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jackiesimmonds
08-07-2013, 02:54 PM
I have seen so many on these boards, work from photos (and sometimes, I suspect, from life) without thinking at all about the quality of the LIGHT on their scene. This week's blog post of mine is about this, so it is very much in my mind, and thought I would challenge anyone who reads this to think about whether they are influenced only by the subject matter - cat, face of family member, barn in field, flower......and whether, actually, they often IGNORE the way that the light affects the scene.

My comments in the blog brought about some interesting responses. Clearly many people do not think about it overmuch...they often take the light for granted.

To give you a little taster, take a look at these two portrait pictures. I shall leave them to speak for themselves:

http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/07-Aug-2013/1805-childf.JPG


http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/07-Aug-2013/1805-irving.JPG

Kathryn Wilson
08-07-2013, 03:17 PM
Yes, I do with every painting. Even before I start I look at the light - is it a warm light or a cool light? Do I see enough in the way of shadows and cast shadows. Where are the brightest lights and darkest darks? It is all about the light and from my view, many a beginner in pastels fail because they've chosen a subject that is very poor in all those aspects but they expect to get a brilliant painting from it. Choose wisely then paint brilliantly.

Colorix
08-07-2013, 03:50 PM
Constantly, obsessively, fanatically.

If a client brought me the photo of the little girl, adorable as she is, I'd refuse to paint it.

Anyway, I left some comments in your post, as this is one of my "pet peevies". The multitude of flat photos in the RIL... I always wish someone could weed out the oceans of boring photos and only keep the decent and good ones. I don't like trawling through that much to find the rare good one.

The shadows are an important compositional element, both form shadows and cast shadows. I'm thinking still-lifes or landscapes. Quite often the cast shadows are isolated spots dotting the table or the ground, giving the painting a fractured look. Shadows need to be connected.

But, OK, when learning to paint, there is so much to keep in one's head before it becomes a reflex to just do it. It is fine if a developing artist focuses on one aspect at the time. But when basic skills are learned, there comes a time when learning composition, and composition of light and shadow, becomes necessary.

Oh, dear. Oh, well, I'll stop.

Very good you brought this up, Jackie.

DAK723
08-07-2013, 04:23 PM
In my experience, learning to draw can often be broken down into two strategies - drawing with lines or drawing the shapes of the shadows. For whatever reason, I learned the latter method, so I have always been influenced by the light in terms of the shapes of light and shadow that are produced. In my opinion, this is the most useful way of learning to draw because as a beginning artist progresses from drawing to painting, there is no change in approach. Painting is done the same way - depicting colored shapes of shadow and light.

Perhaps it is because I have always concentrated on light and shadow myself, that I always recommend portrait artists use references that have plenty of shadows. Light and shadow depict form - and make portraits much easier, as well, in my opinion. Much easier!

One common tip that artist's are often taught, however, held me back for 25 years or so. While I was looking at light and shadow, I never really grasped color. While I read about warm and cool, for example, I usually ignored the lesson because I was always taught that "If the value is correct, then you can use any color." I finally learned how incorrect that phrase is (at least if you are trying to capture the atmosphere of a scene) when I began to realize the importance of understanding how the color of the light influences everything in a painting. The color of the light sources (direct, indirect, & reflected) is now something I do try to understand and represent in my work.

That's my experience, for whatever it's worth.

Don

tulabula
08-07-2013, 04:28 PM
I an learning and thinking of doing a portrait and would like the opinion of you talented artist's as I have not tried portraits.
would this picture (my granddaughter) Be one you would consider painting or is it too flat?
Looking at it I think there is enough light and dark but I am not sure...
What do you think?
http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/07-Aug-2013/635212-painting_pictues_009_web_size.jpg

Dcam
08-07-2013, 04:35 PM
Good points Jackie:
One thing we all need to get under our belts is a strong sense of value; and along with value: warm/ cool/ intensity.
It is a good idea sometimes to work in black and white for a while with a broad range of values, even a black and white underpainting can be a foundation in finding not only light, but all important values.
If you must work from photos....be a good photographer with a decent camera and if possible, a photo editing software. Get the light RIGHT before painting. We know that working from life is always best, but if you are outdoors make sure you have a light situation that will produce the best work. For still life: mess with it, change the lighting around, move the objects and get the best situation. As far as the human figure/portrait, the examples shown are very telling.

