How painting from photographs can get your creative juices flowing

The other week I had a review of my book on Amazon which seemed to imply that that painting from photos, like I show people how to, is somewhat lacking in creativity and interpretation.
It wasn’t very clear exactly what was meant, but it reminded me of an opinion I’ve heard many times before: that being interpretive with your subjects is more sophisticated and ‘better’ than working from photographs.
In short, ‘‘why bother to paint, when we could just look at the photo’.
I even used to have that attitude myself.
It was partly that attitude that kept me from picking up a brush for over 8 years!
Lacking ‘inspiration’ and not knowing what to paint. But REALLY missing the act of painting.
Thankfully that changed for me when I tried my first ‘botanical’ style painting in 2006.
Key to the genre was accuracy. And I found I got such a kick out of achieving a realistic looking result.
It was SO enjoyable. It gave me a new lease of life.
Yes, in a sense it was simply ‘copying’ the photo I’d taken. But that felt liberating.
I didn’t have to think about what I was painting at all – so long as I replicated it faithfully it could be nothing other than accurate.
I could get in the ‘zone’ (using my previously under-used ‘right brain’) and the painting just flowed in a way that felt both stimulating and relaxing.
And I KNOW there is significant difference between the photograph and my painting when I’ve finished – the process of painting always adds something valuable.
I soon realised my camera was my best friend in this enjoyable pursuit.
I use it to set up compositions that inspire me – of subjects I find that inspire me. And practically, I use it to capture detailed reference material that I need to create a painting from at a time to suit me.
It’s the act of finding and photographing beautiful subjects that forms my personal interpretation of them.
I’ve made a video with some tips for taking your own photos to paint from which you can watch here if you haven’t already:
I honestly believe that it’s the painting process itself that needs to be enjoyable.
And for some of us, that process is most enjoyable when it doesn’t involve any left-brain type thinking about the subject we’re painting.
And our feelings don’t lie.
If we enjoy painting from photos, if it makes us feel peaceful, relaxed and inspired all at once, then we need to hold on to that and bring more of it into our lives.
Have you ever been criticised for painting from photos? Or has working from photos actually got your creative juices flowing? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
Happy painting!

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  1. Marilyn on September 17, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    Not only do photographs inspire, but magazines and advertisements inspire. I have a scrapbook that I have kept over the years with a collection of all things that I found visually stimulating. My best painting mode, is when I am painting every day, even 20 minute sessions. The scrapbook has inspired me numerous times to try something different.

  2. […] love painting from photos (you can read more about my approach to that here). And I find taking them, a really creative and inspiring […]

    • Jodi on April 10, 2017 at 12:15 pm

      I think that people don’t stop to think that part of the photo taking process is being an artist. What subject am I going to take a view, what angle, lighting, and composition. There are a lot of decisions that are considered artistic at this level that many dismiss. So by the time you have a photo that you are going to use you’ve already made a lot of painting decisions. Besides, the photographs also takes you right back to the place, what you’ve seen, smelled, touched, and possibly even tasted. Hmmmm…I’m right back there. The whole process can and should be inspiration. Just enjoy!

  3. Syndy on October 18, 2019 at 5:06 am

    Thanks for the block, Anna. I love painting from photos! All the information I need is right there for as long as I need it, and I find I’m enjoying going off and researching the structure of my subject.
    Most recently, a grevillea and it’s fascinating learning about the whole cycle of the bloom through to the forming of the seed pod. I really like seeing the heart of the Creator through nature. So, for me there’s more to it than just replicating a photograph and I’m hoping viewers will see that and appreciate the beauty around them more because of that painting.
    I’d also prefer to spend more time painting and less time drawing, so it’s ideal for me.

    • Syndy on October 18, 2019 at 5:06 am

      Hmmm that would be blog, not block 🙁

  4. […] Before I share my tips for how best to manage a photo library for inspiration, let me just state again why I love to take photos, and use them as my reference for creating art (for lots more more on this check out this post and this post): […]

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