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plindley
06-11-2009, 02:30 PM
Hi everyone,
The discussion that transpired when I asked whether the WC ref library images are 'professional photographs' really touched on a larger issue and that is how we use these photos and whether or not using them hinders or helps us creatively. WHen we copy completely every element of a photo (composition, colour, lighting etc.) can it only be considered a good learning exercise... or does it reflect one's own aesthetic in that you recognized a good composition, effective colour palette etc and selected it? Is it any different than standing in front of a scene or an arrangement of objects and similarly recognizing the strength they have as references for a painting? Does it matter if it is your photo or someone else's? You chose the photo and decided to leave certain things in, take things out, to achieve a certain effect. Is it a valid tool, or is it a creative crutch?

I have some thoughts on this, but I wonder what other's think.

rgb
06-11-2009, 04:04 PM
Reference photos are tools for me. They are great while learning and practicing. I don't have to come up with an idea for a painting ... just choose a photo that appeals to me or contains elements with which I want to practice. I never sign anything based on a reference photo, and everything is put away in a box. It's not my work.

A note about the photos used for reference with the various Challenges at WetCanvas!: Ditto the above, though the leaders of the Challenges choose the photos. The Challenges are great for pushing me to try something.

I have used reference photos to see the details of something, e.g., numerous photos of dogs to check their anatomy and stances; street lights to check distance apart and height; oak trees to check the branches and leaf clusters, etc. In these cases, the photos of the objects are not copied but used as a reference for details.

If I use my own photos, then everything is mine, though I'll only sign the artwork if it's decent. :lol:

Colorix
06-11-2009, 04:43 PM
Absolutely, totally -- yes!

To both. :-)

Seriously, they can be both, depending on how you use them.

I've been painting a lot from photos, as I've learned to handle the medium and to put in to practice the theoretical knowledge I had way more of than needed, while actual skills were not up to par.

Copying a photo is really not different from copying an old master's work, which is perfectly legit and sound learning. But sticking to copying year after year would be to stay in the comfy zone. ("Crutch".)

When I paint from life, I always take photos of the scene. The flower may wilt before I'm finished with it, and then the ref comes in very handy. And if I accidentally bump into the still-life table and upset the whole thing, the photo helps me get it arranged as it should be. And a quick Plein Air sketch plus photo will be great refs in the studio. (Tool.)

Ah, there are so many varying and conflicting views on this issue. Say I have the idea of painting a quaint scene from Thailand. I've never been there, but I get a commission to paint, and some photos the customer took that are really lousy. Say I come up with an idea based on the lousy pics, and find much better pics in the RIL, and use several to pick parts from. Then I combine it all, based on the customer's wants, and my artistic idea. I'm fine with that, regarding the photos as a tool. There will be so much of my work in the painting, as I'll change things quite a bit. I really can't afford to travel to the place and do it the old slow way. So, a handy tool.

By the way, copying is an art in itself.

But, if I copy a photographer's artistic vision, then I regard it as an excercise. I may sell the exercise (if I have permission from photographer), and I'll credit the photographer on the back of the painting, *and* I'll tell the customer that it is my interpretation of a photo. There is a good example of such a photo in Don's figure class: A woman perching on a pillar. Obviously a photographer's art. I really want to paint it, to study the human figure, and I think the idea with the pillar is cool, but it isn't *my* idea. It isn't even my variation of an old idea. So the artistical concept will not be mine.

Otherwise, I'm using other people's photos here on WC to have fun with, to rearrange, crop, change light/colour/value/mood/whatnot. It is *much* easier to do with other people's pics, as I don't know how the place *really* "should" look.

Camera is definitely a tool. My own pictures are wholly my own idea. It may not be convenient to paint on location. I can shoot a snapshot from the middle of a busy road at rush-hour, but I certainly wouldn't set up painting gear there!

But, then, I tend to be practical. What counts is the finished result, (and credit given when apliccable) not exactly how I got there. I'm no purist who thinks every landscape should be painted PA. Heck, even Monet resorted to "en plein window" when he visited Norway, and the borrowed bear fur coat wasn't sufficient to keep the numbing cold at bay.

What works in Californa won't work in Norway, or Sweden, for example.

So, what if the purists think that you have to take your PS gear on your back, hike through swamps, climb mountains, traverse gorges on a bit of rope, for the painting done in the distant mountain glen (while keeping the Grizzly at a distance) to be a "real" Plein Air? They are generally men, and it seems it is a 'guy'-thing, to brag about the hardships. Well, I'm a practical woman. :-D

Each to their own, but I value challenging yourself as an artist. Which you can do with tools, and crutches can be thrown away and you can stand on your own legs. While using tools.

