View Full Version : throwing out a challenge

06-06-2003, 06:14 AM
I have noticed, while reading these threads, that the VAST MAJORITY of you guys work from photos. Occasionally, we get someone having producing something from life........and they announce it as such, as if it is unusual to do this.

In fact, if you were art students, learning at an art school, you would actually be DISCOURAGED from working from photos. working from life would be the norm.

This is not to say that I disapprove in principle of anyone working from photos - I do it quite a bit myself so I can hardly throw stones at those who do. HOWEVER, I still work regularly from life, and spent ages doing so before beginning to work with photos from time to time for various reasons. I learned that when you work from life, you are really using your eyes. When eventually I began to use photos, I discovered the inadequacy of working from artificial colours (a photo is not reality) and tones ,and you are working from a tiny, tiny representation of life. Think about the size of, for instance, a tree which is 20 yards away from you. It is HUGE. A photo of that tree would be, what, two inches at the most? How on earth can you see all the colours, and tones?

Once you have worked a lot from life, you begin to realise the limitations of a photograph. Without having ever worked from life, you can never know what you are missing.

I CHALLENGE ALL YOU PEOPLE WHO WORK CONSTANTLY FROM PHOTOS to put those photos away, and do at least five paintings from life before doing another from a photo. OK then four. But no less than that. Doesn't matter the subject - landscape, garden, still life - whatever. Just make yourself do it. And let's see the results.

I promise it will open your eyes, in more ways than one.


06-06-2003, 06:51 AM
I happily accept your challenge, but it pretty much has to wait for summer holidays. The only time I get to paint otherwise is at night, so then I'm limited to still life (and I did lots of them, in the weekly sketches thread) or photographs. Julie and I tried some plein aire in the rain last weekend, from the car. It was ok, although we had to keep the wipers going!
I just got myself a little backpack with a seat attached, so I can traipse around the countryside with my pastels and have a stool to sit on while I sketch.

06-06-2003, 07:06 AM
Totally agree with you Jackie, but it is the practicality of things....as Sundiver also said.
I keep on making plans to go out and about, but it rarely happens. The closest I get to working from life is to get inspired by something in real life, make photographs and then work from memory and those photos.
Life models (for figurative or portraits) are even harder to find and then usually in a class where one has to work with the limited time the tutor sets.

But you're definitely right, Jackie....one day......when I have more time to apply to painting....I wil just go on a painting holiday (no not those - they cost a fortune - have to get a bit richer for that) and go out and about often with my board and box of pastels.......oooh....I cannot wait.....

06-06-2003, 08:27 AM
eXCUSES, EXCUSES. I absolutely understand the limitations of time, climate and accessibility of landscape scenes...............but no-one can say they cannot set up a still life and work from it. In some respects, that can be just as good as a challenge. It is all too easy to plonk a few objects on a table, ignore the idea of good lighting to make it interesting, and just paint what you see.

In fact, the challenge to create a really interesting still life is a good one. Consider ways to make your still life interesting - and by that, I do not mean putting interesting objects, on a table, in front of a piece of draped cloth. Or in one of those cardboard box thingies (sorry, those of you who like this idea). To my mind, this is NOT interesting. It will give you a thoroughly predictable composition.

However, just think........why not put a whole bunch of gorgeous red apples, about 5 of them, onto some slightly bunched-up white fabric on a table top below waist height, and look down on them to paint? And illuminate the scene from one side, to cast lovely shadows. Something as simple as this could become a lovely still life, without the use of boxes or draped-behind bits of cloth. Or why not try a chorus-line of pears? Or a lovely evening table-top scene, with a lit table lamp.....or lit candles........... I seem to remember doing a thread with ideas for still life a while back.........

Anyway the point is.......there are subjects everywhere, without leaving your home. Flowers - of course. Windowsills make great subjects; so do unmade beds; so do dressers, dressingtables, mantlepieces and fireplaces; so do tabletops after dinner, and so do corners of rooms (and studios) and sofas with heaps of cushions. And the cat curled up looking like a cushion. A still life doesn't have to be a bottle and a piece of fruit. What about whicker baskets and straw ducks? What about lots of different bottles? Or cups? Howsabout a box of eggs? Or a bowl of lemons? Or those shells you found ages back? You are only limited by your imagination......................................and don't forget to make use of DIRECTIONAL LIGHT which will bring almost any subject to life.


Kathryn Wilson
06-06-2003, 09:47 AM
Wow - this is quite a challenge. I have no excuses - it's just easier to work from photos, although I do work on still life's from time to time. Do you think it would be a good idea to make this into a Project so we have a month or more to complete the challenge?

To be frank, I will have to look at my environment here with new eyes - I find all this green, green, green very boring. I accept your challenge to see things in a new way.

06-06-2003, 11:40 AM
Originally posted by jackiesimmonds
Windowsills make great subjects; so do unmade beds; so do dressers, dressingtables, mantlepieces and fireplaces; so do tabletops after dinner, and so do corners of rooms (and studios) and sofas with heaps of cushions.

Jackie ... I agree with Kat that this would make a great Project. I paint mostly from still lifes that I've set up in the small room where I keep my easel, and where I've put down sheets and plastic bin bags to protect the carpet from pastel dust ... It sounds here as if you're talking about moving about from room to room with your pastels, setting up to work in the bedroom or the lounge ... How do you avoid treading pastel dust into carpets and generally making a mess of your living space?

06-06-2003, 11:41 AM
You don't have to see things in a "new" way ..........see them as they are, but CHOOSE a more interesting composition than you might do normally. Working from life means using your eyes, REALLY observing what is there - which is always more than a photo will offer you.

Green can be beautiful......I have loadsa greens in my pastel set. Nothing in nature needs to be boring and monotonous. Even an area of green can be made beautiful by the addition of other colours to liven it up. Are the greens warm or cool? What is the light doing to the greenery? Can you see touches of yellow there? Or blues and turquoises? Or even dark reds, in the darkest areas? Push yourself to try to find ways to make those greens interesting.

EJ - we cross-posted. Hmm, a mucky worker. ! Yes, I understand the issue of pastel crumbs, but if you are really careful, it should be OK. A really good trick is to fold the bottom edge of your paper UP, just an inch, and this will catch the worst crumbs. Also, put a sheet under your easel and stool. When you have finished painting, check the soles of your shoes, and tip the crumbs off carefully. Not much more you can do really! But never mind - you have to sacrifice something for your art.........even that cream carpet!


Kathryn Wilson
06-06-2003, 12:55 PM
LOL - Jackie, I take my ten lashes with humility and humor. Hard to do greens when all I want to do is southwest reds, yellows, purples and big sky.

I have a scene in mind that I'm gonna try that is totally different from what I have done lately. I have seen another artist's rendition of a landscape on mylar - so very soft. Has anyone else tried mylar?


06-06-2003, 01:59 PM
lets see one of yours now that you are in the PSA
28 years only from life
when you work from a photo you are only cheating one person

06-06-2003, 02:46 PM
Originally posted by jackiesimmonds
Not much more you can do really! But never mind - you have to sacrifice something for your art.........even that cream carpet!

Jackie, thanks for the tips ... however ... when my landlady sends me the bill for her ruined carpet, I'll be sending it straight on to you! :D If it were my house, I'd rip out the carpet altogether and be done with it.

Dan ... I've got some pleasing effects by changing the colours/contrast/'texture' of my photos in Paint Shop Pro and using the manipulated photo as a reference for painting. Surely if it's a matter of interpreting an image, not slavishly copying it, then it can be part of the artistic process without being thought of as 'cheating'?

06-06-2003, 02:47 PM
Dan .........cheating? Who is to say that working from photos is "cheating"? I cannot agree with this. Working from photographic reference CAN be a highly creative approach, depending on how you use your reference material. Copying a photo literally is not very creative.........but using your reference material as a starting point, particularly when you are away from your subject, can be very creative indeed. "Cheating" is a rather unpleasant term in my humble opinion, it implies lack of integrity on the part of the artist, and I am quite sure that this is not the case in many, many instances.

There are plenty of historical precedents. Degas, for instance, often used photographic reference; he was a true "camera buff". He bought one of the first Kodak cameras to come onto the market, and photographic sources are obvious in many of the unconventional figure poses in his paintings. There is no doubt that the arrival,in Paris, of E. Muybridge's sequential photographs of human and animal locomotion influenced Degas. The camera helped Degas with his image "Dancers Tying Their Slippers", which is, in fact, a single dancer shown in the same pose from different angles. After his death, photos of landscapes, and washerwomen were found in his studio, the latter being the inspiration for many of his later pastel paintings. I most certainly would never dream of calling Degas "a cheat"!!

The British painter Paul Nash produced a number of strange, impactful paintings while working as an official war artist during the 2nd world war. For his (arguably) finest work "Totes Meer", he photographed a huge aircraft dump near Oxford, of German planes shot down during the Battle of Britain. 74 pics were taken on site, and he wanted to exhibit both the photos and the preparatory watercolours he had made for the canves. His request to include the photos was flatly denied, and he commented "no-one understands how photography can be used for art except as a method for cheating".

If you want to see some of my recent work, do have a look at my website, where you will find quite a lot from my recent exhibition. www.jackiesimmonds.co.uk. Have a look at the gallery page. I worked from life for some of them, and from photos for others. See if you can spot the difference!


06-06-2003, 03:10 PM
the one person who is cheated is the artist

06-06-2003, 05:18 PM
Interesting topic for me, since I'm taking a Still Life Painting class this summer (I think I registered in time), so thanks for bringing it up.

What I think you lose in working with photographs is mass and form. Photos are lines and shapes. You lose the ability to see 'beyond' what is directly in front of you in a picture. When I study a solid object in front of me, I walk around it to get a sense of what I'm not seeing. I'll pick it up. I'll observe it. I gather as much information about it that I can before I start thinking about drawing it.

Given the choice, I'd rather paint from life, but there aren't too many icebreaker ships or hula dancers around my way LOL So I'm limited because the subject motivates me to pastel, and lemons on a table simply dont motivate me. I do, however, spend time pencil drawing whatever happens to be sitting on the table on a fairly daily basis to practice mass, to become comfortable with it, and to make myself aware of it.

So when I pastel, I use pictures, but approach it with what I practice with my pencil. Except I'm mentally walking around it, etc. I'm forever reminding myself that what I see in the picture is flawed. Sometimes I forget.

