How to Paint Landscapes from Photographic References: Paint Like You’re There.

oils alla prima painting landscape field farm france
Painted from a photographic reference in alla prima one sitting.

If you regularly paint from photos and are disappointed in the results, then this article will help you.

Painting from photographic references often causes huge problem for many painters. Rather than make life easier by having a static reference, users can become enslaved by the perfect image in front of them, which demands to be recreated.

The problem with this is that if you can’t make a good fist of recreating the photo, then you feel frustrated and inadequate. However, even if you DO manage to recreate the photograph, then all you’ve done is recreate a photograph -and there’s little sense of achievement.

There is a way to approach this successfully though: if you’re painting a landscape, for example, paint it as if you’re actually there. Try to imagine that you’re standing before that lovely scene, just about ready to paint. What could happen in reality? Well; the sun might be beating down and making your eyes uncomfortable; you’ve forgotten your favourite tube of green; you may see a huge rain cloud heading in your direction; you may receive a phone call on your mobile telling you about the appointment you’d forgotten; the light will keep changing; you might be engulfed in a halo of midges that have come to feast on your head!

There’s an infinite variety of conditions that will compel you to paint at speed in order to record the scene quickly. Plein air painters know that conditions can change rapidly and unexpectedly and they work efficiently. Portrait painters know that their subject’s positions change slightly over the course of the sitting. Still life painters will change the items on their stands and some will be perishable anyway. If you can recreate that sense of urgency and keep your brushwork loose and impressionistic, then you’ll make a painting that’s much more lively and natural -and make it look like you were there.

It ALWAYS helps to have experience painting from life – still lifes and plein air painting. It’s a completely different experience than using pictures as references. Get in as much plein air and life drawing/painting as you can. This will help with using static references. Be there and be lively!