Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Using photographs as reference tools

Last month I talked about how tracing photographs for your paintings is just a form of imitation rather than interpretation. Having said that does not mean I do not use pictures as reference tools because I do. While drawing and/or painting from real life is always the best approach, we are often limited to what we have at our disposal and must rely on photographs for reference.

For instance, a friend of mine is creating a logo for her daughter’s company. She’s chosen to draw a dragon fly for the graphic image. Not many of us have dragon flies hovering around our backyards at this time of year and even if we did, it would be extremely difficult to get the fine detail you want to draw a good representation of the insect. This is when a photo comes in handy.

Since there are copyright issues when you use someone’s photograph, you can’t just go up to the Internet and download a picture to use as a reference. Even though it seems like you should; you can’t. Photographers’ works are protected by the same copyright laws that writers and other artists enjoy. The moment a photographer shoots a picture, it’s hers and you need permission to use the photo for anything. See for more detail on copyright issues.

One way to insure that you aren’t using a copyrighted piece is to download from sites that allow artists to use photos for their creative endeavors without any infringement,  like or The other way is to take the photographs yourself, if you're able to do so. Here are some hints for taking your own photos:

    1. Since I use a point and shoot digital camera, I take lots and lots of photos. When I was in Venice in 2007, I must have shot 700 in one afternoon. My thinking is that (a) it’s not costing a ton since I’m not using film, (b) my only limitation is the capacity of my memory chip and (c) I may never be here again. So I take as many photos as I want and what I don't want later, goes straight to the trash bin.
    2. In keeping with my photography frenzy, I take a shot from every angle. If you’re shooting a building, point the camera: up, down, sideways, upside down, to the right, to the left, with people, without people, up close, far away. Go for it―you never know, maybe you can find the beginnings of an abstract.

    3. Consider your lighting. If you're shooting in the morning, why not go back in the afternoon or evening and shoot the same object again to see how things change, especially color and tone.

    4. Take vertical and horizontal shots, even when it doesn’t make sense; it may add interest to your painting once you’re in your studio.

    5. Shoot a panoramic view by taking pictures that overlap each other.

    Some ideas when you're in your studio.

    1.  Watch those shadows. Although they look black they probably aren’t. Photos are notorious for distorting colors and shadows. Sooooo, if you haven’t made on-site color notes, think about what you want the painting to look like--in other words interpret what you’re seeing. The shadows are usually the color's darkest dark, such as dark red (almost brown) for an apple, dark, dull yellow on lemons, etc. I often put my photo into
    Picasa and lighten it. This also helps to see stuff in the shadow that may be eluding you.

    2. Perspective can become eschewed in photos. If you can, create a horizon line and vanishing point. Then test to make sure your vanishing lines are accurate.

    3 Don’t be a slave to the photo. You
    can change the design. If you have some flowers you don’t like in the photo, change them or eliminate them. If you think adding something will enhance the painting or drawing, then put it in—maybe even another reference photo.

    4. Remember to use the reference photo as a place to launch your ideas--exact replication of a photo often creates a lifeless work of art. Put life into your work by using the photo as an inspiration, then put a part of you in the painting or drawing.
    5. And finally, feel free to try different directions. Recently I had a student who was going to paint a cat from a photograph and she said, “He's going to be purple cat.” She really jumped off that photo and created one heck of a cat, purple and all. Well done!
Travel Sketching Opportunities in 2012
Right now the Mediterranean cruise is the only firm travel sketching trip. The rest that are listed below have not been set in stone. I'm actually seeing how many people are interested in taking the trips. So if something below catches your eye, send me a note at 

San Francisco
President's Day Weekend
February 17-20
Come visit San Francisco and sketch Fisherman's Wharf, Pier 39, Ghiradelli Square, The Haight, Union Square, Golden Gate Park, plus more. We'll stay at Hotel Tomo that is a perfect place for artistic inspiration and centrally located for many of our stops. We'll use public transportation (bus) for the entire four days.
Workshop fee: $199
More details coming soon!

Mediterranean Cruise 
April 22-28
Cruise: $749; workshop fee $600
Room for three more students

Acrylics Painting Retreat
Memorial Day Weekend
May 25-28
Spend the weekend with paintbrush in hand, learning some new techniques in acrylics--from using the medium like watercolor to heavy impasto work. A fun weekend filled with lots of fun, laughter and cheer. 
Workshop fee: TBD
Place to be determined either coast or mountains

North to Alaska Cruise
August 31-September 7
Spend a week exploring Alaska, including a night in Victoria, B.C. We stop at Ketchikan, Juneau,Tracy Fjord and Skagway. We'll sketch all sorts of local scenery and people, while honing our photography skills as well. And the best part is all your meals are included and you're treated like royalty. A trip that's awe inspiring and all for less than a hotel and meals on the Coast.

Cruise: $799; workshop fee $300
See Celebrity for details on cruise

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