View Full Version : Do you research???

09-04-2004, 02:54 AM
Hi all,

I was just wondering what the fine artists of WC do when they go to begin a painting. Do you do research on your subject before, during the painting, or not at all (and just let inspiration take you where it may!). If you do research, do you find it helps to produce a "better" (using this term subjectively :p ) painting, or don't it affect the outcome at all?????

Just curious as I am a TAFE (technical collage) student and we are required to research (and show the research :rolleyes: ) for any work that we wish to do, regardless of what "inspiration" we feel.

But, I have sooooo many ideas, that I can't seem to work with one long enough to research, and when I do, I am getting fustrated because I am not actually painting it - just finding info about it.

So what do you all think?????????

Thankyou for your time,

09-04-2004, 03:01 AM
First I do the research, then I let my inspiration take me where it may.

09-04-2004, 03:01 AM
Research?? only research I do is think about what I'm inspired enuff about to paint and find a piccy to paint/use/change into my painting!!:D:D
I suppose I think about light/contrast/colours all the time while I'm out in the world(I do landscapes, still life and florals), apart from that...what's research?? best thing is to DO. practise practice and a big dollop of COURAGE!!
my 2 c worth

09-04-2004, 03:37 AM
Being self-taught and beginning painter, I do study first before painting. At the planning stage, I sketch thumbnail of my composition using charcoal/graphite pencil. This way I could visualize the light and dark values, placement of center of interest and whether should I go for "portrait" or "landscape" orientation. Just my way. :)

09-04-2004, 03:51 AM
Thankyou bluemoon, gnu, and romell for your insights.
Bluemoon - I like the idea of researching, then letting inspiration take its course - I wonder if my lecturers would agree (probably not :rolleyes: ).
Thankyou for your comments and for voting. :D

09-04-2004, 07:36 AM
i am in constant research. i know it sounds silly, but i think that it helps me know my subject - everything i can about it, before, during and after. i have shelves and shelves of reference material in my own library that i keep partially in my studio space.

Butterflies. last night i was on a website for over an hour. its almost an obsession or passion to KNOW my subject......yet, you would think that i already knew all of it since i kinda have made the butterfly a hallmark image. did you know that in art history a butterfly in some cases (depending on how it was used) represented the moment the spirit left the body in death. yet she also represents resurrection and transformation. (thus a new work-in-progress called Dawn (seen on my webpage)) its these things that i like to know. i like to know the difference between a monarch queen or soldier, and an admiral, a viceroy, an emperor. i want to know about their habits. the knowledge keeps me inspired and allows me to flow freely in my abstracts. symbolism is extremely important to me and i like to use accurate references in their development. then my art becomes a ballad that i hope for my viewers to uncover.

also when i do commissioned murals....like a rainforest one i did last year. i carried around about 12 textbooks/photo anthologies of rainforests. the different types throughout the world. indigineous plants. etc.

sometimes the amount of study i do seems to slow me down, but once i have a full all-around "Grasp" of my subject, then i feel ready to paint it. its like i need to know its soul and what makes it what it is.

09-04-2004, 09:15 AM
I guess it really depends on your subject, but I always do research before I start a painting. I usually paint land/seascapes and wildlife so there is some studying to do about various aspects. For example, when painting land/seascapes, you need to study the way trees are formed, how water flows, how mountains are shaped, etc. When painting wildlife there is an endless amount of areas to study but I would say the most important are the anatomy and the hair/fur/feathers, etc.


09-04-2004, 10:58 AM
First I do the research, then I let my inspiration take me where it may.


Lady Carol
09-04-2004, 12:11 PM
Yes, actually every day at work :evil: :evil: :angel: That's my job. Research in the lab. :angel:
Seriously though, I don't feel that you can do any sort of painting without doing some sort of research.

Observation is research. :D

Silent Jaguar
09-04-2004, 12:23 PM
I'm under constant research of my subjects, which consists primarily of astronomy and ancient beliefs on astronomy. Much to my better half's dismay, I've got an ever growing library of nonfiction reference books! LOL.

09-04-2004, 01:16 PM
I do some research for historical paintings, but not for other works. Technical schools are just that technical, and I can see why they would want you to reserach. I was a studio art major in college and though we studied the masters we did not research for our personal works. We were encouraged to let our imagination run amok.

