating interesting compositions. I take time to frame the subject as though I were setting up a painting. Back in the studio I download the photos, review what I have and delete anything that is not usable. I hold very high standards for what I keep and what is pitched. Since I photograph often it is easy for me to be heartless in sorting and deleting. If you take only a few photos each one becomes precious to you and you don't feel so casual about dumping them. As a result, my repertoire of photos to work from are excellent.

This said I must add that I do not in any way consider myself a photographer. Excellent well composed reference shots are my goal, not award winning photographs.

I use my photos in two ways. They are references for subject matter or I may review groups of photos of a possible painting site to help establish a loose plan of what I may want to do once I get on location. For instance,a place where I paint often offers a lot of subject matter. There are hills with views that can be painted as vistas, cropped into smaller areas, or moved into for intimate looks. By reviewing my photos ahead of time I'm able to focus more time on painting rather than "looking".

Currently, it's winter and I am looking at my warm weather photos from last year and visualizing some of the paintings I would like to do in the coming season. This visualizing stirs my creative juices and keeps me excited about the season to come. I'm already planning on a 30x40" that I want to do come spring from on top of a hill overlooking a marshy pond with a woodsy background. I've found that some of my best work comes from those pieces I've mentally visualized for months prior to ever picking up a brush. I go there now in winter to see the abstracted view of the scene, ie: the evident contrasts between light snow and dark vegetation areas. This simplifies and makes more obvious the shapes to be added into my painting when later in the year everything is all "green".

When working from photos, I never "copy". I use the photos as references while establishing the painting but normally put the photos away once I'm into the painting process. When in the studio, I want to create a painting, in other words, express my feeling about a place not copy it. I already have a copy....the photograph.

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