How to choose which reference photo to paint from – in double quick time
It’s not always possible to paint from life. Sometimes weather, time, opportunity or circumstance mean it’s simply not going to be an option.
I paint interior scenes from old stately homes. The owners are often kind enough to allow me access on quiet days but traipsing in with my easel and paints.. not so much. So one solution is to take reference photos to work from later.
As artists we can build up a lot of reference photos. They grow in the dark of our computers and if left alone I’m quite sure they breed.
The process of choosing which image to paint can be… well let’s say arduous. It can suck up time and leave us in a fog of inertia. We can scroll endlessly through images, eventually giving up, all the energy gone.
So, here’s my top tips.. most of which I actually do.
The first time you load images onto your computer remove any that are obviously no good – stop fooling yourself, you know you’ll never get back to doing it!
Put them into folders. Maybe by year or month or by subject or the place you took them. So long as you have a basic system that will help you find them again.
When you sit down to select an image to paint, before you look at anything, have you something in mind to paint? Do have a particular size canvas prepared, do you need to complement an ongoing body of work, are you exploring a particular colour palette or idea? Yes? Then hold that thought as you browse. Try not to lose focus or you will be there for hours with nothing done. Be open to any image that appeals to you but keep in mind these questions.
- Do I want to paint this?
- Can I paint this?
- Is it suitable to paint this one now?
The real success of this strategy is to think about what you are looking for before you let all that visual eye candy cross your vision. Think of it like online dating! There’s lot’s to choose from but they’re not all ‘right’ for you or ‘right’ for you right now!
If you are open to ‘just going with the flow’ that can work well too but maybe set a timer to avoid losing a day to it!
4. Make a short list folder
As you see something that might be interesting, put it into a shortlist folder. Save and name this folder as you might want to revisit this folder another day.
5. Stop Looking
Once you have a number (you choose the number but no more than 10 ) of interesting images stop looking.
Go to the folder and choose one. Then edit that baby! We can’t all be fabulous photographers but you can do a lot to improve your photos with photo apps like Photoshop Elements (cheaper than the mighty photoshop) or free ones like Snapseed. Develop composition by using the crop feature, enhance lighting and exposure. Balance colour and generally use the technology to help you develop your visual idea for the painting. You may need to work from several photos of the same scene. Finally, sketch it out before transferring your idea to canvas. If you need to abandon it, go back to the shortlist folder and choose another. Don’t start again at step one!
Don’t be afraid of commitment! Yes, there might be the perfect image somewhere else on your computer but if you don’t commit to one of them you might end up hours later with nothing to paint. Or worse, give up and go tidy the studio.
8. Get to work
Once you have chosen something then get to work cause we all know that’s where the magic happens and the fun begins!
Till next time…
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