We have too much fun. Derek:lol:

jackiesimmonds
08-07-2013, 06:34 PM
I an learning and thinking of doing a portrait and would like the opinion of you talented artist's as I have not tried portraits.
would this picture (my granddaughter) Be one you would consider painting or is it too flat?
Looking at it I think there is enough light and dark but I am not sure...
What do you think?
http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/07-Aug-2013/635212-painting_pictues_009_web_size.jpg


Now ask yourself....if there useful light on this portrait, to show the 3 dimensional form of the head? My examples above show exactly what I mean.

Then - another issue for me. I do not like painted portraits with smiles. If painting from life, the sitter would not be able to "hold" a smile for a long time, it would end up looking "frozen" in place. Smiling faces are the department of the camera, of a photo, not a painted portrait...in my humble opinion. Everyone knows that a photo captures just one moment in time, and they also know that a painting takes a long time to create...so clearly, any smiley painted portrait was done from a photo. And in that case.... Why not just enlarge the photo, and frame it? Do you really believe you can improve on the photo? Add something that the camera failed to capture? Show her personality better in some way? If not, why paint from it???????

And I would suggest, if you have never tried a portrait, that you learn all about portrait drawing before you embark on a painting. There are excellent books to be found, which will teach you about the construction of features, and will explain all about how to render the 3 dimensional form. In your shoes I would spend some useful learning time learning about, and practicing these things, before embarking on a portrait painting from a photo. Treat it as if you would the learning of a new language. You would not expect to read and understand a book in a strange language, without learning the vocabulary and grammar first............

As a teacher I believe it is a big mistake to leap into portrait painting from photos without doing a LOT of drawing from life first, you run the risk of falling into every single pitfall there is. As a student, we had to learn about how to draw eyes, mouths, noses, ears, etc, from every angle. We had to learn about their construction...how many little muscles in a lip, for example! There are different muscles in a top lip, to a bottom lip. We had to learn how to measure proportions properly. We had to spend hours drawing from a human skull. We had to then draw in black and white from the model, over and over. And from ourselves, in a mirror. It was a long time before we were even allowed to think about working in colour.

Working from a photo is doable, but I believe ONLY when you know what you are doing with tone and colour, and also how to recognise, and adjust for, the problems of photographic distortion.

Sorry, I will get down off my soapbox now.........

In the end, it is up to you. You may have a natural ability to paint a wonderful portrait from a photo...so if you want to have a try, go for it. But if you are disappointed with the result, just remember what I have said here.

J

westcoast_Mike
08-07-2013, 06:59 PM
I think about in respect to how I setup and how the scene is lit. I donít like to setup in full sun or full shade. Extreme glare on my palate as well as heavy shade cause difficulties in accurately judging the values of my sticks. Iíll usually setup in the sun, but turn so the sun is not on my box\board. Even if this means I have to paint looking over my shoulder. I think the absolute worst is mottled light. When Iíve been occasionally forced to do this, it like the worst of both extremes mentioned above.

For the scene, the two things I try to avoid are backlit, and midday. A strongly backlit view is difficult for me to see any values to help establish shape. Midday has the same problems for me as the shadows are not there.

Colorix
08-07-2013, 07:28 PM
Laurie, actually, well, no. Look at Jackie's examples: the photo of the child has no shadows at all in the face (just like your photo), but the photo of the man has one side that is clearly lit, and one side clearly in shadow. Though, your photo is way better, as it shows a half-profile. If you were a portrait artist, you could probably use it, but as you're just starting I recommend you use a photo taken without flash, preferably outdoors, or by a window, which shows a shadowed half of the face. She's really beautiful, your grand-daughter, so grab your camera and shoot a lot of photos of her in different poses, and be mindful of the light, and then choose a good pic and paint it.

