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Painting from photographs is OK!

I have a number of artist friends who think that a real artist (pronounced artiste with a French accent) doesn’t paint from photographs.  One should only paint pleine air, or from a model or still life set up. Photographs don’t convey enough information; real life is so much richer.  While true, this is often beside the point.

Sometimes, all you have time for is a quick, hopefully in focus, photo.  Getting my husband to slow down while driving to Fairway enough for me to snap a quick photo of some interesting rocks is hard enough. Just picture my trying to get him to stop long enough for me to actually paint them … ain’t gonna happen.

Artists also often object to paintings based on photographs because the camera has already provided the composition, value (light and dark) and color judgments. According to them, the artist who paints from photographs is simply copying the photograph. I beg to differ on this point as well.

Let’s look at some examples.

On our recent trip to China, I took a lot of photographs of the karst formations along the Li and Yangtze rivers.  Painting  from those photos will consume me for months. So far, one photo has generated three different paintings (and a fourth in the works). Although you can clearly see the connection, the paintings are nothing like copies of the photo.

First the photo (which I have already turned upside down and cropped):

Karst photo

Karst photo

Now, here are the paintings.  My first quick sketch …

Karst II

Karst II

And my next two paintings:

Karst III

Karst III

Karst IV

Karst IV

I rest my case.  Although you can see the connections to the photo, these are obviously not copies of the photo. I keep moving the pieces around, varying the sizes and shapes and colors and value. And without the photo, I wouldn’t remember enough to even start a painting, let alone finish more than one.  The photo reminds me of what I loved about the Li River cruise and the paintings are my way of cementing that memory and paying tribute to that trip.

How do you feel about working from photographs?

Posted by ruthhurd on November 6, 2013

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