How To Paint A Watercolor From A Photograph

At times it is not possible to paint from real life, and using photographs becomes a useful option. For instance if you want to paint a bird in flight, using a photo may be your best option. You will be able to capture the graceful movement of the flying bird, while using your own creativity to develop an artistic background. Photographs can also be a tool when painting outdoors. If certain lighting or shadows drew you to your subject, you may want to capture these by taking a few pictures to use at a later time. Your pictures will be used as reference material, not as something to duplicate. Early artists to use photography as an aid to their painting include, Cezanne, Degas, Gauguin, Hopper, and Homer.

Photography has undergone many changes since its beginnings in the early 1800s. What used to be a large bulky camera with many parts and lenses, watercolor from photo has been replaced with our small digital cameras. Mega pixels, optical zoom and wide-angle lenses are all terms with which today’s photographers are familiar. Storing photographs on a camera card and developing only the pictures you like, makes using photos much easier and more economical than before. The latest cameras are very compact and easy to use.

A tried and true method of transferring your reference photo to your watercolor paper is to use the grid system. This involves making a grid on both your photograph and your paper, blocking off squares of equal size. You may decide to use a 1:2 or 1:4 ratio, or larger, depending on the planned size of your painting. You may want to number your rows lightly in pencil to make your transfer easier, then erase these when you are done with your drawing. The smaller image (your photograph) can then be transferred to your larger watercolor paper. This will help you to transfer your subject in the correct proportions.

I prefer to make a black and white photocopy of my picture and draw my grid on this, rather than on the actual photograph. This way i am able to preserve the picture. The black and white image also gives me a head start on my value sketch, although I usually adjust the values anyway for my painting.

It is a good idea to take several pictures of the same subject, including close-ups of any important details for accuracy. This way you are able to go from one picture to another, incorporating everything while still using your artistic license to make a beautiful original painting, and not just a “copy” of a photograph.


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