10 Tips for Photographing Your Own Paintings

photographing your own paintingsAt some point you will need to photograph your paintings as it will be necessary to provide images for promotion on a website, to enter your work in juried shows, to present it to galleries, or for printing in marketing materials such as brochures, etc. Good photos can make all difference when it comes to selling your paintings or finding the right gallery to promote your work.

The following tips will help you to take some reasonably good photographs of your own paintings. For the times when you need quality, high resolution images to be used in printed materials such as magazines, giclee, posters, books, etc., you might want to consider hiring a professional photographer.

Equipment you will need:

  • Camera — with minimum 12.1 megapixels, batteries, and memory card
  • Tripod — one that is stable and will hold the weight of your camera 
  • Lighting kit — for indoor photo shoots

Tip #1: Photograph your artwork on a flat surface (such as a wall) with a grey, black or white background. Hang the work with the center of the painting right at eye level. It is best to hang the painting on the wall rather than leaning it against the wall. For larger paintings, they can be laid flat on the floor and then shot from above looking down.

Tip #2: Take your picture square on from its centermost point, not from an angle. Carefully align the edges of your painting in the viewfinder or LCD of the camera. Make sure the sides are straight and tops and bottoms are level, the slightest tilt or angle will distort the view making your art look like a trapezoid in the picture.

Tip #3: Take your painting out of its frame and remove any matting before photographing to prevent any unwanted shadows. If you can’t take it out of the frame or matt, then it can be cropped out later using Photoshop. Also it’s not a good idea to photograph a picture under glass as it can cause unwanted reflections and glare.

Tip #4: When shooting your photo get the entire image in the frame with a little bit of the background. You can crop out the background later using Photoshop or some other photo manipulation software.

Tip #5: Use a photo editing software program, such as Photoshop, to improve your images. Crop out any background, frame or matting, if need be. It can also be used color correct your pictures, balance contrast and eliminate any distortions.

Tip #6: Use a tripod with your camera at eye level with the center of your painting when photographing your art. The most common cause of blurry photos is a shaky camera. Still photography is best done using a tripod. Place the tripod at a distance far enough away where your painting will fill almost all of the viewfinder or LCD, yet you are not too close to get distortions.

Tip #7: For the best results, set your camera to the largest size it can take photos at and also at the finest quality of picture. This will utilize your digital camera to the maximum of its megapixels capability. Refer to your camera manual to determine which is the best size for your purposes.

Tip #8: Choose the following camera settings:

• Color mode: Adobe RGB (not sRGB)
• Image size: Set to the largest size your camera can produce
• Image format: Use RAW or TIFF. JPEG format is best used for the Web.
• ISO (which corresponds to the film speed setting on a film camera): 100
• White balance: Set the white balance to match the type of bulbs you’re using in your floodlights. (Recommend daylight-balanced – 5,000 K-bulbs)
• Exposure control: Manual mode
• Flash: Turn off
• Aperture and f-stops: f8 for most lenses
• Shutter speed: Without a tripod — don’t use a shutter speed below 60, or the motion of your body will result in blurry photos. With a tripod — don’t go below 30.

Tip #9: Photographing outdoors — The best light source for photographing your paintings is outdoor, indirect sunlight. Natural, indirect light will show your art better than any other light.

Photograph when it is cloudy or overcast sky
Mid-morning til mid-afternoon (10 am – 4 pm)  is the best time
• Position your painting so sunlight falls on the top, at an angle well above straight-on, especially from the left and your art will look more closely to the actual piece.

Tip #10: Photographing indoors — Choose a well lit room to set up your photo shoot in. A room where you can shine light evenly on all sides of the artwork. Lighting is extremely important in producing correct color. Turn off the room lights and use only one light source to illuminate your painting.

• Block the windows and set up your lights. Do your best to use one light source. For evenly lit shots, position two 500-watt floodlights on either side of the art. Make sure the light is bright and uniform throughout the room.
• Be careful to not shoot your art near color objects. Those objects’ color(s) can reflect in the art.
• Turn the flash off on your camera. If not, the flash will produce “hot spots” on your art.

UPDATED: 22 April 2016

10 Tips for Taking Artist Reference Photos

camera reference photoResource photos provide invaluable reference material for your paintings and will complement any on-the-spot sketches you may want to do of a location or subject matter.  If you need to take reference photos for your paintings, here are some tips and things to keep in mind.

Tip #1: Photograph objects or locations that interest you. The same applies if you want to paint people or animals. The reason for this is you will be spending a lot of time staring at those subjects as you create your painting. If you don’t like the subject matter, it will show in your painting.

