If I want to paint a still life, I set it up very carefully, photograph and crop it, perhaps move the objects or fiddle with the lighting and then photograph it again until I am satisfied. This will take place of the ‘thumbnail’ or planning sketch. I start drawing with the paintbrush on the canvas, only referring to the photo to get the composition right, but working from the actual still-life. I put the camera away and continue painting.
I will hardly refer back to the photo unless I need to – e.g. if I have to dismantle the still life or if the flowers droop! The reason why I don’t mind using a camera instead of sketching is because I am working directly from the still life.
The same would go for landscape – if I was painting out of doors, ‘en plein air’ which is a wonderful way to paint, but sadly, not always possible. Weather is changeable, you don’t always have the time or you see an unforgettable view where there is nowhere to stand and paint etc.
It is also much easier to take photos, go to the studio and paint wonderful landscapes! Some people take it a step further and trace them. With a digital camera the world is your oyster. I will still use photographs but for reference rather than as the main resource. The camera is a tool that is a part of 21st Century art, so enjoy it. However, using other people’s photos off the internet is unacceptable. This is their creative vision, their skill, their composition and their colour choices, in short, their artwork. Create your own.
I advocate drawing the view in pencil first because I believe that the sketch and the photo are best used together. This drawing can be a 10 minute or three hour drawing depending on your mood and skill.
Ten reasons why it’s a good idea to draw
- You inhale the aroma of the scene and connect emotionally to the landscape.
- You study the landscape in more detail with a pencil than a camera.
- You can write up notes and think about colours – e.g. dark green / almost black hedges (phthalo green plus Aliz, crimson), bits of white cow parsley (impasto).
- People see things by swivelling their heads, giving a wide-angle viewpoint. Details that would be cut off may be included. In the painting Waterperry, I did the drawing first. When I started taking photos for reference, I could not fit the vista I chose in one shot.
You also move your head up and down and horizontal and sloping planes seem less flat then they will in photos. I’m sure you have seen beautiful hills, and in a photo they are mere bumps. When you draw the hills, you often add a dose of aerial perspective without noticing, and this gives your composition some energy.
- Also when you draw, you draw selectively with your heart; subconsciously omitting things you dislike.
- You often enlarge things you like. I find that when I draw houses I always draw the windows a ‘tad’ bigger, and this makes the house look nicer. See how large the apples are compared to the reality. And also how few.
- You are forced to skip details, rather than try to draw every leaf. The camera gives equal emphasis to everything and if this is the basis of the painting, the artwork can be flat and lack ‘soul’
- In landscape, you may have the ‘Battle of the Greens’ where there are too many similar tones. The Waterperry orchard photo below illustrates this problem. See how the drawing resolved it.
- Drawing tonal sketches (which is what I recommend and will discuss in the next post) defines areas more clearly.
- By the time you start your painting, you have been in the mental and visual zone of the subject for a few hours and this connection is palpable.
It’s worth using all the resources available to the modern artist!
In my next post, I will show how I paint a landscape by starting with the photo.