Saturday, February 23, 2013

Painting Over Photos... Really?!

Last weekend I had my paintings on display in Charleston, SC for the annual Southeastern Wildlife Expo. I always look forward to events like this. Aside from talking shop with the other artists, thousands of people pass through the doors, so it's a great time to meet and greet the public... and just maybe sell a few paintings.
As people stroll by throughout the course of the show, the comments... some meant for me to hear and some not...can be amusing, puzzling, or downright maddening. Yet there is one comment that I've heard several times over the past couple of years that I'm not sure what to do with. It usually goes something like You're just painting overtop of photos, right?
I'm not aware of anyone really doing that, though I'm sure it's probably happening somewhere. That comment/accusation always catches me a little off guard and I'm never quite sure what the hell I should say. The thought that immediately comes to mind is to flash a glare that says Move along before I bust you in the mouth! (my sister calls it my "stink eye"). However satisfying it might be to send some uninformed little pest scurrying down the isle, in situations like this it's rarely productive (not to mention I'm getting too old to really pull it off and/or back it up). In public, I try to keep the stink eye under wraps.
Of course if I protest too vehemently (perhaps as I'm doing now), I look guilty as sin. If I say nothing, folks automatically think they're correct. I guess the answer is somewhere in between. If people are really interested, I usually try to explain a little about my process, though I'm never quite sure if the message gets through.

Of course I use reference photos. That's no secret. It would be impossible for me to achieve any reasonable amount of believable accuracy in my work without them. In reality, most of my paintings have elements from several photos pieced together to create an interesting composition. Most of the time, it takes a fair amount of planning and drawing to correct "flaws" in those photos that can be distracting to the overall motif. That's pretty basic for most representational painters. Some just do it better than others.
I've recently wondered if I should keep a half-finished painting on hand at these shows just to smack down the notion that my art is nothing more than paint layered on a photo poster I had made at Wal-Mart. How devastating would it be to my career if people actually started to believe that's what happens in my studio?! Sometimes I feel like I'm pounding my head against the wall.


Jeff said...

Your idea of having an unfinished painting on display would probably cure the idiots ignorant ideas.
I certainly can understand your frustration.
Real art lovers and your followers know the truth.
I would not loose any sleep over it.

Sara said...

Your an amazing artist. People dont understand how you paint so well and just assume (we all know what this means) that you "paint over the picture." Consider this a compliment that they think your painting is as good (in their mind) as a photo. When in reality if they took time to appreciate it and look at the depth of it, would then realize it is actually much BETTER than the original photo. Don't let the opinion or the assumption of a few unappreciative people take away the amazing accomplishments of your paintings!!


Kelley Sanford said...


So sad the level of ignorance about fine art. I had a professional photographer want me to teach her how to paint on her photos. Your work is fabulous & as Jeff said "Real art lovers and followers know the truth". I try to remind myself of this daily.