Composing a Photo Reference With Photoshop

Artist Pam Powell uses her computer to piece together the perfect photo references for her figure paintings.


Private Thoughts (oil, 24×36) by Pam Powell

My computer is a great creative tool. It helps me determine composition and, once I start painting, it gives me good color reference and the ability to enlarge any portion of my reference image; however, I caution the beginner not to think that the use of a computer can replace learning fundamental drawing and painting skills. The computer is just another tool in the artist’s arsenal.  The following is a simple example of how I use Photoshop to create my photo references.


1  This photo of my model Jessica features a great reflection. The shot became my first reference photo for my projected painting.


2  I remembered that I had a great photo of another model, Jesse, in his black leather jacket. I had my second reference shot.


3  Using the Photoshop cutting tool, I removed Jesse’s body from its original background, flipped the body to face the opposite direction, and added it to the first reference shot of Jessica. This hybrid photograph is my third reference.


4  I stand when I draw and paint, so when working from reference photos, I position my easel in front and to the right of my computer screen; that’s the same relative position at which I put my easel when painting a model. I love working from life and do so whenever possible, but my Café Series necessitates using some photos.

Bonus article! Photo to Painting: How to Use a Photo Reference in Your Art (6 Reference Photography Tips and Tricks to Create Lifelike Artwork


Meet Pam Powell
After touring Europe as a young woman, Pam Powell, inspired by the works of Michelangelo, decided to pursue a life in art. She earned her bachelor of fine arts degree in sculpture from the University of New Mexico, in Albuquerque, then a bachelor of fine arts degree in illustration from the Academy of Art University, in San Francisco, where she was an instructor for more than a decade. The Guerneville, California, resident now paints full time. Visit her website at www.pampowell.com.


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