Tip #2: Have a camera available to use at all times, if possible. A good “point and shoot” digital camera will work for this. They are affordable and easy to use. Try to get one with at least 12.1 megapixel capability. Never leave home without your camera. You never know when “photo ops” will present themselves. So be prepared.

Tip #3: Remember the basic rules of composition also apply to photography. Before snapping your photo, try composing the subject matter in your viewfinder. The more your do at this step in the process, the less work there will be when you actually compose your composition on canvas. A good rule of thumb is to utilize the Rule of Thirds when deciding upon the placement of objects within the scene.

For more information about the Rule of Thirds refer to the article titled “Creating Better Compositions in All Your Paintings“.

Tip #4: Take lots of photos from may different angles and levels. Take at least a dozen or so photos, if not more. Later as you are looking at them on your computer the many photos will allow you to determine what elements will work in the composition and which ones will not. At least one (maybe more) will present itself as being the best one to use to compose your painting from. Set aside photos that simply don’t work. Never settle for using a photo that you don’t feel good about.

Tip #5: Use your zoom to get close-up shots for detail. If you can’t zoom in close enough then your shot will probably not provide you the detail you might need.

Tip #6: Don’t limit yourself to taking photos from eye level only. Bend down or even lay down to get a bugs-eye point of view or stand on something for a birds-eye view. These angles can also make interesting compositions for your paintings.

Tip #7: When photographing a building, it’s best to move around and photograph one section at a time and squarely on. The picture of the building will be distorted if you stay in one spot and pivot your camera.

Tip #8: For panoramic views of a location, it is best way to snap a number of photos that overlap each other. The next step is to piece them together using Photoshop or some other photo manipulation software program. Consider taking portrait (vertical) shots rather than landscape (horizontal).

Tip #9: Snap resource photos to capture fleeting moments. Moments like cloud formations, sunrises and sunsets, birds in flight, or seascapes.

See article titled “Photographing the Setting Sun for Your Sunset Paintings” for more information on shooting reference photos of sunsets.

Tip #10: Take reference photos when you have a model sitting for you. They can reduce the time a model needs to sit for you. Utilize your resource photos when painting the extra details in portraits, such as clothes and chairs, etc. They can also be referred to when it isn’t convenient for the model to be in the studio.

Additional Reading

Is It Really Okay For Artists To Use Reference Photos? Part 1 and Part 2

Tips For Creating Stunning Sunset Paintings

Garden Tomb, Jerusalem painting
The Garden Tomb At Sunset

Capturing the beauty of a sunset in  oils is a popular genre of art for many artists. At one time or another most fine artists will choose to create one or sunset oil paintings. There’s just something about capturing the sun at its most beautiful moment of the day, right as the sun is going down. It’s a breathtaking phenomenon when the sun turns in for the night and twilight sets in, the moment when the sun’s rays radiate outward across the sky and horizon giving off vibrant shades of reds, yellows, purples and blues.

Below are some helpful tips to creating stunning sunset oil paintings. When you use the following tips to create your sunset art, you will have more success in your paintings. Note: These tips can also apply to a sunrise painting.

  1. Keep in mind that no two sunsets are ever exactly alike. There are always differences in cloud formations and light effects.
  2. Oils are the best medium for painting a beautiful sunset painting because they blend seamlessly and easily.
  3. As you paint your sunset, think of a flashlight as being behind the clouds and wherever there is an opening a beam of light will shine through.
  4. The rays of sunlight should be painted like a railroad track or road going off in the distance by the use of perspective. This is achieved by using a vanishing point.
  5. When creating your composition, try to choose unusual angles to include in your painting. And remember, because your painting will be back-lit, the water and rocks will have cast shadows.
  6. Most sunsets use a variety of shades of orange, yellow, blues and purples, along with sienna and black. Keep your palette with as few colors as you can. Limited palettes are less confusing. Choosing only five to seven colors makes it easier to remember what colors you mixed for a specific part of the painting.
  7. Your color should be most pure and vibrant close up and then is toned down as it reaches the horizon. This creates depth in the painting.
  8. As you are painting a sunset it is important to keep cleaning your brush, this helps to stop your work becoming muddy.
  9. When painting a sunset on the water, the colors present in the sky will be reflected in the water.
  10. The sun should always be painted with pure, brilliant color and then adding darker colors to surround it. Lay in your colors in a circular manner and blend them together.
  11. Start your painting by blocking in large masses of colors, keeping your values simple. Continue until you have a composition that is to your satisfaction.
  12. Next, create the illusion depth in your work by including more detail in the foreground and diminishing detail as the distance increases.
  13. Paint with boldness and do not be overly concerned about adding any detail until your painting is almost finished.