Oh, well, my two cents. Hey, my opinion doesn't come that cheap, it is my two dollars worth!

Charlie

Phil Bates
06-11-2009, 08:42 PM
To me this topic has a deeper root: What is the merit of a painting? When I started painting I thought that merit came from how well the photo was rendered.

What changed for me was when Richard McKinley told me that I would develop my own "voice". Now I delight in taking a painting beyond the photo and expressing my Voice. To me that is where the true merit comes in, the artistic interpretation that is unique to me.

(This is not the whole story, since for me the creative process starts with choosing locations, lighting, then using the viewfinder to carefully compose the scene.)

Nearly every master painter I have seen works from photographs (when not painting from life), but they are interpreting what they see. I doubt that they would say that the photo is a crutch, but rather a starting place from which to express themselves.

Good topic!

Phil

DAK723
06-11-2009, 09:26 PM
If you are doing a piece of artwork that is not specifically an exercise or an attempt to practice something - then I think you should approach that piece with a specific goal in mind. "What is it that I want to express in this painting?"

It can be something as simple as, "The color of that flower is lovely," or "I want to show how the light is glancing off her shoulder." Perhaps it is more symbolic or tells a story. Whatever it is, then use the reference you need or that will help you accomplish your goal. If you see a landscape that strikes your eye and you want to capture that scene - then use the method that gives you the best results. It does not matter philosophically if it is a photo or you do it plein air, it is a matter of results. With which method can you accomplish your goals? If you use photos, than it is a good idea to learn how photos are different than reality in terms of changes in color and narrower values. If you use the photo without making those adjustments, you might find that you will not meet your goal of capturing the scene as you wished. In fact, it is highly unlikely that you will succeed, for very few photos reach that level of artistry. Painting plein air will have its own obstacles to reaching your goal - changing light and weather, time restraints, discomfort!

The thing that I have experienced with working only from my own photos, is mainly my emotional attachment to the subsequent painting is far greater. It is more than the painting - it is the experience of having seen the subject and being inspired by it. Then the photo becomes part of the creative process as compositional decisions are already being made. The painting is merely the last piece of the journey. Aside from the other issues of using other people's photos, this is perhaps the best reason to use your own photos only - even if you have no plans to enter the painting in a show.

I'm not sure this answers the question in any way - but that is my $1.50 worth! All of the above is quite obviously - my opinion!

Don

Deborah Secor
06-11-2009, 10:08 PM
In my classroom we start by painting from photos. It helps to learn how to handle the medium and get a decent grasp of how to paint the sky, hills, trees, grass, etc, before going out on location. I like to know what works as a rule.

Then I like to take students out on location to paint. The experience of seeing a real live 3-D world before your eyes and translating it into a 2-D painting is challenging until you learn how to do it. Instead of holding that already-flattened and limited by edges photograph in your hands, you have to choose the view and limit what you paint.

Painting outside is magnificent and highly different from painting in the studio! The colors are rich and complex, unlike any photos (even Phil's dynamite HD pix :wink2:) and there's a distinct level of seeing that happens when you have to select your colors and begin to record things. You can't rely on the values in the photo anymore--now it's see it and paint it, right up until the cloud covers the sun and whooooo! It's all different!

However, I find the opportunity to work on location is harder for me to come by now, so the studio is a necessity. There, where I can think, photos are a jumping off point, the memory's departure gate. I take a bit, add something different, remove parts, change the colors, and my imagination and painting memory kicks in. That's when the hours, days, weeks accrued painting outside come into play. Now I can replay the colors in my mind, change the time of day, add or delete shadows, pick out that absolutely necessary bit of light behind the trees, and arrive at something that's significantly different from the photo. Only the bones of the photo are still evident.

A crutch? Well, yes, but when your leg isn't working a crutch is a tool, isn't it? Right up until the point where you're carrying that crutch while you walk on perfectly good legs. Then your crutch is a burden, maybe even a hazard you trip over now and then. I say put that photo down and go run on your own. You'll find it strengthens your ability.

Tools, on the other hand, are only as good as the craftsman who uses them. I've found that having the most beautiful photograph in the world is a problem for me. Too often it becomes my goal. It's perfect! Why wouldn't I want to record every gorgeous nuance? That's usually when my painting goes south. Give me a decent but fairly ordinary photo and let me make a spectacular painting out of it--I'd rather have that any day!

