Paint Schoodic

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Friday, January 3, 2014

A great day to work from photos

Headwaters of the Hudson (Lake Tear of the Clouds), 40X30, Oil on Canvas (Private Collection).
I haven’t (surprise, surprise) bounced back quite as quickly as I expected, but I did manage to do some sketching while loitering in the hospital. Yesterday I catalogued reference photos that I need for my current project, in the hope that today I can start making tightened drawings.

Why sketch first? I don’t like working from photos in the first place, but for certain projects, there is no other way. I certainly don’t want my photos to drive my paintings. It’s best for me to seek out the composition on my own, and then find the details and plug them in. The last thing we want is to be slavishly realistic.

Canoe floating in the tide off Moose Island, ME. I’ve used this canoe in two different paintings. I cropped this version of the photo to match my overall composition, above. (Photo my own.)
A good reference picture is not necessarily a good photo. A great photo is almost never a good reference picture. The purpose of a reference photo is not to make your composition, lighting, and color decisions for you, but to provide you the information you need to make them in paint.

I have tens of thousands of snapshots on my server, archived by where and when they were taken. But imagine, for a second, an image of rolling surf. I‘ve taken many of them, but was the right one on the Great Coast Road in Victoria, Australia, at Sandy Hook in New Jersey, or at Port Clyde in Maine? Nothing for it but to search every folder for the image I want.

Apple orchard in Orleans County, NY. The fallow apple trees will play a bit role in the painting I've planned, so why kill myself over their composition? (Photo my own.)
When I take reference pictures I make a point of shooting far more peripheral material than I would for an artistic shot. This is because I’ve outsmarted myself too many times by cropping out essential information in the viewfinder. Go ahead and crop in Photoshop when you’re ready, but more overall information, not more detail, is generally what you’re looking for.

Sometimes you see something in someone else's photo that makes you understand the physics driving your painting. This river snag, far distance, will inform a painting I'm working on right now. It was taken by Joe Wagner of Rochester and I saw it on Facebook. Where else?
The light in Rochester is frequently very dim, as we live in the shadow of a great rain cloud that hovers over Lake Ontario much of the year. That flat light can be really boring in a painting. On the other hand, you’re never stuck fighting a lighting source that doesn’t work.

And, yes, I google images.Some ideas are things I have seen in life but have never photographed—as with the Northern Lights, which appear here frequently enough but which I’ve never caught in a photo. Some I’ve photographed, but my reservoir of pictures isn’t sufficient. I keep these pictures as background information. The last thing I want to do is copy someone else's artistic ideas.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

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