So for me:
Pencils = work :(
Pastels = play time :)

Yes, you wouldn't know by looking at my stuff that I've posted here that I do all of that, but I'm still a pup, jus' learning and havin' fun! LOL

Perhaps I should motivate myself with pastels the same way I have with pencils. It certainly wouldn't hurt. As they say, Love means doing things you dont want to :D

- Greg

06-06-2003, 06:00 PM
Hi Jackie. Your challenge has come just as I have been starting to consider a still life but don't know much about it....lighting, etc.
I work from photos as I am a beginner. I find it has helped me to train my eyes as have using grids, etc. Now I am looking at people on the tele, outside and around me and observing their reflected light on their cheeks, etc. I haven't had the opportunity to have any formal art training and like others I have seen on this site am constantly being inspired.
I tried a life class once but didn't enjoy it at all. A stretching experience I think, but it put me off a bit. I am a slow worker - who could sit still for me???:(
Can you tell me more about the light thing and setting up?
Thank you for the jump-start it is very timely as I find myself looking down a different path.

06-06-2003, 07:30 PM
I understand fully what you are saying here ~ I've been painting for about 25 years or more now, have painted and sketched many times from life ~ still am ~ I take my sketch book everywhere with me ~ Don't always use it i.e. everyday, but I do sketch/doodle even, using graphite in the main, most days ~ Even when I'm chatting on the phone I'm scribbling away on a notepad ~ today I was trying to sketch some birds in flight :) ~ not easy, but at least I managed to get some marks./forms on the paper ~ then knowing what these particular birds look like I can develop from my sketches ~ my sketch pad and, I have umpteen of them are to me like diaries, recording information wherever and whenever I can, :) If you saw them, you would scratch your head with puzzlement, because they would not mean a thing to you ~ but they are a collection of valuable information to me, a quick sketch of a leaf, a rock a tree stump, a bird a feather, drapes, the coat slung over the chair, a brick in the wall/flowerpot whatever, useful bits of information, that I record. Try it , it's good.! :)


Kathryn Wilson
06-06-2003, 08:43 PM
Originally posted by kyle
LOL - Jackie, I take my ten lashes with humility and humor. Hard to do greens when all I want to do is southwest reds, yellows, purples and big sky.

I have a scene in mind that I'm gonna try that is totally different from what I have done lately. I have seen another artist's rendition of a landscape on mylar - so very soft. Has anyone else tried mylar?


Spent about an hour and a half in studio tonight trying to figure out how that artist did a pastel on mylar. Interesting, but very aggravating stuff. Oil pastels - forget it. Pastel pencils, okay. Soft pastels - some do okay (softest) and others just skip across the surface. If I work on it more tomorrow, will post the final.


Craig Houghton
06-06-2003, 11:14 PM
28 years only from life
when you work from a photo you are only cheating one person

and then afterwards

Originally posted by DFGray
the one person who is cheated is the artist

I think jackie gave a full defense of her position, and all you posted in response was a line. i feel a tad 'cheated,' out of a well thought-out verbose response. Reposting a summary position provides no more illumination than did the original post.

On the other hand, Jackie's original post, the thread-starting post, helped me realize that I'm having enough fun with art and pastels to move beyond photo-references (except when nec. or helpful). Her comments about the difference between a sixty foot tree and a postcard sized reference made complete sense. Thanks Jackie!

-Craig (accepts the challenge)

Craig Houghton
06-07-2003, 01:23 AM
I decided not to waste any time. I stuck a fork in a grape and placed it in front of a fairly focused desk-lamp.


unison and schmincke on eggshelly fabriano tiziano paper - somewhere under an hour (pic came out dark btw)


I do practice using my eyeballs instead of a photo, but usually just with a sketchbook. i've been sort of learning pastels / painting as something apart from learning how to draw from life. I'm realizing however that there's a lot of resolution and color depth to be found in 'real-life' :)

-Craig (ok, bed now)

06-07-2003, 03:04 AM
I will accept the challenge............soon to be doing lots at my mums house in corfu......I know she has a wonderfull garden for me to do lots of sketching and painting.
Oh I went to my mil's the other weekend and did my 1st sketch in my new book........they have a wonderfull little waterfall....and my next project after my hols will be to do this for them ........it has some gorgeous plants and bricks to go at.......i'm just a tad daunted on how to show water movement.

06-07-2003, 04:13 AM
Great responses, all of you, thanks a lot, it's so heartening to see that so many of you understood what I meant, and have taken it on board. Like the idea of the fork in the grape! How original! And looks like an interesting rendering...........tho........the shadows? Is there more colour in the shadows than I can see on my monitor? I do hope so. If you use a warm light, it will cast cool shadows........if you use a fluorescent light, that is much cooler light and the shadows will be warmer. This gives you the opportunity to use some lovely shadow colours.

Yes, you do see so much more colour, and form, when you work from life. Just think about the bark on that sixty foot tree. You might be able to see the subtle variations of colour, and texture, if you are sitting by the tree, but a photo taken from a bit of a distance will just offer you a dark brown mass.

I understand the criticism of Dan's one-liner, and if I may take the liberty, I think that what Dan was trying to say, albeit somewhat succinctly, is that if an artist uses a camera exclusively, he is DENYING himself (or herself) the opportunity of using eyes to REALLY see what is there. Cheating is an unfortunate term to use, and makes many an artist bristle with annoyance.

What I see, when I see paintings done directly from photos, is mostly lack of observation because of direct copying and not understanding what is there in the photo. Also there is a noticeable flattening of form and a deadening of tones in the distance. What you lose is, as you so rightly pointed out, the ability to "walk around" the subject a bit, with your eyes; and also you lose a great deal of atmospheric perspective. If you have, for instance, a small ship on water, so often the artist will paint that shape incorrectly, because after all, in the photo, that shape will be, what, 1 or 2 cm? Seeing the ship on the water yourself will give you a FAR larger shape to tackle and you can really study it. Portraits done from photos often look flat, because the artist fails to take the three-dimensional mass into account. It is impossible to see, from a photo, where the front plane of the face turns into a side plane, for instance. Also, it is difficult to discern, for instance, the hollow socket in which the eye sits, and the protrusion of the soft pad of flesh on a chin. In a photo, it all looks flat.

As soon as you bite the bullet, and start to work from life, whatever the subject, a whole new world of colour and tone opens up to you. If you decide to tackle landscape, yuo will find that you have to learn a new part of the language of painting - that of working quickly as the light changes. It IS hugely challenging to work out of doors- and so much more exciting and demanding than working from a photo. You may find that you have to stop sooner than you thought, - and yet your painting will have an energy and liveliness born out of the adrenalin rush of working fast, that yuo can rarely achieve when working from a photo, which is static, and gives you every opportunity to overwork!!

As for setting up a still life ----- a few basic pointers for a first still life which may help beginners. It limits your choices, which is always helpful:

1. Choose objects which are similar in shape. This will give a visual harmony to your painting. You can add one alternative shape if you wish - so if all your objects are round, one vertical one can be added if you prefer.
2. Choose objects which are similar in colour - from the same side of the colour wheel. This also offers you harmony. (inexpensive example: go to your local baker, and buy several rolls, a bun, a croissant, and a loaf of bread, a round one perhaps. Or some jam tarts. All similar in shape, similar in colour, but with different textures to tackle.)
3. Set the objects up and LOOK THROUGH A VIEWFINDER cut from a piece of card, to find a suitable composition. Too much space around your objects may feel uncomfortable; too little may make them feel crowded. See what feels comfortable.
4. Check the spaces between the objects. Having at least two of them overlapping each other will be visually interesting and will give a sense of "landscape" space too - depth in the picture.
5. Set up a table lamp to one side, or even an anglepoise lamp, or some kind of spotlight. Lighting the still life from one side will give you interesting shadows, on the objects,and onto the surface on which they are sitting.
Then go for it!!


06-07-2003, 07:03 AM
Craig - your fork & grape are awesome. Shiny stuff is still fascinating to me- like water and reflections - I can't get my head around the fact that they are just strokes of colour. They look like magic to me. - any hints on that Jackie? I must sound a little on the 'dull' side.


Kathryn Wilson
06-07-2003, 07:15 AM
Jackie : What are your thoughts on a totally made-up painting - one that you see in your mind. I have tried to do that several times with limited success.

In defense of using reference photos in this forum - the Pastel Riot puts up 3 photos purely to see how the members interpret the same subject. It has been so interesting to see how everyone perceives color, movement, time of day, techniques. Maybe a Pastel Monthly Project could be to interpret an idea or feeling which would negate the use of photos altogether.

Just some thoughts -


06-07-2003, 09:43 AM
Jackie and everyone,

This is just great! I teach my students that photographs lie all the time -- and they have a hard time believing me. They are required to paint from a still life set up at least once during a 6-week session.

But, back to your challenge -- I had been painting almost exclusively from photos for the past several years - with just a few still life set-ups during that time and a few plein air paintings every now and then. Last year I hooked up with Carly (yes, that Carly - here on WC) and she inspired me to tackle the plein air more often. We have even become a group - she and I and some others - Southern Ladies Art Conference (SLAC) and we have just started our own web site. "www.southernladiesart.com"

So . . . I will accept your challenge also - I will paint more from life and less from photos. Who else is with me? I lurk in the plein air forum, sometimes post. But, let's post our plein air pastels here - or still life here!!!!


Craig Houghton
06-07-2003, 09:51 AM
Originally posted by jackiesimmonds
Is there more colour in the shadows than I can see on my monitor? I do hope so. If you use a warm light, it will cast cool shadows........if you use a fluorescent light, that is much cooler light and the shadows will be warmer. This gives you the opportunity to use some lovely shadow colours.

The shadow was a bit less dark in real life, but it did lack color. I've read your posts on shadows and seen examples of _amazing_ shadow work on your site (the pathway and such). I guess I had trouble seeing them in the flat shadow cast by the grape and the fork. But then I looked more closely, and because it's real life, and not a photo, I could bring my face an inch or two from the subject and change angles and such. There was more of a reflection in the shadow than I realized. Although not too colorful, the shadow was certainly not a flat wash.

I added some cool blues, some green, and some red / violet as if the grape were reflected in the shadow.


I have so many books (*cough* library *cough*) on color and forms and figures, but even this one 'from life' example has seemed to outdo the last 4 from photo renderings altogether. (speaking of books, on of your Jackie, is on the way to my school library. I discovered that they ordered the Pastel Workbook. I reserved it of course :P )

Thanks you!

p.s. thank you carol for the kind words! I really like going for gloss because it is so magical and reminds me not to blend or overwork too much.

06-07-2003, 02:52 PM
Craig - lovely to see those hints of colour in the shadow. I personally would have exaggerated those colours.......and would have probably lightened the shadow a tad. It is hard to be absolutely accurate about tone values when you have a shiny subject like this, but my "sense" is that the shadow would not have been quite so dark in reality. A good way to check it out, is to take a large sheet of white paper, and cut or tear a tiny hole in the paper. Then, look at the shadow through that hole. Then, move the paper to another part of the still life, and look at something that you think might be almost as dark, and see if it actually is. Then, look at something blackish through the paper, and see if actually, your shadow is much lighter than you thought it was. I could be wrong here..........but see what you think anyway.

