Monday, October 14, 2013

San Giorgio Maggiore - Original Watercolor Painting

The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore is a 16th century church with campanile, or bell tower, on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in the Venetian lagoon. This is a view across the lagoon from Venice, with the marina visible at the left.

If you'd like to purchase this 7.5" x 22" original watercolor painting for $225 including shipping within the United States, you can do it securely on my website (click on the image). There are additional paintings for sale there, and my smaller paintings are available on my other website  Add a unique original painting to your collection!

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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Artist Tip #20-2 - Reference Material

Many artists, who don't like plein air painting, or who cannot spend the time on site that it requires, use reference photos for their paintings.  There are many ways to organize and use references, and we're fortunate to be living in this time when there are so many technical shortcuts available.  The use of digital cameras and photo organizing programs let us collect an almost unlimited supply of reference photos at little cost.  And image editors like iPhoto, Photoshop, etc. allow us to rotate, crop, and edit our images in amazing ways.

I abandoned printing reference photos several years ago.  Now, when I need a reference, I simply transfer the image to my iPad (if it's not already there), prop the iPad next to my easel, and draw and/or paint away.  There are even apps to make this easier.  I use ValueViewer on my iPad which lets me straighten and crop my images to match the aspect ratio of my paper.

As you can see in the photo, ValueViewer also can superimpose an equally-spaced grid on my reference photo to help me to position the large shapes properly on my paper as I draw.  But, besides offering advantages, tools like this bring disadvantages to the artist who is trying to express him/her self.

Many of us artists have a tendency to copy our reference materials as exactly as we can.  Unless these reference materials are outstanding, we run the risk of producing an accurate, but boring, painting.  Artistic painting is largely about the artist's interpretation of what is before us, and copying exactly leaves little room for interpretation.  Artists should consider how departures from our reference can lead to a painting that is more interesting, expressive, entertaining, and engaging.  This is something I'm always struggling with.  I find it really hard to turn off my "engineer" left brain that wants to put everything into my painting exactly as it is!

One method some artists use to "escape" from the details of their reference material is to sketch from it, and use only the sketch for the painting reference.  This method can free one from not only the details in the reference, but also from its specific colors.

Another method is to develop symbols for recurring things in our paintings - faces, torsos, trees, flowers, lakes, skies, etc.  This approach can free the creative mind from the realities in references, and allow an artist to highly edit or even "put together" a scene, figure, still-life, etc. using symbols developed in previous paintings.  We'll discuss symbol development in a future Artist Tip.

The real question for an artist is "what is my interpretation of this subject?", not "how well can I record what is in front of me?"  For example, here are two paintings I did from the same reference.  The first is a fairly realistic copy of what I captured with my camera.  The second is an attempt to capture the feelings I experienced in Venice.  It has very little detail, but lots of feeling.  Which do you find more appealing?

Another difficulty with reference photos is the distortion that the camera lens can create.  Wide angle lenses do not "see" as our eyes see, and distort shapes and perspective.  Often the very light parts of a photo are "washed out" while the darks are more black than they appear to our eyes.  We need to be aware of these distortions and to compensate for them in our paintings.

One more topic that should be discussed is the use of other people's reference photos.  In general, artists should use only their own photos for references, unless the photographer gives them specific permission.  There are many very talented photographers, and using their photos as references for our paintings is essentially "stealing" their creative compositions for our own use.  There are obvious exceptions - using photos provided by a client for a portrait, or copying another's photo (or painting) for practice (these need to be consigned to the drawer, and not exhibited or sold) - but in general, choosing and composing our subjects is part of our artwork, and should not be compromised by using another's photo reference.  Many competitive painting exhibitions specifically prohibit employing other people's references.

I'd love to hear from other artists about how they handle painting from reference photos.