“Why I Paint From a Photo Reference” >>> Beautiful light is what inspires Shelley Prior most, whether it’s a portrait, a still life, landscape, floral, or animal. Shelley is a realist watercolor artist based in Ontario, Canada; she has been a full-time artist and instructor for 25 years.
On Painting With a Photo Reference
by Shelley Prior
Whenever I begin a new painting with glass or metal objects, I start with a photograph. I do this because the slightest change of light or tilt of the head will instantly shift all of the values and colors, much like turning a kaleidoscope.
I will still use the setup for general color and to see details but a camera can freeze the moment for me so that I’m not constantly trying to chase a moving target as I try to sort out the sometimes complex shapes and values. I try multiple arrangements and prefer light coming through my window whenever possible because artificial light never seems to have the same brilliance.
I will step back from my arrangement and use the camera lens to zoom in on the subject rather than taking it at close range which can often cause distortion. Moving around the arrangement or trying eye-level or a birds eye view from above can give me a new perspective rather than always choosing the same angle for the photo reference.
Once I have rearranged and taken multiple images, I compare and choose the one I like best. If it’s something quite complex, like crystal, I may enlarge the image and transfer it because drawing it would be very time-consuming, even though I would be able to draw it by hand.
It’s a time-saver for me but I do continue to practice my drawing skills all of the time so that I am never at the mercy of tracing or projecting the image exactly as it has been photographed. I want the ability to edit or change elements from the reference and for this you need drawing skills.
Additional Watercolor Paintings by Shelley Prior:
Have you used this method of using a photo reference for painting a still life? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
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