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I need advice - Julia and Natalie painting

I have a photograph that moves me tremendously but the colors are not there in the photo and I don't know how to make the photo something more compelling to do it justice.  This is a photo of my two nieces at Disney World and my mother would love for me to paint it.  I just find the colors boring and I don't know enough about photoshop or enhancing photographs to know what will give it the boost that it needs.  I love these two girls and this photo has an essence of their love for each other that I would love to be able to capture but am at a loss for how to go about it.  I am not interested in a grid, step by step photo copy painting - I want it to look like an oil painting and have some life and love in it.  Any suggestions are appreciated - thank you in advance for your generosity.

this is without cropping or any adjustments.  My initial drafts involve cropping via more golden mean with Julia, in the wheelchair, being the focus.  I would love to paint this with love and liveliness = perhaps color Natalie's dress better? I love the shadows but there is just still some "blah" there that is not compelling when I think of something framed.  HELP!   Thank you again...


  • dencaldencal -
    edited July 2017

    The subjects are small, backlit, almost silhouette, out of focus and in shadow. What you are trying to retrieve here is the emotional narrative. The pathway here is symbolic for life's journey.

    My suggestion would be to use this inspiration to set up a photo session and take many bracketed exposures with the intent of getting a great shot for painting.


  • @dencal thank you!  I told my mother, the photo touches me but is not anything that I can find myself starting to paint as I see the end as nothing I would like framed on a wall.  You have just helped me tremendously.  I kept looking for something to salvage and help but I don't think that moment in time will be paintable by me.  My family lives in South Carolina - I live in California with my husband and this was a photo at Disney World in Florida so I don't think I can re-create it.  It would be an awesome suggestion if we all lived in the same area and it was doable.  I think I will have to nix this.  Thank you - your presence here in this forum is invaluable. Seriously.  Thank you.
  • and P.S. you just saved me a ton of paint and time  :)

  • @Julianna , I just had a crack at this,
    not good I'm afraid, 

    Very very pixelated when cropped, the hard lines of the paving are a major compositional impediment..adjustment to contrast, brightness etc not much of a help. 

    You could try try submitting it to photoshoprequest or picrequest on Reddit to see if someone on there can assist- there are a couple of geniuses on there.
  • Julianna

    Thank you for your kind words.

    The location at Disney is immaterial. Any park pathway would do. Sketch an outline of what you want and get a South Carolina photographer or family member to take it for you.

    This spark of inspiration is precious and you will be forever wishing you had followed through.
    Make it a priority project and think through the obstacles.


  • I guess you don't have the original higher resolution photo from your phone or camera to work from? 
  • @Boudicca that's it!  I initially thought the shadows and the path could be something fantastic with the correct cropping but that path IS a major compositional impediment - wow!  Now I can see better what was bothering me so much.  Julia's head is right at that path hard line and it 's not like I can change the world (although I would like to sometimes :) ) =  thank you ever so much for trying to help and also for helping to verify why I couldn't for the life of me, make this work.

  • edited July 2017
    @Boudicca, I am re-thinking giving this a go....  I do have a plethora of oil primed linen (thanks to an unbelievable sale) and am not afraid to give it a go...........this is looking better......... my mother will be pleased.  I need to ask my sister for the original photograph in hopes that the pixels are better but I think she took this on her cell phone and this is as good as it can get.... maybe if I want to thrust my love into it, I can give it the best love I can offer and it will come to life.

    Thank you!!!!  truly.

    I think what I am going to do is try to make that path go more off to the left (out of frame) so the perspective line will be more severe into a vanishing point to the far right tree trunk. That will also make the path not be involved with Julia's head anymore - I will work on my measurements tomorrow.  Like if the vanishing point is more in line with that far right tree trunk than the other tree to the left?  Do you think that is on the right track?
  • Yep, that hard corner of concrete near her head has to go. I'll hop onto my photo editor and see if I can do something.....
  • edited July 2017
    @Boudicca I am severely computer challenged so anything you can do is much appreciated!  I am actually better at measuring out on a canvas and drawing perspective lines like in high school than anything fancy on a computer.  I'm antiquated. 

