Painting practice with reference photos

Remember I said I was going to fight my frustrations by doing watercolor technique practice? I also remembered I have a big file of reference photos, pulled from magazines, that I wanted to work with before we leave. So I’ve been practicing with those, and I must say I’m so pleased with the results that I could almost imagine I’ll never be frustrated again (hah!).

I can’t remember how long any of these took me, but I can tell you that they are very, very small. The tallest of the portraits is less than three inches; the shortest, an inch and a half.

Practice heads 1

Whenever my paintings from photos come out well, I always feel a little like I’m cheating, because I know that much of the credit is due the photographer, for the compelling angles and good lighting. But until I’m confident enough in my abilities to ask friends to sit for me, photos and self-portraits will have to suffice.

Practice heads 2

This is the one I’m most pleased with: a little figure, a mere six and a quarter inches high. One of the things I love about her is that the model in the photo looked blasé and knowing, but in my version she came out looking much more interested. Maybe someday in the future I’ll look at this and see all kinds of flaws with it, but for the moment, I adore it.

Practice figure

By the way, when I say “reference photos,” I mean just that: I use them for reference. I don’t trace them; I draw freehand, but refer to them for proportions, shading, etc. I’m not as concerned with getting a likeness as with creating a realistic depiction.

At first when I was doing these pictures, I got antsy because I didn’t know how to reconcile photo-reproducing skills with drawings from my imagination — but I’ve decided not to worry about it. It’ll work itself out. And it’s such fun doing this practice.

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