Friday, 9 March 2012

Painting from Life or Photos

In this photo I am going to write about some of my experiences painting still life paintings from life and from photos.  I read a lot about how painting from life, with the subject physically in front of you, is the best way to learn and sometimes feel ashamed that I paint so much from photos.  I work a lot from digital photos on my computer and often get up on a Saturday morning and indulge in a whole weekend's painting, until late Sunday evening.  Sometimes I work for up to two weeks on a photo as I did with this acrylic painting of a coffee pot pictured above, which I painted years ago now, or the more recent one of me drinking from a glass of water a few posts back. I must admit that two weeks staring at the same photo and I start to go a little stir crazy, a weekend is nice and with a photo it's great that the light doesn't change and you can rotate the canvas upside--down to get a fresh look at it.

Sometimes while painting from photos it can be tempting to get bogged down in detail and spend a lot of time labouring over the shape of a blob of colour on the screen.  When I do it I seem to be under the impression that i need only concentrate hard on the photo it will work out well.  I am often disallusioned when I spend ages on a painting, copying everything in as much detail as I can, and the resulting picture lacks life or even realism.  There is a hauting and unattractive clarity to how they were produced, as if by numbers. Sometimes they work, and seem to click, at least to me, into the real world, better than the photo was, and bigger.

If you paint looser you can chose along a gradient of how expressive or abstract you want the result, from photorealism you slip into impressionism, into expressionism and then abstractions. In each type however you have the chance of looking obvious or cliquéd, but depending on your tastes, you may to chose to prefer that style.

Bad impressionism is better than bad photorealism to many people.  At least it doesn't have a fake, wrong look, like a badly copied photograph. An impression in expressive paint is often easier and less time consuming to a very realistic look, and the result can have somehow captured as much realism, made that magic step up into looking like the real thing, and not being blocked by flawed attempts to capture reality.

By the time you've got to abstractions and lost any connection to any visual reality, then you need to connect on some other level, emotional, intelectual, or worse, shocking level.  At his point painting somewhat loses its interest to me, maybe I can connect on an emotional level, but it won't enspire emotion not like a well painted impression of a real thing.  I don't know why I probably wouldn't sit looking at a lemon, but in a painting I might. It may inspire me, perhaps because I want to reproduce it, maybe I'm just thinking how I can adopt some of its techniques, wondering how this person is so much better than me.  But why does it give me such pleasure to leave it on the wall?  Good paintings seem to radiate energy, a hope in the human abilities to conquer reality, not only visully but emotionally. To look like the real thing on more than just one level, to capture the moment, the feeling being there.

So the question is whether painting from a photograph impedes the ability to capture the moment. Maybe being in front of an object helps you get this connection which a photo never could.  Maybe it can. You probably need to be a better paintier than me, for me, the advantages of time outweigh any other factor in getting a photo looking magical.  The colours of a photograph are not as good as the real thing, also seeing with two eyes has an effect because you decide which perspective you want to get on the picture. Maybe a blend of the two eyes can help create this elusive realism.  Last month I painted a still life of a bowl with some lemons and mandarins, after a week one of the lemons was turning green. Admittedly I had only done half and hour a few nights that week, maybe if I had shuttered the window and spent a whole weekend painting with an electric light I would have got something more better than I could obtain from multiple sittings, as it always takes a while to get into the flow of observing and painting each time you sit dowm.   Maybe with a litttle practice I'll get betterand be able to capture everything in less time, with fewer but more accurate brush strokes, and less mistakes with colour mixing mistakes.  I'll keep practising.

However if you paint from a photo you needn't be so loyal to the image.  You can always try to paint in a more relaxed fashion if the style of the painting demands it.  I quite enjoy trying to make a painting look photorealistic, but I equally get satisfaction from letting loose, as in this oil painting on the right which I did of some daisies from a photo last year. My intention had been to do a light, airy painting as as the subject was a bunch of flowers I felt I could hardly go wrong, as long as I got the impression of the light and the basic shapes and colours right. I painted it over an evening and the next day, the light didn't change in the image, I kept it loose and was not restricted by painting it from a photo.

I am sure that if you practice with either source, you will get better at interpreting that kind of source, either photos or real life. You will get better at using the advantages and reducing the restrictions of either way of painting. I am quite good at working from photos so I am going to practise more from life, any sort of practice gives you more insight into how to capture that real freeling.

I will leave you with another painting I did from life, this time in one sitting, it took me about an afternoon.  I did it a few years ago and in acrylic so the paint dried quickly so there was no problems with the dark outline of the bannana polluting the green or yellow.  It is actually very large so I didn't have to do any fiddling abround with small brushes and it ran quite pleasingly.  I painted it over another painting so I wasn't just painting over white.


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