Art in half-light

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Dear Artist,

Yesterday, Edward Vincent of Sydney, Australia, wrote, “No matter what type of painting I do, my work looks infinitely better in half or reduced light. One wonders if they would be best in the dark! Is it the absence of half tones? Is it a general lowering of the key? Is it the absence of detail, or is the truth much more sinister?”

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“Blue & Boats”
painting by Edward Vincent

Thanks, Edward. There are several significant deceptions happening when you view your work in half-light. Like buying a car in a dark alley, you’re inclined to miss the flaws. You need to bring the vehicle to a well-lit area to make a wise decision. Problem is, self-deception helps us to feel good — temporarily — and often gives us courage to continue our folly.

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“Jessie”
painting by Edward Vincent

On the other hand, half-light is much like the effect you get when you squint at your work. Things look softer and sometimes more artistic because details are subsumed by the big picture. While “sore thumbs” can stick out in half-light, many an admiring half-light look happens after some of the sore thumbs are healed. Unfortunately, squinting is merely part of the creative process — one’s efforts must also stand up to open eyes in the cold grey light of dawn.

Creative evolution requires that we face our faults. Human nature would have us avoid the distress. While all art is some sort of an illusion, it’s important that we creators not be deluded. Here are a few suggestions:

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“St Martins in the Field”
painting by Edward Vincent

Invite yourself to look at work in all lights — including those under which the work will be viewed in galleries, homes or museums. For the studio, a progressive dimmer is a valuable tool. Be hard-nosed in your looking. Pay particular attention to mid-tones in a variety of lighting conditions. Do they hold up? — or do they disappear to chalky whites or deadly blacks? Note the recession and protrusions of colours. Often, slightly retouched compromises, grayed or in higher or lower key, will bring a work to life. Further, when viewing in full light, ask yourself if some edges might be somewhat softened — as they would be when seen in half-light. Above all, take every work for a walk — outdoors.

Many artists feel the need to have two sides to their being — one confident and energetic, the other diffident and critical. Split personality or not, to see the truth we need more light.

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“Nude Maya”
painting by Edward Vincent

Best regards,

Robert

PS: “The easiest person to fool is yourself.” (Richard Feynman)

Esoterica: Many of us have had the experience of going into a darkened cabin or other murky place and noticing a particular print or painting that seems to exude wonder and mystery. Closer examination in proper lighting may reveal a more pedestrian work. Point is, we cannot rely on bad lighting to sustain our reputations. Sooner or later, people really take a look at the stuff.

 

 


Hard-wired to value and shape
by Richard Hawk, San Diego, CA, USA
 

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“Persimmon”
oil on canvas 24 x 30 inches
by Richard Hawk

I too have been known to indulge in turning down the lights and admiring the effect that ironically seems to turn up the volume in my work. Often I’ve thought that this phenomenon, of paintings looking better in half-light, is proof that we are hard-wired to respond first and foremost to value and shape. Does this stem from our earliest days as infants, when the world was composed of fuzzy, monochrome darks and lights? In any case, there is no doubt that good paintings are usually shape-based and have a strong and pleasing value pattern. Dim viewing conditions strip out detail and even color and let these essences shine through. On the other hand, when a painting does all that AND looks great in the harshest light, and at all viewing distances, it’s time to break out the champagne!

 


Lighting is key
by Donald Cadoret, Tiverton, RI, USA
 

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“Self-Portrait”
oil on canvas, 1660
by Rembrandt van Rijn

As a painter and photographer for over 30 years, I have always been interested in the value of light and how it affects an image, both in the creation and viewing. In all cases, lighting is significant to the whole work and the typical gallery/museum lighting is not always the best way to view a work. It’s often too even and flat, and doesn’t represent real life conditions. And, although I agree with you that flaws can be hidden when the light is subdued, a diffused light might be exactly what you’re looking for. I can think of many masterpieces, Rembrandt especially, that are their most powerful in softer light. I don’t want to see the glare of varnish or paint strokes in every painting. I’ll leave that to the experts and conservators. I’ve always thought the best general lighting for an object was being outside on an overcast day. Sometimes all I want is to feel the image when I look at a painting. In that respect, lighting is key, dim or bright. That’s part of the experience, flaws and all.

