Here is recent commission that I'm working still very much in process. I'm only on the beginning of a second pass on the face. The facial side planes are still being turned and the hair is in block in stage. I thought it would good time to address some frequent questions I get on working from photographs while I am waiting for the paint to dry.
I prefer to work from life mostly or at least at some stage of my work depending on what it is I'm involved with.I'm not a purist but I do believe that a firm grounding in working from life will better prepare one to translate information from a photograph.
Sometimes it is inevitable for a myriad of reasons, that a photo must be used.One is, I find for some strange reason people don't often like to be scrutinized like a bug under a microscope for hours on end. It seems, in our hectic society, as though there is not enough time in the day for the average person to schedule the five or more 3 hour sittings required for a work with a high level of finish. Perhaps the commission is surprise gift or the person lives out of the country. Kids and animals are rarely cooperative for sustained poses. My cat can stay immobile for hours on end until I pick up a pencil. Ever notice that lady on the train that has been sound asleep slowly opens one eye when you break out the sketchbook? Maybe stuffed animals are a possible exception:). They are reference for many wildlife painters. Tickle Me Elmo isn't what I'm referring to here. I thought I'd show this work in progress to point out some issues an artist who works from a photo reference must consider. It is not uncommon for people to ask me to paint from photos. The photos that are often given may not contain the necessary information that a painter needs to make good piece. Most people accept a photograph as a correct representation of reality. That same image, copied exactly in paint, is hardly ever satisfactory.
The particular photo reference I had to work off of has all the things in it that will usually make me not want to use it for a painting reference. But partially because of that I took it on as a challenge anyway.
It made me think of the hints I usually give my students for selecting a photo to work from so I listed them below.
1. When possible work off of your own photograph. This way you can control the composition and most importantly the lighting. This wasn't my own photo but provided by the client. It had multi-directional lighting which usually flattens out an image which created a challenge in that I had to invent a primary light source in order to emphasize form. The over all light, while providing good visual information on the the sub forms(a nice way of saying wrinkles), did little to show the 3-d quality of the the head. For that one has to invent the lighting in order to create believable form(Think Spheres and Eggs). Otherwise it becomes a case of copying values and mechanically reproduced color which tends to flatten the image subtly or not so subtly.Form and Color are the main elements of design that are usually lacking in photo-based painting.The reference for this painting had multiple light sources creating a bleached out or in this case yellowed skin tone.The photo itself was yellowed.That is where having a background in painting from life helps one create believable color or at least recognize that the color is off.
2. Try to avoid photo references with toothy smiles. This form of picture reference provides the usual dead give away that it's a painting from a photograph because of the presence of teeth.(This may or may not be an issue for some people).
3. Don't paint in the company of cats.Make them get their own studio. Linseed or walnut oil have special electromagnetic properties that can suck the hair off of a feline from 20 yards. This tends to impart an interesting texture into your painting surface which may or may not work with your subject.Good for beards though!
And yes, I am taking commissions:)
For more info on painting with cats click on the link below.