Lessons in Painting with Photographs

My experimentation of digital/mobile painting with photographs continues this week and for Paint Party Friday I thought I would share a couple of lessons learned.

First Lesson: To make a good painting from a photograph, you first need a good photograph.

If you are going to end up with a painting that has interesting composition, contrast and a good focal point, the photograph you are working with has to start out that way. The principles of design apply the same. This was not so much of an “aha” moment as a “well, duh” moment for me this week. It seems obvious after the fact. If you take a poorly executed image and then apply some painterly filters to it, it doesn’t make it the image inherently better. It gives it a bit of a “wow” factor briefly due to the processing, but it’s not going to stand the test of time.

So all this work I do to improve and refine my photographic composition and design? It totally applies in this new endeavor. It also makes me think that my Paint Party Friday friends might want to start joining me in Exploring with a Camera, because I have no doubt if you improve your photographs you will improve your painting. (And November’s Exploring with a Camera posts tomorrow!)

Second Lesson: Not every good photograph will make a good painting.

I’ll share a little example of one of my failures this week. Let’s start with the photograph, as taken with my iPod Touch:

This arrangement of leaves was found outside my car door in a parking space. I spent some time framing it in an interesting way. I liked the color and size contrast of the focal point leaf and the seemingly artful way the smaller leaves were scattered around. I thought the contrast would make it a good candidate for a painting.

Unfortunately, I did not save most of my attempts, because they were so atrocious. The translation to the painting didn’t necessarily change the feel. Here’s one example, created with the Glaze app:

And here’s the best I got out of it, using the Line Brush app. This app has some really neat features, in that you can paint portions of your image and then remove the underlying photograph. That’s what I did here: painted the leaf, removed the photograph, and then used a different brush for more painting to blend the colors and edges. The problem with this app is that it seems to want a specific rectangular canvas side, and it rotates and crops any square images without giving a choice in composition. That’s why the end of the leaf is chopped off. Grrrr. I cropped the end result as best I could to get a decent composition, but it’s not what I would have chosen.

So after all of the playing with this image, I finally decided it was meant to stay a photograph. I edited it with a vintage filter to soften the yellow-black contrast, worked with the vignetting to even out the corners, did a small crop to get rid of a couple of distracting elements on the edges, and called it good.

Great lessons for me this week.

Not only that, as I was writing this post I finally checked the resolutions on some of the files I’ve been using (I’ve been meaning to do that for days) and discovered that the Photo Stream sharing feature through iCloud doesn’t transfer full resolution files between devices. So now I need to figure out how to transfer full res files between devices, so these can actually be printed larger than a postage stamp, and re-edit my favorite images at high resolution. I guess it’s better to discover this now than later. But wow, is there a learning curve with all of this stuff!

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  1. says

    Gadz, you are right, there is always a learning curve when something new comes about. Very pretty rendition. Blessings, Janet PPF

  2. says

    Nicely done. I like that you paid attention to the leaves outside your car and came up with a great photo as well as work of art. Nicely done. Thanks. Happy PPF!

  3. says

    I like your editing attempts… the soft diffused yellow leaves view pleases my eye. It looks like you’re handling the learning curve well. I’ll be checking out Exploring with a Camera.
    Happy PPF!

  4. says

    the tech stuff is always a nightmare to get sorted but then once you do it is so easy… drives me a bit mad actually… and i hope you get it sorted…

    I do like the digital images and think they have possibilities… maybe you should print them out and paint on them… or draw… maybe they are meant to be a base not a finished product…xx

    • Kat says

      I love the idea of the images as a base and not a finished product! I already think of the initial photograph as “raw material” for later processing. Why not the print too?

  5. says

    This is a really interesting post, Kat. I’m never really sure about computer design or photoshopping but I have to say I actually really like the first one you posted – it really looks like a painting! It is a lovely photo and it’s always good to hear photographers give information like this. I would like to learn how to take better photos as I usually take them with the notion of painting them in mind but although I know exactly how i want to compose it in my mind it never really works out that way in the photo!

    • Kat says

      One advantage painters have from photographers is you can rearrange elements to your liking in the painting. Want that red cup to be blue? Done. Want another window? Added. With photography, we have to use what’s there. Which, actually, is what I love about it. I don’t quite know how to approach composition for painting because there are too many options!

  6. says

    I love the softness and ephemeral feeling of that first photo. It really does look like a watercolour. It would be interesting to paint a real watercolour of the leaf and compare effects. It would probably be quicker than faffing around with apps :-)

    • Kat says

      This made me laugh for two reasons… First, “faffing,” love that word! Not used in American English. I will have to adopt it into my vocabulary! And second, you are probably right, painting it from scratch might be quicker. But somehow for me, not as much fun. It just seems so much work to get out the paints, set up, clean up…

  7. says

    The softness of your leaf paintings is fabulous and your background removal is amazing! Hope you are past the hardest part of the learning curve barbecue selfishly, I want to see more of these!

  8. says

    great tips! i keep downloading photography apps because i’m intrigued with all of it, but i’m realizing that interest doesn’t equate know-how so i’m always looking for tips from people who really know how to best utilize the tools out there. thanks for sharing!

    • Kat says

      Well, I have fallen in love with it, so I will be continuing to explore this realm. I can’t help share what I learn, so come back again and learn more. :)

  9. says

    That is a great image. It would have made me try and capture it in paint too. I have been a Photoshop pro for years, and this is the sort of thing I have to explain to my clients all the time.

    “What? You mean this picture I took with my phone won’t look good blown up as a background for our trade show booth? But you have Photoshop. Can’t you make it look a) Old-Timey b) Futuristic c) like that artist guy who painted Marilyn Monroe in the bright colors? My phone can do that.”

    • Kat says

      LOL! Thanks for sharing that story. I think we are all so accustomed to seeing things on screens, tiny phone ones and otherwise, we often don’t realize it won’t translate – either large scale or to print.

  10. says

    I think the effects you are getting are really brilliant, Kat. This new style of painting is really working for you. It looks like a soft watercolor that you just whipped up in your studio. Your learnings this week are so true about paintings and photography – not every photo makes a good painting. Keep working on this, Kat – its good. Happy PPF

  11. Linda K says

    thank you so much for sharing your process and editing attempts-for me it can be so daunting… but I do like what you’ve done here! Happy PPF

  12. says

    Thanks for sharing this, I like the way the picture came out. I’d love taking pictures and like the idea of using them to create art. I will definitely check out your link.