Deborah

DFGray
06-11-2009, 10:57 PM
a tool with a false sense of reality
painting from life for me
I mark my life through painting from early efforts at the sea in Carmel, pencil works at war, aircraft crashes, places I am gifted with to paint, people that I meet while painting, protests, events , musicians playing, neighbours, models,I paint the things I enjoy, I paint the things that piss me off, I seem to be an artist in peoples eyes because they see me working, for me it's the journey that pastel takes me on not the results, I got a good pastel last week and I will get another next week but being out with my materials and subject is when I really am alive, succeed or fail!
that's where the muse finds me

plindley
06-11-2009, 11:32 PM
This is a obviously a highly personal subject and the range of views is fascinating. There are so many different ways that we all approach our painting and it seems that the key is how we each define creativity and how much we feel it must be an independent (or internal) act... Come to think of it, why should this be a surprise? This is great!!!

Pat

Pat

knippes
06-12-2009, 09:10 AM
I go about it a bit differently. Since I started as a photographer, before I came to pastels, I use the camera as a tool to get the scene correct before I begin to paint. I compose, correct lighting, get rid of pieces that don't belong, etc all in the camera and in photoshop before I get to the painting stage. That way my photo reference is often pretty close to the image I had in mind, when I compose the scene. I do change the backgrounds and colors etc if it is a person I'm painting and I'll rearrange the bits and pieces in a landscape - but since I'm trying to create a good photo first, sometimes I'll paint straight from it.
I will note that when I'm painting pet portraits from someone else's photo, I have a much harder time with it. Since I don't have that "background" of knowing the scene/animal I have a much more challenging time trying to put my own touch into it. Without the knowlege of what it was really like, I get "nervous" about getting lighting wrong, or getting the details in the fur incorrect and I consequently end up sticking pretty tightly to the reference photo. Hopefully, with more experience - I'll be more comfortable with moving away from the original.
All in all, I feel that personal knowledge of the subject makes for a much better painting. There is absolutely no way a camera can capture what the eye can see, although there are many tricks to getting close.
-Kym

CindyW
06-12-2009, 01:32 PM
Hi plindley...Hi everyone,
...WHen we copy completely every element of a photo (composition, colour, lighting etc.) can it only be considered a good learning exercise... or does it reflect one's own aesthetic in that you recognized a good composition, effective colour palette etc and selected it? All of the above, definitely. ...Is it any different than standing in front of a scene or an arrangement of objects and similarly recognizing the strength they have as references for a painting? No difference, when recognizing the strength as you are using your own set of perceptive skills to "see" and from just this, you can create a most satisfying work of art, hence, the value of photos is not to be dismissed........but, yes, it is different in your actual physical viewing of RL vs photos....just a fraction of the light and form subtleties of RL are captured in a photo. Does it matter if it is your photo or someone else's? For me, most certainly it matters for my own personal art. I only use my own photo reference as that is part of my own unique and original vision....an accountable part of the end result. But, if one is painting from a photo for commission work, the photos are your only reference to the object/scene/portrait that you have contracted to use (with the photographer's permission).....that's the nature of commission work and completely straightforward. You chose the photo and decided to leave certain things in, take things out, to achieve a certain effect. Is it a valid tool, or is it a creative crutch?
Many people don't create any kind of art at all. I believe the world would only benefit from everyone tapping into their creative energies to create positivity in themselves which in turn spreads to those around them and so on. They sure could use any creative crutch available to them to help them get started...and whatever a creative crutch might be defined is certainly a myriad of definitions to each and every one of us.

A photo is absolutely and undeniably a valid tool to create art and, for me, is in no way a crutch whatsoever. It might be for others for their own reasons but they aren't me and I'm not them...and yet, we both create. Which is the ultimate and most positive goal in the end. :thumbsup:

Donna A
06-13-2009, 02:39 AM
...<snip> Is it any different than standing in front of a scene or an arrangement of objects and similarly recognizing the strength they have as references for a painting?

In classes or workshops, I've often asked the folks how they would feel if their spouse brought them a gorgeous big bouquet of beautiful roses (faces are smiling!!!) ... that he/she had very carefully cut out of a magazine! (faces change expression quickly now!!!)

What's the difference, I ask??!!?? Lots of answers come rolling out---EVERYONE far preferring the REAL roses!!!