09-04-2004, 03:48 PM
I am researching constantly. This includes researching colour theory (technically colour IS my subject), perspective and aerial perspective, other artists who have used visual approaches I sympathise with (Newman, Diebenkorn), materials, and the subject of water and bridges. I have books about water - the art of water, I was studying the physics of water (fluid dynamics, but I had to drop the course this year because of other constraints), I'm always sketching bridges and the different types of support, the history of bridges, and had a wonderous moment when I discovered culverts!

It's an ongoing process. Paintings in progress are influenced by it... future paintings will take new ideas into account. Of course, on a painting by painting basic I do sketches, composition alternatives, tonal and colour studies. (sometimes all, sometimes just one of these) In the end of course the painting might change, but I like to have a basis to start from.

And I'm painting near abstracts! :D


09-04-2004, 11:34 PM
Thankyou quinacridonemagenta, Artguy29, PastelMama, Lady Carol, silent Jaguar, Sassybird, and Time lady for your responses and for voting.

It would seem that my lecturers have a point afterall :evil: - as so many poeple do research there work. Actually, I am starting to see the benefits of it (but only just :p ).

Thankyou again to all, and keep the votes coming.


09-05-2004, 07:36 AM
I research as much as I can. That's why I'm at Wetcanvas. Information on the techniques of other artist (like this thread) is part of my research process. If you're going to paint a person, you need to know human anatomy. That applies to everything, imo. Otherwise my trees and objects might look "wrong". If I don't want realistic trees, I still need to know what makes trees look realistic so that I know what I'm avoiding.

I don't think every aspect of my painting and research is on a conscious level but the basics carry over from what I've learned in the past. Greater contrast in the forground, tones becoming more similar in the distance, darks against lights, complimentary colors and basic anatomy and knowledge of the subjects helps so much and makes the painting process fun. I don't have to be frustrated wondering why my painting isn't working toward my "vision". Once I know what I'm doing, being inspired is easy and the research helps make my work as effective as I imagined if not more so. :D

09-05-2004, 01:33 PM
Artists tell us something of what they project themselves either very knowledgable of, or how something made an impression upon them. Depends if you are in that postion where you are suggesting you are in the know.

As a wildlife artist of near 20 years prior to going more plein air, I've been in competitions where the slightest error meant hundreds of hours of work on the piece were pointless.

The year I won with a snowy owl piece, Wisconsin's Wildlife Artist of the Year, one guy had made the mistake of painting a red pine cone and placing it beneath a white pine tree. Another didn't pile up bird dung (poop) on a beam in a barn with a barn owl painting and she was out. I nearly lost $5000 award money because the judges couldn't figure if a Hungarian Partridge killed by the snowy owl in my piece would have its eye remain open or closed upon expiring. They actually came after the competition to ask me.

I have crawled thru flooded muddy pea fields with a camera to photograph spring migrating mating pairs of waterfowl...and put myself in harms way many times with whitetail...and so forth just to learn.

A brown trout has 170 rows of scales, a brook trout near 240 rows. If you are carving or painting to best out other artists, you need to know these things and judges will actually count and go over every detail to ascertain who gets thrown out and who is left.

That, IMHO is a lousy premise to decide a work worthy from the standpoint of art, but at least in the wildlife art genre it sent a message that you had better know your subject.

I have spent a lifetime out of doors...and now my paintings of 2-3 hours carry an inherent sense of the subject thus I can respond more at ease and in a lighthearted joyous manner without a thought or concern for accuracy. I can trust my eyes...but, that was not always the case.

The poll is a little limited...because one studies before, during, and after. One studies walking around when the spouse is in conversation and discovers only after getting some strange garbled sound from you that you were not at all listening! hahaha...

take care


09-05-2004, 02:05 PM
Usually I come up with an idea and then research to figure out how to draw it out before painting. I also do research on color combinations because I seem to get a little off track with colors as I paint. I've begun to learn to plan them all out ahead of time and think carefully before deviating from the planned colors. I'm such a crow that whatever color I think of, I want to add to the painting, and then its just a mess.

Good question - thanks for posting.

mrs willow
09-05-2004, 05:21 PM
Usually, I get inspiration from (somewhere). Then, I do research into the subject, methods I might use, media I might choose, how others may have approached the same subject.I try to observe, sketch, photograph (for reference)
If I am expected to paint to a topic (not of my choosing) I try to find the most appealing (to me ) aspect AND/OR the most unusual (controversial, innovative etc ) aspect of that topic.
Hope this is of some help.

