Painting from Photographs

As you can see in the photograph at right, I took this shot on an overcast winter day. Although the subject lacked dramatic lighting, I thought the shapes in the building would make an interesting painting. And since I didn’t have time to paint on the spot, I had to work with this less-than-perfect image.

First, I did a series of thumbnail sketches in pencil, making minor changes in the composition. Note these changes in the sketch I decided on:

  • I removed unessential details like the trash can and the small tree.
  • I simplified the area behind the left side of the building.
  • I emphasized the interesting shapes in the building by moving it closer to the foreground.
  • I made the statue larger to increase its importance.
  • I scaled down the river to make it seem farther away and less important.

Next, I made several photocopies of the pencil sketch. This gave me the opportunity to experiment with different lighting without having to trace or redraw the sketch each time. Using three values of cobalt blue plus the white of the paper, I tried the light source coming from overhead, from behind, from the left and from the right of the building.

I liked the backlit version best so, using additional photocopies, I did two color sketches, one at dawn and another at dusk.

Even a quick comparison of the original photograph and the final watercolor painting shows how drastic the change is and how much imagination went into the painting.

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