Monday Motivator: The Artist as Conductor

“Translating what you see into a painted image is a complex process, combining perception and the technical language of paint. … Your job as a painter is not to be literal, especially when working from photographic sources in the studio; instead you should think of yourself as a conductor, arranging, editing, and elaborating on the elements that present themselves in a scene.”

Suzanne Brooker, “Elements of Landscape Oil Painting”, p1

Just because something’s in your reference photo doesn’t mean it has to be included in your painting. It’s in the photo simply because of where the photographer was standing when the photo was taken and where they pointed the lens.

Take the two deck chairs in my photo below, in the walled garden at Castle Fraser, where I was last Friday. If my painting’s composition were people sitting in the chairs enjoying the garden, then including them would make sense, though not their position on the right-hand edge. If I were painting the flower border, why would I include chairs?

Part of a flower bed in the walled garden at Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, with two deckchairs on the right

I took this photo as a reminder about how, as I was sitting on a nearby bench painting foxgloves, the gardener mowing the lawn moved the deck chairs, placing them looking out across the expanse of the newly shorn grass rather than at the flowers, which were far more interesting to me than the meticulous lawn and topiary. A reminder that we have different motivations.

I did subsequently turn one of the chairs around and sit in it to paint, being very careful not to spill any ink on it. When I left I felt compelled to return the deck chair to its original position, probably that rural “leave a gate open or closed as you find it” thing.

Ink painting of flowers

The alliums aren’t as purple as I’ve painted them, but they’re also not as brown-pink as in this photo. Other photos I took from different angles captured the colours differently. I was less focused on colour and more on the sense of the spiky pompom-ness of the aliums and their upright stems, contrasing with the curving, dancing stems of the tiny pink pompoms. I very nearly didn’t add colour at all.

Ink painting of flowers

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