Don't forget - although I am asking you to use your observation skills in this challenge, I'd also like you to remember that as an artist, you are allowed to "push", or gently exaggerate, what you see, on your paper, to make the image work better. My only suggestion would be that you push the colour AFTER you have discovered what is actually happening - such as the hints of grape-colour in the shadow.

As for the comment about working from imagination.........I think that would be the subject of a different challenge. I have no objection in principle - for this challenge, I just was trying to encourage less dependence on photos, and more dependence on the naked eye. The naked imagination is yet another area!

Carol - not sure what you wants hints about - painting shiny stuff? If so........simply paint EXACTLY what you see. Break the object down into tiny shape areas of exact tone, and colour, and lo and behold, the finished painting WILL look like the object. There are no tricks to getting things right. It's not like finding a quick fix as people often do want with watercolours - buying the "right brush" to create grass, or trees. It's also not a question of finding a language of marks for, say, foliage. It is purely and simply a question of looking long and hard, and isolating all the little shapes that are reflecting in the shiny surface. Each shape has its own character, and its own tone and colour.


06-07-2003, 05:09 PM
Thanks for that Jackie. I am so often in awe of folk who are able to paint shiny things like water or silver as Craig has done.

As for painting something from my head, Kyle - inside it - it would be too scarey for people to imagine:D but I do understand what is meant by it. For me, if that were another challenge, it would be down the track I think as I am still trying to work things out.
At our last pastel meeting a landscape artist painted a portion of a scene from a calendar pic and then added stuff from her head. I always thought landscapes were as seen! But, then we are artists after all and we can do anything we want!! -well, nearly anything. Man, this learning curve is a steep one.


Kathryn Wilson
06-07-2003, 05:17 PM
Carol: You don't need to do anything from your head, I've seen wonderful scenes in NZ! Would love to visit your country one day.


Katherine J
06-07-2003, 08:42 PM
Interesting challenge and thread, Jackie. I've just recently started plein aire painting and am so thrilled with it (posted here and in oils). I've been doing pastels and hope to get into oils after I get delivery of a 'previously owned' easel from Carly. I converted one of my pastels into a much larger oil painting and was really pleased. I can see that as a great way to go. I did take a photo of the scene but it still isn't developed!

I can really understand what you're talking about. I've been doing some small oil landscapes recently from photos and although I'm really attracted to all three scenes, I've ended up painting over each one becasue they just aren't 'right'. It's so funny you should bring this subject up now because I had just decided to give up on landscapes unless I can do them largely plein aire and to paint over the 'bad' ones with real still life. Now is the time of year for wonderful fruits to take advantage of. As always, my only problem is no digital camera, so slow to post.


06-08-2003, 09:21 AM
Great thead! It might be helpful for people to go over to the Plein Air Forum and read some of those threads from time to time. Look at what people are doing and read about the challenges facing you when you go outside to paint and how artists overcome them.
If you decide to try painting outside post over there...they are really helpful and encouraging.
I know I don't use my sketch book enough but I have been trying to do more little sketches outside and around the house. I also have taken one of Jackie's other suggestions to heart and keep some oil pastels in the car along with my sketch pad and pencils. I have not done it often, but there have been days when I was out and about and the weather was nice and I had a little time. I pulled off somewhere and did a quickie...didn't even get out of the car. I just sat with the door open. None of these things are worth posting. I don't mean they were not worthwhile for me to do...just that I wouldn;t take up my time scanning them in or people's time to look at them...but just by taking the time to stop and observe and try to get something down on paper you will learn and add to your skills.



06-08-2003, 09:57 AM
When I was a less frequent painter, using coloured pencil and then acrylics, I pretty much only painted landscapes because I would always use my holiday photos for reference.

In the four months since I took up pastels, I've become more of a still lifer, painting usually [tho not exclusively] from what's in front of me ... I'm not claiming anything great about my pictures, but I do know that I now find it more exciting to paint from life than from photos. This is thanks to Sunny, who opened the first 'Weekly Pastel Sketches' thread back in February, when I'd just bought my pastels and was seeking direction in how to use them.

She started the thread to encourage us to paint from direct observation ~ to learn by tackling even the simplest subjects from life. To begin with I asked if we could use a reference photo ... I thought it would be easier ... but she suggested that this wouldn't teach us as much, and I think she was right. Here's that thread for anyone who hasn't really given the Weekly Pastels a look.


My first attempt at a pastel sketch from life was a single egg. Since then I've tackled apples, pears, peppers, bottles, glasses, lemons, limes, a jug, a skull, a flower, a lamp, a wooden ornament, a brass vase, a tree and a fence, satin, shallots, mugs, oranges, pomegranates, flower pots... I do still enjoy using photos, but painting from life is just so much more fun :)

06-08-2003, 10:30 AM
Originally posted by kyle
Spent about an hour and a half in studio tonight trying to figure out how that artist did a pastel on mylar. Interesting, but very aggravating stuff. Oil pastels - forget it. Pastel pencils, okay. Soft pastels - some do okay (softest) and others just skip across the surface. If I work on it more tomorrow, will post the final.


Kat, there's a thread in the Coloured Pencil forum which mentions using pastel and cp on mylar ~ somebody points out that it has to be frosted mylar rather than smooth ~ don't know if this is useful to you:


06-08-2003, 03:36 PM
oops, I didn't realise that in the Weekly Pastel threads, my idea was all ready mooted.

Ah well, never mind. Perhaps some of you missed those threads, and found this one instead. Whatever - the end result should be the same.


Kathryn Wilson
06-08-2003, 03:46 PM
EJ Thanks for the head's up - will give it a peek. I did work on the frosted side, but he must have used pastel pencil - only the very softest of pastels would even cover.

On with my experiment!

06-08-2003, 10:10 PM
ok *shakin in her boots*

I'm in...but maybe not this week.....


I WILL do it

06-08-2003, 10:11 PM
Can oil painters join in the challenge? :D



06-09-2003, 09:43 AM
Ruth - the challenge is to all ARTISTS (no specification of medium) who usually work from photos.

Let's see what you do!

Pam - no pressure. Just do it this week.


06-09-2003, 09:58 AM
;) :p

06-09-2003, 10:36 AM

06-09-2003, 04:10 PM
And you are sooo right......there are sooo many colors in nature...that can't be duplicated on a photo. I have no excuse...except that I work a full time job...but I do go out to sketch...so why not take my pastels...and at least sketch my subjects....and do the still life thing. There is no excuse from working from life.

I will post something this week from life.

Thanks Jackie for noticing this...and challenging us!!


06-09-2003, 05:14 PM
I understand Jackie's points and agree totally. I think that limited time, resources--and to Jackie's point about excuses--perhaps laziness keep many of us from painting from life.

I do use photos and my computer extensively when composing a painting. I have spent quite a few years pursuing photography as an art form, so I don't think I'm cheating anyone, especially myself. At least that's the way I look at it. But I think I understand what Dan is saying; I have missed out on a particulary different rewarding experience.

To broadly reject photos as a legitimate painter's aide would be wrong (and I don't think this is what Dan is saying). It really depends on what you are painting. I just finished a macro view of JuJubes (candy/sweets), and it would have been just about impossible for me to paint them in life given their small size and my eyesight. The angle I wanted was easily managed with my camera, but I don't think I would have lasted long gazing at that distance in life. Maybe that's a rare occurance, but to make photos illegitimate would mean there would be no paintings like that. I don't think art is about limitations.

OK, I'm off my soapbox now :D. As for the challenge. I will do my best. Still Life is my best option right now. It should be fun going on a scavenger hunt for items...

BTW, I love Craig's painting of the fork and grape. The painting on the desk looks as three dimensional as the actual setup. Wow!

06-09-2003, 06:47 PM
I accepted the challenge. I'd been planning to do some plein air soon & this got me going. I'm afraid it isn't much to look at. I haven't tried to paint flowers like this much. This is an 1 1/2 hrs of work. Do you do the background (fence) & put flowers over it or fill in the background around the flowers which has such tiny places to work in?

06-09-2003, 09:49 PM
This is in oil, 9x12. I ate it after I finished painting it. Yum.


06-09-2003, 11:09 PM
This is just a quickie of a jar of fresh crab-apple jelly, a marble and a mandarin. I found it really difficult which didn't help my attitude - I must admit to becoming a tad pouty! :( One of these days very soon I will try again & do some practise. I don't like to be beaten & I don't like doing something that is less than perfect, -which leaves me wide open to being rather disappointed at times, but trying again. I will NOT give up Jackie ;)

06-10-2003, 12:34 AM
Originally posted by Ruth
This is in oil, 9x12. I ate it after I finished painting it. Yum.



That's a shame, it was kinda nice :D :D :clap:

I know, I'm a dork.... :p :rolleyes:

- Greg

06-10-2003, 02:23 AM
Ruth - terrific painting. Hope it didn't give you indigestion. You can see this was painted from life - so painterly and full of life.

Artisttammy - yes, in general, it is best to paint each part of the image separately. It won't be as good if you paint the fence, and then try to put the flowers over the top. You can do the odd line (or leaf) but groups of flowers like this are best tackled as a whole, with touches of fence colour showing through the leaves.

Putting the flowers over the top of an all-ready painted fence would be a bad habit to get into.

Looks to me like you have used lots of blending for the fence colour. When you blend like this, it is really quite difficult to paint in between flower leaves. Why not try a different technique for the fence, one where you use the tip of the pastel, overlaying lots of strokes. Actually - what colour was it? Are you sure you got the tone of the colour right?

Seems to me that what you have here is a GOOD START. Why not spray with a little fixative, and then take the picture back outside, and work over the top of everything you have here, punching up the colours and tones, and the application of pastel. More layers of passtel over the top will help a lot, and will give the image more substance and depth.

What colour paper did you work on, incidentally?

Christmascarolz - Don't fret. It isn't easy to work from life, and to use muscles that you haven't used in ages. No different to going back into the gym after a long period of absence. You will get used to it! And this is a good first effort. Nice jar, and good marbles.


06-10-2003, 02:37 AM
:crying: (on Jackie's shoulder) There was only one marble and the orange one was a mandarin. Actually my son said it did look a bit see-thru so we could make it a marble.
Thanks for the encouragement Jackie - at least with the internet you don't get to see my tanties. :D
This is a great idea with this challenge and I will definately try again. ...pity you don't get to taste the jelly - it's scrumptious.

06-10-2003, 04:10 AM
Sally strand, who began as a watercolorist, was trying to understand her new medium, pastel and woke up early every morning where the light fell across her kitchen table and set a still life up so she could observe in natural low light, what happened to objects.
She did a wonderful bowl of water with eggs in it. A lot of the common objects she found, but saw so differently in the light of morning.
I am a low light addict. I don't wake up early enough, but the evening light makes me start wandering off staring into the sky just as it is showing gold, not sunset, but showing yellow and warm. It is completely different.
Observing is what we are training to do. When we can see it, when we can understand it, we open up our pictures to the next level of describing.
Sorry Jackie, I have sworn off my open studio (well naked people, but still doing portraits when I can) so I can plan more paintings, but 90% of my work is from life. It makes such a difference in how I see. I find working from photos such a completely different experience. I can't see color. I have no discovery. It is somewhat... well sadder.
BUT as I need to start organizing my two dimensional space, I will give up the thrill for the new stuff I am learning.

