Inspiration and a Photo

Did you ever see those puzzles where you are shown two pictures that look kind of similar but aren’t really and you have to point out what the differences are? Well in this post I give you an opportunity to do just that.

When I’m not locked away in painterly bliss in my studio, I can be found next to a Mac Pro computer in an ad agency in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, doing graphic design work.

Ad agencies can be among the more “fun” places to be for many reasons, one of which is the office parties that sometimes take place. In the agency world, office parties equal good food and alcoholic beverages-O-plenty. I was fortunate enough to be at the start of one recently. As the goods were being carted out, I couldn’t help but grab my camera and start shooting painting reference, especially since I almost never get to set up a still life with such perishable delights! My oil painting “Red Wine and Bleu Cheese” (seen below) was the fruit this particular party.

                       “Red Wine and Bleu Cheese”, 8x10 inches, oil on canvas

I always shoot my own photo reference exclusively - when I use photos at all, that is. (The joys of digital metadata and the use of photography will be the subject a future post, I promise).

I believe that every “traditional” oil painter should be able to imbue their subjects with emotion whether they use photos a lot, or not at all. Of the many photos I shot the day of this particular party, seen below is the one I used as reference for the painting above.

I’ll leave it up to you to notice all the little differences, but the point is, in my oil painting I wanted to impart a feeling of...  lets say, “calm culinary elegance” that is lacking in the snapshot. To achieve this I, among other things, tweaked the lighting and selectively softened some edges.

One thing that’s always challenging when working from quick photo snapshots like this is to bring unified values and colors to the painted version of the scene. On the way to doing that, I created a warm, almost smokey, background.

One final note as well, when working from a cluttered snapshot, is of course to simplify the subject, and get rid of useless and distracting bits of the scene. Remember that old Volkswagen print campaign from the 60s? Photo of the Beetle, coupled with the headline “Simplify”. The message still resonates today folks.


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