Posts Tagged ‘reference’

Composition contrivance

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Rudyard Kipling wrote, “I am the cat who walks by himself and all places are alike to me.”  A cat also has definite opinions about who he knows and doesn’t want to get to know, how much sun he’ll tolerate in his eyes, and whether he’ll just plain “wanna” or not.  Multiply that cat by two, and it’s a considerable challenge to shoot a paintable composition in a single photograph.

Boots & Bandit

For this commission, the two cats, Boots and Bandit, could not be persuaded to sit together in the sunlit chair that had been placed for the purpose.  Bandit, who had never met me before, didn’t trust strangers, so sat, haughty and uncooperative, glaring at me … when he deigned to sit at all.  Boots took off on his own to lie down between two other chairs, in the shade.  Not that I could blame him.

When being held/posed/manhandled in the blinding sunlight, both cats kept their eyes closed.  Yet their owner requested that I show the characteristic eye color of each of them.  I knew it would be hopeless if we continued the photo shoot in the sun, so we changed tactics and allowed the cats to run around in the open shade of the enclosed lanai.  I tried to position myself in one location from which I could capture their antics, wherever they moved.  And I took shot after shot after shot.  (What a cost savings digital photography is over film in such circumstances!)

Eventually I managed to get a good photograph of each of the cats individually.  Selecting the best photos of each cat, I repositioned them in relation to each other, through digital magic, to create my primary reference.

Aside from ensuring that their relative sizes were appropriate, my main concern in matching up the animals’ photos was that they should be lit from the same direction.  Fortunately, I had two good photos that were lit from the right, though Boots was largely in semi-shade and Bandit was sidelit by brilliant sunlight.  Degree of light can be altered in the painting process, but the contouring that directional light and resulting shadow creates on a subject is considerably harder to adjust.

I chose a few back-up photos of each cat to use as supplemental reference material, not only for color, lighting adjustments, and variations on pose, but also for that important and telling detail, their eyes.

This is when I really appreciate Adobe for having created that powerful photo-manipulation program called Photoshop.  It took me a while to learn; I still use cheat-sheets and refer to how-to books, but the program allows me to set up and adjust compositions on my computer screen that were unobtainable in life.

My favorite travel companion

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

Any time I travel, my camera goes along.  I keep an eye open for interesting flowers—particularly those that we don’t find near home—and people or animals that trigger my imagination.  I also look for scenes that speak to me about the specific locale in which I’m spending time.

Cayman Fish Vendor

On a recent visit on Grand Cayman, I found a tree burgeoning with clusters of velvety violet and white flowers.  Colorful chickens roamed freely along the roadsides, in parks, and even in open-air restaurants.  And along the shore, fish vendors had set up temporary stalls to shade themselves as they sorted and cleaned the morning’s catch.

The image of the vendors remained with me long after we left the island, so I combed through my photographs to help me tell that aspect of the story of our visit.

It would be foolish to have tried to combine the tree, a rooster, and the vendor’s stall into one painting; that would be overkill.  I find that it’s more effective to focus on a single subject in a painting; and the simpler it is, the better.  I chose to omit from Cayman Fish Vendor (#100401) a fisherman who had been in the background of my primary reference photograph, replacing him with the boat (borrowed from another photo), which provided simpler lines to offset the jumbled appearance of the fish and the rocks behind.  The composition could have been simplified further by omitting both the corner of the canvas tent and the fishing boat, though both help to “tell the story,” and the color of the boat’s trim echoes the color of the fish being cleaned.

A word of caution if you try combining photos, as I did:  It’s important that the light comes from the same direction and angle.  Scale is also a critical variable, so relative sizes may need to be adjusted.  This is a situation when digital photography and editing capabilities prove a great boon to the artist.

A photo jaunt of just a few hours on Grand Cayman have provided me with reference material for several different subjects to paint as the mood strikes.  Everywhere I go, I try to add at least a few more photos to my reference file.