Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Inferior Reference, Inferior Painting?

The reference photograph, cropped by me, but taken by others

My plan for the day was Mr. Fuz zy Pants. I never came close. The Blond Kid grabbed me as I walked into the studio, but my body refused to get involved  too seriously. I had overworked it when I decided I should get back to working out. From the aches I got up with this morning, my body had no memory that it had ever been to a gym. Sitting and  reading between brush strokes seemed like a plan for the day.

The original photograph.
I worked on the little lady's neck, the background and the strands of nearly white, but not quite hair that frames her face. I sat down often to observe. My companion  was not Schmid's book.  I chose Classic Portrait Painting in Oils by Chris Saper. While Schmid is big time alla prima, Saper recognizes the important role of photography in portraiture.

Having always thought photography was as important to painting as painting from life, I was especially interested in what this artist had to say. I wan't disappointed. Saper believed photography is very much a part of the creative process--as important as alla prima.  He acknowledged that painting from life  will give the artist the skills to paint from photographs. Painting from life offered the artist the spontaneity of the moment, whereas  photographs allowed the artist to work on subtleties and details for however long it takes to achieve an accurate likeness. Accurate likeness is a prime objective with me--and anyone who has ever commissioned a portrait.
The painting, in progress, done only with an inferior reference photo.
Most 'snapshots' are inferior, yet the expressions are often  so much
more lively.

Since I've started my self-taught, home study portraiture  course last February, I have not painted one portrait from life. I have painted from very inferior snapshots where the light sources came from all over the place. Most I took myself;  a few I did not. Sitting on my chair reading as I observed The Blond Kid and went in for a stroke or two, my next course of action became clear: more figurative painting from life and more attention paid to photographic skills. I needed a refresher course--and maybe to read the manual that came with my camera? My art life got a bit more complicated and the path to skillful a bit longer.

My art life will get a bit more complicated when I'm painting flowers today with pastels. While flowers aren't my preferred subject, I do think pastels are for me. Learning to handle them with some skill will be productive with regards to working out colors, values, degrees of saturation.  According to Saper, pastels, charcoal and oils all offer the artist ease of correction and immediacy. It's odd that I seem to be adding a lot of sidesteps when immediacy is most attractive at this time in my life. I'll have to rethink this.

19 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thank you Braulio--and thank you for following. I'll be dropping by to see you soon. I have to try some pastels this afternoon on this 'sanded' paper.' I'm anxious to see how they work.

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  2. She's coming along so beautifully, Linda!! I enjoy painting from life, however, the photograph is always taken for those important fine details that you need in order to capture the likeness that the buyer wants in a portrait. After looking at the photograph of "The blonde kid" ..you certainly did just that...

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    1. Photography and painting from life go hand-in hand. It's those details that make the kid the kid--I'm not talking about recording every eyelash--that can't be done with even a camera. Painting from life you don't have time to record much more than the darks and lights and mid tones, the values in natural light change every fifteen minutes; and in studio settings where the light stays constant, adults shift positions, if ever so slightly, just not to pass out.
      Children you can count on to be lot more frisky. :-)

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  3. You are right about needing good reference photos, but you are also showing, with the Blond Kid, that you don't! Ha! So what's the answer?

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    1. I think you have to have done enough painting from life to know where photographs--all of them good or bad--fall short of the reality. Photography flattens scenes. So it follows that if you paint from photographs, you have to expect to push the values, the darks and lights, the saturated colors, to get the depth--just as you would have done if the subject was in front of you. Painting is weighing the values all the time. That's what makes a painting better than a photograph; it's got a person behind it who knows where the photograph fails and how to fix it. I don't see what the big fuss is all about among artists--just so you keep painting/drawing from life to keep your eye aware of the differences and your hand able to put what you see down on the surface as you see it--ala 'blind contour training.' I think the answer is to do both.

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  4. Dear Linda a really cool topic!Have good photos to paint is difficult!
    Also have the lights right on the flowers, it is not easy!
    Photo that contain the right information, drive to do a good job,more easily.
    So each artist must become a good photographer! AHAH with the art will not be bored anymore!
    About art,the portrait is really alive and glows on my screen!

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    1. Blond girl is coming out fine and I've never seen the kid in the flesh. I think painting from life does more for gaining a better idea of the real range of values in certain lighting situations. Photography records structure and relationships accurately, but not the light. I think alla prima and photography go hand-in-hand. It's silly to think only this or only that method.

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  5. Ik vind het weer een super schilderij geworden grote klasse lieve groetjes Danielle

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    1. Thank you Danielle. I hope you're right.

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  6. How amazing, dear friend. This smile had to be extremely difficult to paint - but you are so talented! I send you my warmest thoughts

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    1. And your camera expertise as well please. I can do better than that top photo when the situation is totally controllable. With a little bit of study, I think I could also improve my digital 'snapshot.' But there is a photographic sacrifice when you're 'in the moment' and your subjects are living their lives in full motion. Unfortunately, those are the situations which prompt the expressions I love enough to paint till I get them right. I'll go on painting from inferior photos. Thanks Maria's. your photography is art, mine is a tool.

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  7. I really like your painting -- your painting is so much better than the photo. It's quite amazing.

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    1. Thanks Agnes. Paintings do need to be better than the reference used. If I was able to get the child to sit, the painting would be better still. But this one is a birthday surprise. My friend is going to be swept off her feet.

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  8. The painting is coming along nicely. Looking forward to see the final painting.

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    1. Sick of it are you? I do work slowly and deliberately especially when I've decided to gift it to her grandmother. I want her to be as lovely as I can get her.
      I might post her one more time. I'm still not totally happy with the hair in the neck area. There's a big difference between someone's beloved grandkid and the trees that grow in the forest. :-)

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  9. The blonde kid is a doll and you captured her perfectly..it will be a great present for the grandmom!

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  10. Fascinating, the different views of the two portrait artists. That having been said, I really like how Blondie is coming along. It may be an inferior photo, but it does have the spontaneity of her expression. Maybe you'll try her in pastel???

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  11. mi piace molto, simpatica espressione molto ben riuscita
    Giuseppina

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