Inspiration at a Discount

Now that the new year is well under way, one of my favorite activities is to stop by the bookstore and rummage through the leftover calendars. Since most of the calendars are reduced in price 25-50 percent, this is a great opportunity to pick up reference photos?usually in a very large scale?of those special images that may be hard to photograph myself. For instance, last year I picked up calendars with pictures of castles, tall ships, wolves and waves. If you like, you could even recycle old calendars.

Mostly I use these exercises to help improve my art, rather than to create a painting to sell. Remember, these photos have copyright protection and may not be used directly by you without the photographer?s permission. The purpose is to have a reference photo. These images will be used with other sources?your own photos, your imagination, etc. Together these sources allow you to create a new image that?s truly your own work of art.

Here?s my process:
1. Trim the calendar pages to a size that?s easy to manage. I usually trim them to 8-1/2×11 to fit in a file folder. Sometimes I fold them to fit.

2. Sort the images by subject, then place them in file folders and label the folders. I have files of “Flowers,” “Water Scenes,” Animals,” etc.

3. At random, pull out an image from a folder and study it. Let?s say you pulled out a picture of a wolf. Notice the shape of the muzzle or the curve of the back. Sketch what you?ve learned?this is the same as sketching an old master painting in a museum. It?s a good learning technique, but only for your own studies.


For the purpose of this example, I used a photograph from my own personal travels (left), a scene on Corsica near where Napoleon was born. But the idea is the same. You see the photograph and the resulting watercolor painting (right). You?ll notice that I didn?t change much between the reference photo and the painting. Usually I change a lot?I add elements, subtract other objects?so there?s hardly any resemblance to the original.

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