    Edited to add:  I just commented that I can't change the world and now look.... I am trying to change the path and trees at Disney World of all places!  I think Mr. Disney would be amused.  :)

  • @Boudicca !!!!   Can I hug you??!!!   thank you ever so much - that is exactly the boost that I needed to want to paint it - I hope my mother will like it (well, she pretty much likes everything I paint but I hope I like it and am proud of it) :)   

    I would have never known that that hard edge was what was making it so undesirable for me. Of course, I LOVE the warm and I'm sure I'll get a little crazy with it - I'll try to slow down and be meticulous where it needs it.  Thank you ever so much.

    I have a golf tournament out of town for the next few days so I will start this on Sunday.  I may sketch it out today as I have some canvas stained and ready for charcoal.  that way the charcoal can be setting a bit before I paint.  I wish I liked those yellow pencils but they just aren't cutting it for me.  If I get a sketch done, I may post the progress. 

    I'm so excited!!!
  • If I flip it, Julia will be in a more desirable place for a focal point - yay or nay on the flipped version?  Natalie is cute too for the focal in the other
  • Flipped looks better to me.
  • I agree, flipped looks better to me 
  • Also, listen to @BOB73 ! The photo doesn't need to be a perfect reference, unfortunately there's only so much you can do to improve it. This painting has tremendous potential and I can't wait to see you move forward with this! :) 
  • Flipped looks better to me.
  • edited September 2017
    I finally have time to start this.  I will post my progress here as I am not sure of where I am going with this.  I need to have good thoughts and all the love I can muster because this is pushing the limits with a poor photograph.  These are my nieces and this painting is for my mother.  So, no pressure, she will just be glad I am finally painting her favorite photograph of them.  

    I try to get my lights and darks down and general tone down after working out the composition (the compostion took many hours but this seemed to be the best).  In seeing this photo of my initial block-in, I already don't like that Julia's head looks like she is sad so I will be adjusting her hair first thing tomorrow!  She is a happy girl.

  • I was wondering when you were going to get to this. Great start!
  • edited September 2017
    @Boudicca   I am thinking of nixing the stoppers on Julia's wheelchair - they are there to make sure she doesn't tip backwards but in the photo and the potential painting, I find them distractive?  Do you think I should take them out?  What would you do?  Thank you again for your amazing computer skills - I completely stink at computer enhancements - you got me motivated with your help.  Thank you!
  • Time for the artistic license. Take them out.
  • thank you for helping me figure it out - in the reference, they just stick out too much at that angle - I don't like it.  I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your help.
  • It has those deeply warm @Julianna colors.  I look forward to seeing this develop, but on the other hand I want to say "stop!", you're done."
  • While you've got you're license out I would suggest softening that sharp corner that is the edging to the garden bed
  • Was it that obvious that I was trying to point to the focal point?  LOL
  • edited September 2017
    @PaulB   I wish I could allow myself to leave some canvas showing!!!  I've ruined many paintings before - I figure it is about half and half the number I ruin vs the number I improve - so, we'll see how this fares. 
  • Don't get heavy-handed with your "corrections"; this could be a complete painting as is. I see one element I would change and that is the bushes that create a "Dead End" at the end of the path. I think it creates the psychological effect of adding sadness. I would allow the path to continue until it blends or disappears into the background. I agree with @PaulB. The warm colors are wonderful and are beginning to define your style. I also agree about deleting the wheelie struts.
  • @BOB73 that is so funny that you mention about the dead end - looking at the painting in person - it looked like the girls were headed to a hedge - in working on it today, I really did not like the side road and the way it intersected Julia's head - I experimented with many things - darkening the values was a nightmare - I had to scrape that off stat!  I then decided to have a large sweeping curve of a path and that seems to work better for keeping the focus on the focal point without there being an intersecting value ending on Julia's head.  I still have to work on the temperatures - as I lost a lot in the fixing and am trying to bring the values back true - I still cannot figure out what to do with Julia's head as she has long hair and wears it up so she looks like an old lady with the things I have tried - I'll figure it out tomorrow.  I will also be adjusting my temperatures - their arms etc... are too grey.
    The girls now look like they are headed to the Promised Land  :)     One must always keep one's sense of humour.  