09-08-2004, 03:43 AM
Thankyou everybody for your comments and voting - the responses have been a great help and have made me understand that for use artists - research is just a part of the creative process.
So once again thankyou.

09-09-2004, 07:33 PM
The view I would take is that every thing i've seen and painted up to this point has basically been research. Unless I'm trying to paint something that I've never seen before (can't think of an example presently, however) or want to try a completely new medium or technique, I just start. Even then, sometimes I have to quickly research something during the middle of the piece just to be more confident about it.

A few artists I've met get into nasty habits of researching materials, methods and techniques just so they can avoid the actual act of creation. ANYTHING but actually sitting down and doing the art lets artists have a perfect excuse as to why we didn't do art on a particular day.

Personally, I'd rather be painting and leave exhaustive research to someone else.

09-09-2004, 11:14 PM
I think its good to be observant always absorbing what interests you in your evironment and what art interests you.
Then when aproaching your own art, if you feel like research it must be right, but if you feel the urge to dive right in, go for it.
Sometimes seeing the work of others can block our own true vision and influences us to approach something in different way than we would have done it, although if you are inspired the work of others, it becomes part of your internal library and influences your vision.

09-10-2004, 10:44 AM
I thoroughly research all of my subjects with the conviction that quinacridonemagenta (thats a mouthful LOL!!) does! But then again, I suffer from OCD! (I wish I was kidding)

As Larry pointed out, I too had a similar situation where I spent many hours on a painting of an Ocelot for a local contest, only to be eliminated for an oversight! I had not considered the proportion of the Ocelot as it related to its background! My depiction would have made the Ocelot large enough to take down a large, fast moving, bull Elk! A costly mistake! And very embarrassing! I have kept that painting here in the studio to remind me to pay close attention to the details and do my homework!


Vegas Art Guy
09-10-2004, 12:12 PM
I found that research is essential to having a sucessful piece of art, no matter what the subject matter or media, especially since I've tried several. Then you go where your insiration leads you.

09-10-2004, 02:50 PM
The amount of research is mostly determined by your approach to a subject.
On one end if you are a photo-realist research is required, unless you have a photographic memory. :-)
Where as an abtract or non-respresentational artist may want to reach only from within as art is produced.
If you want to derive from memories research may be doing lots of sketches to reveal what you see.
I fall some where in the middle of this group, and have been experimenting with media and sketching to find new directions.
I haven't been producing as much product but I have been experiencing a lot of growth. Sometimes you have to put the idea of producing product behind you, and just let it flow, and try new ways of approaching your art.

09-10-2004, 03:39 PM
I voted "What's research?" but I guess I do a little. Usually I paint only things which are very familiar to me, in a style which is more of an impression than a photographic reality, so I don't want or need research. I just react.

But in the last couple of years I've started painting some unfamiliar subjects, mostly theatrical stuff. Sometimes I need to know how a rope is tied, or how a rope lock works. I take tons of reference photos, but once in awhile I get into the middle of a painting, and realize I need to paint something I can't see clearly in the photos. So I'll ask my stagehand husband to draw it out for me, or look up images on Yahoo.

If more research than that was required, I probably wouldn't paint at all.


09-10-2004, 04:30 PM
I often research but it is generally prompted by an inspired idea :evil:

09-12-2004, 03:52 AM
A few artists I've met get into nasty habits of researching materials, methods and techniques just so they can avoid the actual act of creation. ANYTHING but actually sitting down and doing the art lets artists have a perfect excuse as to why we didn't do art on a particular day.

So THAT's my problem :evil: :p , here I was thinking that it made me a better artist - not just a procrastinator :evil: :p . (sorry spelling is one thing I am totally pathetic at :o :rolleyes: ).
PS. Thankyou EVERYBODY for voting and giving your comments and opinions - keep them coming.

King Rundzap
09-23-2004, 10:23 AM
Sometimes I do a lot of research and sometimes absolutely none. For me, it depends on which "category" of my work I'm doing.

