Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Painting From Photos

Sometimes it is easy to become a slave to a photograph.  More often we overlook some photos as not having enough in them to make them candidates for painting source material.

In early June last summer,  I stopped briefly at Old Orchard Beach on my way to my summer place in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. 

It was a gray, rainy day, and very few people were in this honky tonk amusement town on the beach.  But I took some photos anyway.

Here is one I took from the beach looking back at the amusement park.  You might not think that it would inspire me to paint the scene.  No color, no people, and the rides weren't even open yet, so there were very few people around.  However, there are enough suggestions of the carnival atmosphere to build a painting.  And the gray scene meant that I wouldn't be tied to local color.

The problem in the photo is the lack of subject matter in the upper left hand corner.  I solved that by raising the roller coaster and inventing signage.  The straight unbroken line of the fence also presented a problem.  I changed it by including figures about to enter the park, and slightly curved the fence to repeat the curves in the ferris wheel and the halfdome building.  One figure breaks the line of the fence and the bottom edge of the paper.

You can also detect the linkage of white shapes to lead the eye through the painting. 

One last suggestion.  As you discover motifs that you have used in the past, draw upon those to help solve the empty space problem.  I have often included signs in my paintings, and they certainly came in handy for this painting.  By making them slightly oblique, they were also a useful element to "point" to the focal area.

So don't eliminate photos just because they are not ready-made compositions.  They might just be the motivation to think about the elements and principles to add to make the composition your own invention.

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