Don’t Be a Slave to Your Reference

Artists have used photographic reference as a basis for studio paintings since soon after the camera was invented in the 1800s. Taking photos has now become a fast and convenient way to collect and record material. Nonetheless, I remind my students that photographic reference is only a starting point, not something to copy faithfully. We artists, unlike photographers, have the wonderful opportunity to select only those things in a scene that work to our advantage. Nature offers us wonderful subjects and vistas to paint, but, from an artistic standpoint, various elements like trees, rocks and streams are not always in the best location for a compelling design. Then, too, how often have you been at a great location only to wish it were under different lighting conditions, a different time of day or possibly even a different time of year? We can change any and all of these things, and we shouldn’t hesitate to use all the options available to us as artists. So when you look at a photograph as reference, take the time to analyze what elements could or should be moved, changed, retained or possibly eliminated completely, in order to create the best composition and most engaging art you can. Don’t be a slave to your reference. To learn more about making the most of your reference photographs, read all of Jim Markle’s article and see his art in Artistic License in the July/August issue of The Artist’s Magazine.

Collin Fry is an artist and writer living in Michigan.

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