Art Ideas from Family Photos

an interior scene watercolor, with a sleeping figure on a bed by some windows and a dog cuddled into the blankets

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Art Ideas from Family Photos

Have you ever collected art ideas from family photos? I’m a huge fan of painting, sketching and collaging familiar places and faces stored in our old family photo albums. Here are some examples to give you ideas to try it with your own family photo albums….

Portrait Collage from 1960’s Family Photos

Take scenes from vintage images of your family, and expand them into mixed media collage using rubber stamps, torn tissue paper and water-based media like gouache, watercolors and acrylic paints – like this:

Portrait Collage Ideas – Vintage Family Photos

Watercolor Portraits from Cell Phone SnapShots

If you’re more inclined to paint watercolors from family photos taken recently, use your cell phone to capture a moment, and then embellish it with your take on the scene. Print and make art from your cell phone photos with a goal towards experimentation. Give yourself permission to play with narrative painting and practicing your figurative skills – like this:

Watercolor Portrait of Mother and Child

Making Collages from Photo Albums

You can draw and sketch from old family albums, or pilfer the memories to use in collages. If drawing is a challenge for you, simply scan (or photograph) the vintage photos, and then print them at home to use directly with collage, paint and dry media – like this:

Creative Collage Ideas – No Drawing Required

Creating Art from Travel Photos

Every vacation results in a stash of memorable photos that usually include selfies, landscapes, quaint cafes and architectural scenes. All of those are superb subjects to use as painting and sketching fodder. If you’ve never considered your own photos as art inspiration, read this:

Watercolor – Italian Door – and encouragement to photograph your life
drybrush watercolor techniques
Aperture – Watercolor on paper – from a cell phone snapshot taken on vacation, with elements added to the image that weren’t in the photo, like the dog and the flowers, etc.
Unwind – watercolor on paper – from a cell phone image taken surreptitiously when our eldest became a mother and took little cat naps to prepare for night time newborn sleep interruptions.
Lull – watercolor on paper – from a horizontal photo that included a blurred, running toddler on the left, and a wrestling daddy on the floor to the right. The image was cropped for the painting, and the cat and flowers were added.
Bubble Bath – Drypoint Engraving with Watercolor – from a Kodak slide of my little sister taken in 1979.
a monotype ghost print with colored pencil added showing two women sitting on the bumper of a model T ford wearing fur collars from the early 1920's
Mae and Tess – Monotype Ghost Print with Colored Pencil – Inspired by a tiny 1920’s black and white photo of my grandmother and her sister sitting on the bumper of a Model T Ford – You can read more about adding colored pencil to monotype ghost prints here.
Poetry in the Garden – Watercolor on paper – inspired by a 1948 polaroid of my great aunt reading in the garden

Pilfer Your Own Photos for Art Inspiration

All of the art above was inspired by family photos. The next time you’re looking for inspiration to draw, paint, collage, or start a printmaking project, grab your family photo albums. Flip through those yellowed, cello covered pages, and use your cell phone camera to snap photos of images that speak to you.

Try not to fret over likeness, or accuracy to copy exactly what’s in the photo. Play with the images, and be your own art-boss. Add Great-Great Aunt Margaret from the 1800’s to a 1970’s image of a back yard softball game. She might look good as the catcher. 🙂 Or play with scale and put baby brother Reggie as a tiny rider on the back of an enlarged family dog.

Dip into the well of family memories, familiar features, and fond roomscapes as inspiration for your next art adventure.

Let us know in the comments if you share your work on social or a blog so we can visit and cheer you on.

Thanks for stopping by and I’ll see you in the next post,


P.S. If explorations into using your own family photos as art reference material lead you towards wanting to digitize all those cello-sealed family history treasures, the company I’ve used and recommend is Scan My Photos.

mixed media vintage 1940's portrait art
Mixed Media portrait from a tiny photo of my great Uncle and his fiancé in June of 1940

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8 thoughts on “Art Ideas from Family Photos”

  1. Caron Tindale

    Belinda: As I have said before, your posts light a fire in my belly! I have been using black and white photocopies of my own photos in collages. I add colour with pencil crayon and build borders with collaged materials or cut and paste them into collage creations.
    I like to add a three dimensional element by gluing on a piece of screen, birch bark, shell, button, old jewellery and so on. Then I add words either hand written or collaged from song lyrics or my own poetry. Such fun.

    Your current post is very inspiring and I will look into using actual photos in future creations. Thank you so much for sharing your techniques, your colour palette that speaks directly to my heart and little treats like the turtle palette.

    Enjoy your summer of festivals, markets, art shows, gardens, dining plein air, ocean side visits and creating.

    Sincerely, Caron

    1. Dear Caron, Thank you so much for this great note. I can imagine your photocopy collages, and I love the idea of using pencil crayon and text in the borders of the designs. I think they sound fabulous. The song and poetry lyrics too. Bravo and carry on! Enjoy your summer as well. Tea cup to tea cup clink in a toast to a very creative season.

  2. I love using family photos in my art. I hope I’m improving in my sketching and painting abilities. I really enjoy looking at your beautiful and accomplished work.

    1. Hello Darlene! We are kindred spirits for family photos in creative inspiration! I *know* you’re improving with sketching and painting abilities, because as they say – the secret to success is consistency of purpose. Just keep making, and the natural result is improvement. Brush-miles. Thanks for your compliment!

  3. Mickey Nolan

    Hi Belinda,
    Great ideas as always. I’ve always taken lots of photos on our travels and have created a volume of work in pastel, watercolor, colored pencil, acrylic and oil pastel over my lifetime. I’ve even played around with dry points and different printing techniques thanks to your excellent instruction. Photo albums are such a great source for inspiration.
    Thanks for keeping us inspired!

    1. Hi Mickey, I have no doubt that your collection of photos and the art they inspired is adventurous and plentiful! And we are sisters in media-exploration…. there are never enough hours in a day to play with All the Art Supplies! Our poor, dear housemates. 🙂 Thanks for your note, and your encouragement. As always, keep creating!

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