 


Photographic foolery
by Mary Lapos, Danville, PA, USA
 

I have noticed that photographs and digital images of paintings tend to look better than what I see in real life. This is not just my own work. I’ve gone to galleries and been totally deflated by what’s hanging on the wall because I saw the image of the painting first. I know that color is enhanced through photographic representation and subsequent printing of a painting but, color aside, a photo of a painting looks better or more like the idea of a really professional work of art. Why is that?

 


Warped in changing light
by Carol Barber, Gainesville, FL, USA
 

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“Inside of a Moonstone”
acrylic on canvas 32 x 28 inches
by Carol Barber

In graduate school, I had a funny thing happen with half-light. I was usually working at night, in a dark basement with one light source. When I brought the paintings into the light for their critique, I was shocked at the colors. The subject matter was also about the atmospheric effects of dawn and dusk. These paintings will never be at home in the light of day but do evoke a feeling of mystery in the half-light.

 

 


Time-honoured methods of proofing
by Rodrica Tilley
 

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“A Couple Fishing”
pastel 15 x 19.5 inches
by Rodrica Tilley

Most photo editing programs let you view your digital shots of finished or almost completed paintings in “grey scale” or black and white. I find this very enlightening. It is the electronic equivalent of viewing work through red acetate, which some of you may remember being trained to do. Either method eliminates color and lets one see the strengths and weaknesses of value. And while you’re there you can rotate the work right, left, upside down or reverse (mirror image); another time-honored method of “proofing.” These digital shortcuts have become valuable, routine tools for me as I near the end of a painting.

 


Moods follow lighting conditions
by Stella Reinwald, Santa Fe, NM, USA
 

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“Cabin Meadow”
original painting by Stella Reinwald

Perhaps some of what is happening is the softening of the critical mind in dim light. There is a kind of reflexive relaxation that takes place when the light is soft and/or dim. Observe how people entering a darkened museum assume hushed voices and a more composed demeanor, or how one’s mood shifts to one of reflection when the sun is setting. I think our moods become less high-key along with our vision, and maybe our perceptions are likewise affected; less light, less stimulation? Shadows become harder to interpret and are therefore more mysterious in a representational painting. I think some of the success of (some) abstract painting is that it can achieve this mystery in normal lighting conditions.

 


The scrutinizing eye
by Lorelle Miller, CA, USA
 

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“The Red Shawl”
oil on canvas 16 x 20 inches
by Lorelle Miller

In the self-critique mode I try various techniques to refresh my eyes to shapes, values, composition. Most important of all, am I communicating? …does the painting read? Throughout the process I look backwards at my painting through a mirror, take digital photos of the painting in indirect daylight then display them on my computer monitor. It has always amazed me how glaring something can be when looked at in a different context. I try living with it by temporarily framing and hanging the painting on my living room wall, watching as the lighting changes throughout the day. How are we doing? Does it hold my interest? Is the design strong enough across the room? I twist, I stare, I put it away for a few days and then re-approach. This is part of the game, the development of the scrutinizing eye and forthcoming judgment. Having revealed any obvious problems I am blessed with the option to correct my errors. I try, as Richard Schmid had recommended in one of his books, to never leave anything knowingly incorrect on my canvas. It keeps me honest.

 


Artificial light produces glow
by Petra Voegtle, Denmark
 

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“Rainbow over Wailua”
original painting on silk
by Petra Voegtle

My paintings on silk come to life only in full artificial light. It seems as if the pigments in the silk begin to glow. I already thought there is something wrong with my techniques as I always thought a work must stand on its own without the help of external means such as light. Now I am somewhat relieved. Since I am currently working rather with acrylics on cotton than with silk I have realized that the same effect clearly applies to my acrylic paintings as well. So I wonder whether this comes generally from painting with studio lights instead of working with natural daylight. Although I have good natural light in my studio I still prefer to paint with artificial light as this does not vary as much as daylight. I also think of the future place my paintings might hang and I am sure that they won’t be hung outdoors or always in a room with bright daylight. Another means works very well for me. In order to test the impact of my contrasts, I scan my painting and check with Photoshop (or any other program), whether my work can bear an increase or decrease in contrast. Of course this cannot replace the reality but it gives me a good means to check whether something is highly wrong or not.

