Photographic Methods

Many of my subjects are so remote or of such difficult access that the creation of a painting on location is flatly impossible, or simply so impractical that I could never finish the work in a reasonable period of time if I were to insist on travelling to the site again and again.  In such cases, I rely on the use of high-resolution digital photos, which provide large images with great detail.  The majority of my landscape paintings have been photo-based studio productions since the beginning of 2001, but I continue to enjoy doing drawings and small paintings on location when possible.

I generally use many photos of each subject - sometimes more than 100 photos for a complex scene - including numerous close-ups of critical areas, in order to capture all of the visual information that I'll need in order to complete a large-scale studio painting.  I view these images directly from a computer monitor while working in the studio, since printing photos is impractical, expensive, and usually results in a loss of color quality.  Monitor viewing also allows me to zoom in to a 100% magnified view of the image, or back to a wider view, as necessary. 

I currently use a Canon Rebel 450D (xsi), usually with a Canon 17-40mm f/4 L lens, although I also use a Canon 70-200mm lens when I need to get closer to a subject.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention my feelings about projection. Projection is the practice of using an ordinary photographic projector to do exactly what projectors are meant to do: project photos.  But an increasing number of artists are projecting their photos onto canvas, for the purpose of tracing the subject in order to skip the process of drawing.  There are a variety of ways in which some contemporary artists justify this practice, especially in regard to very large work or very complicated subject matter - and, since art is an inherently subjective realm, the legitimacy of this procedure is ultimately a matter of personal opinion.

I have an opinion regarding this matter, and it's very simple: projection is the work of the Devil.

Apparently, projection is now being taught as a general practice at some universities today, which I think is simply disgraceful.  I'm a purist in regard to drawing, so I shun the use of such an aid.  While a mechanical approach is certainly faster and easier, this is precisely why I don't favor it.  I adhere to a strict rule of free-hand rendering because it constantly puts my drawing skills to the test, in the interest of keeping those skills sharp.  

I also think that projection undermines the integrity of the craft element of drawing and painting - there is something inherently absurd about the prospect of a free-hand artist showing work in an exhibition where his/her work is to be compared directly with that of other artists who use projection, as if the two types of work could be regarded as demonstrations of comparable craft and skill.  Projection has become so widespread that many artists with strong drawing skills are automatically assumed to be using projection, and this may ultimately have the power to permanently denigrate representational art altogether.  That may be saying too much, but this issue does concern me, and it's one of several reasons why I don't project.

Return to Methods and Materials Index