Monday, February 14, 2011

photos and their use and misuse in creating art

10x10 pastel on somerset

I do not like to use photos to create my art. To me, they have no soul and I don't like their lies. Today I made an exception.... Let me explain. I am taking an online course, "painting water" with Deborah Paris. It began Friday. The first assignment was to do value drawings of water and reflections in the landscape. Normally I would go straight outside no matter what the temperature. Painting or drawing from a photo does nothing for me. But, as you know, that is not an option right now. (I guess this is another learning curve of sorts.) I am home bound and am fortunate to be doing what I am doing. So I chose a photo from my enormous library.

To paint from a photo or not to paint from a photo is a forever question with artists. I know many very talented artists who create gorgeous work using many photos as reference. In this way they are not painting the photo, instead they use the photo as inspiration.  Some copy directly...some even project the photo onto their canvas.
Why am I so anti- photo?

First, their values are not accurate. That little eye in the camera can not record what we can see. You need to make changes to have your painting / drawing read. I have attended painting competitions where it has been obvious a photo was used to create the painting. Perspective errors that weren't changed. Understanding of the subject as a 3d thing was not present. Values were too many and inaccurate..

You can not feel and taste light with photos.

A talented artist can make it happen. He/she uses the photo as inspiration, then discards it quickly into the painting.  Beautiful paintings are made. The main thing is you can't be a slave to it. Nor can you be a slave to your plein air studies as reference. I have seen other artists keep and correct up to the photo till the painting is "finished" never once think about what the painting wanted him/her to do.

Back to this drawing, I have struggled with it for 2 days. I want it to feel alive...maybe it is my prejudice. I will let you know as I go since to study reflections for this month I am stuck with photos.

Bottom line: Painting/drawing is about decision making and feeling. Once you understand what is before you (after years of practice) you decide how to make your work sing.
Paint and draw from life as much as you possibly can. There is no substitute.


brian eppley said...

Indeed. Even computer monitors show various renderings of the same piece. Nothing beats seeing them in person. Speaking of which, good luck with the waverly st. gallery show. I gotta get down there! Does it run the whole month?

loriann said...

Hi Brian! I knew that you would know. And yes the show is up for the month. If you come let me know, ok? If I can I would love to meet you.

B Boylan said...

What a timely account of painting from photos! Blah! I have to agree with you 100% on the photo thing. With the event of cold winter months, I am somewhat stuck with photos for reference.
But, with a bit of interpretation and experimentation, they can work out well...and I say this only because working from life is extremely important and allows for more artistic freedom from a photo.

Caroline said...

You could try doing what Maggie Latham does with photos, look carefully then turn the photo over. YOu can also make notes, say look at the photo, then quickly make a line sketch and write in light areas, dark, ripples etc. Do this very quickly and then turn the photo over. You can also do the memory thing too with a photo. Why not fill a large bowl with water and then place some stones in it, cast the lighting down in an interesting way. Use a fan to create ripples. If your heart is not in the photo thing then you just got to find a way to bring your reflections and your spirit together. Just capture the impression of it all, or you won't enjoy the course. I am gazing at Edward Wesson the watercolour artist's work he had a way of bringing great life into simple brush strokes. I have had a good day of many hours drawing but mostly from the imagination, I too find it impossible to work from a photo, though doing the Maggie thing really does give some interesting drawings!

loriann said...

Hi Brenda, In the right hands they can be used well. Personally I don't match up well with them, so when I had to use them to create this drawing I was frustrated...can you tell from my rant? i bet you can't wait for plein air season.

SamArtDog said...

Good rant! Your drawing is excellent and still is Exhibit #1 for making your point. It's too correct. The foreground uncomfortably pushes into MY space. What a lesson.

maybe said...

I'm appreciate your writing style.Please keep on working hard.^^

Anonymous said...

Hi Loriann,
You have three beautiful paintings hanging in the show-good luck. Working from photos? I have a lot of photos that i have shot over the years. I use them for compositional ideas and for sometimes for focusing in on details. Otherwise I find that for myself working from the photograph verbatim is so boring that it puts me to sleep. I would rather use the photo as a springboard and see where the painting takes me. I no longer take photos because as far as I know very few places process FLIM. It seems that it was only yesterday that those disposal cameras were for sale all over the place and having the flim developed was no problem. Supermarkets had drop off bins & there were one hour photo stores. Now everything is digital and I do not have the money to buy a really good camera, printer etc . Now instead of a camera and/or sketching or drawing plein air I just sketch or draw. In the long run its a better plan because it helps to develop the memory muscles .


Lisa Le Quelenec said...

As you say, 'To paint from a photo or not to paint from a photo is forever a question with artists.' I use photos sometimes, normally it's to check proportions of things like landmarks. I find that no matter how much I sketch on site there is usually something that I miss that I feel is vital when I get back to the studio to paint. Often it's the spaces inbetween landforms or the relationship between sections of an object that I feel I need to double check. That done it's put aside and I can move forward with the business of painting more confidently. After all it's all about the paint and hopefully the painting is more interesting than the photo ;o)

Taking a photo from the spot where I made the sketch is also useful for me to gauge my drawing at a later date. Sometimes the eye doesn't see what the camera does. I see photos as being an extension of my sketchbook, especially as it's not always possible to stop to draw. Sorry to ramble...

You could try making a landscape - twigs around the edge of a bowl of water with moss or sponge and then just painting the relection with nothing else? Scrunched tissue when you squint at it can look amazingly like rock. Of course you may get some odd looks if someone was to see you doing this.....but it could work.

Kim McCutcheon said...


I use photos all of the time as a springboard. I paint bridges so getting the personality of the bridge is what I use the photo for. Then, I invent the painting.
I make it a non-issue. Painting is painting. You are never painting what is in front of you, are you?
Have you ever read Pictorial Composition by Henry Rankin Poore?
Happy painting and recovering!

loriann said...

Hi Caroline, I do understand using a photo as a spring board (as Kim puts it) and I do see what Maggie does.I guess for now I need to find my way with this I discarded the photo right after I had the set up of the reflections. I understand most of what water does. I have decided there is something I am going to learn/stretch so I just need to get on with it. Moaning will do me no good. Sorry for putting you through my moan. Let's see what happens.
PS a photo is a very sorry substitute of life or memory...maybe that's all it is about.

loriann said...

Hi Sam, Interesting observation. You are always right on target. Keep painting from your soul, it's deep and rich.

Thanks maybe! I appreciate your comment. Come back and you'll see where I go.

Hi Lisa, I love your's and Caroline's idea of a "landscape indoors". For now I have decided that my challenge is to go forward and meet my challenge. Check back..there is definitely some kind of trip here.

Hi Kim, You are so right, we never do paint what's really in front of us that's why we create pictures. Interesting that you use a photo to get the essence of a bridge. i am use you have to correct the perspective problems in the photo for that is where i have seem many lies. I will be over to visit your site! how exciting! Thanks for adding your two cents!