Now I painted from life, indoors and out, for about 20 years before I began adding source photos (a trip with no time to paint!)---then began painting from some of them! But it's always been photos that I took myself---standing there getting a feel for 'the look' of the scene before I clicked the pic! Well, sometimes I've clicked photos from a fast-moving car's passenger seat, too! Didn't spent much time at all taking in those shots---but I surely did get some feel for the area and the quality of the lighting and so on!

Does it matter if it is your photo or someone else's?
Unless someone is confined to the home AND loves landscapes, I think going out and taking your own landscape photos is THE best idea---IF you can't work at the scene! (Same for working from a model or a still life indoors!) There is sooo much that we take in being IN the area where we are taking landscape photos---and the more info the better when we do (or must) paint from a photo!!!

I think it's best to begin working from life---and, in time, go on to relying on photos that YOU have taken, as well.

I always have new students work from life for a good while before working from photos, for some of their works, as well. It's such a richer experience and I've never found anyone yet who didn't grow wonderfully working this way!!!

You chose the photo and decided to leave certain things in, take things out, to achieve a certain effect. Is it a valid tool, or is it a creative crutch?...<snip>

I often change some things or leave something out---whether painting from life OR from a photo---to make the composition work! Not only valid--but sane! Creative---PERIOD! Now changing something just to change seems pointless to me. But changing it because the composition works better with the change makes every sense in the world to me!!!

Is it your vision or is it not? That seems like the question to me! If someone else took the photo---it's NOT your vision.

I know a lot of folks paint from other's photos---but I would encourage them to be sure to paint at least as often from LIFE! and from photos that they took themselves! It can be pretty exciting and marvelous! Whatever your source(s)---have a wonderful time!!! Very best wishes!!! Donna ;-}

rgb
06-13-2009, 12:51 PM
Note to those who take their own photographs: Please take at least one photo using your camera's normal distance setting. The telephoto lens is nice for getting closer without using your feet and for getting better details, but it pulls distant objects closer, compressing the distances between objects. The wide-angle setting will throw the distant objects into oblivion and distort objects to the far left and right. (Never be on the far left or right of a group photo unless you don't mind being wider than normal.) The wide-angle setting is great for giving you distance options for your composition.

If you use the normal setting plus the telephoto and wide-angle settings of a scene, you will have a great set of reference photos.

Another suggestion would be to overexpose at least one shot. Shadowed areas can turn to a solid dark in a photo, but an overexposed photo will give you the shadow details for reference. Think about shadowed areas. In real life you can see the details that disappear in a photo, so paint accordingly when using reference photos.

plindley
06-16-2009, 11:09 PM
Great discussion. I think the whole perspective shifts if we use photos, yours, someone else's whatever, merely as a departure point, an inspiration rather than as the main content. There are so many pathways to creativity and so many personal objectives (some seek the ability to render well, others to capture light, or emotion or sensibility) that it is hard to come down hard on one side or the other of this argument.

To take the image versus real flower analogy in another direction.... if I received a gorgeous painting of a bouquet of roses it might please me more than a handful of aphid covered wilted or broken but nevertheless real blooms. Perhaps we all respond in different ways (tho' I confess I do relate to real more than fake....).

Hope everyone has found this as stimulating as I have.

AliciaS
06-18-2009, 04:29 PM
[quote=Donna A]In classes or workshops, I've often asked the folks how they would feel if their spouse brought them a gorgeous big bouquet of beautiful roses (faces are smiling!!!) ... that he/she had very carefully cut out of a magazine! (faces change expression quickly now!!!)
========================================================
What's the difference, I ask??!!?? Lots of answers come rolling out---EVERYONE far preferring the REAL roses!!!
-------------------------------------------------------------------


I think creativity comes from within ourselves and is detached from whatever the reference is. or no reference..(Is that any less creative?)
NO one should tell anyone what is the right way or the wrong way...
which way you learn more from
which way you don't..
that is up to you...
you could paint forever subjects that are from life and not grow...
or the other way around...
Creativity comes with observing...learning to observes whether it is in
your imagination, life or a photo..

robertsloan2
06-21-2009, 07:39 PM
Maybe my perspective on this comes from being actually crippled, but I don't see a problem with people who use anything as a crutch. They're focusing on something else at the time. They need it in order to do what they're going to do and they wouldn't get it without using it.

So what makes "a crutch" shameful?

