|"Old Timer." (desert tortoise) Oil on board, 16 x 20 inches. ©Karine Swenson2013|
This focus on light and shadow has continued into my other paintings of animals. I have finally decided to start painting the backgrounds more like the natural setting in my reference photos, in order to understand the light and shadow even better. Of course, photographs can be limiting when it comes to light and shadow. I think it is important for an artist to work from life as well as from photos, because there are things the eye is capable of seeing that the camera is not capable of capturing. I have done a lot of drawing and painting from life, which I apply to my work even when using photos.
I often feel that photography has been used as a measure for how successful a painting is. I have heard people say, "That painting is amazing - it looks just like a photograph!" Do people really think it's that hard to make a painting look like a photograph? I am here to burst your bubble, if you feel that way. Here are a list of reasons why I don't think it's hard to make paintings look like photos:
1. A photograph doesn't EVER move. The light doesn't change, the model doesn't get tired, the animal doesn't hop away, etc. You can conceivably work on a painting from a photograph forever, and it will always look about the same.
(of course, one of the reasons why I use photographs as reference for my animal paintings is simply because they don't move. It's hard to get animals to hold still. My sketchbooks are full of quick drawings I have done from life of animals. Some of those drawings consist of only one line, and then the animal moved. Not enough information for a full painting, I'd say.)
2. Modern technology has made it relatively easy for an artist to replicate a photograph. Many portrait painters simply project the photographic image onto their painting surface and trace the image. It is a common practice among other "realists" as well. Artists can also use a grid to transfer the photographic image onto the painting surface, preventing major distortions. This is particularly helpful in blowing up a small image to a large painting surface.
Just so you know, I don't use either of these techniques. I have to do everything the hard way - I do all of my drawing free hand.
3. A photograph is already flat. The artist doesn't have to try to take a three dimensional object and create a flat image with it. That step has already been done by the camera.
4. When working from life, time becomes an issue. If one is outdoors, the light will change - almost constantly. If one is working from a model, the model moves. He (or she) becomes tired and the body shifts subtly. The model will often take breaks, and when he gets back into the pose, there are always differences.
These kinds of challenges don't exist when working from a photo.
5. When working out of one's imagination, the artist has to have a basic understanding of how things look in order to make a believable painting. This is so much more difficult than having it all right there in front of you like you would when working from a photo!! (In fact, this is my biggest area of weakness - I am not very skilled at working from my imagination. I need to practice.)
A short list, but one I hope you will consider the next time you find yourself feeling impressed that a painting looks "just like a photograph."
Even though I use photographs for reference when I paint, it is my hope that the paintings I create will transcend merely "looking like a photograph." I want it to be a painting - to have qualities a photo will never have - bold brush strokes, unexpected colors, texture, and a physical presence only a painting can have. I am seeking something beyond the photographic image, because I am ultimately a painter. Not a photographer. I don't know if I am attaining that goal, but I am striving for it.
You may think that I don't admire photographers. This simply isn't true. I have seen some amazing photography, and it isn't that easy to take a great photograph. I want to take great photographs and then use them to help me make even greater paintings.
I leave you with a photograph I took on a hike of a tortoise we saw that was only about 5 inches long:
cute as can be!!!
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog, all.