 


Seeing artistically
by Tiit Raid, Fall Creek, Wisconsin, USA
 

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“Inlet reflection”
acrylic on panel 8 x 26 inches
by Tiit Raid

As we know, squinting and viewing work in half-light is a good aid in determining whether all the parts of a painting are balanced and harmonious. It basically helps us see if everything is in place and if the relationships are working. Now, how to develop the skills to see what we have created in full-light and with open eyes? One way is to study the relationships in paintings done by the so-called masters, such as Diego Velazquez’s The Maids of Honor at the Prado in Madrid, or Jan Vermeer’s The Girl with a Red Hat at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. The other way is to observe and take long looks at the visual relationships in our everyday surroundings.

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“The Girl with a Red Hat”
1667 oil on wood
23.2 x 18.1 inches
by Jan Vermeer

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“The Maids of Honor” 1656
oil on canvas
by Diego Velazquez

The existing visual world we have around us has within it all of the balance and harmony we strive for in our paintings. Every shape and tone and color is VISUALLY in place. I am not talking about beauty or aesthetics as we normally would think about them. A messy room is as visually balanced as an orderly room. The visual world does not discriminate; it reports things as they are. The reflections and shapes and tones and colors in a vase of red-orange tulips are always where they should be, whether the tulips are arranged well or whether the vase is in an orderly or a messy environment. The visual world has its own built-in aesthetics. Everything is visually in balance and harmony and in place. To see it takes time and a separation from our preconceptions of order and beauty. Look at it everyday and over time, and gradually it saturates into your artist’s eye. As Eugene Delacroix said, “Seeing artistically does not happen automatically. We must cultivate our powers of observation.”

 


The harsh truth behind harsh light
by John Ferrie, Vancouver, BC, Canada
 

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“I Always Stop Here”
original painting by John Ferrie

When I was in art school and in my foundation year, we did a drawing exercise in the dark. The instructor had set up a series of screens and then projected a slide of a multi-coloured painting across all the screens. We spent the day in the dark working on our drawings. We were using all sorts of coloured pencils and felt-tipped markers. At about 3 in the afternoon, the lights came on and we sat there squinting at the light. What unraveled were a series of horrid and tragic drawings with huge gaps of colour, sloppy works and stuff you wouldn’t put under a bird cage, let alone call it art! Ever since then I have known that light is a crucial aspect to my work. I live in my studio which is well set up for me. I have five flood lights across my giant work table that at night must look like I have a Grow-op! I paint on a flat surface and every brush stroke is part of the equation of that I am trying to communicate in my art. The light is like a truth serum and if it doesn’t read right there, it sure isn’t going to read right on someone’s wall. I would say to any artist, make sure their work space is well lit, and that they have everything they need to make their voice heard. I also have my coffee pot close by which is a huge source of my inspiration.

 


Effects of light on colour
by Gerry Conley, Seattle, WA, USA
 

I have been shown by gallery operators “magical paintings” which change their appearance as the gallery lights are shifted from bright to dim and back again. So I was interested to learn in my studies not just that colors in a painting change their appearance with varying light intensity, but also that different colors change by different degrees as the viewing light intensity changes! This is true for any painting. But the person who sent you the inquiry about his paintings changing in half-light may have been experiencing a particularly wide swing because of the particular colors he was using accentuated the impact of the lighting change. Two of the other many surprises in my research were the discovery that we judge light to be white based on intensity not color. There are many different combinations of color that we will take to be white. I think one of the presumptions in your correspondent’s question of the impact of dimming a light is that he was seeing the painting in the same light frequencies dimmed as he was undimmed, only the intensity had changed. This is highly unlikely if he was using a dimmer device because a dimmer on an incandescent bulb changes the temperature of the light filament and we know that the color spectrum of a given heated body is a function of temperature. If you shop for studio lighting by getting the wave spectrum data for each lighting choice, you can see the significant differences that are inherent in the undimmed fixture; any change in light source will lead to a change in how a painting looks. As you say, we have to work to produce a product that will perform well in a range of lighting. Lastly, our sight is a poor color reading device because of biases built into how we read color. For example, a candle emits primarily red light but we read it as yellow because our perception system is biased to yellow; effectively we drop out the red and see the yellow. Similarly, we weight the frequencies so we will see a blue sky even when there is even more violet than blue hitting our retina because we are biased to see blue. But when the blue is backed down in intensity, we will then see the violet that was there all along, as at a time of sunset. These kinds of changes in perception are also triggered when we view a painting in varying intensities of light.

