Inspiration That Starts with a Snip or Snap

A while ago I went through a scrapbooking phase. Now, these were not scrapbooks of me or my friends and family marking my high school career or summer camp experiences. These are what I consider visual networks or maps–images that I sorted by subject and used to inspire me when I was doing certain tasks or thinking about certain topics.

Guardi's architectural depictions were definitely included in my scrapbooks. I love the way he captures the vastness as well as the ornate delicacy of Venetian architecture.
Guardi’s architectural depictions were definitely included
in my scrapbooks. I love the way he captures the
vastness as well as the ornate delicacy of Venetian architecture.

I had one with images for architecture and design–images that I wanted to mimic or reenact in my own living space. I had one for upcoming art projects or paintings–images that evoked memories or emotions in me that I wanted to explore. I also had ones that were more abstract–ones that visually explored ideas like power, sensuality, or sorrow.

I am thinking about getting back into this process because there is so much inspiration that can be gleaned from a single photo reference. Think of how images work on you. Is going from photo to painting that much of a stretch? If so, try inserting yourself further in the process by taking photos of things–objects, people, abstract displays of light and dark–that inspire you and start working from there.

I’m not saying depict what you see necessarily. For me it is more about acknowledging that we are all magpies when it comes to imagery. We think and articulate through images, so why not make this the impetus for work as well. It’s not like you are going to convert photo to painting in a boring cut-and-dry manner. Instead, at least for me, synapses just start to fire when I use a photo reference. It acts as both my mooring to a subject and the creative door that I pass through to bigger and broader ideas.

I also had several Chagall images--their whimsy and color always evoke a reaction in me.
I also had several Chagall images–their whimsy
and color always evoke a reaction in me.

But you want to have images that aren’t dominating your mind’s eye but a stepping-off point. So I always make sure to make the most of natural light, pay attention to color variations and transitions, and don’t get bogged down in detail.

Another way I keep my eye from being deceived by the flatness of a photo reference is to hone it with studies and exercises of the kind that Mark Mehaffey covers in all of the resources in his Acrylic Painting Digital Collection. Take a look and see if it is the same for you! Enjoy!

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

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