Using these few tips will help you get the most from your painting session.

Additional Reading

Photographing the Setting Sun for Your Sunset Paintings

Paintings of Sunsets Collection

The Many Types of Oil Painting Surfaces

Oil paintings can be painted on a variety of surfaces (also called supports). These can be canvas, panels, paper, wood, metal, plus many others. The reason they are sometimes called supports is because the surface “supports” the medium the image is painted with.

Here are some interesting bullet points about the more common types of oil painting surfaces:

stretch canvasStretched Canvas is:

  • the most common support for oils used by modern day artists
  • a tightly woven flexible material made from cotton, linen, or other synthetic material that is stretched across a wooden or metal stretcher bar frame
  • can be purchased already primed and stretched onto stretcher bars or it can be purchased in bulk rolls that the artist cuts up into smaller pieces and stretches onto the frame
  • comes in three varieties of textures—
    • Fine: extra smooth surface for fine detailed paintings, such as portraiture
    • Medium: bold texture surface for expressive paintings with broad brushstrokes, like the Impressionists
    • Rough: abrasive “toothy” surface to enhance adhesion for collage
      Note: The finer the canvas texture is, the less the texture of the canvas will show through in your finished painting.

river side painting“Along The ICW”
Marine art by Teresa Bernard
12″ x 9″
Oils on canvas panel board

>> More info


canvas panel boardCanvas Board/Panel is:

  • a rigid surface covered with primed canvas glued onto cardboard
  • are easier to frame than stretched canvases
  • easier to store and travel with since it  takes up less room than stretched canvases
  • also is more durable and less easily damaged than stretched canvases
  • preferred by many artists for their smaller paintings
  • an ideal option for painting on location because they are light weight and also  sunlight will not be able to shine through the back

canvas paperCanvas Paper is:

  • a flexible surface mostly used for small sketches, color notes, and other purposes
  • not a favorable surface to paint on because it is too fragile and will not last through the years
    Note: Works painted on canvas paper must undergo extreme restorative and conservative treatments, usually within a few decades.
  • available in various paper qualities—
    • 100% cotton: top of the quality scale, the paper is made entirely of cotton
    • Rag paper: some rag content is included in the paper, often mixed with linters or wood cellulose
    • Wood free or high alpha cellulose or wood sulfite: the highest grade of wood pulp paper

fine art wood panel boardWood Panel Canvas is:

  • a rigid surface for artists made from poplar, oak, linden, pine, cedar or various other hardwoods, like mahogany or walnut
    Note: Other types of woods theses panels are made from includes plywood, fiberboard, Masonite, and particleboard.
  • the best for painting when they are well seasoned, air-dried quarter-sawn hardwoods to avoid warping, shrinking, as this causes them to hold paint better
    Note: It is very important for wood panels to be well aged to prevent shrinking and warping that might occur from exposure to the water content present in some paints.

metal fine art panel boardsMetal Panel Canvas is:

  • a rigid surface that requires an oil primer to prepare it to support artist paints
    Note: This type of surface does not fair well with liquid (water base) primers.
  • comes in various types of fine art metals — aluminum, brass, and copper

Additional Reading

Types of Canvas Available for Painting

About Artist Stretcher Bar Frames

Common Paint Media Used By Artists

Why Space Paintings Are Loved By So Many

Space the final frontier….

astronomical artLong before man first ventured out into outer space, artists were turning their paintbrushes and imaginations towards worlds beyond the bounds of Earth. Gazing up at the night sky, they could only imagine what otherworldly landscapes must be like. At that moment in time, pretty much all of the heavenly spheres were seen as merely star-like objects. However, with the advent of the telescope, people were able to observe the vastness of space and see planets as actual worlds and not stars. This was the first time a human was able to see moons orbiting a planet, asteroids, gases and other space particles. As they began to draw and paint what they saw, they became the first space artists. Ever since that time, artists have been drawing other worlds. As telescopes got better, so did their space paintings.


space art painting Neil Armstrong astronaut“First Man on The Moon”
Space Art by Teresa Bernard
24″ x 18″
Oils on gallery wrap stretched canvas

>> More info


Space art (also known as “astronomical art”) is a genre of art that strives to depict the wonders of the cosmic universe like no other. It has only been in the past few decades that we have actually begun to learn what other planets and moons really look like, thanks to the pioneering efforts of scientists and astronauts. This art form has an ever growing number of fans who buy outer space paintings for the walls of their homes, offices, and businesses.