 


Searching out the flaws
by Caroline Simmill, Morayshire, Scotland
 

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original painting by Caroline Simmill

For much of my artistic career I was a watercolourist. My concerns at the time were to ensure that my materials were of artist’s quality and that the mount and frame were tidy, clean and did the best to enhance my painting. Life seemed so simple. Since becoming an oil painter I begin to learn there is so much more to take into consideration. I work using thin layers of paint and glazes to build up my minimalist paintings. I need to make sure before I begin that my canvas is well stretched and that there are no marks on the linen that will show through the paint. I have to constantly watch out for stray hairs that sometimes come off my paint brushes or clothing. I need to check that the paint covering the canvas is even throughout, that it has a nice finish to it. Finally before I even think about retouch varnish I look to see that my painting looks good in all lighting conditions. The cool blue morning light that we get here in the highlands of Scotland, the warm and soft afternoon light that flatters all paintings, the low light of dusk and finally the harsh electric light. When my paintings have passed these tests and I am completely happy then will I have the paintings framed and put forward to a gallery. I find that being truly self critical pays off well in the long run. Seeing the painting for its flaws and it’s very fine parts will allow me to make the necessary adjustments. It’s all part of the process of producing a professional job that is both satisfying to me and the potential buyer.

 

World of Art Featured artist Dennis Rhoades, Castle Rock, CO, USA

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Bear Creek Rapids

pastel painting, 16 x 20 inches
by Dennis Rhoades, Castle Rock, CO, USA

 

You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Ray Johnson of Aventura, FL, USA who wrote, “I find that using a full length mirror in my studio is the best critic I have. By looking at your painting with a completely different view is like looking at it with new eyes.”

And also Evie Wray of Luray, KS, USA who wrote, “A lover at a fine dinner is best shared by candlelight. Just as anything seductive, such as a sunset, turns on the senses and reveals an inner world. Dim the lights and the heart has a greater playground.”

And also Claudio Ghirardo of Mississauga, ON, Canada who wrote, “Use of full light is necessary to create a strong piece that one is inclined to study, spend time with and purchase for their own home. Art is seldom bought under half-light.”

And also Heather Lowe of Los Angeles, CA, USA who wrote, “When we look at a work of art in dim light we are not only blind to what is there (flaws, as you pointed out) but also we see what is not there. Our desire to fill the void causes us to imagine and complete.”

And also Lois Primeau of Huntington Woods, MI, USA who wrote, “It’s amazing what lighting can do to a painting or even the distance from where the painting is viewed. What looks fabulous up close can be easily lost as you step back.”

And also Mary Hart of Tustin, CA, USA who wrote, “Whatever our venue in life, we can see examples of your wisdom and reflection that can give insight into ourselves. Your work with others in art, certainly your sharing on the Internet, often reflects those hidden yet available morsels for personal reflection.”

 

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Art in half-light

 

 

From: Mary Wood — Feb 12, 2008

While I agree with most of your comments, Robert, it is interesting to note that Rothko insisted on having his later work shown in half-light.

From: Sarah — Feb 12, 2008

Google Image any famous painting; the painting comes up a bunch of times, each one with the colours slightly different. Which image has the colours right? They all do…It just depends on what the lighting was like when the image was taken. Light has a huge effect on colour.

From: Rick Rotante — Feb 13, 2008

Mary – Rothko may be a poor choice on which to base your argument. I don’t believe any abstract painter need worry about whether there is too much or too little light. His work wasn’t based on light per se; so much as it was on form. Rothko’s coloring wasn’t based on luminosity but flat application. Luminosity would have detracted from the work. Working in an impressionist or contemporary realist or traditional style demands that you show it in proper light for light is the key element of this kind of painting. In fact it is the essence of traditional painting. I am amused when I see painters claim they are “ painters of light.” For Rothko personally I suppose he had a vision of what kind of light we viewed his work, but light, in my opinion, wasn’t key to viewing his work. In fact for me, seeing it in different light (no pun intended) may imbue it with a multitude of intensions some of which the artist may or may not have imposed.

