11 April 2012

arty thoughts

Today I responded to a question on one of my favourite watercolour blogs. The artist had painted his subject with a reference photo, and then repainted it because the expensive camera had compressed pixels and altered exposures and contrasts (among other things) and he was not happy with the resulting painting. There is much to learn about digital photography if it is not to lead the painter astray.

I thought that my response might be useful to some of my own blog followers, so this it is here with a few other ramblings as well.

Perhaps this post highlights the dangers of painting from one photograph (assuming that you did).

I recommend taking a bunch of photographs of any subject, with varying zooms and angles, sometimes even varying lights, with only one general composition reference shot. This way there is less danger of being trapped into reproducing a photograph; I believe that the "artist brain" is much more engaged when the photographs give details and reminders only.

The other detail that might have been overlooked in your working is the principle of taking that which caught your eye (what made your heart sing when you spotted the subject?) and exaggerating it. When the photograph, no matter how expensive the camera, dictates choices then the artist gives away that "X-factor" that takes a painting from workmanship to WOW!

When I use a camera myself, (thankyou digital age for making this affordable) I shoot far more detail than I will ever need, and put all the photos around me to refer to. By not having more than a general "possible or probable" composition, but having plenty of reminders of the things that caught my eye AND the things I might need (like how a roof and spouting join above the interesting stone wall) then I am almost forced to create my own composition following the rules of composition and not the dictates of the photograph.

Photographs are for reference only; we must always remember WHY we wanted to paint the subject, and use that to guide our treatment of the subject. If you want to highlight the delicacy of a flower you don't have it fill the entire canvas or page. If you want the effect of light to be the most important focus then your colour choices must be spot on, and no camera will give you these.

I use photography a lot, but never "paint a photograph". Be a creative and passionate artist, not merely a technician who follows what the camera has edited and changed for you.

My camera even selects the shape of my photographs if I accidentally bump the settings. It's not an expensive camera, but even that does more editing than I want it to.

Remember that you are the one who responded to the subject, the camera merely a tool to pick up a few details for you (how the fern frond joins the trunk, how the hat sits on a head) while YOU create the feelings you want to put into the painting.

Today I am grateful for my internet friend's wonderful art blog.

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