References/ subject matter

Sometimes students show me their photographs and ask which one would be best for a painting. I am always surprised when I look at them. Often it’s a picture that’s completely useless as painting material. Beautiful sunsets with people silhouetted on the beach or the picture of about a hundred boats sitting in a harbor in bright sunlight with no background.

I think the choice of subject can predetermine the outcome of a painting. Bad choices yield bad paintings, good choices and chances are your painting will be better. How do you pick subject matter? Arguably one of the hardest things, especially when painting outside. Even if you found your painting subject, you still have to find a spot with good or at least decent views. The world is full of information, too much information!! Sometimes, I walk around and can’t find anything that works.. it happens. Time of day is certainly an important factor. There’s a
reason artists talk about the ‘Golden hour’ and how it’s everyone’s favorite time to paint.

I always consider foreground middle ground and background. I look for patterns, how the light plays against the darks and vise versa. If there are buildings with bright roofs, I place myself in ways that the darker background is behind them. If the roofs are dark and silhouetted, I’ll have the lighter sky behind etc etc.
Patterns are spotted first, they make the painting. Light and patterns go hand in hand. Where there’s light there must be darks next to it. Where there’s darks, there must be light also. One can’t be without the other!

7 thoughts on “References/ subject matter

  1. tmikeporter

    I was recently counseled on just this subject by Steve Hall, artist and friend in the UK. Taking a very pretty vacation photo and attempting to paint from it is often a mistake, or produces a painting that does not work. Frank, you have pointed out why and what to look for in a scene. Just in time for my trip to Belgium and France! By the way, taking along a sketchbook with the camera I’m finding is a good idea.

  2. Janette

    Love the things you write about always interesting and a different way of helping people to see….thank you soooo much for sharing. 🙂

  3. Janette

    Hi…. I have a question if you could answer it for me, that would be appreciated…. I prefer to take photos either early light or dusk …. the shadows are long and the light has a certain glow on everything. Is this what you call the “Golden Hour” ? If not when is it. I am trying to make my own photos for art . When I did black and white photography years ago I did prefer this time of the day I assume it may be the same for colour too. Thanks

    1. frankeber Post author

      That’s it, Janette. It’s the same for photographers as it is for painters. Thanks for the nice words on my blog! Happy painting

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