As artists we are always looking for new ideas and inspiration. Browsing through the internet in search of images, glancing through art books or a visit to galleries and museums are common ways to get the imagination going.
Working too closely from a photograph, though, has its issues, especially if the photograph you are using is not your own art or photo. Direct copying from another artist is not only illegal, it can stifle your creativity and dull down your own work. Albert Pinkham Ryder said “Imitation is not inspiration, and inspiration only can give birth to a work of art.”
To keep your painting fresh and original while still using photographs, here is one idea that works for me. Pick out at least three photographs to use as references for a particular painting, instead of just one. By combining some aspects of each into a whole new image, you may come up with not only something original, but a total surprise.
Suggested Tips for this Process: After finding three reference images, choose one aspect from each image that you want to use for your own work. For instance, one image may have a color palette you like, another image can contribute an interesting composition, while a third contains a detail that catches your eye.
Here are 3 images I found that I liked while browsing calendars and magazines.
These three images are made by other artists, not me, so instead of copying them directly, I need to transform, distill or select from them, to create a brand new image of my own imagination. I decided to use Image 1 for its composition, Image 2 for color, and Image 3 for the gate in the foreground. I first changed the composition in Image 1 from its square format to horizontal, and moved the horizon line downwards by cropping the bottom.
Next I mixed colors to match those found in Image 2. I painted a loose underpainting using washy (diluted with water) paint to get the general color scheme and composition onto the canvas.
The underpainting includes my interpretation of the composition from Image 1, the colors from Image 2, and the gate from Image 3. Here it is refined further for a more realistic landscape.
This was so fun I decided to try the same process on a new canvas to create something more abstract or non-objective.
This painting uses the same aspects from the references as before, but results in an abstract. Compare these final paintings to the original three references. They have veered dramatically from the references, and transformed into something original. It has been said that nothing is original, since all artists will use, recycle or reinterpret from what they see around them, even if not consciously. We can’t help it, we are a product of our time and environment. The key is to strive to find your own vision, and subsequently make art that only you can make. Hopefully you may like this idea as much as I do, or perhaps can find your own method to use reference imagery in original ways.
I will be teaching a workshop in Santa Fe on September 30, 2016, exploring this and other methods to recycle and reinterpret imagery for painting. Click here for more information on that workshop, or click here to schedule your own private or custom painting session with me at my Santa Fe studio.