Working from photos has its own challenges.
Ideally the photo would be one you have taken, so that you have a feeling for the whole vista and have breathed the air that the scene inhabits. I believe that this psychological connection is important. Sometimes you will be commissioned to paint a scene that someone else has photographed and this can be more difficult unless the photograph is already brilliant! (… and downloading other people’s creative photography from the internet without their permission is not ethical!)
When I was commissioned to paint this view from where the clients’ older brother proposed to his wife-to-be, we walked to the top of the Ridgeway to The View, about 100 meters from the family farm, where my client had grown up. In the photo that I took, there are some bushes obscuring the clump of trees, the wheatfields and the dip in them is barely discernable, the greens are all very similar and the bright yellow rape fields don’t show up at all here. I moved forward along the road and took photos from a different angle. Then I went to the side and sketched the shape of the clump of trees and the dip in the wheatfields. My client told me that she loves the cow parsley and that it is prolific.
I then sent her four sketches including a square cloudscape version because this was based on the piece that inspired her to commission this artwork.
Having chosen the view with the road, my client was uncertain about whether or not she wanted a stormy sky, so I did two small studies (20cm x 25cm), one with a stormy sky and one without. I also treated the road differently in each to give more options.
There are some key features in both pieces:
- The shape of the distant hills is distinctive. It also gives the feeling of a large vista and the vast distance in the background.
- The clump of trees has a peculiar vertical cut in it.
- The yellow rape fields, green wheat and cow parsley signifies the season. The cow parsley in the foreground heightens the sense of scale.
I have tipped up the wheatfields in a sort of aerial perspective and exaggerated the slope of the hills. This is more like what you see or feel when you look at the scene, because you turn your head in all directions, whereas the camera is limited to a single viewpoint. I have accentuated the difference in the greens. The similarity of greens is also related to amateur photographs and digital processing.
I like stormy skies because they tone down the colour contrast, while increasing the tonal contrast, but for a wedding gift, blue skies are symbolic, so this was her choice. The dip in the wheat fields makes the radiating ploughed lines ‘move spatially’ The focal point of the road vanishing, is continued upwards through the bushes, then via the gap in the clump of trees to the clouds, where I placed the vanishing point for the radiating plough lines. I preferred a simpler road (blue-sky version) because there are so many busy areas in the top half of the painting – the sky, bushes, wheatfields and the distant hills.
We decided on a title: “May the road rise to meet you” which comes from the Irish blessing and is so appropriate for the occasion. The final piece is 40cm x 50cm, framed in an off-white handpainted frame.
My client was delighted (well. in tears actually, because this is her childhood view and she now lives far faway) and she also purchased the two studies; keeping the stormy sky version for herself and giving the blue-sky study to her younger brother who had shared commissioning the gift with her.
This was a wonderful commission with lovely clients and a fabulous subject!