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Old 11-20-2001, 10:55 PM   #1
Karin Wells Karin Wells is offline
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OK to paint from photographs!




I am not a purist. I make my living painting portraits and do not wish to make a tough job more difficult by having to "paint from life."

I think photography for painting reference is the best invention since somebody put paint in tubes.

There is an overwhelming number of people that say painters (especially beginners) should NEVER work from photographs...and personally I disagree with this for some of the following reasons...

1. Many of my clients travel from long distances and our time together is limited.

2. I enjoy painting babies and children and having them sit still is impossible...and it is frequently tough for adults too.

3. Holding a pose for a long time eliminates many creative composition possibilities (i.e., having a raised arm).

4. I don't have a large enough studio for the sitter to be elevated at a proper viewing distance, nor do I have the space for a long-term setup.

5. A long period of time is required for me to complete a portrait and I oftentimes prefer to work in the (inconvenient) early morning and/or late night hours.

For starters, I am talking about good reference photos and not poor snapshots. It is not possible to paint a good picture from a poor photo - most especially a photo that does not have a single source of light.

Taking the photograph for a portrait is extremely important and the following link explains in detail how I do this:

http://forum.portraitartist.com/show...s=&threadid=56

I take many photographs of my subjects from all angles. I prefer to photograph my female models without makeup (and add it later in the painting) because it is easier for me to observe the subtleties of form. My paintings are often a combination of many reference photos (i.e., a hand from one, a drapery from another).

Shadows that look wonderful when you have the model sitting in front of you, can unhappily appear as solid black in the resulting photograph...and this is the problem that causes sooooo much difficulty when you copy. In working with photographs, you must paint what you know and NOT what you see.

You must make those shadows a lot lighter and warmer than the way you see them in a photo. Because it is difficult to see what is going on in a dense black shadow...take the negative to your photo store and get a very light print so you can look into those shadows. For those of you lucky enough to have Adobe Photoshop, you can play with the image and change the brightness and contrast.
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Last edited by Cynthia Daniel; 11-21-2001 at 02:07 AM.
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Old 11-21-2001, 10:53 AM   #2
David Dowbyhuz David Dowbyhuz is offline
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Exactly!

Karin, you have encapsulated the best of the reasons why we use photographs with your eloquence.

Once your painting leaves your control (come on, let it go), very few viewers are going to consider, much less care, HOW it came to be. Ever hear "the ends justify the means"? In my opinion only the finished painting matters. Are we seeking brownie-points with purists, or trying to produce the best work we can with the tools/skills available to us?

I use a digital camera, and make my own prints. I was amazed to discover that todays printers can print more than he eye can see. I had produced a fairly dark print, with the darks far too dark, as you've described. I invested in a simple light box (5 lux) and was amazed to see the lost detail now revealed! It's ALL there. Cast shadows, core shadows, reflected light within shadows, wonderfully defined lost edges. A very dramatic result from such a simple step.!
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Old 11-21-2001, 12:18 PM   #3
Chris Saper Chris Saper is offline
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Dear Karin,

I am in complete agreement with you and David.

It is necessary for us as portrait painters to invest the time, first, painting from life, so that it is possible to understand the nature of color, value, and edges, for these are the three primary ways that the camera lies to us. It is just as necessary to invest time in learning how to produce the best photographic references possible, so that photos become useful tools instead of items of slavery. Even the painter who insists on only painting from life will be faced at sometime with a request for a posthumous painting. He or she will face nearly insurmountable obstacles in accepting commissions of young children.

In "Painting Beautiful Skin Tones with Color & Light" I have devoted an entire chapter to using photographic resources effectively. When I was writing this book I was warned that I would face some level of derision from the "experts" if I supported the use of photographs. So be it.

To me it is a great disservice to beginning painters to insist that they only paint from life. Such insistence may work beautifully for full-time college or graduate or art-school students who have live models and studios at their fingertips daily. Or for those painters who do not need to otherwise support themselves or their families financially.