From: Sari Grove — Feb 14, 2008

Rick- Have you read Anything about Rothko at all ??? His work is ALL about Light…Form? There was hardly any form at all…The colouring was exactly based on luminosity , not at all flat …He layered colours over and over and over again to achieve a glow…As I browse I am reminded once again of how many readers copy from photographs & pretend to be artists…& how the bias is so ignorant in its prejudice against abstract expressionists…Rothko was a pioneer in his use of colour & specifically his ability to light up a painting from within by using such scientific layering of colours…Rather than dismissing this master, those who seek greater light in their work would serve to study his method…By taking one colour, say yellow, he would apply fourteen coats of slightly similar yellows, but slightly different, one on top of the other…His works shimmered so much that he was given an entire church for a collection…The lower light demand enabled the glow to be truly appreciated…I remind this community of photograph plagiarizing hobbyists to read about the automatistes, a signature Canadian movement…By abstracting a subject you are able to isolate properties to further your skills…This is essential to development as an artist…& develop some humility towards contemporary art…or shall we all just be cameras?

From: Jennifer — Feb 14, 2008

How can we say that a painter who uses photographs for reference is merely “pretending” to be an artist or that traditional or representational artists are a “community of photograph plagiarizing hobbyists?? We’re all artists! I’m an artist and I create art whether I’m sitting outside painting the view or inside painting from my own photos for reference. I’ve said my peace about that. I came here to comment on “Photographic foolery.” For me, to see a painting in person in a gallery or museum or even hanging in someone’s home is a much better experience than viewing an image of it. The colors and luminosity just don’t translate for me that way. I’m reminded of an Alan Soffer encaustic exhibit I was lucky enough to see about 2 years ago in Philadelphia. I viewed the images of his work online and thought, hey…it’s only a 10 minute drive, why not go see it. When I saw his works in person, I was blown away. And for me it seems to be that way with all art. It’s just so much better in person. By the way, Alan Soffer is an abstract artist and I’m a photo plagiarizing hobbyist pretender. Somehow, I’m still able to appreciate his work.

From: Faith — Feb 14, 2008

If Canaletto had had a photographic camera, I expect he would have used it, Sari. As it was, he and many others painting before the mid 19th century had no choice but to use the camera obscura and whatever other technical means they had at their disposal. When photography did come into its own, Degas was one of the first to appreciate its merits (and was condemned for it at the time). While I am not an advocate of projecting images onto a canvas wall and then tracing them, and do not use that method, that and many other techniques are used today by people who would certainly not fit into the “plagiarizing hobbyist” category. The traditional way of learning to paint was to copy what had gone before in order to learn the technical skills. The great painters went beyond that learning process. Any painting from an existing image of any kind is copying to a certain extent. Artistry is not about getting away with copying, it’s about getting beyond what is ostensibly there and making it “your own” through style, interpretation, medium etc. Capturing an image on photos is often the only way of retaining enough detailed information to complete a painting later on, especially if it is going to be too large to paint in situ. But the camera’s “eye” picks up different information from the human one and the artist filters this information and makes decisions about what is going to feature in his or her interpretation. I find such categorical judgments as quoted above unproductive and unhelpful. And strangely enough, what applies to figurative painting is also relevant for abstracts. We should be talking about shape, colour, light, mood, tonal contrast etc. and not about inventing the wheel. I remember seeing work by a class of Bob Ross addicts who had done a landscape according to minutely detailed instructions (and the image of the Bob Ross painting they were imitating). In the end there were as many different landscapes as there were students, some were good, some were not. Some painters could be said to have used that particular technique (which was incidentally not invented by Bob Ross), some hadn’t the faintest idea. Some will have learnt how to paint better from those lessons, some will not. I could go on ….

From: Brad Greek — Feb 15, 2008

Well, I think I’ll try to get back on topic and talk about lighting LOL. I’m surprised that no one mentioned painting outside and bringing the work inside. It usually tends to darken up when brought inside. Almost bringing it to half light in any inside lighting. I’ve heard that if you keep your canvas in the shade while painting, that will help. I haven’t really noticed that to make much of a difference in my work. I just use a dark color pallet and they are dark in any lighting. Sometimes I wonder if artists spend way too much time worrying about everything else instead of just letting the painting do what it’s going to do. I’m sorry, I just don’t have time to worry about how this light bulb affects my work over that light bulb. I think that lighting is like the art itself, subjective to the individual, so stop worrying and paint!!

