Tag Archives: winter scene in watercolor

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!