For those of us fortunate enough to paint full time, I feel that we we should encourage painters to be the best they can be, understanding that each person's circumstances and path may be different. Your path does not need to be my path to be valid. There is room in this world for more than one path. after all we are all after the same result: the best work that each of us can produce.

Best Wishes, Chris
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Old 11-21-2001, 12:48 PM   #4
David Dowbyhuz David Dowbyhuz is offline
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Bravo!

'nuff said.

Regards,
Dave
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Old 11-21-2001, 01:42 PM   #5
Cynthia Daniel Cynthia Daniel is offline
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In reference to what Karin says about shadows, here's an example of the almost black and harsh shadows that can result when painting from photos if one doesn't interpret correctly on the canvas.
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Last edited by Cynthia Daniel; 11-23-2001 at 12:39 PM.
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Old 11-23-2001, 09:29 AM   #6
Stanka Kordic Stanka Kordic is offline
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The value of photography

Boy, how nice it is to see such passionate defense of the photo for reference! I agree with all of your comments!!

I, too, work exclusively from photos I take myself. At least 72 of them. Why the quantity? I am basically not only finding the "right" pose, but memorizing what I see from life. Yes, the photo changes things, but the pro will have the experience to know that and adjust the painting to make it look like it was done from life.

That said, I would not know HOW to do this unless I had painted from life at some time in my experience. It can be as simple as spending an afternoon doing a quick 16 x 20 self portrait in natural light. Just for practice.

I know the restrictions of working from life, I have them too. However, for the beginner, I do feel its important to spend at least SOME TIME doing SOMEONE from life.

(And BTW, I too get a tad bit annoyed when certain societies claim that working from life should be the ONLY way....)

Keep up the good work "photo reference friends"!

~Stanka
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Old 11-23-2001, 12:43 PM   #7
Cynthia Daniel Cynthia Daniel is offline
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Stanka,

I don't even think of 72 photos as a high number. With some clients, Robert Schoeller would take 5-6 rolls of 36 each.
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Old 11-23-2001, 02:46 PM   #8
Andrea Evans Andrea Evans is offline
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Education of public about photographs

Hi Cynthia, et al,
I have been using photographs only in the past year because most of my commissions have been of very young children. When I printed up a brochure, in my working procedure, I stated that I take my own reference photographs. Now I have people telling me that they already have photographs and that I can use theirs. I then try to explain to them why I cannot use their photos. How can the public and potential clients be informed about the photograph issue in particular and about the portrait painting profession in general? A friend of mine said that I had to educate them about portrait painting, but I am only one person re-entering a very rare profession.
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Last edited by Cynthia Daniel; 11-29-2001 at 06:11 PM.
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Old 11-23-2001, 04:18 PM   #9
Cynthia Daniel Cynthia Daniel is offline
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Andrea,

You say you have to explain to the people why you can't use their photos. How do you explain it? Do you tell them that you taking your own photos is actually part of the creative process?

I don't know what your fees are, but I suspect that as fees get higher, people expect you to take your own photos. For example, when I managed Robert Schoeller, in six years, I was never asked about using a client's existing photos.
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Last edited by Cynthia Daniel; 11-23-2001 at 04:27 PM.
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Old 11-23-2001, 06:55 PM   #10
Karin Wells Karin Wells is offline
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Exception...the posthumous portrait

I take my own pictures of a client and will not paint a portrait from one that someone else has taken. These are my personal rules and I have never had a client question them.

But there is an exception...that of a posthumous portrait and an existing photo of that person is all that there is. Needless to say, these kinds of portraits can be very difficult as the lighting is seldom good enough to paint from.

In order to produce a posthumous portrait, I take the photograph I have been given and find a model of a similar body type and age. I then photograph the model in similar surrounds (clothing, props) in my ideal lighting. See http://kcwells.com/technical2.htm

I then use my photograph as a reference to paint all but the features from...and so far, this has worked very well for me.
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Last edited by Karin Wells; 11-23-2001 at 06:59 PM.
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