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Top tips for choosing an image to paint from

Not with haste copy

Not with haste

Not with haste 80x60cm oil on canvas €2,400

Sometimes I will visit somewhere, take lots of reference photos and nothing comes of it for some time. I visited Glenlo Abbey near Galway about two years ago and it was at least a year later when this painting materialised. Looking through my photos I was attracted by the light in this one and funnily enough of all the photos I took that day the painting came from a quick snap I took as I was actually walking out the door.

This is the moment!


What to paint?

As artists we can build up a lot of reference photos. They grow in the dark of our computers and if left unorganised and without deleting I’m quite sure they breed.

The process of choosing which image to paint can be arduous. It can suck up time and leave us in a fog of inertia. We can scroll endlessly through images, eventually give up.

So, here’s my top tips.. most of which I actually do.


Top tips for choosing an image to paint from


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 and then 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? Yes, then hold that thought as you browse.  Try not to lose focus or you will be there for hours with nothing done. Even if you don’t, be open to an 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?

Make a short list

As you see something that might be interesting put it into a shortlist folder.

Stop Looking

Once you have a number of interesting images stop looking.


Go to the folder and choose one. Then edit it, crop, enhance, sketch it out and see were that leads you.


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.

Get to work

Once you have chosen something then the work and the fun can begin!






And finally ..

My weekend workshop is now fully booked. I am taking names for a cancellation/waiting list so if you are interested go ahead and fill out the booking form so I have your details.



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