All my working life, at least in my rather arcane section of the art world, there has been a debate about the probity of working from photographs. There has been an assumption of moral superiority by those who work directly from life and work up paintings either from imagination or from drawings of direct observation. There is an implication that using photographs as references is cheating. Well, I use photographs as references sometimes and I don’t regard it as anything other than another tool in the box.

Take this painting “Stop” for example, And the photo I took to work from.

Stop 44x50 op

IMG_2746 a

There are small but important differences which increase the atmosphere I felt was potential in the image. changing the dresses concentrates more attention on the drama and pushing the front girl more to the profile heightens the tension between them. I made them the same size because we usually feel people are bigger or smaller according to their importance and I wanted no hierarchy or partiality. Also, I tried to even further remove expression from their faces.

Or take this one, “Painter”.

Painter 60x57 op

Here is the photo I used for the male figure.

Gwion 1

I needed to depersonalise that figure so that what he is doing is so much more important than who he is. Similarly the statue;


This is the image that I used for that plus a quick sketch which I have now lost.

Like all tools, you have to know how to use it and what the dangers are. simply copying photographs is boring and self-defeating. The fact is that the interest in a photograph is in the subject, which is more or less remarkable, so copying one is a waste of time. If it’s good you can’t improve on it, if it isn’t it’s not worth the effort. It’s what you say about a subject that makes it worth looking at or not.