Watercolor – Italian Door – and encouragement to photograph your life

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The Power of Your Own Photos in Art and 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.

Typical produce shop street scene in Europe – perfect fodder to sketch and paint in watercolors. (Fruit and Wine Market in Florence, watercolor, Sold)

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 doors symbolize home?

A combination of very old hardware with contemporary window stickers on a door in Provence, France

Technology Inspires

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?

A soldier on a tv screen reading a storybook to an infant held by his grandfather
Our son-in-law recorded himself reading a variety of storybooks before he left to serve in Afghanistan for a year. Anyone in the family could select a book and play Daddy-Reading-a-Story before his infant son went to bed each night. It worked to keep Daddy’s face and voice familiar and in our rooms and minds.

Photograph Your Life, and Make Art from the Photos

My grandfather and father gave 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 print 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 and their youth, and the leapfrog nature of family resemblance is always entertaining.

a small portrait of a man with a big white moustache and a cap on his head, and a suit and tie, from the shoulders up, done in watercolor
A tiny watercolor on wood, inspired by a 1911 photo of my gr-great grandfather Andrea Domenico

Who Are the Photographers in Your Family?

Every family has photographers. In my childhood, my father and paternal grandfather were 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? The truth is that you don’t need to be a photographer to snap pictures. Look through the viewfinder on your phone, and press the button.

Do you take your own photos for art reference? Being a good photographer these days requires no skills, no film, no darkroom – 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 explore 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 drapes over an object on a window sill. There are probably 1000 paintings in your house, just waiting. (For inspiration, scroll down through paintings by Zoey Frank.)

two clementines oranges in a bowl with leaves in the stems that suggest a ying-yang circle
If you can’t find something interesting to photograph for a painting in your house, put some fruit in a bowl by a bright window on a striped or patterned cloth and snap a variety of photos from different angles.

Dangle the Carrot of Meaningful Art Reference photos

When life is busy, we sometimes need to lure ourselves into making art.

Use your own photos, of your own people and things in your garden or the rooms you live in to create exciting painting fodder. 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 yourself a 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 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.

woolsey fire smoke plume over Ventura, California on day number six
The view of the Woolsey Fire this morning – day #6. 5 million gallons of fire retardant and 1.5 million gallons of water have been dropped on the wildfires throughout Southern California in the past week. Holding out hope that all first responders remain safe in this disaster.

Thank You

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 been burned here in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, and a staggering 7600 homes were 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 –

An old green door with ornate iron work above it, and a box of leeks hanging near the door frame
Italian Door with Leeks 18 x 10 Watercolor on paper (Sold)

Art Quote

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

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11 thoughts on “Watercolor – Italian Door – and encouragement to photograph your life”

  1. Sorry I forgot to say that I have been tracking the fires and very worried about everyone I know who lives in California. I am so glad you are safe.

    XOXOXOXOXO Barbara

    1. Hi Lovie, Thanks for your encouragement and hugs. I am totally intrigued by your Nova Scotia Schoolhouse! What does it look like? Did I miss a post on your blog about this wonderful-sounding place? More details, please! XOXOXO

  2. Wonderful paintings and superb ideas. Photographs are such a great resource. Once again thank you. I have an old school house in Nova Scotia, but have not used to much for painting. I could. But I’m usually more of a researcher there.

    XOXOXOXOXO Barbara

  3. Belinda, your painting is wonderful!

    I am very, very sorry for all the suffering caused by the fires, I will pray for the victims and for everybody who lost a kindred one.

    1. Thank you, Cristiane. We are doing very well. There is a strong community here, and everyone who went through the Thomas Fires last year has a wellspring of sympathy and generous audience for anyone who suffered losses in this year’s fires. We are holding each other’s hands.

  4. Caron Tindale

    Belinda: Your posts continue to be so refreshing and inspiring. That watercolour painting is exquisite.
    Keep your amazing art and words coming!

    Cheers, Caron

  5. Linda Miller

    I simply love this post. I have a file on my computer of photos for reference for paintings. Now that I retired recently, I hope to spend the winter getting started. I love taking photos of everyday items in my house. It has been the creative outlet for me due to lack of time to paint and draw. I’m so glad you are safe in CA. Such heartbreak out there. Horrible anytime, but especially at the holidays.

    1. Hi Linda, Congratulations on your retirement, and good for you on taking photos for all of your future work. I hope you begin a regular practice of drawing soon. Your paints and brushes must be calling your name. Thanks for the good wishes on our burnt state. Things are getting better now. 🙂

  6. Maricarmen Kirschner

    Good morning, Belinda;

    My deepest sympathies and prayers in these times of prove. I am glad to know that you and yours are safe.
    Loving the treasure you share with us. Your art. The beautiful anecdote about your son in law.
    My husband and I used to live in Simi Valley, CA. Him for over 35 years, me for only five. From 2003 to 2008. I know about the Santa Ana winds and fires.

    Thank you for everything you do for keeping our creativity alive!

    Carmen Kirschner

    1. Hello sweet Carmen, Thank you for your kind note and your good wishes. The fires are getting under control, and the air is a little less dense today. The Santa Anas are not finished yet, so we will remain alert and vigilant to weather predictions. Until then, we’ll make art. Simi Valley sends her regards to you and your husband…. 🙂

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