Figurative Watercolor Painting – Recharge – and Building Your Own Art Photo Reference Library

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Building Your Own Art Reference Photo Library

In the last post, I described scheduling your own photo sessions to create a still life painting art reference library.Β 

Your inspiration meter might spin past 100 while considering painting and drawing materials designed and snapped in your own space, with your favorite things, or your most loved people.

The painting above – Recharge – is from a photo session done over a decade ago, and I still paint and draw from images I took in that photo session. A little planning with a camera, good light and a few costume changes on your favorite persons can be a gold mine of inspiring images to paint, for years.

a pen and ink drawing of a girl in pajamas on an overstuffed chair, petting a cat
A sketch for this month’s Inktober challenge – using the word-prompt Tranquil, and photos taken 11 years ago, in early morning light with two of my favorite models

Plan with Simple Photos to Start

You can arrange and photograph still life from objects in your home, or ask a family member or friend to set aside two hours – and some wardrobe changes – to model for you when the light is perfect in your home.

Take the ideas outdoors too, and arrange hammock scenes, al fresco images, or reading themes.

In exchange for their time, you can offer a painting, a pet portrait or a print from your archive of sold paintings. If you’re painting family members, offer them a pancake breakfast. With bacon. πŸ™‚

a figurative watercolor in process, showing just faint washes of watercolor and a small sketch
Recharge – the painting at the top of this post – in process with a small pencil sketch on the easel

Painting from Your Familiars

Have you heard the saying ‘You put yourself in every portrait you paint.”?Β  A life study professor told me I was merging my familiar self with the studio model we were drawing – as most artists do, by making her limbs long, like mine.

I was skeptical when I first heard that, but over time, I’ve seen it in my work over and over again. You can use this subconscious-figurative-knowledge to your advantage if you paint your family.

The familiar elements of inherited bone structure, eye shape and hand length are already second nature to you, because you share some of those traits. You’ve also been gazing at those faces and limbs and hands for many years.Β 

Familiarity gives you a head start up the hill of drawing and painting. The genealogical “knowing” your son or daughter’s carriage and gestures lifts a bit of strain off your artist’s eye while scrutinizing and rendering figures from staged photo sessions with family members.

And it helps if you love what you’re painting with your whole heart. πŸ™‚ Do you model your family members to take series photos for paintings?

a woman in a chair reading a book, and a cat sleeping by her side
Reading printmaking books with Scout in the evening
A cat in the sun looking up at the viewer, casting a long cat profile shadow across the cushions
Lucy Signals Catwoman 21 x 30 Watercolor on paper

On the Topic of Painting Cats

Over the years, folks have emailed to ask why I include cats in my art.Β  One of my long departed studio assistants (before Scout) was Lucy. Back in the day, she was a seasoned model who convinced me that adding her to a painting made the person or the rooms less lonesome.Β  I tend to agree.

So, I’m sorry if you don’t like cats, or dogs, or birds. They give me great pleasure to cozy-up an interior or figurative watercolor every now and again.

an orange striped kitten snoozing in the sun on a very large dog bed, in watercolor
Dog Bed Squatter – Watercolor on paper (sold)
A figurative watercolor of a woman reading on the couch
Recharge 10×18 inch Watercolor on paper (sold)

The Ventura Artwalk

The Ventura ArtWalk last weekend was a double dose of perfectly sunny days with an ocean view, and patrons of the arts mingling with artists.

The set up for the artists was a first for me in that we were in PODS – the storage containers you can rent to hold all your stuff during a house renovation, or a move, etc.Β 

Rather than the usual 10’ x 10’ display space under my canopy, I had 8’ x 16’ in a solid structure with a translucent roof for great light and pull down door to lock up securely overnight.

It was awesome! Big thanks to Steve Yapp at PODS in Oxnard, CA for donating Pods to this event. Next year, maybe I’ll build a Tiki bar at the rear of the booth, with umbrella drinks and a beach-printed carpet?

A storage POD shown empty, and then transformed into an art gallery
The Pods were donated to the Ventura Artwalk for artists and nonprofits participating on California Street by Steve Yapp from Pods in Oxnard.
an artist inside an exhibit booth showing patrons the plates used to make collagraph prints framed on the walls
Telling patrons about collagraph printmaking at the Ventura Artwalk (Photos by Juan Carlo Mendoza, Ventura County Star)
Two views looking up towards City Hall and down towards the beach on California Street in Ventura
California Street – from the Pacific Ocean to City Hall, on a sunny day, during Ventura Artwalk

What’s on Your Art Table?

What projects are you working on in your art-making this week?

Did you discover a new tool, or a new favorite artist?

Share your news in the comments, and we’ll have coffee together in the studio. πŸ™‚

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


P.S. Have you ever seen this video of Andrew Wyeth Painting Tom Hoving? Both are departed now, but I’m grateful that it’s posted where we can see it.

P.P.S. You can subscribe to get each new post via email as soon as it’s published by signing up here.

Art Quote

Your problem is how you are going to spend this one odd and precious life you have been issued. Whether you’re going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over people and circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are.

Ann Lamott
Click the kitty to visit this free online mini course – Six Tips to Paint More

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10 thoughts on “Figurative Watercolor Painting – Recharge – and Building Your Own Art Photo Reference Library”

  1. Belinda,
    So fun to meet you at the Ventura Artwork – your exhibit was wonderful. We appreciate your comments and thoughts in regards to the PODS containers, always fun for us to support the Artist World through the provision of Pop Up galleries. Hope to see you back again next year
    Steve Yapp – PODS

    1. Hi Steve! It was great to meet YOU, and I am totally spoiled for life now that I’ve had my very own POD gallery at an art fest. I gave out every brochure you left… I want all my artist friends to rent pods, and launch month-long studio exhibits from their driveways! It was very cool that you donated all the time, man-hours and materials to create the Pop-Up POD galleries at the Artwalk. I will definitely participate next year if they’ll jury me in. Save me a POD! Thanks again!

    1. Hi Jennifer, I clink my tea cup to yours in appreciation of cats. They are very excellent company, and lovely painting subjects. Thanks for your compliments on my posts. I’m grateful for your feedback on these meandering missives. πŸ™‚

  2. Oh, and I forgot to ask: thanks for the quote by Anne Lamott -I have been wanting to read her for a while. Can you please suggest a book to begin with? I am as you are, an exhibiting artist, but much older (just turned 64).

    1. Hi Sharon, The first book I read by Anne Lamott was this one Bird by Bird. Her story about trying to make her creativity into a livelihood, and her climb up the self-created “obstacles” resonated with me. Maybe start there? πŸ™‚ And you’ve only got 5 years on me, love.

  3. Dear Belinda: I just LOVE your work and this painting in particular. Thanks for the Wyeth video, it was nice to see his generosity to gift his painting. I also love the way your artwalk was set up -PODS, such a great idea and no need to baton down the hatches if the weather becomes troublesome. I hope you did fabulously!

    1. Hi Sharon, Yes, those pods were an amazing development! I might be pining for them from now on, at all future shows! Thanks for the compliments. I’m glad you liked the Wyeth clip. Did you watch the documentary about him a few weeks ago on PBS?

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