Dahlia Days: Finding Inspiration from a Photo

Dahlia Days, 16x20, oil on linen

One of the wonderful things about being an artist, is the opportunity to be creative. Rather than just copying a scene or a photograph, I can use it as only a launching pad.

I absolutely love painting from life. Sometimes that just is not possible, and the best solution is to find inspiration from a photo reference.

Last year I taught a workshop for Nancy Tankersley in Easton Maryland. When I am teaching, I rarely get to paint very much. Other than a demonstration or two, my time is spent "teaching," not sneaking off to paint on my own. On this particular day of the workshop, we had the great pleasure of visiting the farm of Anne Habberton and Jonathan Shaw.

I took a lot of great photos that day of typical farm stuff PLUS some awesome pics of their paso fino horses (paintings to come). At the end of the day, the sun was shining through the backsides of these Dahlias. I wanted so much to paint them, but had other responsibilities for the evening. A quick snap of the camera and some mental notes was all I had time to capture.

Here's the thing. In my world, a photo should serve as inspiration for studio work. If I wanted a direct copy of the scene, I'd just try to get a [much better] photo in the first place and frame that.

dahlia pic

Ironically, the more I paint directly from life, the more "ideas" I can find to paint from a photograph.  Working in the studio, I have the chance to exercise those ideas and be creative with them.