Photos are just so darn tempting.
Beginning art students are often taught to draw by copying photos, and the criteria for determining if the drawing is good is if it looks exactly like the photo. Accurate rendering is surely a useful skill. But, by itself, it’s no guarantee that a completed artwork either 1.-communicates anything, or 2. -is visually interesting.
In my recent presentation with a textile artmaking group in Florida, we talked through how to use photos for reference, maybe for inspiration, but not to be trapped by their lure.
The goal is to produce work that means something, with content that’s visually interesting, and to use the elements of good composition to further the purpose of the work. That almost always will demand going beyond the photo or translating it in some way.
The process I used for creating “Becoming One with the Night” is an example.
I knew that I wanted to depict a female figure, a young woman, and I knew that I would do it much better with a good reference photo. So, I invited my neighbor to pose for me. Here’s my original photo.
There’s a lot I liked here. Her body position suggests a contemplative or thoughtful mood, and I wanted that. And I like the architectural details behind her. But I did not want a final work that looks just like this photo.
First, I pulled it into Photoshop Elements to get a rough idea of incorporating the photo with other images. Yes, I liked that.
Then I tried a rough computer composition of the young woman with a field of blue – my ultimate goal. Yes, I liked that. (I tried out other manipulations here, too. The angle and perspective have been changed from the original.)
I used a grid to enlarge the manipulated image, and drew it onto my drawing paper full-size. Then I traced that image onto muslin. Painting the area behind the figure a solid, deep color was a composition choice designed to make her the focal point.
The blue background – representing night, dream, memories and experience, developed separately. Then it was time to put them together.
Using the monotype-printed sheer fabric as shadows across the figure was a serendipitous step, inspired when the fabric fell across my painting on my worktable. It was just what I wanted. Once that piece with shadows was collage din place, I did some more printing and stamping on it to integrate all the parts together.
Artmakers have many tools in our toolboxes. Photos are one. I feel like I will create better work when I think through how to make choices using a photo. It may change, and that may be a much better outcome.
For more information about this work, and to see it in a room interior, visit my website HERE
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