06-10-2003, 05:18 AM
sorry about the marble/fruit..............never mind, it looks good anyway!! Put it down to bad eyesight on my part. I have spent two hours editing my WC article on composition, and am a bit spaced out.

DJ - I agree - there is a magic about working from life that simply cannot be experienced working from photos. Perhaps everyone who accepts this challenge will discover this too.


06-10-2003, 08:41 AM
Originally posted by rd2ruin


That's a shame, it was kinda nice :D :D :clap:

I know, I'm a dork.... :p :rolleyes:

- Greg

:D Yeah, it didn't taste as good as the orange, and my face was all yellow and purple. (burp)

06-10-2003, 09:35 AM
Here are my entries in the challenge. I HAD to go right out after work and do not one....but TWO!! I like the landscape better...but I was not concentrating on the second one (bleeding hearts) as I was also barbequing dinner for the hubby. The brats were black...and I didn't like my flowers much.

Doing this was sure exhilerating!!! I even had an audience of bull frogs doing the lake picture....who seemed to give their comments as I went along. I started at about 5:30 and finished at 7:30pm....and even then I didn't want to quit!! The sun had started to set...giving the grass a bright yellow/green tone...with great shadows from the trees....I could have painted all night!!!

Both are 8x10...on sueded mat board (dark green)..using Rembrandts and some Rowneys.

Thanks Jackie for showing us the way!!!!

Here are my challenge entries. Comment as you wish!!




06-10-2003, 09:52 AM
I forgot to mention that I had to stop at this point & it isn't finished. Because this is practice & I didn't know how it would turn out, I used a light grey MiTiente that was handy (already cut). I hope to find time to work on this some more. The fence does seem to have alot of that color in it but also has others to add. I only got to the underpainting of the fence. Thanks for your advice.

06-10-2003, 11:23 AM
Cheating eh?

I don’t want to ruin a great thread Jackie, and maybe this would be better held in the debates forum, but I can’t let a mal-informed unsupported swipe like that go unanswered. I cannot believe that anyone could think theirs is the one and only true artistic journey or endeavour and that those of us that use photos are in some way cheating ourselves.

How can another person have the audacity to claim to know why I paint and what I seek from my endeavours?

Dan, I obviously don’t seek the gratification of knocking something out in an hour or so claiming to “see” colours that, lets face it, aren’t really there when you get to the level of near-abstractism on which some of your paintings border (which I might add, I appreciate and enjoy)

Mine is a relatively simply journey . . . trying to recreate what I find beautiful in nature . . Not to change it . . not to interpret it in some other form . . . .but to re-create in the finest photo-realistic detail I can, that which I felt an attraction for in the first place. From that I seek to learn what the attraction was in the first place and to heighten it's pleasure. But more than that, those who have not experienced the trials and tribulations, the anxieties and the exhilarations of living with a painting , I mean truly living with it over the course of weeks or months, to the point where it overwhelmingly occupies your thoughts and feelings cannot truly understand my artistic journey nor the countless others who strive for photo-realism. (I can only assume you probably think photo-realism is not art given your comment on a recent thread of mine)

To suggest working that from photos your inhibit your ability to “see” cannot be further from the truth. It depends on what you want to “see” my friend. I can honestly say that over the course of a painting I see and learn more about the subject than most could appreciate. I believe I could still re-create in relatively fine detail previous works of mine only because I sought to know the subject to a greater level of detail than most and the memory of that image is indelibly etched on my mind. Because I sought to “see” . . not what you might see . . but what “I” wanted to see.

Others here have tried to interpret Dan’s statement to mean there is some loss of experience from not painting from life. Maybe so for some, but it is NOT the experience we’re all seeking. (BTW, I HAVE painted from life and it did nothing to enhance the journey I described above.) Having said that, they are only interpretations of Dan’s words, and with no further supportive argument from the instigator then they remain as such. I for one have my own interpretation and I took offence as would Degas, and many of the greatest wildlife artists such as Carl Brenders and Robert Bateman.

It would be quite easy for me to mount a compelling argument that those who do not achieve photo-realistic detail are cheating in some way by glossing over, say, the subtle nuances that appear in the iris of a lion or the texture of coarse fur . . but I don't since I can appreciate all forms of art to some extent or another, and, believe it or not, have always enjoyed your work for it’s vibrancy and fluidity . .something I could not attain. But I do not believe any form of art is higher than another.

Now the photos from which I work may or may not be true to colour, but I hasten to add that many paintings drawn from life are also not true to colour . . . and who cares . . if someone wants to interpret the true colours into somehing more vibrant than they actually are (such as in your paintings) . . then fine! With a sound knowledge of colour theory, one can interpret anything they want from a photo as well as one can from life (I've done it)

On a more practical note, I paint wildlife, and I get to paint between the hours of 10:00pm and about 1:00am most days. I can’t for the life of me figure out how to hold a pastel whilst trying to keep six geese still and hold a torch in the other hand . . .because that’s what you’re asking me to do.

This is the first time I've written something of this nature on a WC thread . . . . again Jackie, I apologise.

06-10-2003, 11:47 AM
You are right and may want to repost this IN the debates forum.
I think it is a bit strong in THIS thread, but I hope it may remain for what it is.
A well thought out and strong opinion.
Please take up the issue IN the other forum.
I believe Jackie started this as an impetus to open the eyes of others and encourage new posting.
I hope no one will feel the need to defend themselves here. I hope it will not get into a battle of viewpoints. This is a good point well taken and hopefully not to be contended with.
IF you or others want to more fully explore the greater nature of the discussion, GET IN THERE and post the debate, but lets let this sit as a show and tell with inspiration.
IF you feel strongly about it, I would suggest reposting a brief recap and moving this reply with a link to it into the debates.
Not censorship, just housekeeping!

Mary Ruth
06-10-2003, 02:00 PM
I'm still trying. This is really hard, but I do think I am getting a lot out of it even if my work doesn't show it. Feel kind of dumb putting my attempts in here with the rest of the actual paintings, but I want to learn and this is my best chance. It is really great being able to come here and see the work done by folks who know what they are doing. Keep hoping some of it will rub off. I don't take very good pictures, so please pardon the blur.

I stuck #1 in a thread of it's own and, here goes #2
And #3

06-10-2003, 03:56 PM
You're not giving yourself enough credit. I love your landscape. :clap: :clap:

06-10-2003, 05:03 PM
Interesting thread. I paint from photos a lot and will continue to do so. I also see the value in doing actual 3D. At the moment I am doing a portrait of a friend in Switzerland...obviously she can't sit for me. But it's a black and white and I'm doing it in earth tones. It's not done yet, but it's my best work to date I feel. I plan on doing some plein air but it's frustrating chasing the light around...I'm a detail oriented person (for example...I spent an hour just doing a single fingernail to get the tone and shading just right) and that's difficult to do..even with a still life that is artificially lit, the room ambience changes as the daylight moves. For a long time I felt all I was doing was copying the photos...at the time it was good because I could compare my results and see if it was the same. But my artwork is evolving and now I 'feel' what I'm seeing. I see a nostril flare or can tell just how the pillow under a head indents...it all adds to my work. Cheating is a hard word...ia photo is a reference just as is a still life. It's a good challenge you've given here, with a lot of merit. And people should step out of the mold once in awhile so their work doesn't get stale. But on my own personal journey through my life's art I'll use photos as needed and IMAGINE my way to the unseen curve, the hint of color in the shadow...afterall, this is my interpretation of what I see...be it in real life, a photo or in my mind...that said, when this piece is done and posted I'll give it the challenge a shot....

06-10-2003, 05:24 PM
Mom always told me to never argue three things:

- Religion
- Politics
- Using photographs as reference for painting

So, ummm, as usual, I have nothing valuable to add. :D

- Greg

06-10-2003, 05:33 PM
Originally posted by rd2ruin
Mom always told me to never argue three things:

- Religion
- Politics
- Using photographs as reference for painting

So, ummm, as usual, I have nothing valuable to add. :D

- Greg

I take it you're the one who always broke up the fights in the school yard :D

Your mother is wise.

Kathryn Wilson
06-10-2003, 08:35 PM
Ooooohhh . . . the devil's gonna get me on this one :evil: :evil: :evil:


Not happy with this at all, but the heat and the mosquitos got the better of me, so I did a quickie sketch and took it inside.


06-10-2003, 09:34 PM
Kat if I could paint this picture half as well as you have I would be happy.
Are you on 'rural delivery' as well? I like the plants around the base of the stand.
If I were to go down to the gate and paint our r.d. box I would be rather cold......send me some heat please?

Kathryn Wilson
06-10-2003, 10:13 PM
Carol: Thanks for the kind comments - not sure why I am unhappy with it other than I did not achieve the vision in my head about this scene. Whether photo or real life, I seem to want to change or interpret the scene differently - consciously or subconsciously.

We live in a subdivision and this is my neighbor's mailbox with lovely lavendar dotted with pinks. Picture a hot, muggy afternoon, sun shining and mosquitos biting - I'll take some of your cold weather. I'm such a wimp. ;)

One thing I learned doing this painting, I have color issues. Still learning what works and what doesn't. After trying myriad greens try to get the deepest shadow, I found that purple does wonder for green shadows (if that makes any sense). But, every time I do something, I learn something and it's not a total loss. :)

06-10-2003, 10:34 PM
Kat, I am a skinny, wee thing (100lbs?) and have NO insulation on my bod. I prefer muggy.

I had 'colour issues' with my cloth on my still life no-photo pic as well. I am yet to see the colours in white that Sally Strand is able to see. I love her work, but I must have to wear rose coloured glasses to get the pinks and blues she paints.



Craig Houghton
06-11-2003, 10:06 PM
Here goes..

True to my word I spent the last 4 pastels working "from life." I think I'll continue working that way for a while (for the most part :) ). It's been incredibly valuable, and a real confidence booster as well. It's amazing how high the 'resolution' is in real life as opposed to a photo :P

I stuck a fork in a grape.


I pastelled my unbearably cute girlfriend while she slept all snuggly sound.


I struggled with foreshortening on a cd I placed before me on my studio table (yeah it's wobbly ;) ).


And, I managed a pipe with tobacco falling out into blackness and the table. This one I'm rather pleased with since I think I managed the marbling.


Thanks Jackie! It's been fun. I think I'll try an in-the-mirror sp next.


