In classes my students ask me questions, which keep me alert, sharp and I learn new things about creating artwork in the realm of realism.  We are all students, us artists, always growing and expanding, refining, redefining, discovering… when this stops we are no longer an artist.

Many of my student are rather fond of their photos and want to copy them.  I discourage them from this practice and note that copying is a skill in itself but can be very limiting. The more you work from a photo, the harder it is to work from life.  I keep wondering about photography vs. painting rules.

Using a single photograph by itself to create a painting will not help student’s skills, creativity or understanding our observational world.  The reasons being is that photos are a “mirror-like reflection of reality”, ( quote from Andre Basin’s Epistemological realism), ie.:  pictures that record exactly what is in front of the camera lens.  Cameras rely on imagery that exists in our reality and we tend to believe it as the truth.  Often times the given image that you have photographed has too much detail or not enough, no color or value changes in the shadow areas,  inaccurate colors, a confusing depth of field and questionable warm and cools areas in the high lights.  The edges are also odd, in that they are flattened by the media.  Now keep in mind this is not a judgment of photography.  This is why it is problematic to use a photo as a sole reference for painting.   I would suggest you use your computer to enhance areas of the photo with Photoshop or other programs and move things around and manipulate your image to help guide your eye to an artists possible truths.

When I  jury a show and I can point out every painting that was done from a photo. Edges are flat, no color in the shadows and detail that is not needed to create an effective composition.   Rarely will I see a painting that has succeeded, by just the use of a single photo.

Photos are a different form than painting.  As far as I can see they share similarities in composition, the rule of thirds, values, viewpoint… but when it comes to symmetry and patterns I believe photography is far more successful.  Often times photography will also have a straight, diagonal, curvy, zigzag or radical shape that takes you thru the space and this element as well, does not always work in a painting. Framing in photography, where there are equal trees on each side of the picture plane to frame an image.  Another concept in photography is a super dramatic view that could not be achieved in painting from life.

Photography can document the truth and paint can reinvent the truth.

When working from a photo, I always manipulate my photos into more intense colors.  I print them out in high and low contrast black and white.  And I draw, and design from my subject over and over, till I find the information I need to move forward.  I reinterpret my photos, that I take.  I also only paint what I have seen and painted in real life before I would attempt it in a photo.  In being familiar with the subject matter,  I have the information fresh in my head of what I could possibly do with my images.  And only then will I find some success from my photographs.

I do want to be clear that I am not a photographer but we live in a contemporary world where we have these incredible tools to use.  I am always questioning how these devices should be used.  I am sure in future blogs, I will add to this with more experience.

It is best to work from life.  It does not lie like a camera and it leaves your vision open to interpretation and there in front of you is the whole truth, real color, value, volume and relationships in nature.  There is nothing better in this world than engaging our reality.  It is truly remarkable.

One extra note:

In teaching there are many styles, traditions, gimmicks, theories… I am not one to follow a dogma, I just follow my vision, my heart and my intuition without comprising skill.

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