Painting From a Photo

In the beginning god created Adam and many artists start by creating art from a photo. We see something in a magazine or from a previous pic we’ve taken. We search and search for that perfect composition. Let’s face it, we can rarely go on location to take or sketch our masterpiece. And that’s fine. It’s a starting point. But many beginners take it too literally. I want to give a few pointers that may be helpful when approaching a piece this way.

Once you find what you think is that perfect pic, really look at it. What drew you to it? Was it the color, composition, style, line, subject, etc. ? If it’s color then you know what palette you want to use. Whatever the reason this should give you direction for your work. Why do you want to recreate this particular scene?

Composition is always important. It’s what takes us into, around, and through your work and hopefully keeps us there for more than 5 seconds. I must say, nature has done an amazing job creating but sometimes a tree or house or whatever is not in the right place. As an artist we have options in order to correct and improve the scene. Few photos have perfect composition unless taken by a professional photographer and even then you may want to change the photo to make it your own.

Make sure the dimensions of your photo is the same as the canvas you’re using. Different dimensions will definitely mess up your chance of success. It changes the composition and that’s never a good thing. If you’re determined to use another dimension, I strongly encourage you to do many value sketches before starting the canvas. ( Remember value is how light or dark an object is. So a value sketch is done in a gray scale.)

We do not want our work to look like a photograph unless you’re doing a photo-realistic work. We do not want to create each leaf and blade of grass. Relax. Pretend you’re looking at your work from a distance. ( Squint your eyes and paint different values of your palette.)

Here is a still life I set up and photographed. I love flowers and the colors. But there are many things about this picture I don’t like. The flowers are not placed correctly in the photo. And there are objects in the photo that take away from the composition. The keys and stray papers do not help this pic. There’s lots to adjust.

Here is the final picture. You can see I’ve made adjustments to the original pic. The placement of the flowers as well as the arrangement of the flowers has been altered to help the composition and interest.

I hope this has given you some help when creating art from a photo.

I would love to hear from you and any feedback you have on this topic or if you have questions on other challenges in your art.