DAK723
08-07-2013, 08:14 PM
I an learning and thinking of doing a portrait and would like the opinion of you talented artist's as I have not tried portraits.
would this picture (my granddaughter) Be one you would consider painting or is it too flat?
Looking at it I think there is enough light and dark but I am not sure...
What do you think?
http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/07-Aug-2013/635212-painting_pictues_009_web_size.jpg
One of the most popular lighting strategies for portraits is known as 3/4 lighting. Light is coming from about a 45 degree angle and lights up about 3/4 of the face creating strong shadows on one side of the nose and the far side of the face. Usually the side of the face that is more in shadow has a "triangle" of light on the cheek. Many of the shadow shapes are merged together to create a large shadow shape. Here's a link to a James Gurney blog article that demonstrates. I think you will see how different this looks from the photo you wish to paint.

http://gurneyjourney.blogspot.com/2010/05/portrait-lighting-three-quarter.html

Of course, there is no rule to what type of lighting to use - the above is just one popular example.

I will respectfully disagree with Jackie regarding the need to do lots of life drawing of portraits before attempting them from photos. I started doing portraits in my teens from photos (the Beatles were among my first), and learning from books on portraiture. There are many books that will give you insights into the shapes of the eyes, noses, mouths, etc. The good thing about light and shadow shapes is that they model form, so a good photo gives you lots of information - if and when you have the experience to interpret it! I have never done an actual portrait from life, or worked from skulls or plaster casts, so I just can't say that it is a necessity. That being said, drawing from life is definitely a good idea. While not doing any portraits from life, I have probably done many hundreds of figure drawings from life!

In my experience, portraits are by far the hardest subject in art. So they need lots of practice. Starting with monochrome portraits is a good idea, in my opinion, as you can concentrate on those shadow shapes without worrying about color. Pastels, Conte and charcoal are great tools for portraits as you can make broad marks with the side of them to create those larger shadow areas! If all your shadows are more linear and you can't use the side of your pastel to block them in, then the photo is probably not a good one to use!

Don

tulabula
08-07-2013, 08:15 PM
thank you all for your advice!
Jackie, I agree with all you have said, unfortunately living in the Bush in Alaska allows me few opportunities to do portrait paintings from life. My husband is not thrilled with the idea of sitting for me.
I have ordered a dvd series I hope will get me started with the process.
Charlie, that is what I thought after seeing the photos in this thread. Unfortunately my granddaughter is thousands of miles away. I will ask her dad to try to capture a photo for me. Thank you

Dcam
08-07-2013, 11:17 PM
Woops...sorry. I guess I was the monkey wrench. :angel:
Derek

J.D.
08-08-2013, 01:35 AM
I have seen so many on these boards, work from photos (and sometimes, I suspect, from life) without thinking at all about the quality of the LIGHT on their scene. This week's blog post of mine is about this, so it is very much in my mind, and thought I would challenge anyone who reads this to think about whether they are influenced only by the subject matter - cat, face of family member, barn in field, flower......and whether, actually, they often IGNORE the way that the light affects the scene.

My comments in the blog brought about some interesting responses. Clearly many people do not think about it overmuch...they often take the light for granted.

To give you a little taster, take a look at these two portrait pictures. I shall leave them to speak for themselves:


Very well put. Something I have been thinking on a lot here lately.

jackiesimmonds
08-08-2013, 03:53 AM
thank you all for your advice!
Jackie, I agree with all you have said, unfortunately living in the Bush in Alaska allows me few opportunities to do portrait paintings from life. My husband is not thrilled with the idea of sitting for me.
I have ordered a dvd series I hope will get me started with the process.
Charlie, that is what I thought after seeing the photos in this thread. Unfortunately my granddaughter is thousands of miles away. I will ask her dad to try to capture a photo for me. Thank you

I understand.......but I am sure you have a mirror!!!

And I really recommend this book:
http://www.amazon.com/Artists-Complete-Guide-Drawing-Head/dp/0823003590

A dvd is fun to watch and will be helpful; a book can be opened easily at any time for reference. You might find both useful, in different ways. Go for one of the used ones, they are relatively inexpensive, and it is a very good book indeed.

Dcam
08-08-2013, 09:36 AM
It is tough being invisible.
:(

Kathryn Wilson
08-08-2013, 09:40 AM
It is tough being invisible.
:(

:heart: :heart: :heart: Not invisible to me.