Let's see. In watercolor I learned to paint around details and reserve white without using masking fluid or frisket because I was too cheap to buy masking fluid when I could get paint. I wound up painting without sketching under it with a pencil because I didn't like the little pencil marks showing. I painted everything as if I was using ink because I didn't know how to lift.

Then I wound up using all these things and finding them very useful.

It's a tool. It makes certain things easier, like painting places you've never been and haven't got the resources to visit. Or painting children, kittens and puppies at all -- you can't get the young and wiggly to sit still except in Cute Sleeping Poses.

Setting limits specific to a project can be a fun exercise -- paint with only four sticks, one can be white or black and the other ones primaries. Paint without sketching on your paper first. Paint something from life. Draw something in under a minute. Each of these sorts of things teaches something.

I think life drawing is important. But I also think that life drawing can come later if a person really hates the results of their early life drawings and prefers working just from photos for a while. The day comes when they're ready and at that point photos become so limiting.

I've gotten to the point where I'd have a hard time copying a photo exactly any more. I'd have to crop yt and change it and the expression would change and something else I saw and my mood would come into it. By the time I was done it'd be mine. It's how I see things now.

But I can remember when I couldn't and maybe I'm just easier on the intermediate, especially those who don't have a chance to go full time into art school and learn in a fast concentrated way but are doing it at home and building skills by enjoying it in their spare time. Such as it is, few people have spare time any more.

Anything that gives someone confidence is going to help them learn to paint better in the long run.

I've got a bunch of cool colored pencils realism books that have extremely detailed line drawings of projects the authors did. You can copy their art -- or interpret it -- because the book is about using the colored pencils, not about how to draw a brass bell or a crystal decanter accurately.

Amusing enough, sometimes I look at the photos in an art book and I can see the artist did the painting from life and was at a slightly different angle than the photo was taken. But it's close enough and having the photo there for details can seriously help.

The entire photorealism movement is focused on painting from photos to the point that one celebrated photorealist was complimented for successfully rendering a JPG artifact, a distortion of process, when turning a high resolution photo he took into a mural-sized painting. I'm starting to look at photography as another sketch method -- especially when I use my phone camera for it, the lack of resolution can eliminate extraneous detail.

If it's a crutch for some people, it means they are at a stage where they need it. Pushing them to do without it can push them to just quit and give up in frustration. Take away the ride-on shopping carts and I wouldn't be shopping at Wal-Mart again.

robertsloan2
06-21-2009, 07:52 PM
Unless someone is confined to the home AND loves landscapes, I think going out and taking your own landscape photos is THE best idea---IF you can't work at the scene! (Same for working from a model or a still life indoors!) There is sooo much that we take in being IN the area where we are taking landscape photos---and the more info the better when we do (or must) paint from a photo!!!

I think it's best to begin working from life---and, in time, go on to relying on photos that YOU have taken, as well.

I always have new students work from life for a good while before working from photos, for some of their works, as well. It's such a richer experience and I've never found anyone yet who didn't grow wonderfully working this way!!!

I agree with you -- in a class it's wonderful that you have people drawing from life first. Cameras have their limits!

But I am very glad you said this because I've been housebound for over a decade and I love doing landscapes. It's a lot of why I love doing landscapes. I paint the places I would like to be. I've finally gotten to go on an excursion to a mountain with a lookout point and gotten my own good photos -- and yes, you are right.

I saw things my camera didn't. Good as my Kodak digital camera is on color (and it's a joy compared to my old one, it has color!) it's not the range of color that I saw when I was up there. The little house that has to become the focal point of my painting (it's for a friend who helped us move) is far off on another peak. Turns out I could see things the camera couldn't and will need to combine references with sketches on site and probably using binoculars to get it right. I may spend all summer on this one painting.

But it's cost me three days of resting up from that excursion now and it's also a very big deal, one that I'm probably not going to be able to do very often. One that I may never get to do if it's Stonehenge or a Mayan temple.

I think most of all it helps to teach people the limits of photo references. They're going to have distortions, both in color and in resolution and shape. Cylinders will come up fisheyed and perspective can be skewed. The thing you wanted to paint may be half out of the picture anyway because it wasn't you that took it, they couldn't know in advance what you wanted.

One thing that really helped me with life sketching was doing gestures though, once I got over the need for every sketch to be detailed it's helped so much. Especially with drawing cats. Any animal or child is a moving target and gestures are the only way to get a fleeting expression or pose.