working from a reference photo

Since I’m on a flower drawing kick, and work from photos, I thought I’d share a process post.  I’ll use my most recent drawing as example.

First, the inspiration:

I really prefer working from my own photos.  Not that they’re wonderful, but because the copyright is mine and I feel better about taking license with the images.

I just love the colors in this pic.  But drawing in pen and ink requires seeing beyond the color.  Value contrast: light flowers against dark foliage, texture contrast: ruffled petals against smooth leaves, and shape contrast: lush trumpet-shaped flowers against skinny, spear-like vegetation take on more prominence.

So, because the color was somewhat distracting, I grayscaled the image in PhotoShop to get a better handle on the values.

Some might call this grayscale-ing step “cheating”.  I don’t have a problem with it.  It sure beats squinting endlessly at a color image to differentiate values while trying to draw it!

There was waaaay too much information in the photo for what I wanted to draw.  Editing was required.  So, I cropped it down a bit.

Quite a bit.  I knew I wanted the two main flowers, the one “spent” flower head and enough of the foliage to provide a nice contrast to the flowers.

At this point, I saw that all of that busy-ness in the upper right corner of the pic was going to be an issue.  Part of it had to do with the diffuse light source: sun was filtering in, and there wasn’t an obvious lighting angle.  But also, some of the foliage behind the flowers was sunlit, making too much contrast and competing with the flowers for attention.  Not something I wanted to deal with in this drawing.

Part of the challenge of working from reference photos is to keep what works and get rid of/change what doesn’t.

So, my plan: darken that area to the point where the spent flower head and main diagonals of the foliage (the latter to behave like directional devices to help draw the viewer’s eye back toward the flowers) stay somewhat visible while the rest of the “stuff” (hopefully) faded into the darkness of the background.  I decided to do the same to the partially hidden dead flower heads next to the main flowers: push them into the background by making them darker.

Anyway, at this point, I decided that the overall composition was OK, and began drawing.  I started with the flowers; my thought was the amount of ink (detail) I put into them would determine how dark the background would need to be.  As it turned out: very dark.

Am I happy with it?  Overall, yes.  As with every drawing, I learn:

Probably my biggest issue with the piece is that the background seems to have a rather “flat” appearance… I think I should have planned the upper right hand corner better.   I know that it is necessary to minimize distracting details, like the bright highlights found in the photo.  But in darkening things so drastically, I changed the effect: the drawing reads as less realistic to me than it might have been… more like a ‘study’ than a ‘moment in time’ if that makes any sense at all?!  I need to pay closer attention to the play of light to get a more convincing effect.

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6 Responses to working from a reference photo

  1. Christine says:

    Thank you so much for taking the time to explain and show the process. Fascinating.

  2. Nuno says:

    Awesome! Thanks for explaining the process.

  3. you are very talented, it’s beautiful

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