06-11-2003, 10:19 PM
Craig, congratulations! You get The Prize! (What is that, Jackie? ;) ) I can sense your feelings of satisfaction with what you've achieved. There is a special connection with subjects painted from life. It is simply not the same as working from a photo. 'So happy for you to have experienced this!


Kathryn Wilson
06-11-2003, 10:27 PM
Craig: Fantastic job on that pipe! Not sure about the shadow, you might soften that intensity.

06-11-2003, 11:06 PM
Nice work, Craig! I think you got the marbling just right too.

ok...here's a carved figure I have that I did in soft pastel...the piece is 5x7 on watercolor paper(this is an extreme close up and the whole thing is lighter in life, the shadow is violet, not black as it looks)...but have to be honest...doesn't seem any different than working from a good reference photo...but it's good to be able to do work either way...


06-12-2003, 04:32 AM
Craig, the pipe is beautifully done! Great colours too, and composition ~ I love the way it's lying on the corner of the table. Dyin, nice job on the carved ornament. The w/colour paper gives it an interesting texture.

06-12-2003, 05:00 AM
Great Job Craig, love the pipe:clap:
Dyin... great job... i have the same figure at home

06-12-2003, 05:45 AM
Wow, I was only away for a day, and look what you guys have been up to!

You know what........it doesn't matter if it aint perfect, the idea was to work from life if you USUALLY only work from photos - in order to experience the difference.

Crumy - you realy have no need to defend your position at all, but that said, ywhat you had to say was most interesting. I won't go into big details here, I just want to say that I am pleased that you HAVE experienced working from life too - this thread was really aimed at those who actually AVOID working from life, and work from photos for convenience's sake more than anything. Although, I must say, I really enjoy the mental image of you chasing those geese around the garden with a torch......thanks for that.

Craig - your commitment and determination is awesome. Keep up the good work.

Dyin - it may be that working from a good ref photo for this figurine would not have been much different..........but when you get to landscape pics, that is when the "difference" really kicks in. The camera will do quite a good job of a close-up photo of an object, but will do a far less good job of a landscape scene. The camera will also fail to do justice in a portrait situation, where the changes of plane in a face are much more subtle than they are in an object like this.

Kyle - lots of gold stars for braving the mosquitos! Foliage isn't easy, and you were brave to try the purple, and it worked too. Terrific. I think the composition might have been improved if you had either been a bit lower, or higher, so that the horizon line didn't collide quite so much with the elements of the postbox. Hope you don't mind me saying so.

Mary Ruth - what a lovely soft sky, I'd like to be there with the birdies. Just one word on sky painting generally tho, with others might find useful too.

Despite the fact that the sky overhead would appear to be furthest away from you, in fact, that is where the sky is mostly "warm blue" - ultramarine, the blue with a touch of purple. Then, think of the horizon as being further way..........and therefore cooler. This is where the sky turns more blue-turquoise, and sometimes, right at the horizon, it is almost bleached out into palest blue, almost cream.

If you don't believe me, people, go outside and look. Crane your neck backwards and study the blue overhead. Then bring your eyes down and see how the blue changes, becoming cooler and paler towards the horizon.

Keep up the good work everyone!

Kathryn Wilson
06-12-2003, 06:15 AM
Jackie: Nope, don't mind the critique a bit - the suggestion about the horizon line is right on - now that someone else sees what was bothering me, it can be fixed easily enough. Your suggestion about sky color can be used here too.


06-12-2003, 09:13 AM
Thanks, Jackie, Smudger, E-J....the sky thing was explained somewhere as being an inverted bowl....the deepest color would be at the bottom of the bowl and haze out towards the edges...everytime I look at the sky now that's how I see it and it helps in painting...
smudger....doesn't that figure just really capture how you feel sometimes????

06-12-2003, 09:28 AM
Yep, I use the upside-down bowl usually, when I explain this. A blue bowl, with the base sitting just above your head, and the rim at eye leve.
However, this sometimes feels "wrong" to some people, who feel that the sky reaches away to infinity above your head! So I didn't use this description this time!


06-12-2003, 09:40 AM
Sorry - I missed NancyMae's landscapes, and she has asked me to comment so here goes.

The landscape pic at top...........lovely feeling of space and air, but compositionally, a few things to think about:
1. Where is your focal point? What do you want the viewer to look at in particular, if anything?
2. Is the pic about the sky, or about the land? It might be best to decide this. If it is more about the sky, then perhaps it might be better to have two-thirds sky, one third land. If it is more about the lake, then perhaps have two-thirds lake, one-third sky. This will make for a stronger composition than a 50/50 split, which is what you have now.
3. Your horizontals look a bit unreal. There is an uphill slope right under the tree line on the right. This doesn't make a lot of sense - water edges, at lakesides, etc, are horizontal, and even if there are zig-zags to show inlets, these are always horizontal.


The tree/flower pic. Again, you have approximately 50% tree trunk, which is a large, fat, dominant shape, and approx. 50% flowers which are thin, wavy tendrils. The tree shape therefore rather dominates the scene.

My sense is that you really wanted to show the viewer those lovely flowers. Am I right? If so, perhaps you could make less of the tree - perhaps crop a bit - and make more of the sensuous, curving forms of the flowers? You had an opportunity there to exaggerate their lovely curving forms by giving yourself licence to do so, and make a wonderful pattern of feminine, curving lines. Get that elbow moving, and create luscious curves! Do them in the air before you start to do them on the paper! And put in lots more - no-one will know how many were really there! This gives you the chance to make use of overlapping forms.

Giving a pic a title before you begin, helps you focus on what it is about and what to emphasise. If the top on is "lake" then let's see more lake, less sky. It the top one is "clouds over lake" then let's see more sky. If the flower pic is, say, "Dancing Flowers", make 'em dance!!

Hope this helps,

06-12-2003, 11:13 AM
a bit of humor for the plein air painters

06-12-2003, 11:51 AM
Your replies make PERFECT sense. I guess what I need to do is THINK about my subjects...instead of plowing ahead in the excitement of painting plein aire!! The clouds were the subject of my landscape painting....as I have a hard time with them...I thought I would tackle them that day. You are soo right about making something the focal point. I will stop and think before blasting away with my pastels.

My bleeding hearts were my focal point...and I could not figure out why I didn't like the picture after I painted it. Yes...I could have put more in...and made them the larger portion of the painting. I think I will do the picture again...seeing how I have the beautiful flowers right in front of my office. I LOVE your picturesque words about dancing flowers!!! I will try it and re-post my new pictures.....with THINKING the first thing I do!!!

Thank you sooo much for your wonderful and right-on critiques!!!!
This has been a great learning experience for everyone!!


06-12-2003, 01:35 PM
cookin en plein air (barbecue)

06-12-2003, 01:39 PM
en plein air painting indoors!

06-12-2003, 02:22 PM
Hi Henry - I see you are new to WC, and while I don't want to throw water on the flames of your enthusiasm.........(!) I have rather lost the point of this. What are you trying to say here?


06-12-2003, 02:44 PM
I never really understood how much the camera can lie until recently. I met someone who had a really interesting face, but on seeing a photograph realized that the camera had flattened out the planes of his bone structure, which were what made the face interesting in the first place.

I still can't tell if an artist has used a photo or real life to work from, but I am beginning to understand why real life is preferable if your medium is reasonably quick. I've also noticed that I seem more able to capture a person's likeness when drawing from real life, but it is hard to get someone to sit still for more than a few minutes.

Kathryn Wilson
06-12-2003, 05:41 PM
Jackie Making my pictures do double-duty. Just posted this in the Weekly thread, but since it is a still life from life, thought I would toss it in here. Very different style for me and I think I like it. 20 min. 11 x 14 Pastel Clayboard



06-12-2003, 10:35 PM
Craig - beautiful work, the fork/grape and pipe are my faves i just want to frame that pipe and add "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" and hang it on the wall. :angel:

That drawing of me sleeping makes me tired


06-12-2003, 11:25 PM
That's kind of cool, Henry...an illustration for something?
I like that, Kat...neat colors, like the style!

06-13-2003, 09:10 AM
I naturally as a child, gravitated to working from photos. Maybe I should have been a photographer! lol I love photos and purposely make them my first step in my work.
I have 8+ years of lifedrawing, from the age of 15, and do draw from life. So, I can benefit from the extreme detail of the photo and a built in memory of how things appear in life. I think that everyday observation of everything around oneself is a total benefit to any painter or draftsperson especially one that chooses to work realistically. Being able to work beyond one's reference is what that enables. After all, we as artists have total say in how we manipulate our reference. An excellent quality photo with great lighting is a plus.
Whether one chooses to love and therefore work from their photo references or enjoys setting up a still life or model, it is the during and the end that matter. Are you happy with what you have, did you love doing it and did you reach most of your goals. The choice of reference, live or past, is irrelevant to me in deciding if I love a piece of my own work or someone elses.
Some instances are only capturable for a very short time. I love making sure I have that thrilling image I saw and I know right away if I want to paint it. 90% of the time, that means photographing it becasue once I have to leave, it is gone forever.
So, I think that the piece in the end is the importrant part, not where the artist got their reference or inspiration from. That remains a personal choice. Everyone has their loves and their own comfortable way of working. We have the ability to admire open mindedly or reject in our own choices each for their own individual pros and cons without passing judgement.

Kathryn Wilson
06-13-2003, 09:45 AM
Joss: I agree Joss - well said and well thought out. When you are first starting out and learning to draw, composition, etc., etc. life drawing is important, but once you have those skills and feel confident and comfortable and it all flows, I see no problem with using photos as a reference. But, a photo shouldn't be the only reference - emotion, inspiration should also go into a great painting and it will show.


06-13-2003, 10:19 AM
While I agree with many of the sentiments expressed above, and would never deny anyone the right to work EXACTLY the way that pleases them, where I am coming from is from experience as a tutor as well as a painter.

I have seen many, many instances of paintings worked from photos, where the artist does not move beyond the "comfort zone" of the photo, and does not, as a result of LACK of experience of working from life, fully understand what they are copying. In fact, copying is the perfect word here. This is where my problem lies. I see too much copying going on, and not enough "moving beyond the photo" - and this is sometimes not because of lack of desire to be creative, it is purely lack of understanding, and, funnily enough, fear of "getting it wrong". The photo MUST be right, mustn't it? That seems to be the prevailing school of thought.

And yet photos are often very inadequate in terms of the information they offer. For instance, a photo which shows a line of distant trees, will often show that those trees are just as dark as anything in the foreground. If you reproduce the photo in greyscale, this can easily be seen.

However, the artist working outside will in fact be able to see, with the naked eye, what the camera does not see.......and that is aerial perspective at work. The tone of those distant trees will, in fact, be fractionally lighter than any dark tone in the foreground. In fact, in many cases, the trees might even be CONSIDERABLY lighter in reality. Aerial persective throws veils of dust-filled atmosphere between the viewer and the distance, which will cool down, and pale down, the tones. Why the camera should distort this is beyond me, I am not technically minded - I only know it to be completely TRUE that it does.

