3.3.1 Exercise: Painting from a photograph
Take two or three photographs of a landscape that you will be able to return to and paint later on.
Note of the date, time of day, the position of the sun and weather conditions.
Print the picture to roughly match the A4 or A3 dimensions and paint a landscape in watercolour of the scene in your photograph.
Write about it in your learning log answering the questions.
St. Margaret’s Church in Barming
This old 12th century church is about one and half miles from home so was an ideal subject to visit several times at different times of the day and under difference weather and lighting conditions.
How successful is this painting in terms of overall effects?
I did three painting from photos. They are all similar views of the same 12th century church of St Margaret taken from the south easterly end of the church yard. I prefer the third painting as I think it is the most successful of the three paintings. The main issue I have with the first two images is that the church and headstones don’t quite look like they belong; it looks a little like they are floating.
How successful is it in terms of composition?
The composition is similar in each view though two are portrait and one is a landscape format. In each I have used the rule of thirds to place the objects with the painting. The tower and spire is on the left one-third line in two in another the top and bottom of the church fall on these invisible pointers with the foliage and bushes /tress placed on the others.
How true to the photograph are the colours?
The colours are a near match in some cases to the photo. However, the grass in a couple is not right views 1 and 2) and this tends to jar on the eye. In hindsight some more yellow in the mix was required to present a truer grass green. The gravestones and the church are two different shades of grey and none of the paintings captures the true colour accurately but unlike the grass this is not such a problem. Stone changes colour and responses to the light on it much more than the grass. Examples of this can be seen in the series of Rouen cathedral don’t at different times of the day by Monet.
Does this look like a study made outdoors? If not, why not
The view above does not have the colour recession required to shown it was painted outdoors. The first image and the last are more successful in capturing the scene and thus looking like they were painted outdoors. This is due to a certain recession and change of colour temperature indicating fading into the distance.
How well do the tonal relationships work?
The tonal relationships are working reasonably well in each. I have had to enhance it a bit as the photos were taken under quite flat lighting as it was a dull day. Later trips would show the church to greater effect with sunnier conditions.
In the third painting the use of pen and ink to define the structure has also lent a tonal quality to certain aspects of the painting such as the shadowed side of the stonework of the church and the gravestones in the church yard as well as the trees and foliage which surrounds the scene.
How much does this resemble the photograph?
In each I have edited the amount of detail and only represented it partially. There are a much greater number of headstones in the photos as well as other un-necessary details. The structure of the church does resemble the photos and a local would quickly identify any one of the three paintings of the church and where it was painted from (or photographed from in this case!).
The dull overcast sky is enhanced in the first two images when paintings and thus the paintings have a sunnier sky than in reality, this doesn’t really gell with reality or the lighting conditions as painted – shades and tonal variation would probably have been greater in such a case.
Does resemblance represent success or failure to you and why?
As paintings to represent the photos the first two fall down a bit on several fronts – floating headstones and church and sunny sky being inconsistent with the lighting in the painting. However, the third painting is more of a success as the lighting is consistent with how it is in the photo and how the lighting is influencing the tonal variety, plus the headstones and church look rooted to the ground.
What problems did you encounter doing this picture?
The representation of the headstones to accurately show them as part of the landscape and not being subtle enough with the colours and tones mixed were the main problems experienced doping these paintings.
What further information did you need to make a more successful picture?
There is no substitute for on the spot sketches and this is what was required especially with the first two images to make them more successful. Preliminary sketches would have identified the problem of represented grounded headstones and I could have worked out how to resolve this issue prior to painting rather than in the middle when it is most likely too late.
How did you know when your painting was finished?
In the first painting I think I may have stopped a bit early (adding hints of blue may have aided the sense of recession. In the second image I have over-worked the image and the colours are thus too heavy without the luminosity characteristic of watercolours. However, in the last image the drawing was completed and then it only took light washes to finish the painting. In this image due to the amount of drawing and structure there is no need for lots of paint and in this case simple and understated washes was key to it being more successful than the previous images..
What were the limitations of this exercise?
Painting on the spot (on-location) gives host of information even if you don’t initially realise this fact. Walking to the spot from where to position yourself and prolonged looking at the view will tend to give you a better understand and connection with your subject matter. However, a photo misses out on most of these points even if you have taken the photo yourself.
Did you notice any differences in your approach and technique in this exercise compared to those working from direct observation?
When working on the spot and from direct observation I tend to keep painting and sometimes get the painting too wet and it all becomes a wet into wet into very wet. I was able to work in a more measured manner when doing these from photos and have thus learnt to better control the washes and achieve more what I intended rather than letting it all flood away as the water melted and merged the effects which looked good for a time.