Part 4, project 5, exercise 3 – working from a photograph

This has been my predominate practice of late and so I hope I’ve begun to show already some of the learning points this exercise is designed to cover. Specifically, interpreting rather than transcribing, attending to composition and being selective, and in the final analysis, making it my own as a painting rather than a copy of a photograph.

As before, I have chosen one of my own because, having chosen the shot myself, composed it, albeit informally because I’m a snapper not a photographer, and have a relationship with the place, I can feel its context.

This is a place I’m looking forward to returning to once it’s safe for the likes of me to go out again. It has a slightly improbable stand of trees at right angles to the river, with a field in the foreground – often occupied by sheep that leak out onto the river bank from time to time. Just to the left, out of shot, is a bridge. It’s my ‘leaning’ spot after walking down from the other leaning spot on the bridge in the village where I snapped the swans on the river [here], and my turning point for walking back home.


My next step was to frame this, to mask parts of it to see how the shape and orientation affects the composition. My immediate, and unexpected, feeling is that the second appears quite filmic while the first looks to me like a proto-painting. I could possibly shave some more off some of the edges or turn either into a square.

And I’ve ended up with two very similar images! I’ll strip the masks back, stand back, and think about what’s going on in that area that is drawing my attention.


I think I’ve settled on an aspect – square and with superfluous details cropped out.


I found a piece of card board box roughly square shaped and marked it out into a 42 x 42 cm window; primed it with transparent gesso, made some guidelines with white watercolour pencil and conte, then washed into a number of distinct areas with various tones of yellow, white, and green. Cardboard is very absorbent even with a primer so I expected the washes to sink in quite a lot. My plan is to use a palette knife for the painting really because I haven’t used one so far and I’m itching to ladle some impasto onto this thing to see how it copes.

Palette knife and toothbrush. There is some interesting texture to be had from the structure of the card, and the impasto makes it more possible to use scratching to make lines – for the wooden fence for instance. There are no ripples in the water, that’s an artefact of the resolution much reduced by resizing to save storage space. This looks like a decent base to work on once it’s dry.


Drying doesn’t take long for acrylics on card. I’ve added some dilute colour in various places – in particular the fence posts – and added some foliage or indications of foliage, along the foot path and the bank. I used an actual paint brush for this. I’m nearing the cut-off point now; that threshold where any more will be too much. Luckily it’s early evening and cats to be got in so I will have to leave it now until tomorrow.


I have fiddled around with colours and brushwork to lighten the sky, mute the more distant areas, and brighten the foreground. I also wanted to give a better indication of moving water, although I’m not sure I’ve pulled that off. It needed more colour – reds and blues – in the close foliage (and I’m aware now that I’m tipping over into Fauvism here), and I needed too to attend to marks that seemed inconsistent in style. One of my earlier exercises looked, to my tutor, to have been painted by two different people and she was right, so I wanted to deal with any sign of that here. I’m intrigued by this process as it’s unconscious not deliberate, and it reminds me of my early training days when I found it hard to be anything other than a clone of whoever my clinical supervisor was. I got over that and I’ll get over this by absorbing and internalising the best of each of them and building myself from the elements.


I don’t think I’ve departed too much from the photo, beyond cropping that to focus on a particular area. The colours in the original though were quite muted, the brightness of the print being due to a rogue yellow cartridge in my laser printer, and it’s this brightness that I brought to the painting. I’ve also simplified the building in the background to reduce fuss, and capitalised on the texture of the card which gave me those mottled marks in the stand of trees.

A mistake I keep making is painting key elements before fully dealing with the background they’re sitting in front of. This time it was the fence which meant I had to somehow make continuous lines and brush sweeps without painting over it. I got round this by using wash to blend the water area and a wet flannel to wipe the wash off the fence. That in itself led to some exposure of the under-painting and thereby a bonus of texture.

I think it would be harder for me to be over-influenced by a photograph than to go off-piste with it because I am not good at copying or replicating and I don’t really have any ambition to become so. That’s because a photo is a static moment in time and a painting need not be, even though mine probably are at the moment. I hope I can develop the skills to energise my work in the future, to reflect more of the connection I have to these images that are part of my life here.

I’m also looking forward to the day when it will be safe to go out and to take more photographs somewhere further afield than is possible now. In fact anywhere beyond the front drive would be nice!

Time taken: approx 6 hours.



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