  • SummerSummer -
    edited September 2017
    @Julianna I know that you haven't signed it yet, but I copied it to my desktop because it feels almost done to me.  You will probably be lightening the arms a bit before you sign it.  You probably painted them right but when the paint dried they just darkened.  I know this painting has special meaning for you and your family and I think it shows.  You've painted something enchanting here.  I thought the photograph was going to box you in but you proved otherwise and painted the girls in a timeless environment instead.  Last of the edits, promise.   :)   Summer
  • You've captured Julia's youth: she has a slender arm, here hair is full of color, she's wearing spaghetti strap shirt. I really love love love this painting... the way you use colors is wonderful. Yes, I agree with you, avoid the blacks/grays especially in their skin-tone.

  • Hi J, I think you have created a silk purse out of a sow's ear. 
    I know this one is for your mum but do you think the girls would like a copy each?You could get copies printed onto canvas for them- that would be 2 crossed of the Christmas list.
  • You have beautifully captured a very tender moment, and have added so much more to the image through your modifications and simplifications to the photo. You'll add it to the portrait challenge I hope.
  • It doesn't suck.   Julianna said: "I am not interested in a grid, step by step photo copy painting - I want it to look like an oil painting and have some life and love in it."  Well, @Julianna you have accomplished that!
  • Oh my.  I sent a photo to one of my sisters and her first response was "Where are Julia's legs?" - my husband said "well, that will never win any awards" - he is very honest and I love that - I am thinking of adding some palette knife color interest to liven it up but don't want to have to have to do any palette knife around Julia's chair because that will surely mess it up - this is 12x12 on linen and that chair was a pain to paint.
    So, I sent the original photo to my sister, told her that I didn't know what to do about Julia's legs because the stoppers that I removed made it look like she had artificial legs and was distracting.  She wrote back and said she didn't understand why it looks like she doesn't have any legs.

    Then, Eureka!  I turned the painting upside down and immediately saw my horrible error - when I took the stoppers out, I brought her backpack up about a millimeter and a half - it immediately didn't read right to my sister.  So, I made her backpack the correct size and now, it reads correct.  Julia was born with spina bifida and is paralyzed from the waist down - she definitely has legs and would have been upset at my amputation of them. :)  She is precious and is such a happy girl and has a great little sense of humor. 

    Thank you @Boudicca for helping me with your amazing computer skills to give me inspiration.  The painting does look better in person - I don't know why my fancy new camera was not cooperating yesterday.

    Just another lesson that reference material is the most important thing - anything subpar is a recipe for headaches.
  • Please post the final version! ;)

  • This is where the artist emerges. It is not a literal translation of the photo; but it is the interpretation through your eyes, and it's beautiful.
    [Deleted User]Summer[Deleted User]
  • edited November 2017
    @Julianna, I know the reference photo has emotional content but when I first saw it I didn't have a lot of confidence that it could be made into a good painting. But you have indeed made something visually beautiful of it. Well done!
  • awww.... thank you @tassieguy .   I actually keep tweaking it a little bit for parts that stick out to me before I send it off to South Carolina.  I got the sass in Natalie's walk and I wanted Julia to have a strong back - not just a wheelchair.  I added a little more realistic fog/mist in the background to not draw the eye there - the girls do look like they have a connection and they are more alive in the most current painting.  I have to say, I learned a lot with this one.  I wish I had computer skills.  thank you kindly for the nice remarks
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