I was recently asked to paint the old Spanish farmhouse where a friend of mine used to live with her family. She took me out to see it on a rather dull overcast day, and I have to say that at first glance I was a bit underwhelmed at the prospect of creating an interesting painting out of what was – to me at least – an uninspiring building. It really wasn’t that interesting, and I wondered how I could come up with a painting that she and the family could enjoy. My friend had asked me to paint it in reds, yellows and oranges as those colours would fit into the colour scheme of the living room where it was to be hung.
So I then used the sketch (rather than the photo) to work from. I was working in oils on a 16″ x 20″ stretched canvas and began by giving the whole canvas a green-blue undercoat, onto which I sketched the outline in burnt sienna.
Then I painted the shadow areas in a pale purple and the sunlit areas in pale yellow, before adding a dryish mix of off-white on top, making sure that the under colours showed through. this created the effect of the old walls. The roof was painted very simply and I didn’t get too involved in the detail. The foreground was just a rough brushwork of different colours.
The wonderful thing was that the family loved it. Even though the colours were not realistic and the shape of the building had changed a bit, and there was so little detail, they still got really excited about it.
“That’s the window we had to break in through when we lost our keys!”, said one of the daughters. “That was my room!”, said the other. “This will remind us of our house forever”, said mum.
My advice to you in situations like this would be to work from a pencil sketch rather than slavishly trying to copy a photo. You are then much more free to create ART rather than a copy of a bad photo.