Figure Painter Melissa Breault on Using a Photo Reference

How to use a photo reference for realistic pastel, Melissa Breault, ArtistsNetwork

Painting from Photographs with Pastel — Do It Wisely

Melissa Breault uses pastel on an intimate scale. She creates marvelous precision of form with an exquisitely light touch. In her portraits, she tracks every nuance of light and color to give a complete account of her subjects.

At the same time, the dramatic use of lighting and well-chosen poses combine to elicit a strong sense of presence and life from the subject. More than just technically accomplished, these works communicate a deep sense of connection with the sitter.

Painting from photographs in order to capture detail, but still retain a sense of life and vitality in a figural work can be a challenge for realistic painters. Here’s what figure painter Melissa Breault has to say about how she works with photo resources with her pastels.

Richard Melville-Pastel-by-Melissa-Breault -- Learning the right skills when painting from photographs.

Richard Melville (pastel) by Melissa Breault

“I never took a photography course, but I know just enough about my camera to be able to get the references I need. Photo references allow me to go into detail and spend as much time as I want on any given area of my drawing.

“I never mindlessly copy what I see in photos, though. I simply use them as a source of information about form, light and shadow, and basic colors. Then I adjust the composition, contrast, color and textures as I go. Often I combine different elements from different photos, making sure the light source is coherent. It’s easy to fall into the trap of just copying. Instead, make your own decisions and create something that reflects your reality.

“Learning to draw and paint from life helps a lot when using photos for artistic purposes. When you‘ve painted from life prior to painting from photos, you can better ‘see’ and understand what’s happening in the photos you’re using, which helps you keep the useful information and transform the rest to suit your vision.”

To read more about the artist and her working methods in pastel, check out the June 2017 issue of Pastel Journal.

PAstel-By_Melissa_Breault-Brandon-Flowers. Learning the right skills when painting from photographs.

Brandon Flowers (pastel) by Melissa Breault

plume-pastel-by-melissa-breault -- Learning the right skills when painting from photographs.

Plume (pastel) by Melissa Breault


PAstel-By_MElissa-Breault-Under-the-Carpet-detail. Learning the right skills when painting from photographs.

Under the Carpet (detail; pastel) by Melissa Breault


Other Pastel Resources

Want more pastel tips? Join artist Chris Ivers for an insightful video on preparing your pastle surface, below.


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