Let's face it. There are times when we must work in the studio using resource material although, I agree, the best reference material is on location. But we'd be terribly limited as artists if we reserved our painting hours for when being on location is possible. So, what if you're in the studio with a yin to paint a certain subject, but all you have are poor photo references. Let's assume the composition is absolutely terrible. What now?
Of course the first thing is to pin down the idea. Why this particular subject? Here's an example of a not-so-good photo.What caught my attention--the idea or concept--is the squirrel at the foot of the tree scratching himself. So the first thing to do is to crop to the idea. Well, that's a little better, but what I've got to do next is to find a decent composition. One approach is to see if any visual path or pattern is suggested or even a hint toward one. Here's what I found.
Along side the movement of the tail a vertical path begins. It moves with the squirrel's cast shadow underneath his belly then on the other side to the left. Follow the arrows in the diagram.
Okay, this suggests to me that I might captilize on that movement and create either an "S" path or a reversed "C" path. One way to determine that is to heighten the contrast on the computer. If I do that, I get this.
Ah ha. I can use the dark of the tree's base and indeed create an "S" path.
The next step is to draw. Study the patterns of shadow and light and play around with the composition. Here's a double page from my sketchbook where I did just that though from other photos, but taken the same time as this one.
And here's a little watercolor painting that followed.
Sometimes there is absolutely nothing in a photo from which a composition can be pulled. In that case either abandon the idea completely or super-impose a composition. I will address that subject in next week's post.
Meanwhile, if you have a suggestion for a compositional topic you'd like me to discuss, leave a message.