Here’s why space paintings are such a favorite genre of art:

  • Space paintings easily fit in with most décor, whether contemporary, traditional or eclectic.
  • This genre of art fits in just about any room of your home or office. It lends itself to many options. Just use your imagination.
  • Fans love the vibrant colors, such as the bright blues, yellow, reds and orange hues. Space art lends itself well to being created with bright colors because of the stark contrasts of light and dark created by sun, moon and stars.
  • It appeals to our sense of fantasy and desire for adventure. Who wouldn’t want to escape the bounds of our world and go soaring off to explore some distant alien world?
  • Cosmic art affords the artist a galaxy of subject matter to paint from gamma rays to alien moons, The Pleiades to the Milky Way, and all stops in between.
  • It offers individuals the ability to explore unreachable realms with the intent to bring a sense of reality to them.
  • Space art brings otherworld landscapes, spacecraft and alien life from the imagination to near-reality by expanding our imagination.
  • Space paintings are also great conversation starters. Family members and friends who come to your home will no doubt enjoy being swept away in the magic of your space art.

lunar landscape painting on canvas“Moonset”
Space Art by Teresa Bernard
20″ x 16″
Oils on gallery wrap stretched canvas

>> More info


From high powered telescopes to NASA photos, astronomical artists can use a variety of art medium to construct their cosmic art, be it watercolor, oil paint, pen and ink, or graphite to mention but a few. Space art is well loved and is certainly here to stay.

Additional Reading

Becoming An Artist Of Space Paintings

Space Art Paintings For Sale

Space Art Collection


The Flower Paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe

georgia o'keefee
Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe was a modern day fine artist of flower oil paintings born in Wisconsin in 1887. She attended the Art Institute of Chicago in 1905-1906 and at the Art Students League, New York (1907–1908). During her art career she became one of Americans distinguished female artists. O’Keeffe revolutionized modern art with her paintings of nature and is generally recognized as the “Mother of American modernism”.

Her favorite subject matter to paint on canvas was the flower and she seemed to like the calla lily, poppy, canna, iris, petunia and jimson weed the most when it came to flowers. O’Keeffe frequently painted flora in large-format paintings with enlarged close up views of flower blossoms. This close up perspective gave the viewer a sense of looking at the blossom under magnification. Georgia O’Keeffe chose this approach because she believed no one really looks at flowers. Her large-format paintings would require the viewer to take a real look at flowers.

During her lifetime, Georgia O’Keeffee painted many flower paintings. Some of her more well-known floral masterpieces include “Black Iris”, “Blue Morning Glories”, “Jimson Weed”, “Oriental Poppies” and “Red Canna”.

Black Iris (1926)
black iris by georgia o'keeffeO’Keeffe’ famous irises were an important preoccupation for many years; she favored the black iris, which she could only find at certain New York florists for about two weeks each spring. The enlargements and abstractions derived from the flower have often been explained in gynecological terms, almost clinical in their precision. However, O’Keeffe rejected the notion of her flowers as sexual metaphors – this is something she feels is created by the viewer who applies his own associations to the works, not hers.

Blue Morning Glories (1935)
blue morning glories by georgia o'keeffeThis oil painting features a close-up of blue morning glory flowers and is one of the most popular paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe. The colors are beautifully utilized, making the painting look very vivid and sharp. This painting is an example of the Precisionism style, for which O’Keeffe was quite popular for. The enlarged size of the flower depicted is eye catching and the colors are used are even more enchanting.

Jimson Weed (1936)
jimson weed by georgia o'keeffeThis oil painting depicts a large blossom of jimson weed, or datura and is part of a series of paintings O’Keeffe did of this plant. She was immensely fond of jimson weed and ignoring its toxicity, she allowed it to flourish around her patio. She paid tribute to the bloom in this painting, originally entitled Miracle Flower.

Oriental Poppies (1928)
oriental poppies by georgia o'keeffeThis painting depicts two giant poppy flowers. The original painting measures 30″ x 40″ and is an explosion of brilliant colors on a vast canvas, creating a mesmerizing effect. Dazzling reds and oranges were used as the main color of the petals with deep purple for center and the inner contours of the flowers. There is no background to this painting which artfully draws focus onto the flowers.

