So often when we work from photographs we are seduced by what’s there. We follow it with complete devotion and without deviation. In the end, all we have is a copy of the photo. Our painting doesn’t actually say much about us or why we chose to paint the picture. This is one of the reasons I really love creating thumbnails before I paint. This practice allows you to compose intentionally. One of the best things you can do as you’re composing is to rearrange elements in a photo for a better painting. That’s the aspect when working from photos that we’ll look at today.
You are the artist and you can eliminate, add, and move parts about as you see fit to create a stronger painting. This means you are no longer merely re-creating/copying the photograph.
To illustrate this idea, I thought I’d show you one of my most recent paintings. It’s part of my ongoing gallery-goers series. In it, two figures converse in front of an Ellsworth Kelly painting.
Here’s the final piece:
Now let’s look at the photograph. You can see that the Ellsworth Kelly painting is off to the right and we see it on an angle. Two figures are off to the left. They aren’t directly connected to the painting.
As I initially reviewed the photo as a possible inspiration for a painting, I recalled that while in the gallery (Guggenheim Venice) I noticed the visual relationship between the figures and the Ellsworth Kelly painting. (I’m always looking for these connections between people and paintings in my gallery travels!)
The figures are basically in white and black and so is the painting. That’s the primary connection. I love that the Kelly painting is divided in half. I thought it would be cool to have the figures in front of the painting, one in front of each half. They would ignore the painting but be part of it by the way they look and relate to each other.
So I started to rearrange elements in the photo by moving the figures in front of the painting. I also changed the painting to be squared on to us. That was the first two changes that I made.
You can see in the thumbnail that I also decided to change the colour and value of the hair of the person on the right from dark (in the photo) to light. That way their hair would be white against black and the other figure would have dark hair against the white background.
And finally, I considered the extended arm of the figure on the right and decided it added nothing to the story. So I rearranged the arms into a crossed position. That way the two figures are still in close proximity to each other, reflecting the two parts of the painting. I did, however, allow for some space between the figures rather than have the overlap you see in the photo.
In the end, I also chose to change the colour of the raincoat. I wanted to go beyond painting a purely black and white painting (not that it would ever be pure black and white if I’m painting it!).
The yellow is still a light value so it still fits into the light and dark pattern of the thumbnail. I knew that the floor would have some yellowish colour in it and I didn’t want the floor to be the only thing that had some colour.
With the figure on the right, I wanted to keep the black and white striped sweater and the white jeans. But to add some colour, I replaced the black shoes with red ones, thereby, still retaining the dark value.
Here’s the start of the painting – the underpainting.
And as always, I used a limited palette. Here are the 12 Unison Colour pastels I used: Dark on the left moving to light on the right
And just because, here’s the painting in black and white beside the thumbnail. You can see some small changes but basically, the painting reflects the thumbnail. Remember, the thumbnail is really small – less than three inches tall while the painting is 12 inches high.
So can you see how you can take a photo that has some cool parts and rearrange the elements? By doing so, you’ll end up with a painting that’s more aligned with your intention AND your initial attraction to the scene, the attraction that triggered you to snap the photo in the first place!!
Now tell me, do you regularly rearrange elements in a photo before creating a painting? I’d love to know whether the answer is yes….or no. So please leave a comment!
Until next time,
PS. We are deep into thumbnail review in the IGNITE! Art-Making membership! Want in? Join the Waitlist HERE.
PPS. I’d have shared more of the progress of the piece if I’d remembered to take photos along the way!! Sigh. I do have a video recording however….