When a Photo Can Do It Right

Photos into Paintings 101

Certainly, there are pitfalls to making paintings from photos. One problem occurs when an artist thinks that a photo is magic and that he or she can turn a photo into a painting with a snap of the fingers. It isn’t that easy, of course. And even if it were possible to easily make photos into paintings, we wouldn’t be too happy with the results, because in most cases the things we love about paintings are not the qualities photos can provide, and vice versa.

A pastel painting by Marie-Elise Larene.
A pastel painting by Marie-Elise Larene.

But going from photos to paintings can be useful. When drawing portraits from photos, even if you only look at a reference photo occasionally, it helps to remind you of your sitter’s facial features and bearing. That’s useful. Also, when looking at photos of constantly changing subjects–like oceans or sunsets–you are able to hold in your hand something that is finite and temporary. Yes, it is only a photographed image of the phenomenon, but such images can, again, be useful as sources of reference about color, shape, and perspective.

A pastel painting by Marie-Elise Larene.
A pastel painting by Marie-Elise Larene.

I’ve recently discovered the work of pastelist Marie-Elise Larene, which has made me realize that when I’m looking at a finished painting, I don’t really care if the artist is painting from photographs. Her colors are so bold and right-on, and the texture of the pastels gives such an atmospheric appearance to her flat surface. The results are as if she put me in front of a fiery sunset or glowing day on the water and froze time. I could care less about whether she is working from photo to painting or not. So when you are deciding your working method, don’t be dismissive of the tools you have at your disposal. Think of how to use them to paint something inspiring and lovely that achieves your vision. That is the only thing that matters and the highest standard you can hold yourself to.

If you use reference photos in your art and want to get more out of them, check out the Photography Business Bundle. You will discover how to turn those images into a saleable art, and what a photographer’s market can do for you as a fine artist. All of it is within your grasp. 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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