From: Cassandra James — Feb 15, 2008

‘Edges are Very Important.” said on the subject of edges – Bruce McGrew. Softer edges add much more movement to the painting. I achieve the edges that please me most with a good quality (which is key here – otherwise they shed horribly when used with oils) 1″ sky wash brush. The key is to use the brush judiciously, and I don’t spec it for my students, as they get carried away with its use. I’ll let a particular student who is doing well give one a try now and then, but never require it for the entire class. Best illustration for this note would be the image from Penland Catalog last year – “Blue Norther”. THANKS SO MUCH ROBERT. C

From: Rick Rotante — Feb 15, 2008

Sari- Your verve and enthusiasm is commendable and I support your beliefs though I’m not in agreement with all you wrote. My experience with Rothko is primarily based on his late work where he increasingly moved toward black darker nearly invisible imagery. I did some research on the Internet and found his earlier works were painted with what enthusiasts consider luminosity. When I was referring to luminous I was referring to the kind found with say a Rembrandt. Not to say that Rembrandt personifies this technique. My comments were not to malign expressionism or Rothko in particular though I feel his thin washes are not to be what I consider luminous so much as transparent in nature. I understand I go against the believers in his time and obviously today’s devotees of Rothko.

From: Jane Champagne — Feb 15, 2008

Loud cheer to Sari Grove, followed by several more. Wish I had the nerve to apply that wonderful phrase, “photograph plagiarizing hobbyists,” in one of my classes, but they’d all walk out. I agree, du fond de mon coeur, that a good look at a few automatiste paintings — particularly Paul-Émile Borduas and Marcel Barbeau — would do all of us a world of good.

From: Ted Openshaw — Feb 15, 2008

Jane and Sari… I won’t drag this out on here but (ref to your crude comments referring to others as ‘plagiarizing hobbyists’) I have invited each of you 2 elitists to view a little of my work at: www.creative-artists-guild.com …click galleries…click ted openshaw and comment…would you call it art or not?…neither of you have responded…to go any further with this would just be childish. I’m sure others will agree. Ted Openshaw fireball61@bham.rr.com

From: Sarah — Feb 15, 2008

There is nothing wrong with painting from a photograph. I prefer realist art to abstract….When I go to a gallery, I’m not interested in seeing mashes of colouring on a canvas (I’m sure the painting means a lot to the artist, but frankly, I don’t see it). With realism you can see technique. You can learn so much just by looking at the simplest details. Abstract art is the kind of art I would buy to match my sofa. I do, however, agree that we can learn a lot of layering colours. I remember reading somewhere that Cezanne was big on doing that.

From: Tatjana M-P — Feb 15, 2008

Many use copying of full or partial images as a step towards abstraction. I use photographs to capture the initial composition which may be an idea for a painting. I also know people who copy photographs because they feel joy in that, or they are making their first shaky steps in art or therapy. Some move on and some don’t, like in any activity. They all undoubtedly contribute to the art community in their own way, very often with their dollars funding the art workshops. Regarding the difference between images on the computer screen and in the real life – obviously in the first case the light comes from the screen rather than reflection from an external light source through the layers of paint. The digital image can be adjusted to “look better” from the point of the range of values or color harmony and vibrancy, but only the real image carries the subtle luminosity, textures and variances in close values and colors. Perhaps the paintings with bold compositions and values present better on the computer than the subtle ones.

From: Joan — Feb 15, 2008

Sarah…To reduce all abstract art to “mashes of colouring on a canvas” and “the kind of art I would buy to match my sofa” is not only harsh and narrow minded but also an insult to those who enjoy the challenge of painting abstractly as well as those who do “see it”, artist or not. In order to educate yourself you could take a workshop or two with an abstract artist. Expand your emotional horizons. You are missing out.

From: Sarah — Feb 15, 2008

Joan – I guess your right, I was a little harsh….I took “photograph plagiarizing hobbyist” rather personally because it pretty much describes me exactly. It’s true, I don’t understand abstract art…but I shouldn’t act like there’s anything wrong with the art…when in fact there’s something wrong with me.

