Top Tips – Painting from Photographs

painting of an old town hall

Old Town Hall Hattingen

A fair amount of my work is based on photographs which I have collected over time. As the weather is not always kind, and as time is often short I found working from photos to be the next best thing to working en plein air.

In the normal way the photo merely acts as a guideline to arrive at a free-hand sketch to form the basis for my painting. On this rare occasion I converted the photograph into an outline drawing using software. That drawing was then  transferred to paper but it could have been a canvas or any other working surface to be painted on.

Here is the example on how I achieved this.

Hattingen old town hall
Old Town Square
Hattingen old town hall in black and white

Town Square Converted Photo

The photograph on the left was tweaked on my computer taking out the colour and most of the grayscale to leave me with just a few lines. You will also notice that I have left out the church spire behind the middle ground building as it would have spoilt the view.

I printed the resulting black and white picture on the right and then used my acrylics to add colour. Of course it would have been possible to transfer the drawing onto any other surface using tracing paper. As you can tell by the painting at the top it was not just a colouring-in exercise.

The PC approach was not even a shortcut to help the creative process as it would have been quicker to use a free-hand sketch than to develop the right computer settings to arrive at a printable drawing. On the other hand I would now be able to print as many identical sketches to paint over and generate several originals from the same photograph.


About Pat Harrison

Painting and drawing have been my passion from early childhood. I have attended numerous exhibitions in England and Germany. Presented with the Judges Award at a show I now have one of my paintings on permanent display at a museum in Greater London with growing sales and commissions.
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2 Responses to Top Tips – Painting from Photographs

  1. That’s a great technique and thanks for sharing. As I’m a presenter and give many presentations throughout the year, I’m lucky enough to own a couple of projectors that connect to my laptop. It makes it really easy to project your photo’s onto the wall, where you can enlarge the image to whatever size suits your purpose. You can then affix your paper to the wall with masking tape, and then trace directly from the projected image. The idea of tweaking the photo with software first to give you a black and white line drawing is pure genius, and one I’d not though of before!

    If you think PC projectors are expensive think again, I’ve seen cheap, second hand ones being sold for as little as £15. One word of caution though, before you buy a second hand projector make sure to check out the price of replacement bulbs, because they can be very expensive. For example, the cost of a replacement bulb for my oldest projector is only £20, my newest projectors bulbs cost £400 each!

    • Thank you Ian for your suggestion to use a projector. I have produced one painting that way many years ago when slides taken with an analogue camera were all the rage. A projector connected to a PC or laptop will be the modern equivalent.

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