For example, I have a category I call "surrealist collages". They're not literally collages, but those involve a lot of research in that I'm combining a lot of different elements--sometimes as many as 50 or so--into a single painting. I use all kinds of things for sources--photographs, objects, other artwork, etc. I do a bit of "unfocused research" towards this every day--scouring different sources for interesting images to include, and I have a huge library of stuff at my disposal--more than I could ever use in paintings. When I'm ready to do a painting, I use a combination of an "inspired idea" and a system for randomizing my library images in ways that will produce unusual combinations. I usually do "mock-ups" of what I think the finished work might look like in Photoshop. I do it that way because it's fast and easy, and the Photoshop creation ends up being more like a collage--kind of like those stereotypical ransom notes, but with figures, objects and landscape elements. The painting proceeds with the Photoshop mock-up as the rough compositional guide, but often while I'm executing the painting, I'll take off in crazy tangents. I'm not trying to photorealistically copy the Photoshop mock-up, it's just a rough guideline. If something develops during the course of one of these works that I didn't initially plan on, but that I like and which references some real world object, I'll stop and do research sometimes in order to at least include details (or puns on details) that I wouldn't normally think of.

On the other extreme, I have another category called "Palette Mirrors". For those, they begin completely random (compositionally, in terms of color, etc.), and I never allow myself to look at any reference materials, no matter how much I may want to for some elements. I intend them to be completely imaginary.

For my other categories, I do various things, research and preparation-wise, between those two extremes.

Ah--something else to add, after reading through some of the other comments. Keep in mind that I am _very_ obsessive/compulsive, of the list and order/organization type. So the fact that I have categories, that I have the kind of systematization I do for surrealist collages, etc. is all related to that. I choose categories, support sizes, mediums, even colors sometimes, all based on systems, lists, etc. Not because I think it's better, because I think doing it that way is a lot of fun, and it actually helps me get a lot more work done than I would otherwise. I even listen to music and watch DVDs in alphabetical order!

I wonder how many artists have some kind of OCD. I've met quite a few others.

King Rundzap
09-23-2004, 10:36 AM
. . . would have made the Ocelot large enough to take down a large, fast moving, bull Elk! A costly mistake! And very embarrassing! I have kept that painting here in the studio to remind me to pay close attention to the details and do my homework!

LOL -- I'm laughing becauase my research is more likely to be designed to _help_ me make an Ocelot large enough to take down a bull elk, or do something else unusual like that.

just dave
09-23-2004, 01:02 PM
My answer for this poll was "yes" because there was no "it depends on the subject and theme" answer to check. So I do tend to do some research before a particular painting, but that depends on the subject and theme, LOL.

"Research" for me could mean doing one or more of the following: finding reference photos, looking at how other artists in various schools and movements have painted my subject, doing careful observation of the subject in life, making smaller or even full size sketches and/or studies to check on composition and/or colors and/or values, reading poetry or listening to music that could help me get into the subject so I can capture something special.

09-23-2004, 03:00 PM
I voted yes (during) by default. I am always in the process of one thing or another. I continually study techniques, medias, and subject matter. And for some works I and studying aspects of the subject. For example, I have an upcoming submission on an illustration with a middle ages theme. I am currently researching clothing and architecture to make the scene believable.


09-23-2004, 03:47 PM
... and had a wonderous moment when I discovered culverts!

Tina, you really gotta get out more :)

One studies walking around when the spouse is in conversation and discovers only after getting some strange garbled sound from you that you were not at all listening!

Yeah, Larry, they didn't invent doghouses just for dogs!

I have to research. And use reference photo's. One thinks that you know how a wave breaks upon a beach but as soon as you paint it you know it looks more like a crack-pipe than a half-pipe!


09-23-2004, 03:57 PM
what's research?? best thing is to DO. practise practice and a big dollop of COURAGE!!
my 2 c worth

Well said! Courage is one thing that is totally underestimated in painting. Every stroke is a risk!!! (and the more risky it is, the better the work)

I do research--sometimes for example how to paint a certain animal I never have before; sometimes mythological aspects of a theme; sometimes comparing how one Old Master painted shadows compared to another; and certainly about the materials and medium I've decided to use, and the archival aspects of it all etc. (which is how I ended up here on wetcanvas in the first place!). And so on and so on. Whatever necessary to try and get a piece of art as good as possible!

