Exercise: Working from a Photograph
Choose a landscape photo with plenty of space and either tall trees in the middle ground or hills or mountains in the background… When you’ve decided on your photo, look at it critically to decide how you might interpret it.
This is one of my favourite views from a dog walking route over Ibsley Common in the New Forest. I only have the photo digitally and not in print, so sketched out the main photographic composition in my sketchbook to work on my painting composition.
Putting coloured frames around parts of the whole sketch/photo helped me decide which composition would be the most interesting.
Once the composition was decided upon, I scaled it up and drew out the main shapes in a fresh sketch.
Next, the drawing was repeated and simplified tone added to assist with the actual painting.
I decided to use a pastel and watercolour combination on thick cartridge paper. I used a base of soft pastel as an under-painting. I have struggled with working loosely in this section of the course for some reason, so this method is more tactile and more intuitive for me. I worked the pastel into the paper to try to cover all of the whiteness. Working in the darks quickly and strongly, using black in the foreground just to get the depth, then using different dark colours, such as purples, reds and browns to give a richness in the shadows. The minimal use of green seems to be helping me, as the autumnal colours are rich and bright, using sienna, yellows and oranges have lifted the whole feeling of the painting. It was important to keep the sky lively too to balance the strength in the middle and foreground. Once the under-painting was done, I tried to avoid overly blending the pastel and kept the marks visible although less so in the background. To assist with subtle branches I used a damp brush to pull the pastel through the trees.
Once the bulk of the pastel work was done, watercolour was added to intensify some darks in the middle and foreground. The birch trees were added with a rigger brush and Naples yellow and sepia. I used the trees in the garden as reference, especially to see the hanging down of the end twigs and remaining leaves, these were added to the painting with a smudge of mixed tones of pastel. Before using the watercolour, the pastel was fixed and each subsequent application was also fixed.
At this point I stood back and assessed what else needed doing. The sky needed bringing up to same level as the foreground, so I built more shadow beneath the clouds. To enliven the painting even more, I splattered watercolour over the foreground shadows after masking off the other areas with a large sheet of paper. I also referred to the last work-in-progress photo and noticed it was more intense in colour than the actual painting. This is a comment my tutor has made several times, in that the photo works better, therefore, I added more lights and darks to bring it up to intensity level of the photo. Unfortunately, by this time, the light was fading and the final photograph is a little grainy but gives an impression of the finished painting. If time, I may re-take it and post.
When you’ve finished, look at both the painting and the reference photograph.
In what ways did you depart from the photo?
I zoomed into a specific focus in the photograph and have tried to walk the line between representational and abstract.
Why did you make that choice?
I had been struggling with most of the landscape exercises, with a combination of colours, media and composition failing me. I have previously made landscape paintings with pastel that have had a higher success rate, they seem to make me feel freer in the execution of the painting.
Did you produce a painting that satisfied you, or were you overly influenced by the photo?
Funnily enough, when I came back for the second session of painting, I couldn’t access the digital photo for a couple of hours and had to work only from memory and my drawings. This was useful for tonal representation, although, when I could use it again, the photo was useful for colours. As I progressed I used the photo less and less and I like the interpretation that resulted.