From: Liz Reday — Feb 15, 2008

I paint from life because I think it helps me to become a better artist, whereas painting from photographs does not help me to become a better artist and painter. Some folks who have been painting from life for 40 years can use photo references more judiciously, but for me it sucks the life out of my work unless I already have painted the subject or at least done a pencil drawing and have spent considerable time looking at the motif. I have learned this from bitter experience and hundreds of cringe-making paintings of my own done solely from photo reference.

From: Helen Zapata — Feb 15, 2008

Yikes Sarah! Why not tell us how you REALLY feel about Abstract Art? I paint in a lot of different styles. I am adept at Impressionism, Plein Air, Realism, Post-Impressionism and more. I enjoy it all. But for the past several months, I’ve been working in Abstracts again. I’ve loved them, so I thought I’d spend some time exploring the creation of them. To my astonishment, I discovered that they are MUCH harder to do than I ever imagined. Instead of having God’s Creation in front of me, I’m having to reach deep inside of myself for the work. It lays you bare in a way that nothing else does.

From: Miggles — Feb 16, 2008

Just a comment re painting from photographs. I asked a professional photographer how he would feel if I were to paint from his photos and his reply was that tho maybe flattered in one way, in another he’d feel rather miffed as he was the one who arose early in the morning and waited in uncomfortable positions for the sun to rise. The photo is his creative vision and no one elses. Copied paintings aught never be sold as the painters work without showing thanks to the photographer( named). Best to work from our own photographs….Or from life.

From: D F Gray — Feb 16, 2008

the painters of photographs are only cheating one person… themselves

From: Margaret Burns — Feb 17, 2008

I believe that God gave each artist the ability to be creative in their own way be it plein air, realism, abstract, or photography, and by using a photo as a starting point does not mean I am going to reproduce it on paper or canvas, I am just using it as a reference. I did once try to paint a photo exactly as it was in front of me as I was asked not to change any thing, believe me it didn’t happen, but what I did produce my customer was very happy with, and I don’t feel I am cheating my self by using photos, as what happens between it my creativity and the painting is very different.

From: Jennifer Horsley — Feb 17, 2008

Thank you, Margaret! I don’t know why we have all this snobbery over which process is more acceptable than the others. We all have our own way whether we can sit outside and paint the landscape or we use photos. I’m currently working on a commission on three 24×36 canvases. The subject is a catskill waterfall. Excuse me, plein air painters, for not driving 4 hours, hiking straight up a mountain for 1 hour and then scaling down a cliff for another half-hour to get to the location. Sometimes the use of photos is necessary. Having spent plenty of time at this hidden place in my younger days, I think I can pull it off.

From: Tammi Otis — Feb 18, 2008

Wow, reading all the photography comments reminds me of a discussion about smoking in public places! I think the topic of edges and using photos as reference are tied together. I paint both with and without photos and always try to pay attention to my edges even more when using photo reference. Part of the problem is a photo brings EVERYTHING into sharp detail. If I were to just copy it, the painting would fail. I’ve drawn and painted endless hours from life, and using a photo when I have to doesn’t diminish my work a bit! I do have a rule though…..I’ll only work from a photo that I took myself, of things or people I know about. I often paint the figure in a position that’s impossible for the model to hold for long, so the camera has been a great tool. What are you anti-photo folks so worked up about? Photo or not, a crappy painting can’t hide!

From: Esther J. Williams — Feb 18, 2008

Amen Jennifer! I agree in a fullhearted way about using photos for references especially if the subject you are painting is as fleeting as waterfalls, running horses or surfers. The camera captures a moment in time and lighting. I do not paint verbatim from the photos, in my case digital images. I expand, discover and reinterpret, what turns out is a profound piece of art and it doesn’t look just like the photo. Also, I paint on location (plein air) to teach myself how to capture the colors of nature and the atmosphere at the time. We as artists have the right to combine both into astounding works of art. I have painted water from life again and again, so if I wanted to paint a larger piece, the images are definitely important to plan out the composition, values and shapes while I insert all those years of formal academic fundamentals. Then I just let my emotions take over and the changes happen, it’s magic I tell you.

From: Susan Christensen — Feb 18, 2008

So far I have had success in creating what many people consider to be good paintings through the use of my photographs. My subjects are usually coastal areas and flowers. Since I only have time to paint during the snowy winter months, I have to rely on my photographs. I can say though that I spend time walking the coastal areas and enjoying the spendour of flowers, so I know my subjects intimately and they are strong in my memory.

 

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