03-31-2009, 10:48 PM
If one paints regularly, you eventually see things with the eye of an artist. A lovely hillside of fall foliage will have me observing the different shades of siennas, reds, golds, browns, etc and how they might be interpreted in a future painting. Or a bank of sunlit clouds are not just pretty but I automatically think about shapes, lights and darks and sunlit edges, etc. So while it may not always be research from a textbook, it is certainly preparation for the day that I try to paint a scene where I draw on my observations. It is "research in advance" to my way of thinking. When I leaf through a magazine with many pictures, I am consciously and sometimes sub-consciously noting things or actively seeking inspiration. I almost never copy anything as is but when I see something that gives me the itch to paint, I then visualize how I want to do a painting and think it through in advance. That is usually a sketch although in some cases it is not much more than a few marks to keep my layout correct, horizon lines straight, etc. I guess I'd say for me the amount of preparation or research depends on how detailed the painting is going to be. Some detailed paintings take far more research and preparation before hand. Others seem to flow off the brush with only a few alignment marks. Inspiration plays a large part, a painting done with feeling seems to almost paint itself at times, but I rarely start a painting without a plan in mind and sometimes a difficult painting takes a lot of research. In my experience, preparation beforehand saves a lot of frustration during the painting process. I can't imagine deciding to paint a tiger or a Monarch Butterfly without some research before hand. And yes, sometimes we have to stop in the midst of a painting and do a bit of checking to be sure we are correct in our interpretation. We never learn everything, something is out there that will challenge our talents and require study. I think research and keen observation go hand in hand.

03-31-2009, 11:16 PM
I feel that without reasearching or studing the subject before painting then you don't get quite the realistic outcome that you would have wanted. Of course if you don't want it to be realistic then you don't have to reasearch, but that is just what I have found through my workings. =]

04-01-2009, 12:36 AM
Before and during as needed.

There are times that I just pick up a brush and paint. Other times I've spent up to six months getting to know the subject, finding references, sketching, and working out the composition (one was actually two years but it was a historical painting and I needed to talk to a number of people). Not that these paintings have been masterpieces, but they were much better for the effort.

Most paintings I do are based on some previous knowledge of the subject and either plein air studies or my own photo references. I find seeking out subjects, photographing them and getting to know them a rewarding part of the journey we call art. Some times I enjoy it so much I neglect painting :)

04-01-2009, 05:50 AM
I only have two cents worth to offer. I too am a researcher although the amount of research I do varies a lot. To me the research time is not only a time to learn about the subject but it is an 'incubation period' for the inspiration to grow. I consider it a necessary step in the creative process.that's it!s.

04-01-2009, 07:58 AM
No, because it isn't necessarily (often not at all, for me) anything about who that person Is that prompts me to want to paint them.
I have received details and research from portrait clients however. Whether they have any influence on me in the end, with how the portrait turns out, I don't really know.
Most of my personal portraits are of someone I know or an aquaintance through someone else, or sometimes someone I don't know very well at all, they just visually interested me. My lifedrawings are 99% of the time, someone I know Nothing about and may never.
I am great at research, in a strictly acedemic or corporate field however.

04-01-2009, 06:49 PM

I think for me there is a difference between research and planning. Whenever I draw or paint something I will try and plan things out, especially if I am going to have to work in layers as with colored pencil and acrylics. As for research, I don't spend too much time researching the subject as I do planning out how I am going to put together my vision. That's my personal opinion

Bright Eyes
04-01-2009, 07:33 PM
The poll is a little limited...because one studies before, during, and after. One studies walking around when the spouse is in conversation and discovers only after getting some strange garbled sound from you that you were not at all listening! hahaha...

take care


The poll is a bit limited. I study before, during and after. But not really on everything at the same time. Some parts of my paintings are just pure whim and inspiration, while other parts have specific meaning and grounded composition, detail and such. I think it takes a little bit of everything.

I study even when I'm not planning to use it on anything in particular. The way I see it is that knowledge is never a waste of time. Chances are I'll use concepts I learn randomly on something in the future. And because I'm a crazy book hoarder and just like to look at the pictures:D

04-01-2009, 08:20 PM
Has anyone noticed that this poll was recently resurrected from 2004!!


Bright Eyes
04-01-2009, 11:03 PM
Has anyone noticed that this poll was recently resurrected from 2004!!

:lol: Nope! Didn't notice at all!:lol:

04-01-2009, 11:40 PM
Hmmm...guess we didn't do our research :lol:

04-01-2009, 11:45 PM
Yep...I noticed, and kinda wondered why....but it was still interesting to read.

04-03-2009, 02:10 AM
I do tons of research. It's a part of the process that I really enjoy - kickin' back with a drink, some art books and Google...