This is only one small example.

Another example is what happens when a figure is photographed "up close". The bottom half of the figure is often distorted by the camera. I noticed this immediately, when working recently from photos of dancers who posed for me in my studio. My sketches were accurate; the photos most certainly were not, and if I had copied those photographs, my paintings would be been badly affected. Harley Brown puts this nicely: he says " when you paint from life, your brain understands and compensates for distortions. But the camera can't. If you take a photo of a person from eye level, feet will appear way too small, because they are farther from the lens. ....Come in too close for a portrait photo and your subject's nose will appear disproportionately large. A too-long telephone lens, on the other hand, will flatten a face and make the ears come forwards".

There are ways to limit camera distortions, but not everyone understands how to do this, and as a result, the distortions are faithfully copied.

Also, most cameras can only calculate exposure for the light areas of a scene - so shadows fill in. If you go and look at shadows in real life, they are full of subtle colour and detail which the camera will completely fail to capture.

Lastly on this subject - A camera will focus right across the scene. An artist, on the other hand, might decide to apply more detail at the centre of interest, and soften other areas. Those who work faithfully from photos often forget to do this.

In an ideal world, every artist would use the photo, as you do Joss, as a starting point, rather than something to copy. Or, if, like wildlife artists, they do copy, they do so from a position of absolute understanding and knowledge, and they make the image even more vivid.

I have no problem, as I said right at the beginning of this thread, with anyone working from photos. I do, however, as a tutor and fellow artist to all those here at WC, want to encourage those who work almost exclusively from photos, to experience the difference in working from life. To see what there is to be seen in the difference between a 5cm photographed tree and a 20' real tree. To see the wonderful nuances of colour in a shadow. To see how, when you work from life, you have to learn to work quickly, without fiddling, even if that means that your painting might look a little rough around the edges. How the excitement is there in the picture nevertheless - an excitement which is hard to recreate when you work slowly and methodically from the static base which is the photograph, fiddling away to your heart's content until you have fiddled it to death, as sometimes happens!

As Harley Brown puts it - the difference can be likened to attending a concert versus listening to a recording. There can be no doubt of the difference in emotion that you will experience, and the difference in the experience itself.


06-13-2003, 10:20 AM
Working from photographs is fine if you believe that the photographic process
is the end all of visual reality. In this time, when we are inundated with
these photographic images, the vast majority of individuals see reality as taught to them by all of these images from television, and printed media, and from their own cameras. It is not reality and only reveals a dead likeness. It takes
some doing for one thus programmed by photography to "unlearn" seeing
reality as the photograph describes it.
when someone who is grounded in painting from a photo starts to
paint from nature, they may encounter almost unsurmountable difficulties
dealing with an overload of information that won't stay still.(outdoors)
A flat surface where the color can be easily referenced does not exist
as it does in the photo, and the painter soon must realize that the dead
coloration of the photo doesn't exist. All surfaces appear multi-dimensional in reality, there is a subjective quality to it. You see it through the conditioning
you bring to it. Studying color from nature can bring freedom to your senses.

With the invention of the camera, the artist was freed from the labor intensive task of rendering , as the camera can do that instantly. The brunt
of the modernist movement was the natural reaction of the intelligent artistic
community to having been relieved of their profession of producing ' literal
narritive paintings. {It is interesting to note that the invention of modern photography coinsides with the advent of the paint in tubes and the availability of a full spectrum pallette, which for the first time allowed
artists to go outside their studios and study the true colors of nature. barbizon school >impressionist school>post impressionist }
All this to deliver some advice: Untie the other part of your visual brain, and
study nature in sunlight. You may have to give up the idea of making money from it, as it make take years of effort to rise above the "copy cat" style chasing, and the "that will do" attitude... to acheive some real individual quality in your painting and visual experience.
Don't spend your painting time comparing your intelligence to a Photograph.
True are is progressive.

Kathryn Wilson
06-13-2003, 10:51 AM
I guess I am playing "devil's advocate" here - and I don't think I am expressing myself very well in words, so here it is in pictures. This is just an example of how I would use a photo. In a Pastel Riot a month ago I saw one of the photos as boring, very flat and it needed to be boosted, but I had an inspiration from the photo that this could be changed in mood:


my inspiration from the reference photo:


06-13-2003, 10:56 AM
Hi Henry, That's a very well thought out argument... so why didn't you just say that in the first place?:confused:

06-13-2003, 01:45 PM
It may be true that beginning artists are copying more than creating and yes, photos can do all these things Jackie mentioned. But the point to be made is that photos are references...not necessarily the end all, be all. Yes, someone who is making shadows black because they look that way in a photo is losing out on the experience because there are nuances to everything and photos don't capture them all. What Jackie said she wanted to do was to get people to experience the difference, to see the subtleties. Nothing wrong with that and a very good idea too. Where this started to get off track was when some thought using photos at all was 'cheating'. How is it different than using a real life subject...you are still trying to capture what you see. And with either you should think about the composition that will best work, apply good painting priciples, pay attention to value and tone and put your own mark on it. Each of us has our own muse to follow and there is no right or wrong, only what works and doesn't to make a good piece of work evolve.

Accepted ways of painting and period styles have been challenged over the centuries and this will be an ongoing debate for probably as long as there are artists to belabor the point. I say take what you need and leave the rest. When you've reached a point where you feel you have accomplished what you set out to do, then be happy. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and one person's ideal may not be yours, and vice versa.

06-13-2003, 01:55 PM
okay gang - this was meant to be a challenge, not a heavy debate.

Let's get back to basics.

Do you use photos all the time? If the answer is yes, then why not have a go at working from life for a change, to see and feel the difference.

Simple as that. End of.


06-13-2003, 05:34 PM
"Where this started to get off track was when some thought using photos at all was 'cheating'". ... Dyin

Actually no one said it was "cheating" to use a photograph. what they said was
that one cheat's oneself by relying only on photographs and not painting from
nature. One cheats oneself by not studying directly from nature. I
think the real difference is one of a person's philosophy about art.
On one side we have those who think Art is something
that you learn to do by perfecting your mixing formulas and tricks, and maybe even devise a personal touch to claim as "style" then use what you have devised, to make paintings that you think will appeal to peers and patrons. On the other side you have those who consider Art as something that
you experience in order to increase your awareness of who you are and
where you are. Their work is an ongoing study of visual reality. What they chose to paint depends upon what problems they are trying to solve for their own understanding. Their Paintings are just by-products of a learning experience.
But then, Yes, you can have it both ways. A painter can do some things
for the sake of learning and others for the sake of commerce.

06-14-2003, 02:57 AM
I would like to see some more pics from those interested in trying out a change of approach, that is what I had originally hoped for. And along with those pics, I'd like to hear 1) how it made you feel and 2) whether you did, in fact, find that you could "see" more than you had thought you might.

Nice to see a pic of Angeline in another thread, doing her best to have a bash at this. She deserves lots of gold stars. It is all too easy to sit back and continue to do what you have always done - the hard thing to do is try something new and unfamilair and uncomfortable.

Let's get painting, people.


Mikki Petersen
06-15-2003, 01:20 PM
Okay, Jackie, be careful what you wish for. Here's my first attempt. It is oil pastel and I'm doing double duty because this is also an entry into the "Sweets" project.

Sweet Treat
Oil pastel on Art Spectrum, grey

How did I feel? Artsy. What difference did I see...The shadows definitely have more definition, more color, than in photos. I am determined to begin doing landscapes this way but I feel very vulnerable and conspicuous working away from my studio. Guess that is habit. Because of my balance disorder, which causes disorientation, I cannot go out without a companion, usually my husband. He is infinitely patient and supportive but I feel guilty and get fidgity having him sit around while I paint. I am thinking of having him take up fishing again so he can fish while I paint.

I also find on the few attempts I've made, that I have difficulty defining a subject. If I were to mount a viewfinder to my field easel (see, I've even got the equipment), so that I would confine my vision, would that be defeating the purpose of plein aire painting?

06-15-2003, 02:44 PM
Yummy, that candy looks great....would love to see a larger pic of it tho...you're doing really great with the OPs. Are you liking the Art Spectrum surface???

06-15-2003, 02:49 PM
Challenge noted Jackie. Visibly, works done plein air stand out more so than one done from a photo.

Mikki Petersen
06-15-2003, 05:35 PM
Originally posted by Dyin
Yummy, that candy looks great....would love to see a larger pic of it tho...you're doing really great with the OPs. Are you liking the Art Spectrum surface???

Thanks Dyin'! I find the Art Spectrum solves most of my complaints about OP's, especially the tackiness. I've had difficulty layering with OP's on other surfaces, too, but the grittiness of the Art Spectrum paper resolves that. The OP's have a translucense (sp) that the dry pastel does not which is nice but it is harder to get a fine line with them.

06-15-2003, 05:49 PM
A couple times I've done a fine line using a hard edge, a ruler, french curve etc, or you can cut a shape out on a thin plastic and use that...but usually I just shave a tiny spot and get a new edge. I'll have to try the Art Spectrum...getting ready to try the Wallis sanded for the next project after this...what brand of OPs are you using? I notice a difference in the blending abilities mainly on a cheap set...but also notice that a light touch with the Senneliers blends better than the Caran d'Aches.

Mikki Petersen
06-15-2003, 09:02 PM
I treated myself to a full set of Senneliers a while back when I was feeling flush. I love them. Want to try some Holbeins though as I've heard they are even better and they come in more colors.

06-15-2003, 09:19 PM
Did you see my post in the Oil Pastel Info sticky? Sennelier discontinued a bunch of their colors...I listed which ones so people will know what can't be replaced...they have a bunch of new colors too (some really nice ones)...for a new total of 120 and only 10 are irridescent now...I'd like to try the Holbeins too...I have the complete set of Caran d'Ache too...they're nice for sharp lines too and I think they're pretty good all around...like the Senneliers for finishing layers...so rich and buttery!

Mikki Petersen
06-15-2003, 11:55 PM
Thanks for the info...I'll have to check them out.

06-16-2003, 01:14 AM
Mikki, just thought I'd let you know that using a viewfinder is definitely ok when working plein air! I have one that has a red filter and lines for composition...not that I remember to take it with me all the time. Mostly I just use my fingers to create a vertical or horizontal rectangle! They're with me all the time...lol!

Great painting of the sweets...love the reflections! And I'm really impressed with your oil pastel work...mine is rather dismal!

Mikki Petersen
06-16-2003, 03:02 AM
Thanks Carly, both for the information and for your kind words. The oil pastels are a different sort of beast from the soft pastels for sure. I'm trying to master them because I find I can get away with less colors and that makes traveling easier. Also the work is less fragile.

Try using a really toothy surface like Art Spectrum. It really seems to help.

