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I think my heart stopped recently when I was told to never use photos for my oil paintings.  I was in a class and I was left speechless.  The idea being behind this piece of advice was that if I used a photo I would not be able to 1. Develop a style of my own since I would only be attempting to recreate the picture in the photo and 2. My painting would lack a depth that can only be achieved by painting from "real life". The artist/teacher who told me this prefers to "Plein Air" paint.She mostly enjoys seascapes and other "natural" settings The subjects that I love to paint are European architecture and nudes.  I don't live in Europe but I love all my photos that I have taken over there. She admits to usually taking a photograph only after she has mostly completed her painting if she needs to finish it at home.  I know a lot of artist who don't like to Plein Air paint so my question to you is what do you think?

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Hi Sloan,

I have used photographs, photoshop, and any kind of other tool I can find for creating what I want to say.  While I can understand there is a purity in only painting from life, there is an entire vain of creativity that uses whatever you can find, whenever you can find it.  I ascribe to the latter; I find there are many layers of meaning I can create between bouncing back and forth between photos and real life, and I find that carefully looking at real life ALL THE TIME makes the use of photographs just one more tool, secondary to the instinctive understanding I have as to what things really look like.  Life is too short; paint whatever you want and enjoy it.

Plein air means you painted the scene out of doors. Some people mistakenly use it to label their landscapes which they produced in a studio. There are color notes you can only see out of doors. I don't want to go on about this, as it's not my area of expertise.

A camera is a one-eyed thing, created by man. It doesn't have the capacity to perceive what two trained eyes, created by God, can see. Nevertheless, you can accomplish a lot of your basic laying in of a composition from photos. If you want a lot of detail and depth, you're better finishing from direct observation. Get as much experience as possible from direct observation, then if you have to work from photos, your imagination and experience will be able to fill in the missing information. I will post on my page a photo of my painting next to my model, so you can see how much color and detail is lost by photography.

If you want to paint realistically then probably working from life is better. Mostly because of the depth and light issues.

That said, who cares?

Photography can be a great tool.

I paint both ways and I  do representational paintings  but they are not realistic...

Sometimes you gotta use artistic license and have photos at the ready especially if you need to finish off a painting that you started from life and can't get back to the site, the subject or the right light.

Anyone who is that strict in their attitude is entitled to their opinion but should not squelch exploration in others.

Photo's are a tool.  Recognize that there are  some limiations, but limitations exist with Plein Air painting as  well.  A significant limitation with photo's is the lighting, especially with portraits, with the absence of a definite light source.  The lighting in most commercial photo's I have seen tend to flatten the image.  Avoid them.  So, one important bit of advice is 1) take your own photos and 2) constantly be aware of and take advantage of light and shadows.  Commercial photo's of portraits are, for me at least, incredibly boring.  I have zero interest in looking at some elses baby pictures.

Tom, baby pictures are a 'girl thing'

Having read all the replies so far, I agree with most of what has been said. The teacher's statement is her opinion, her perception of truth. Everyone gets to choose their creative vent; a teacher is a guide, a tool and an adviser but you alone are the master of your style/way of seeing the world. We all see colour, shape, shade and each other differently and that's the beauty of it. If you want to paint from a photo, plein air, or while lying on your back in a chapel, then shame on me for telling you no.

Photographs prevents you from observing color, they have a much smaller color space than what your eyes can observe from reality. Most things in nature moves some, the model moves, the wind blows moving trees, leaves, etc., the sun moves, the artist moves. So if you want to make "dead" pictures devoid of the colors of reality, by all means use photographs.

I have a much stronger emotional response to nature (model, still life, or landscape) than I do to a photograph of same. What I found fascinating in nature I may find boring in a photograph.

For me the choice is clear, even if it means I have to live without the conveniences of working from photographs.

Oh Steen, we artists are passionate about our opinions! Hee hee.

My paintings aren't dead and I mostly work from photos. I know artists whose technique is masterful, but because of their emotional state, their paintings are dear. "Life" comes from the heart of the artist, not the source material. Sorry James Mac Mahon, I think Francis Bacon's work represents deadness, but it's the confusion in his soul, not his photos, that he expressed.

All the best, Laurel

Look at the work of the English painter Francis Bacon, he only worked from photographs.

yeah it seems like photo's are convenient and helpful, but in certain respects. Since I'm strange, I'll use a strange example.   Say you're doing a painting of a rag worm, but you need a reference for what the paddles or legs look like in motion.  As long as you grasp the concept of how to create the illusion of the paddles protruding from the body, that reference picture can help you put them in the right position.  However, when drawing from observation, your piece will turn out better drawn actually from observing than from a photo.  The reason for this is that when you observe a photo, you are looking at a 2-d illusion, and when you draw from it with the intention of capturing the 3d image in 2d form, the problem you run into is that the photo is fixed on one prospective and so the image you create may appear to lack depth.   Although it's a pain, drawing from observation forces you to observe the object and understand how the light and prospective give it depth.  Anyways that's my 2 cents    


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