Saturday, October 27, 2012

Painting from Photographs

Emporium Window   Imaage size 12x18” .Acrylic on Masonite Panel ©by Ruth Zachary.

An old photograph taken in the 1980s looked interesting. A photography class I was in at the time drove to a historic village fifty miles from home. I chose to walk down an alley. Through a window (the back of a store) I was intrigued by two figures in an animated conversation, silhouetted against another storefront window on the main street.

Also a challenge were the ambiguous reflections in the window which nearly hid the figures, unless just the right angle was found. I didn’t want to have a picture of myself, but  to capture the figures.

 Out of two or three shots, I picked this one to be the subject of a painting. Since I have not painted in a realistic style for many years, I expected this to be quite a challenge, especially since it was in black and white.

I began with a tracing of the photograph to get the relationships of some landmark features and to establish perspective. I transferred the tracing to the panel coated with gesso. The camera lines led to the angling of the window at the top. I wanted to balance the various interest points and the dark tones in the window in the format of my drawing, and decided to place a plant on a bench to the right of the window. I added a photo of one of my plants to the copy of the original photograph, still in black and white.

I began with the expectation that the finished image would be in color, and decided on pale greige  as an undercoat, dappled with beige, pale gold and white. I had no memory of the color of the window framing, or of the brick tones, and picked green window framing, red brick, and cement gray for the stucco that had been repeatedly applied to the back wall to keep it from crumbling. It had also been painted white, as many bricks were visible, but were no longer all of the same size or color, as far as I could tell.

After laying in many of the colors, and rearranging bricks and stucco patches and textures
I saw that I needed a color reference before continuing. I found another photo of a cottage with red and orange brick, whitewashed surfaces, to use as a guide.

After the plant and other shapes were established, a glazing of more gold seemed like a possibility. I scanned the image in as a Photoshop file, and added a gold tone to the sunlit areas only. I did not like the change as well as the more whitewashed look, and left the actual painting as it was.

One technique I used in the shadows and reflections areas was to add a glaze of black, gradually until some areas were darkened to the correct amount.

Another technique I tried was painting the window reflections as if they were a black and white watercolor with a tiny brush. I didn’t think to scan in at that stage, but then I added colors, greens, browns and opaque blue sky areas on top of the blacks and grays. Even some of the reflections were thin gray, or opaque gray overlays on the deeper blacks of the reflections. I left the reflection of the car (actually in the alley behind me) in the window, but washed it in green tones as well. I left it lighter than the original, so it could be identified. The plant  details were painted last.

The goal was to use a photograph as reference, but not to recreate another photograph just like the original. The challenge was to learn something about reflections, but to be free enough to invent the details that would enhance the composition. I did not use a magnification lens. I think if I paint another window scene, I might use a larger format, as the tiny details were quite difficult. The paint was applied to a white gessoed panel, and finished with a flat varnish. It took four days, longer than I would normally spend.

I apologize for being away for such a long time. I have had multiple computer problems,
and they are not resolved yet. I have no idea how these images appear because my internet computer is so badly calibrated.

Images and text are the copyright © of Ruth Zachary.

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