I need some suggestions. I want to paint from a photo of my children when they were small and we took them
to the frozen creek. We all held hands and our youngest boy gripped the hands on either side of him
and swung his knees up. Everyone is laughing on the photo and that's the mood that I want to convey. My
problem is that it was an overcast wintry day and so the sky is gray and there is no direct light source. The
mood of the figures is merry but the atmosphere is dreary. My skills are not that advanced that I can
invent sunshine. Should I be faithful to the photo and use grays and browns (trees) in the background?
Any ideas that you offer are most welcome.
It is diffucult to make meaningful suggestions on this without seeing the photo that you plan to use. However, why let that stop us! I have made suggestions while blindfolded on other occasions—why not now? Here are a few random thoughts:
I have always thought that drawing or painting a subject with diffuse light, rather than strong directional lighting, was much more difficult. Don't let that stop you though. My last three paintings, including the one I am working on, involve subjects in diffuse light. On the good side, chances are your reference photo has quite a bit of detail without things lost in shadow. When working from a photo, it is best to work from an enlargement (an 8x10 at least) —just to better see what you are trying to do.
The generally neutral colors of the background that you wrote about may actually work to your advantage. The family group is your center of interest. A light, neutral background sets the stage for the color, middle tones and darks to be on the family grouping where you want the emphasis. Also, from another perspective, the "dreary" look of the background may offer an excellent contrast to the happy mood of the family. This could make the picture that much more inreresting.
Now, here is where I'll make some statements with my blindfold in place. From all you have written, I would definitely make the background light in value without a whole lot of contrast, almost like a backdrop. This will allow the family to stand out as a gouping, contrasting well with the area around it. Be ready to use the photo as a point of departure. Change values or colors where needed and perhaps strengthen some colors on the family unit. Explore the possiblities of moving a figure a bit or overlapping figures slightly. We have referred to the background as soft neutrals that are in a light value. You may want to consider a subtile color cast to the entire background area. Perhaps this could be a lavender or some hue that compliments colors used in the figure group.
All of this means that you should make some small black and white pencil roughs to establish the composition and the lights and darks. Next, you should make a small color rough. With these successful preliminary studies, you can begin your painting knowing where you want to go.