Painting From Photographs

I normally work from plein air sketches or my imagination, but this scene I photographed while on vacation in Costa Rica was just too beautiful to pass up. As most artists do when working from a photo, I made adjustments to the composition to better suit my painting. I first changed the foreground to make it more interesting, introducing lines to direct viewers' attention around the composition, and then eliminated overhanging branches, which I thought suggested something beyond the canvas that wasn't resolved. While painting, I spent quite a bit of time trying to add variety to the otherwise monochromatic palette of greens, mixing various combinations of warm (ultramarine blue and cadmium yellow) and cool (Winsor blue and cadmium lemon); and I glazed mixtures of Galkyd medium and transparent colors (transparent red oxide, Indian yellow, and Winsor blue). To finish, I'll spray it with retouch varnish to unify the surface with a gloss.

The painting is 18" x 24", oil on canvas. I'm going to put it on a shelf in my office so I can imagine being back in the tropical environment when I'm stuck in cold, wet, chaotic New York City.


For more information on creating art from photographs, check out the Painting Highlights from Master Teachers, Fall 2009, which features an article on three painting friends who exchanged photographs in an experiment designed to teach them about different approaches to painting, or download the free Artist Daily eBook Step by Step: Draw People from a Photograph.

M. Stephen Doherty

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M. Stephen Doherty

About M. Stephen Doherty

I've been interested in art since I was a child,  and I was fortunate to be able to take Saturday art classes at the Cincinnati Art Museum from the time I was 9 years old until I finished high school. I majored in art at Knox College and graduated summa *** laude, Phi Beta Kappa (proving artists can use both sides of their brain!).  I then earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in printmaking from Cornell University; taught art in public schools, a community college, an adult education program, and a college; worked in the marketing department of a company that manufactured screen printing supplies; and was hired to be editor of American Artist in January, 1979.

Thomas S. Buecher introduced me to plein air painting and it immediately became a passion of mine because it got me outdoors and allowed me to continue learning when I traveled to judge art shows, attend conventions, give lectures, and interview artists. Over the years I've exhibited my paintings at Bryant Galleries in New Orleans, Trees Place Gallery on Cape Cod, and in a traveling exhibition titled From Sea to Shining Sea.

I've written 10 books on artists and art techniques and contibuted articles to magazines, websites, and exhibition catalogs. Now as I prepare for semi-retirement, I'm trying to hone my painting skills -- especially those related to painting portraits.

I've been very fortunate to have met thousands of talented artists who have enriched my life with their art, their friendship, and their advice. I am grateful to Jerry Hobbs and Susan Meyer who hired me in 1979, to the talented people who worked with me on the magazines, and to the artists and advertisers who supported American Artist, Watercolor, Workshop, and Drawing  magazines and the related websites.

I've also been blessed with a supportive, talented wife, Sara; a daughter, Clare, who works for an insurance agency; a son, Michael, who is a computer enginner in Austin; a son-in-law, Shawn, who can fix and carry anything; a granddaughter, Amanda, who has me wrapped around her finger; and my mother, Dotty, who has advised and encouraged me from the beginning.

4 thoughts on “Painting From Photographs

  1. Great job, I love the banana tree in the foreground and the warm colors that welcome the viewer in to this paradise. I am from the mountains of Nicaragua and this painting just brought to me the most beautiful memories.
    Thanks for sharing.


  2. Wow! Your picture doesn’t look much like the photograph at all. It is more interesting and beautiful to get lost in. I love the reds you put into the forground and the waterfall you added. I think all you used was the mountain range and even that you added depth and distance too. I love your painting.