06-16-2003, 06:08 AM
Hi again. I went to a new class tonight to check it out. Really nice teacher and fellow students. I took along my pastels and had to do a still life of a pumpkin that was in front of me. It was really hard for me to get into and I flopped around a bit like a non-swimmer in deep pool! but after a while it seemed to come together ok. I still wished for a digital camera to photograph the vege to do at a slower pace at home...
I have to practice.
Here tis


06-16-2003, 06:14 AM
uh oh...no it's not! Can't get this new look uploader to work:crying: I shall try again.

06-16-2003, 06:16 AM
hmm this time lucky??
Sorry 'bout this folks - do not adjust your sets...

06-16-2003, 06:39 AM
hi Carol ... let me try for you ... I hope this works ...



It looks as if the image didn't actually upload ...

06-16-2003, 07:02 AM
I'm gonna have to leave this for now. Sorry about this Jackie for using up space here. I seem to be getting programme errors with my pic and it's too late in the evening to try anything now.
Tomorrow is a brand new day....thanks for trying E-J.

06-16-2003, 09:20 AM
Mikki - if you come back to this - it is practically ESSENTIAL to use a viewfinder when out of doors painting. The landscape just goes on and on otherwise! Having your hubby nearby, fishing, sounds a great idea. When you get fed up with the scenery, you can do "figure in the landscape" !!

Good job on the still life with sweeties. Did you eat them all at the end? You deserved it.

some of you others-------- too much yakking, not enough painting.


Mikki Petersen
06-16-2003, 12:37 PM
Thanks Jackie for the information and nice compliment. No I didn't get to eat the candy...when I said "fini", he swooped in like a robin after a worm! LOL!

Well if you and Carly say a view finder is alright, then I guess I'm good to go! It's going to be 100F here today so I won't be testing my view finder quite yet...

06-16-2003, 04:22 PM
1mpete your lollies are fabulous. Can I have some please?
Man oh man I am having major trouble trying to upload and I don't think it's me....anyone able to help me please? I'm not sure, but I think it's the new uploader thing...

Mikki Petersen
06-16-2003, 06:36 PM
Carol, I'm hearing all over the place that folks are having trouble with the uploader today. You might want to check the Site Discussion forum and see if anyone has alerted Scott to the problem or PM him.

06-16-2003, 09:16 PM
yayyy it's gonna work this time!
Here's the pumpkin I struggled to paint as well as upload!
I'll keep on practising this 'in real life' business as I don't like to be beaten by these things at all! (including computers!):D

Mikki Petersen
06-16-2003, 09:41 PM
Beautiful little study Carol. Glad you beat Upload monster.

06-16-2003, 11:23 PM
tell me , i know my avatar appears reckless.
Fill in the blanks
_________knows how
to _______better than anyone else.

06-16-2003, 11:43 PM
Hi Henry. It's winter here and our pumpkins are definately in season for soup and roast. I had an American girl stay here a few weeks ago and she couldn't get over the fact that it is a vege. here and not for sweet pies!
I don't understand what you mean with your post. Avatar? My dictionary says that's a Hindu deity. What do you mean?

06-16-2003, 11:46 PM
Thanks Mikki. Now will you share your lollies with me?

06-17-2003, 12:07 AM
avatar refers to the picture i have posted to
represent an image of my post. it is just
an abstrac t interpetation in m¥ case (tfp /t0ally freaked )
tell me about the weather in nz. (yearround)?
oops forgot the forum format, thanks.

06-17-2003, 12:49 AM
en plein air sclupture
etched with a shovel
in de ground.:clap:

06-17-2003, 04:23 AM
Henry, you make me feel very old. I haven't the foggiest idea what you are on about -or on - I suspect this is a generation thing - or are others confused too, I wonder?

I thought this thread was about encouraging people who use photos, to break out of the safety zone and try working from real objects instead. Perhaps this is boring to you. Or perhaps I should be sorry that I cannot understand where you are coming from - maybe you are a genius and I am not on your wavelength at all.

Carol - what a terrific pumpkin pic. How did you feel, painting from life? Did it feel any different to working from photos?


06-17-2003, 04:53 AM
Thanks Jackie. I found working with a pumpkin sitting in front of me very difficult. I didn't really know how to get the detail without holding the thing right up to my face or being able to zoom in on a particular part without a computer or magnifying glass! I had to make up the orange background 'cos behind it a guy was sitting with a blue jersey on which didn't quite 'fit the picture'. I fumbled with colours until I realised I had the right ones amongst my pastel pencils and instead of using black I used a purple pencil and it all started to come together after that. I think that I would tend toward impressionism for plein air(?) as I don't have the same patience I have when using a photo. Maybe this will develop in time? My goal is realism.

06-18-2003, 03:03 AM
If your goal is realism, Carol, then impressionist landscape won't get you there!

Do more pumpkin-type things at home, where you can get closer to your subject if you want to. Then you will get real realism. A real pumpkin has GOT to offer you more information than a photo of a pumpkin, which is one step removed from the real thing!!


06-18-2003, 09:25 AM
If your goal is realism, Carol, then impressionist landscape won't get you there!

Hmm realism? (I know I'm standing on shaky ground here cause of my previous post) but If you want realism without interpetation, maybe
you had better carve a copy of the pumpkin first. then you can 'mix and match
the colors on the surface of the real pumpkin and then place them on the carved one.
There you have it, "plein air realism sclupture"
If you are translating a three dimensional object onto a two dimensional surface. (what a photo does) then you might try this. Take your picture
of the pumpkin and set that picture up next to the pumpkin, then make a visual comparison of what you see in the photograph and what you see
in the pumpkin. Make sure the pumpkin is in the same light that you
photographed it. (don't use the flash.) This way you can be sure to discover
what you are missing out on by painting from the photo.

06-18-2003, 09:54 AM
If your goal is realism, Carol, then impressionist landscape won't get you there!

Obviously there are a lot of misconceptions about what the Impressionist paintings were about.
I believe that the
grandaddy of all impressionists was probably Monet (after he had seen Turner's work.)
Monet obviously realized that all the tight drawing in the world would not give one the "impression" of the vibrancy of sunlight. He also realized that trying
to copy the coloration of objects also failed miserably. Here is the problem
The range of contrast obtainable with color and value on a flat surface is about 1::40 where as in bright sunlight the ratio of contrast in greater, more like 1::1000+ . Realizing this, the artist who wishes to portray
this intensity in order to be "realistic" must rely on interpetitive devices, such as exaggeration of color contrasts, and the expression of "glow" that occurs when a bright edges comes against a dark background. Or vice versa.
When Monet arrived at this interpetition, His critics accused him of bad drawing, since he would Lose edges where glows occured. They accused him
of using broken color, which he did, but it was based on an observation of
something that happens in nature. Have you ever looked at a field of shiny grass when the sun is makeing highlites everywhere that glow into the background.? If you compare his work to the Barbizon's work,(from whom
he got his start painting ) you should be able to tell his impression of sunlight is much more convincing.
So my point is this: The Real Impressionists were making accute observations of nature, and using paint to interpet it as best it would allow, They were recording what was happening in their eye and mind, when faced with the strong impact of sunlight and nature. A Photograph doesn't interpet. Its only artistic merit is when the camera in in the hands of one who is a master of selection. It doesn't portray "realism' in the way we see it. It is mechanical
its lens are made of glass and its film is made of plastic. Our lens are made of
living matter and our film is made of an interpetitive brain.

Craig Houghton
06-18-2003, 10:51 AM
Originally posted by henry

The range of contrast obtainable with color and value on a flat surface is about 1::40 where as in bright sunlight the ratio of contrast in greater, more like 1::1000+ .

1::40 vs 1::1000+

I am fascinated by the 1::40 stat.

Two questions in one sentence: What exactly is this a measurement of, and what is your source?


06-18-2003, 11:30 AM
I'm thinking this thread is loosing it's meaning here and if anyone wants to debate about things they should take it to the debate forum..........
This thread is for those of us who value Jackies opinion and encouragement for us starting out / learning pastels.
Thank you.

Craig Houghton
06-18-2003, 11:34 AM
Originally posted by angeline
I'm thinking this thread is loosing it's meaning here and if anyone wants to debate about things they should take it to the debate forum..........
This thread is for those of us who value Jackies opinion and encouragement for us starting out / learning pastels.
Thank you.

With all due respect (being one who highly "values Jackies opinion and encouragement"), a question about the loss of color depth between a two dimensional surface and real life seems quite relevant (and actually reinforces the advantage of working from life). Additionally, Henry's response was related to the pumpkin post. I am simply requesting clarification of the statistic used by Henry so that it may be placed in context.

There may be additional posts that are off topic. Henry posted some other responses which I thought did not belong, but this is not one of them. I would definitely like to learn what the 1::40 1::1000 is a measurement of.


06-18-2003, 11:46 AM
Ok i didn't word it very well.......it's hard too when you don't hear the tone too...........it's just Jackie started this to help us and i pop in to see if others have joined in and to see what advise she gives and it seems some posts are having a go at her.No offence mean't here. I'm not this bad in communicating in real life .....honest!

06-18-2003, 01:09 PM
Will i get a bad grade for sharing my view also?With all due respect, I am not
haveing " a go" at anyone. I was responding to the "ideal" that "Impressionism" does not get one where they want to go, in terms of realism.
To make this clear, I agree with Jackie, it is beneficial to paint directly from nature. I am trying to add a little depth to understanding why. In doing so,
I was pointing out that the discoveries of Monet reinforce this idea and give us one direction of understanding the importance of studying directly from
Sorry if i offended anyone.
To answer, the question of the ratio of available contrast, I can't remember
exactly where I read it. It was long ago. The numbers are really irrelevant, but to reiterate what I meant: The range of contrast and intensity that
one can acheive using pigment on a flat opaque surface, measured from the light reflected from its lightest light to its darkest dark is far less than the range of
contrast that occures in nature measured directly from the light coming from the sun(lightest light). and the lack of light in the bottom of a dark cave.(darkest dark)
the ratio of light to dark of a photograph is no greater than that of pigment on canvas. The photograph process averages out its range of values
light to dark mechanically to where you have black shadows under the tree on a bright day. or worse, (ever try to photograph the sun in a landscape?)
The Painter ,who a decent color vocabulary, and has developed some understanding of the mechanics of his own vision, can express the effects of sunlight, that are
not present in photographs. His means for doing this has to do with exaggeration of color contrast and the use color passages that
express the "glow of Sunlight. ( Turner) He/she can realize that nature has infinite
variety, whereas a photograph does not.
(Unless you are a technical stickler who would say there was an infinite
number of points between any two points.) ;-)

06-18-2003, 06:03 PM
Ok my ultra senstitive and hormonal self is going back under my rock now. :rolleyes:

06-18-2003, 06:18 PM
Henry to simplify matters to me the idea of taking a photo and comparing it to the subject in life was a good one. One day when I may afford a digital camera (with our $ we pay just under twice as much as you would) I will do what you suggested.
The rest is too technical for me to digest. However, my tutor told me that a photo averages all information it focuses on. So I guess the old saying that "cameras never lie" is incorrect.
Hayley - I understand - here's a << HUG >> for you girl. Don't worry, be happy!

