2000 Photos and Nothing to Paint: Part 1
By Christine Camilleri, AFCA, PAC
Digital photography and software is one of the best tools around for an artist…if you know how to take advantage of all those pixels!
Has this happened to you? You have tons of reference material but just look at each photo and no spark of creativity strikes. You scroll through them for a couple of hours and then, frustrated, give up.
You need to think of photos as your diving board: they are simply a jump off point. Photos are not your painting, they are not your feelings, they are not texture nor composition nor design, and they are most certainly not colour. Paradoxically, that’s what makes them so exciting.
Try these “jump off” ideas:
- · What was the day like when you took the photo? Was it hot? Do you want to convey the heat of the day? The bright sunshine? Can you still remember the clouds overhead around the place where you took the photo? Was it a large expansive scene or intimate? How can you convey that and bring it back to the painting?
- · What mood would make this photo work? Bright and airy or dark and somewhat mysterious? Playful or thoughtful? It’s up to you to create the “atmosphere”.
- · Do you like the colors in the photo? (these are usually the “local” colour so that trees are green, barns are red, the sky is blue) What if you could change the colours what would they be? Is a yellow or red sky more interesting? Can the beach sand be purple? What if the animal was blue and orange with a hint of lime green?
- · Try printing or looking at photos in black and white (often camera software allows you to do this) so you see the value patterns more easily and can dab in your own exciting colours!
- · If you magnified one area of the photo does that make the shadows and shapes far more intriguing? If you cropped out all the extraneous things does that help you focus? If you magnify until you can’t see what the subject is anymore, does that help you think in a more abstract way?
- Once you have your idea firmly in mind, the photos often become quite secondary to your creative process. I use the photo(s) as a jumping off point and then…jump off and don’t look back!
The “So What’ Principle: For Those Who Just Have to Be Hard on Themselves
I critique my work all the time. In fact, I think it’s what I do best. I like to pick apart my thumbnail, vilify my values, desecrate my drawings and be spitefully scornful of a final painting. Yes, I can be hard on my paintings but it’s a tough love message.
There is one overriding thought in my head as I look at my efforts no matter what stage I’m at: “So what?” That phrase is not dismissive but is my best critique technique. I used to get to the end of a painting, think it was good and then I would hear that voice in my head, “So what?” It has become so useful to me I have now trained myself to hear it at the start of my creative process; ie sometimes even before I get a thumbnail going.
“So what?” is my way of asking, “Is this a trite composition or really exciting?”, “Has this [insert here the words subject, theme, colour scheme, composition] been done before in a very similar fashion by others or is this truly clever?” “Am I just in love with being able to paint this for the first time and I’m just astounded that it’s working out but overall, it’s not a very compelling painting?” “Is this painting even interesting?” “Is it a unique representation of what I feel or see inside?” If the voice is saying as I look at the painting, “So what?” then I know I have missed the mark somewhere.
Perhaps part of the creative process necessitates producing many “So Whats?” before the “Ah Ha!” type paintings start happening more and more often. I have destroyed many “So Whats” and that has been very freeing.
I know that not all of my paintings can be “Ah Ha’s!”; I think I would burn out long before the paint dried or the pastel dust settled. Musical artists know this: when was the last time you listened to the entire CD and each and every track was incredible? At the same time I have morphed a “So What?” painting into an “Ah Ha!” painting with some problem solving, a deep breath and a take-charge-type attitude. You know what I mean, we have all done it.
Critiquing your paintings,( as if from the outside looking in), in whatever language you use can be extremely useful in helping you produce the kind of art you want more often so you’ll potentially end up with more paintings that say “Ah Ha!”