It’s such an energizing feeling to get going on a new painting in the studio, especially after a week of illness that had my whole family on the couch. It got a little crowded there!

I’m painting a tree portrait and am loving the effortless arch of branches into sky, the mingling of blue,brown and violet in a textural scumble of bark and gnarled branches. I’m working from a reference photo and as I work I keep referring back to the photo to inform my shapes and values.

tree painting (8 of 11)

Reference photos are both an artist’s best friend and worst nightmare. They hold information that helps create a believable painting, and many an artist has tried to invent a scene and ended up with a tangle of conflicting light, shadow and perspective. At the same time, a reference photo can freeze an artist into rigidly following what they see instead of pursuing expression in their painting.

tree painting (5 of 11)

I remember when “it looks like a photo” was my goal for success in painting. It doesn’t feel like that any more, and now, when I put my brush to paper, my goal instead is to be guided by “what the painting needs.” It’s a different feeling, to move brush across paper, to study the effects of colour and value and then decide, based on what is happening on the paper, what I need to paint next. It’s exciting. It’s liberating. It’s responsive and energetic and it sometimes feels so self-indulgent because instead of being led by a dictatorial photograph, I am making the decisions based on what will make the best painting.

tree painting (2 of 11)

Being led by a reference image isn’t wrong. For me, it was a necessary part of skill development, and reference photos, sketches and other visual aids still hold information that helps guide my decision making. Feeling increased freedom in decision making during painting is a sign of artistic growth and it’s one I love to notice in myself and in my students.

Silver Valley Sentinel 13 and quarter by 30 inches watercolour by Angela Fehr 600w

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