This is the fourth installment from the series of posts that will describe my thoughts and technical insights from selected works included in our newly released book, “Not Far from Home”….Enjoy!
Some have asked if I use photographs when painting. The short answer is, sometimes yes. However, it is extremely critical to work with the subject as much as possible from life. If I must use photographs because the small children are too restless to sit still or an animal is involved, I will always do a color study from life to gather the necessary information that is missing from the photo. The subtleties and variations in tone, value, and color are simply too intricate to guess at. To paraphrase the great landscape painter Edgar Payne who commented on the subject, “Our brains are way too small to invent such infinite variation”. In my experience with painting, I would completely agree with his words.
Again, if I must use photographs, I have found the best case scenario is to meet with the model to arrange the composition, photograph them, then, to go back to the studio to draw or map out the composition on the canvas. I will also print out a black and white photo and tape it to the canvas and meet the models back on location to begin the painting. Now I have all I need… the models bathed in the beautiful light, and the photo which will give me the information I will need to accurately draw the subject. This does take a bit more time, but is well worth the effort.
I have read that William Bouguereau had somewhat the same approach when he painted small children, only he used carefully drawn pencil studies created from marble sculptures instead of photos. He had the study for the drawing, and would have the “children running around the studio” for the color and value.
The following images show a finished painting and the study from life that corresponds. The degree of finish in the studies will vary based on the amount of time I had with the subject from life. Often this plan of attack is necessary in very early or late light, when you are only given a few minutes of a certain light quality. As you can see, little attention was given to the drawing in the study, and because the time with the model was short, all of my energies went into accurately capturing the value and color relationships.
Other examples of the varying quality in the studies and the intricate relationships between the field sketch and finished work can be seen on pages 28,52,62,96,112 and136 in our recently released book, “Not Far from Home”.