06-19-2003, 04:37 AM
Well, unusually, as I didn't expect it - I rather enjoyed that little lot above! Henry - what you say is very sound, it is just a bit like listening to a university professor who is really brilliant and knows his subject really well, but dots all the i's and crosses all the t's and when he looks up, everyone is asleep!

Sorry, that sounds awful ... don't mean to condemn you because what you have to say is really worthwhile .......it is just that there are ways and ways of saying things, and sometimes people get lost along the way when it gets technical...as per Carol's comment!

I agree with you wholeheartedly, and your point about the "black" shadows is a lovely summing-up. It is exactly why I started this challenge. I can usually spot a painting done, by a beginner, from a photo, right away - and it is precisely because of this. The human eye sees so much more in life, than they will find in a photo.

I too agree that it would be fascinating to do what you suggest - take a photo of your subject, and put it up alongside the subject, and compare the differences.

If you have time that is, when you are supposed to be doing all these paintings FROM LIFE.

Hop to it, people.


06-19-2003, 04:51 AM
Hayley - don't take these threads too personally - it aint worth it!
No-one wants to upset anyone else, I am sure - there is just an impersonal element when you read stuff. As you so rightly say, a voice makes all the difference.

Now just get out from under that rock and get painting.

:p Jackie

Vegas Art Guy
06-19-2003, 11:22 AM
Well this tread has been very interesting to read, that is for sure. I actually started a new still life last night with my oil pastels. I promise to post it when it's done. I guess the important thing is to remember that photos are a reference nothing more nothing less. They are not perfect but for those of us with sometimers it is a great help. The only other semi coherent comment I'll make it that it's ok to use that artistic liscence we all have, I just got mine renewed. :D Go ahead and change the composition to how YOU think it should be, not how it is...

Deborah Secor
06-19-2003, 01:42 PM
Let me introduce myself, since this is the first time I've posted anything here. I'm Deborah Christensen Secor and I'm a pastelist, teacher and writer. I'm enjoying all the things everyone has said.

As a pastel teacher for over ten years, one thing I've noticed is that when someone uses a photograph for reference the painting has an 'arm's length' look to it, the way the camera sets off the land at a distance. Often painters who use photos include things that no one paints from life, such as the grasses and weeds in the immdiate foreground or the leaves of a tree intervening between painter and subject. Often they recreate the depth of field of the camera, too, leaving a slightly blurry look to the distance--which the eye doesn't do.

Those are dead giveaways, aside from the obvious over-lightening or -darkening caused by the way the camera averages light. As you've mentioned, shadows are one of those places that suffer when painted from a photo, as is the sky, I believe. What is it about the color blue, which you find in shadows and the sky (and snow and water), that fools people into looking dark?

I often paint from photographs (and on location, too, of course) but I try to overcome these drawbacks. One of the nicest compliments I ever received came from an artist doing a demonstration for the local pastel society, who mentioned that none of my work ever looked like it was painted from photos... ;)

Mary Ruth
06-19-2003, 02:24 PM
Still trying. This is a miniature chamber set done on the smooth side of the paper, with Rembrandt Pastels. I am having a hard time, but I feel like I am learning even if it doesn't show as much as I would like. I have to get to town and buy some torchons, and hopefully, if I can learn to use them, I will be able to work these small areas a bit better. Thanks for looking and if you care to pass on any tips, I sure would appreciate it.

Mikki Petersen
06-19-2003, 03:15 PM
Deborah, so nice to meet you. One of the things I'm doing to overcome the "photographic" look, is taking several photos of the subject from different angles and different focuses. Then I do some quick sketches in color to record the true colors. We do a lot of local traveling and I find so many subjects for paintings that I could never spend all the time out of doors to paint them. I mostly do landscapes and I am learning to leave those little "framing" gimmicks out of my paintings. I still want ot do a lot more painting out of doors than I do now so my inner eye learns the colors of nature from memory.

Deborah Secor
06-19-2003, 04:17 PM
Thanks for the welcome...

One thing I often suggest is that my students should mentally 'walk into' the photograph, to try to imagine where in the picture they're putting their feet so that they can see the composition without all the clutter and distraction in the foreground.

You're so right--painting outdoors is the best way to teach the inner eye to see accurately. Then comes the need to see with the heart, to express not just accurately but with love.

Kathryn Wilson
06-19-2003, 04:20 PM
dee artist Welcome to the Pastel Forum! I love your arroyo painting - hope well get to see more of your pieces.


06-20-2003, 10:16 AM
Welcome Dee

I'm thrilled to see another fellow New Mexican in the forums. Please post more of your work here. You will love this place.

I looked at your web site and am considering enrolling for your Aug. /Sept. workshop. I want to paint the southwest landscapes in pastels too.

06-20-2003, 11:17 AM
Mary Ruth - a reply for you, as you say you are finding this hard.

I'd like to know - were those bits of china actually sitting on a purple ground?

I put a piece of white china onto a darkish blue ground, and what I noticed is that the shadows then became a darker version of the ground colour, rather than a different colour.

Also, there were some blue tones thrown up from the ground, into the colour of the china pieces. This was quite subtle, but it was there, on the underside of the curve of my white pot.

It isn't easy, working from life, but it sure makes you look hard!

Have another look at your still life, and see if you notice either of these two things.


Deborah Secor
06-20-2003, 11:21 AM
Wow! thanks for the welcome Johnab, and all of you. This seems like a wonderful place... I'm particularly enjoying seeing everyone's work. After all, art is communication, so having another see it and respond is what it's all about! But the response of your peers is most important.

Johnab-- I hope you decide to join us for one of the classes. I love teaching. It strengthens my own work to be constantly challenged by my students' questions and striving to learn.

Here's another painting of mine, this one done in less than 20 minutes, as a demonstration for a class on how to find shapes.

Deborah Secor
06-20-2003, 11:56 AM
Hmmm, that one was kind of small. Let me try again.

Mikki Petersen
06-20-2003, 12:21 PM
Dee, I love your southwest landscapes. We vacation in Flagstaff about once a year and I love all the southwest colors and high desert splendor. I took a peek at your website and you have some gorgeous work posted there. I only wish the photos of your paintings were a little larger so we could see them better.

06-20-2003, 05:00 PM
Hi Deborah and welcome.

Lovely landscape - you say it was "done for your class" to show how to find shapes. Was it done from life? If so, do say, because that is what this thread is about - encouraging those who generally use photos, to try working from life.


Deborah Secor
06-20-2003, 05:27 PM
Jackie, the painting was done to teach a class on how to see shapes, and was done using a tiny little 2x3" blurry photograph!

I know the intent of this thread and say 'hurrah' to you for it. I'm heading out into the mountians of New Mexico tomorrow with a group of students to paint the day away. There is simply no replacement for working from the real thing.

In my classes, however, I teach my students to work first using photos so that they can learn the 'rules' before they break them. There's nothing worse than breaking a rule, having it work, and not ever knowing how you did it--so you can't do it again! LOL

There's a wonderful article in the upcoming Pastel Journal that discusses breaking the rules. Hope you get to see it.

Mary Ruth
06-20-2003, 10:47 PM
Hi Jackie,
I looked. I saw. You are right on. Actually it was a purple ground, but I painted what I thought should be there instead of what was there. I feel a little stupid, but I think I learned a lot from my mistake. I plan on really taking my time and looking at what I am painting, and painting what I see. The problem is there isn't always a Jackie around to point us in the right direction. I really appreciate the time you have spent on this thread, and I think a lot of people have learned from it.

Mary Ruth

06-22-2003, 05:06 AM
Mary Ruth - SO brilliant that you can admit to yourself that you painted what you THOUGHT ought to be there, rather than what was actually there.

This is the whole point of this thread, to encourage people to work from life, and really LOOK at what is there.

Given that over 2000 people have visited the thread, hopefully the point is coming across to a few!!!


06-22-2003, 02:07 PM
Painting what we think. hmmm what a novel Idea.
Degas would tell folks that when one paints a portrait from
the model, he should pose the model downstairs,
and set the easel up upstairs. so that the painter must
look at the model, then go upstairs and paint what he remembered.
Now why in the world do you think he would suggest doing a portrait
in such a difficult manner?
we have all heard it said that art is not imitation. Art has to do with
capturing the essense of the idea; Reducing things to a beautiful
simplicity .
So it seems that maybe another Challenge in in order. Put those
photographs away. Choose a motif . study it. make a few notes
of why you chose to paint it. a few notes on the predominant colors
etc. , but no sketches. Then go back to the studio and paint it.
Your first effort may not be that successful, but go back and look again
make some more notes. In this manner you will develop you
ability to distill the essense, and remember .

06-22-2003, 04:18 PM
Actually, Henry, I was taught that Degas did not suggest this way of working in order to distil the subject, or to find its essence.

I was told that he believed that it was an excellent way to train one's visual memory.

As well it might be..............


Vegas Art Guy
06-23-2003, 04:03 PM
Wow, this has been one of the more informative threads I've seen anywhere. It made me go and break out my oil pastels and start working again (my WIP of the wine bottle http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?s=&threadid=114668). Thanks to all who have posted on this. I've learned a ton!


06-23-2003, 06:23 PM
Now why in the world do you think he would suggest doing a portrait
in such a difficult manner? henry
Actually, Henry, I was taught that Degas did not suggest this way of working in order to distil the subject, or to find its essence.

I was told that he believed that it was an excellent way to train one's visual memory. jackiesimmons

yes, you got that one right.
but I believe that distilling the essense of a thing follows the memory of it.
We are most likely to remember what strikes us about a motif first. If you keep going back to it , after some time you may be able to remember all of it.
Who knows? My point is that it is an exercise to add to that proverbial toolbox
of devices to improve our awareness, which this is all about, isn't it?

07-01-2003, 08:36 AM
Originally posted by dee_artist
Thanks for the welcome...

Somewhat off the topic of the thread ... my copy of the latest 'Pastel Journal' arrived this morning and I read with interest the article on an artist working in oil pastels ... the name of the artist meant nothing to me but I recognised the name of the author from this thread: Deborah Christensen Secor :) I realise now that I've read articles by you before, Deborah! Welcome to WetCanvas and the pastel forum.

Deborah Secor
07-01-2003, 10:06 AM
Oh! Thanks E-J. This seems like a gret place to hang out and talk art--one of my favorite things... :D

Deborah Secor
07-01-2003, 10:08 AM
...and happily at The Pastel Journal I have an editor who makes me look good. I do know how to spell 'great'! LOL