Dcam
08-08-2013, 09:44 AM
Thanks Kat:
:wave: :wave: :heart: :heart:

Colourist52
08-09-2013, 05:05 AM
I completely agree light and shadows are so important and more so if painting from a photo. I love very dramatic lighting with lots of dark shadows.
I agreed to do a painting for my daughter's new house from a photo that she took on a camping holiday. I don't usually like to paint from photos not taken by myself because of course, I haven't been to the spot and didn't experience the scene. Unfortunately this photo was taken around midday and the light is not the best, no lovely dark shadows. I've been struggling a great deal with this painting, I'm not the best at inventing bright lights and rich shadows. Now I've decided to tell my daughter that I'm going to use a different photo that was taken late in the afternoon close to sunset. Was going to post the photo but it keeps uploading upside down!

Dcam
08-09-2013, 09:43 AM
This one was a challenge for me: two light sources: "Ben reading"
12x18
Derek

http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/27-Apr-2011/183894-BenRead.jpg

jackiesimmonds
08-09-2013, 12:56 PM
photo loading upside down? No idea how that happens, how odd.

And the two light sources image, quite a challenge indeed. But I hope you are happy with the result?

I just got this comment on my blog post on this subject. I do hope it wasn't someone from these boards.....

As usual, an important even vital lesson is couched by you in such insulting terms that it looses all it's utility. Thanks yet again for your scorn. Feels so encouraging.

Needless to say, this internet troll remained anonymous. Rather cowardly really. And unfortunately for him/her... I truly do not understand why anyone would find my comments "insulting" so he or she really rather wasted their time.

Dcam
08-09-2013, 01:44 PM
Jackie: Doug says the site has been hijacked....oh no.
Derek
It might be the cause of the insults? Sorry this is happening.

rugman
08-09-2013, 02:49 PM
Jackie- My thoughts are that a small percentage of folks take things way to personal, and cant handle direct, no nonsense talk; as if they need to be baby talked to... I enjoy your blog post very much, don't change a thing

Derek-cool painting! Did he pose for you, or did you capture a candid moment?

As far as seeing the light: In the beginning, I didn't know any better. I was happy to recreate an accurate rendering of a photo, no matter how the light was. Then I learned at a workshop how to break everything into shapes and value...ahha! Lightbulb moment! Shapes and values automatically created the light effect. Its been a fun journey.....

robertsloan2
08-12-2013, 05:13 PM
I always think about the light. I learned that back when I was doing street portraits of tourists. I'd pose them with the sun to one side to get good lighting and then they'd tell me the portrait was so flattering.

This is because they think they look like they did in the morning with a puffy face staring in a bathroom mirror with flat lighting often in an unflattering color, while I posed them with good lighting outside in the sunshine while they're on vacation in a good mood. The difference is night and day.

I learned how to change the lighting in my head during the same period when tourists would give me their spouse's driver's license as a photo reference. Driver's license photos are the worst. Flat flash photography with a bright blue background washing out any warmth from their complexion. You couldn't design a less flattering photo setup if you tried.

So I'd look at their features, know where the shadows would be and put those shadows in as if I had that person standing in front of my booth in the golden New Orleans afternoon sunshine. They'd be amazed, both at the likeness and how good the subject looked.

Ever since I got into pastel, I've painted the light. I was doing it a little with colored pencils but once I went to pastels to paint tourists, the light became what I was painting. It's fun. It helps with every subject.

But if I had those flat photos to work from, I'd just mentally change the lighting and give it the kind of lighting that works for that person.

robertsloan2
08-13-2013, 07:48 AM
Tulabula, it's difficult but you can actually work out how the 3/4 lighting would look on her face using the photo you have. I would have done that child from that photo back in my street portrait days. I wanted the money and changing the lighting was a showoff thing to do that I got used to.

Start off by mapping her face from the photo. Measure it. Do a couple of charcoal studies. Loose ones, get the shapes right. Get a sense of her specific features working from the photo as it is. One of the best ways to do something that's a bit beyond you is to do all the preliminaries - a thumbnail to lay it out, a lot of thumbnails and pick the best one, a notan or two, charcoal studies, then color.

Remember her complexion in real life. Try to reconstruct that from memory. The photo lighting probably distorts it. If you know someone local whose complexion is close to hers, get them sitting in sunlight and focus on color to get the complexion right.

