I took a trip to one of my favorite places last weekend hoping to get the chance to capture some of the fields before harvest. I lucked out! The weather was perfect for snapping nice clear shots and I even had the opportunity to do some sketching on site.


One of the things I do is create color charts to capture the colors of the subject I will be later turning into finished drawings and paintings. This helps me select media that truly represents the actual colors I am viewing. No matter how good a picture is, I often feel I am missing something if I don't have a quick reference done in the media I will be using.

Let me show you what I mean.

This is a color chart done In Prismacolor Nupastels. I sat on the edge of the field you see above and made small scribbles of the colors I made out in the landscape before me. I also jot down the number of the color for easy reference.


One of the things I notice right away is that the bright blue of the sky really does not translate in the photo I took. The only way I really know how deep the color was is to look at my color chart and see the blues I chose from my palette of 96 colors. I know I had lighter blues to work with...and I didn't pick any of them. This reminds me that the sky is much more vivid that what is captured on film.


I also do quick sketches in the field working with the colors I have chosen for my color chart. This gives me an even better idea of how to translate what I was seeing into a drawing.


When I bring all three of these resources together I have a wonderful palette of options to work with when I set out to make some art from this piece of nature. I can easily and accurately:

1) draw this landscape in a variety of media

2) paint this landscape in a variety of media

3) create some digital art pieces

I can easily find an acrylic paint, or an oil paint, or a marker color, or colored pencil color or watercolor pigment that recreates the image. All I have to do is check my colors back to the color chart.


What do you do to capture a real life image for reference? Share your ideas!


Views: 99

Comment by Meg Mackenzie on September 18, 2011 at 9:34pm

Thanks so much for sharing your fantastic weekend away, your inspiration and our process, Suzanne. I also find it important to try and capture colours on site. Digital cameras do not capture colours as truly as film cameras do, particularly the reds and the blues. If I didn't also create a colour palette I would look back at photos and wonder what had captured my imagination about a wishy-washy pinkish rose - when in fact the flower in nature was an incredible red. Skies are particularly hard to capture on digital cameras in their realistic colours.


If I am at the beach, sketching the coast or the waves, I sketch in graphite pencil then put colour swatches or pencil numbers on parts of the sketch - but I don't colour the whole thing. The sketch carries the detail for me, and often I would prefer this for scenes with motion in them than a photograph.


It was good to see your full colour sketch and the way that it brings all of the components of the scene together.

Comment by Suzanne Vadnais Monson on September 18, 2011 at 11:37pm

I really like your process idea of sketching a scene in graphite pencil and put color swatches or pencil numbers alongside. What a great idea! One of the things I focused on in this session was creating color combinations on paper that captured the scene in front of me. It is almost meditative for me. I had so much fun playing with the color strokes.

When I come back later to do more with this I will have a good idea of what I did to capture specific aspects of this landscape. This is what I try to capture when I am on location. 

The issues with reds and blues in digital photos can be a frustrating one. Another thing I do is to enhance my digital photos in Photoshop as much as I can without distorting the color scheme. I try to saturate the colors to get as much depth of field back as I can. I do this as close to when I was on location as possible, this ensures I have more of the actual site still alive in my imagination!

Of course I do not post the super saturated photos on the web...they are big files and take too long to load. But they reside on my hard drive for easy access. Have you tried to do anything this with your digital photos?

Comment by Meg Mackenzie on September 19, 2011 at 12:43am

Hi Suzanne, yes, I do that with some digital files as well. Sometimes I just enhance part of the photo, or even change the colours in a photo to use a bit of artistic license. I work with Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign a lot for my work as a illustrator and book lay-up designer, and I find it very useful indeed.


Something else that I have found handy is the colour spectrometer that our local home decorating shop has. They kindly put my colour swatches through it sometimes if I need to match colours more exactly, or if I am struggling to mix a paint version of a coloured pencil swatch. They can tell me the tonal make-up of the shade, which is quite fascintaing. Sometimes I get them to make me up a sample pot in house paint so that I can take it home and test it out on drafts.


You're so right about doing the hard work of identifying colours and landscape aspects as soon as you can after the experience. It's so easy to lose what inspired us about a scene when we try to recreate it later.


I do also take a film camera into the field sometimes. My husband keeps coloured film in his, so I take that to capture colours - skies, flowers, rolling hills, etc. But mine has black and white film in it, and that is terrific for tonal studies. In fact, some of my most successful portraits are coloured paintings that I have made from black and white images. Perhaps the colour distracts me.


Do you ever work from black and whites?

Comment by Jeffrey A. Knight on September 20, 2011 at 3:45pm
your preparation is inspiring -- much of mine is mental or thumbnail sketches -- I have folders loaded with ideas -- Jeff -- have a great art day.
Comment by Suzanne Vadnais Monson on September 20, 2011 at 5:29pm
Thanks Jeff! I have lots of files loaded with ideas too. Sometimes I have just as much fun going through these idea resources...and often I end up doing something totally different than I planned. It's nice to have lots of options!


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