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Painting from Life vs Photographs

I am always intrigued by the arguments and panel discussions that get rather heated about using photographs.  For me, I love photographs because I can flip them upside down, sideways or any number of ways to right brain paint but that is the only benefit I get - I hate the printers and the screens and the cameras and so many other variables that mess with simple colors and values that are plain as day in life situations.  I never once wonder what color that is, what value that is, what is that shadow doing when painting from life like I do with photographs.  Heck, I even hate my photographs of my paintings lately.

I found this blog interesting.  More than anything - his still life set up fascinates me!  I had to blow it up many times to figure out how he did that with the frames and grid.



  • Interesting, thank you for posting.  I think his setup with the one eye, and the frame are what you did with the mirror and the red dots.
  • @PaulB   holy cow, I didn't even think of that!  I definitely had to have one eye closed for the dots on my forehead and chin and ear to line up to the dots on the mirror - I honestly can't remember if I painted then mostly with one eye - that's weird.
  • edited October 2017
    The user and all related content has been deleted.
  • That is interesting @KevinGE because I was reading today about why photographs of oil paintings look so much worse than in real life and an oil painter commented "why are people surprised by this.  When you take a photo of anything it loses it's 'aliveness'"   I thought that was interesting.  Your example of a 2D into a 3D is so true.  I can't say that I get a color correct in life but I never question what I see in color - in prints or screens or paper, I question the settings, saturation, tint, any number of things.  Matching color to a photo has so many variables - painting from life is so much easier.  I just wish my roses from my garden would cooperate and not die like a vase.  Painting a living thing from life gives those paintings extra oomph or something sensed immediately that I love.  
  • I think this is true and that's why I go out with my colour checker and paints to make colour notes even though the actual painting of my landscapes is done in the studio. You just can't rely on cameras, computers and printers to reproduce what your eye perceived. So much gets distorted at each step.  However, photos are great for remembering details of form. Much better than my brain. 
  • Note: Kingston works from his own photographs. Therefore he has complete control of the composition. Working from other's photos is losing that control which for me is the biggest reason not to use them. But I do use them out of convenience and necessity like most everyone else. 
  • this is insightful to me. Many of you here are obviously good photographers, great with computer editing and you all must have fantastic printers.  There is another level that some artists are able to achieve and that is what some people call the "3rd level" of painting - the first is seeing the scene - the second is when you see it as shapes and when you reach the 3rd level, you are letting your instincts and creative soul take over. Many paintings posted here come alive and look like they are painted from life - even if they aren't because those artists, I believe, are painting at the 3rd level. I would never guess that most of @Kingston 's paintings are from a photograph - there is the life and creative soul taking over.  There are many other fine artists here who are able to accomplish the same thing.  It just never occurred to me how much more important 3rd level is to photographs (for my particular taste in art).
  • @Kingston   please don't misunderstand.  Perhaps my written word came off as disrespectful and that was not my intent.  I believe that I have stated several times on this forum that I think you are a genius - I admire your work greatly.  I know that it takes a great deal of time, effort, energy, talent and guts - I think you are a fantastic painting mechanic, artist, brilliant with composition and color and value - you take painting from photos to what I know as 'Level 3" and that just means your creative genius takes over.  I didn't mean to disrespect you in any way.  

    I've been oil painting for 30 plus years (off and on) and don't have nearly the discipline or vision that I desire to have.  I appreciate you and hope that I didn't write something that seemed otherwise.
  • BOB73BOB73 -
    edited November 2017
    This is going to be a good thread (already is) I wish I had my stuff so I could show examples of painting from photographs that don't look like they were painted from photographs. Photographs can give us inspiration and a model to draw details from but we can still control the composition using our imagination and the skills of getting values and color right that we learn from DMP. For those of us that still rely on internet or other photographs. "Julia and Natalie" by Julianna is something of what I'm talking about. Julianna started out trying to copy a photograph with a great subject but poor overall composition and color balance; after a lot of work and trialnerror she finally ended up with a terrific painting by cutting out virtually everything but the two subjects then allowing her own style to take over the other elements. So I'm just pointing out that we can get great things from a photograph without trying to duplicate it.
  • Bringing in qualities and observations developed from plein air experience into painting from photos adds to the realism accomplished apart from the photo, same applies to still lifes.
  • FlattyFlatty admin
    at the moment I'm gearing up to paint from a photo however I much more prefer to paint from life. I feel it is easier for me. 
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