The Power of Photos in Art & Life
I’ve been fortunate to travel in Europe with my watercolors and a camera. I worked as crew for Workshops in France during an amazing lavender field plein air excursion taught by Carol Marine in Provence. A decade before, our family went to Rome, and wore out the shutter buttons on our cameras trying to capture the atmosphere so we could take it all home in photographs. I don’t think you have to travel far and wide to collect subjects for art, but any rendering of great fun in life done with pigments is bound to be good. At the very least, reliving the experience – from your local farmer’s market to a trip to China – by re-creating a scene snapped with a camera and then rendered with art supplies will be fun.
Do you like to Sketch and Paint Doors?
In Europe, my love for old doors and windows was as strong as the next guy. I snapped close ups of door knockers, door handles, and hand-wrought metal ornamentation. I wondered about the history of families and how they might have made their thresholds stand out among the repetition of doorways meandering down narrow cobblestone alleys. Have you seen the “collectors” of door imagery on Pinterest? Beyond the colorful, ornate, embellished versions, perhaps photos and paintings of door symbolize home?
We’ve scanned generations of family photos, and we use APPLETV to display thousands of family images across the tv screen when it’s not in use. Every family adventure, the kids growing up, vintage family photos and decades-old vacations remind us of the best times in our lives. Images floating across the display lead to mid-conversation pauses to recall shared memories when family or friends visit. Better than leaving photos closed in a book on a shelf, especially for grandkids hearing stories before their time, and seeing faces of late family members they’ll never meet. As an artist, the slide show acts as a reminder to paint photos snapped for that purpose, even when the event was thirty years ago. How do you sort and keep track of your painting photos? Are they mostly digitized, or still hard copies? Do you display your vintage family photos?
Photograph Your Life, and Make Art from the Photos
My grandfather and father game me an old Minolta camera when I graduated from high school. The first slides I snapped were things I wanted to paint. It took almost 30 years for me to commit to being a painter, so if you aren’t painting yet, that’s okay. Snap anyway. The photo used for this monotype was taken in the late 1970’s. When working from photos taken decades, or even generations ago, the art-making carries a channel of time machine travel into the process. The time to reflect is heartfelt and the recollections are solid enough to lean your whole weight against, even in vaguely recalled sensations. If the photos were taken before your time, there’s enough genetic recognition in the facial structure, carriage and environs to provide the go-button of your Inspiration muscles with familiar, pre-studied painting subjects. Each photo holds clues about your family’s beginnings & their youth, and the leap frog nature of family resemblance is always entertaining.
Who Are the Photographers in Your Family?
Every family has photographers. In my childhood, my father and paternal grandfather the only photographers. My Dad used to prowl the house on weekends, looking for interesting things to capture with his Leicaflex. Everyone else thought they had to “know” something to snap pictures. Innate skills in Composition? Color Theory? In my generation, I’m the photographer. My husband says he always “forgets” to take pictures. Do you take your own photos for art reference? Being a good photographer these days requires no skills, no film, no dark room – just a cell phone. Don’t think you have to learn yet another skill to take your own art photos. There is no f-stop or expoore or film speed to calculate, and you can delete the images that are blurry-awful with the click of a button. Walk around your home looking through the “viewfinder” that is your cell phone screen. Use your fingers to zoom in and out on things that appeal to you as potential paintings. Look at little still life vignettes of arrangements on your shelves, or the way sunlight curves over an object on a window sill. There are probably 1000 paintings in your house, just waiting. (For inspiration, scroll down through some paintings by Zoey Frank.)
Dangle the Carrot of Meaningful Art Reference photos
When life is busy, we sometimes need to lure ourselves into making art. Using your own photos, of your own people and things in your garden or the rooms you live in will create exciting painting fodder. And those personal subject photos will reward you way more than painting someone else’s photo ever did. You own the entire concept. Just like Taco Tuesday’s have sprouted up in many American kitchens, make Shutter-Sunday, and take ten photos for your art reference library every week. In the mood for still life? Arrange three favorite things by a window. Got a hankering to paint some figurative work? Flip through your family photo albums and look for interesting compositions and colors, and then snap photos of the photos with your phone so you can keep all your Shutter-Sunday images in one folder on your hard drive. Or stroll through your local farmer’s market and snap away. You’ve got this. Grab your phone and start snapping. 🤳🏾
Your emails, facebook, instagram and blog comments about the Hill/Woolsey fires in California are very much appreciated. We are all safe, and the winds appear to have settled down tonight (Tuesday). Almost 500 homes have burned here in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, and a staggering 7600 homes burned in the Camp Fire up in Butte County. The folks who lost their homes, their town (Paradise, California is gone), friends, family and animals are the focus of our hearts and minds now. Aim your good and generous kindness towards them all. 🙏🏽
Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you in the next post –
The building that would become Wyeth’s studio began as a schoolhouse in 1875 and served in that capacity until the 1920s. Wyeth’s father, the artist N.C. Wyeth, purchased the building for his newly married son and daughter-in-law to live and work in. Restorers returned the kitchen area to its circa 1950’s glory with vintage furniture and appliances to give you a sense of what it was like for the young couple and their two boys – Nicholas, and Jamie, who carried on the family tradition in becoming an artist himself. A slide show of black and white photos from family Christmas pasts set in the larger family room makes you feel like you’re sharing the holidays with them. The Wyeths moved to a bigger home in the early 1960s, but Andrew Wyeth continued to use the building as his studio until his death – nearly seven decades of creativity in one spot.
~What Secrets Lurk in Andrew Wyeth’s Studio, by Bob Duggan