Then take a photo of someone else in 3/4 light or in sunlight but with the sun at that 3/4 angle. In sunlight without flash is usually good, but with lighting you control indoors you can bring it down to eye level the way the Gurney article recommends.

Now map out the shadows on the face of the person in good lighting.

Take a sketch and do a contour drawing from the photo. Break down the face into light and shadow areas from the good-lighting photo. Then use that shadow pattern on your granddaughter's face. Put a background that's flattering to her complexion and make it vague - it can be dark and misty, muted-cool or muted-warm, something that looks good with her. Don't even bother painting any background from the photo. That teal carpet makes her face look extremely pinkish in the photo, while something like a maroon ranging to russet would just be warm and interesting.

I learned like Don did from copying photos. I started out doing fan art of various movie and TV stars and my first pencil portrait took a week to finish because I was mapping every feature in detail - but I got the likeness. The great advantage of photos for drawing people is that they don't move and you can take your time working from them. The great disadvantage is that every distortion, problem or lighting difficulty in the photo will come through in your art unless you're aware of it and change it.

Breaking a face into light and dark contours with a simple outline and filling in all the dark shadows with flat black produces a very dramatic, graphic looking style of illustration. I did that because I saw an illustrator do it in a fan magazine and did a whole series of fan portraits that way because they came out cool and edgy. Little did I know that I was teaching myself what I needed to do to turn a tourist's spouse's driver's license photo into a good enough portrait that the surprised spouse was happy with their likeness.

The other problem with this photo of her is the smile.

Smiles are tough. At least her teeth aren't showing. But get the subject in your good-lighting photo to smile the same way to show how the shadows work around that kind of smile or you'll have major problems.

Go through all of your photos of her too. You might have a better chance of doing a good portrait using more than one reference. That can work, but it takes mental effort, choose this photo for the expression and the other one for color and the third for what else is going on.

Portraits are difficult subjects, complex enough that there's a six part ESP class on doing them. If you don't get good results from trying all those preliminaries, go through those threads in the Pastel Library with your finished painting and skim them for what went wrong. Or just ask help in the Studio forum. One of the best ways to get help is to treat it as a WIP thread and post it from the point you do your first preliminary sketches to the stages of the finished painting.

Preliminaries and a smaller color study could really help on a project this difficult. It can be done though! Even from that photo. If you have one with better lighting but not as good expression or where she isn't the main subject in it, this one can be used for details and the other for pose. You could start the WIP with your photo choices.

I run into this same problem with my granddaughter, who is incredibly difficult to draw. I never get her likeness and I can do just about anyone's likeness. But not my granddaughter. Pretty as she is, she's also just difficult to draw and I've done her a dozen times so far. Someday I'll get it.

jackiesimmonds
08-16-2013, 03:20 AM
what generous advice from Robert.

robertsloan2
08-16-2013, 11:54 AM
One more trick from an illustration book I read - after doing that contour drawing where there's the light side and the dark side: make sure the darkest dark on the light side is still lighter than the lightest light on the shadow side. That actually creates great drama in a face. You can also make the light side warmer and dark side cooler or vice versa to give an interesting effect. I like cool shadows and warm highlight but the reverse can work just as well.

Do that in bright spectrum colors and you wind up with a portrait that makes the person look like they're on stage at a rock concert. Very dramatic, cool looking and it reads as real because we've all seen people under colored lights. That is also a way to get a photo to make the light/dark sides clear - look for stage shots of performers or if you have a kid in a high school with a drama program, talk to the kid who does lighting for the school productions and set up a model on their stage with yellow and blue lights on different sides, or red and green, try different combinations. It makes that contour thing very easy to do if you see it for real with stage lighting.

JustinM
08-26-2013, 03:34 PM
Great topic.

Light is the #1 thing I am concerned with these days in my work. I will often explore other things too, but Light is ALWAYS part of the consideration.

If I am working from photos of a model for a portrait, I always shoot the reference outdoors, to make use of the sun's unique light-play, or else I will use very controlled light indoors (spot, flood or wireless flash) to achieve a specific effect. Thank goodness for digital. ;)