Red Canna (1924)
red canna by georgia o'keeffeThis painting depicts a red canna flower. O’Keeffee composed it using abstract patterns derived from nature and depicted by means of restrained brushwork. The vivid and bright colors that were so beautifully chosen evoke an energetic and natural vitality, all the while, complementing each other in a unique way. One of the main features that make this painting really wonderful is the intense red and orange hues that subtly change into pearly whites.

The flower paintings by Georgia O’Keeffee are a favorite of Teresa Bernard. If you enjoyed these floral paintings, you will want to check out more fine art paintings in this genre of art. See Flower Oil Paintings by Teresa Bernard.

Photographing the Setting Sun for Your Sunset Paintings

sunset reference photoJust about everyone loves a beautiful sunset. That radiant burst of color at the beginning (sunrise) or end of the day. Because of this, sunset paintings are a favorite subject to paint for many artists. However, painting a sunset on location isn’t practical. Therefore I suggest taking your camera and shooting reference photos of some lovely sunsets to use back in your art studio.

Using reference photos to create your oil painting is a handy method that will save you time and also preserve your sunset in real life. No two sunsets are alike and they disappear quickly, therefore, taking a reference photo of your sunset can prove to be very useful. It allows you to paint your painting in the comfort of your art studio and at any time of the day or night.

Photographing sunsets is a good idea especially if you want to paint them on canvas. Here’s why:

  • The sun sets quickly in the evening sky. It would be hard to get your painting done before it goes down.
  • No two sunsets are identical making it further difficult to paint one on location.
  • Painting a canvas on location would require it to be started and completed in the same session, however since the sun goes down so fast, this might not be possible.
  • Photographing the sunset means you can now take it with you back to the art studio and use the image as reference material for your painting.

Reference photos are a great way to forever record a fleeting moment such as a sunset. Here are some great tips for photographing a setting sun:

Tip 1 — Show up early for the shot. It may seem like a slow setting sun, but in reality a beautiful sunset is over with very quickly. Arriving early allows you the opportunity of getting several detail shots for shadows and also other objects that can be used to make your sunset painting a more interesting composition. Try to include objects other than the sun or clouds in your photo shoot. Also think about silhouetting some of the objects against the sky. You will also want to take some photos after the sun has already gone down for further reference when you go back to you studio to start your painting.

Tip 2 — Apply the rule of thirds when photographing the setting sun. Place the horizon either 2/3 of the way up or down in your shot for a more interesting composition. It all depends on your emphasis. If you have a dramatic sky then place the horizon line low to include more sky than ground, if the ground or water is more dynamic than the sky, then place the horizon high on your canvas to include more of what’s going on below. In addition, do not place the sun directly in the center of your frame. Place it over to the side to create more interest. Be sure to use these same tips when you transfer your composition to canvas.

For more information about the rule of thirds, see article titled “Creating Better Compositions in All Your Paintings“.

Tip 3 — Determine what orientation, either portrait or landscape, that you want to your painting to be. Most sunset paintings are landscape in orientation because this allows for the widest possible angle to capture on canvas the most sunset. However don’t dismiss a portrait orientation especially if you have something interesting going on in the foreground. Vertical sunset paintings offer much when it come to including other objects such as water towers, windmills or trees as silhouettes in your painting. Consider including some of those objects too.

Following these simple tips will help make it easier to compose your painting once you get back to the studio and start putting brush to canvas.

Sunsets are a favorite genre of Teresa Bernard. You can view her sunset oil paintings here.

Making and Using a Viewfinder to Compose Better Paintings

viewfinder graphic
Use a viewfinder to crop out unwanted parts of an image to make a better composition.

A viewfinder is a handy tool often used by photographers and artists. In photography, this optical device is the apparatus on the camera that the photographer looks through to compose, and in many cases to sharpen the focus of, the photograph he/she wants to take. In oil painting a view finder is a tool used by a painter that performs a similar function. Artists use these devices as an aid to organize the scenery of their paintings. It can be moved up, down, left or right to isolate the most appealing aspects of the scenery present in the photograph. It does this by cropping out the unimportant parts resulting in a much stronger composition.

Making an Artist’s Viewfinder

artist viewfinderMaking a viewfinder requires little effort. There are two types: window and L-shape. Both types are simple to make and which one you choose depends on the canvas you plan to paint on. For standard size canvases you may want to choose the window viewfinder. Take a simple piece of paper, scrap mat board or cardboard and cut a rectangular window in the center to look through. The window opening should be proportionate to the prepared canvas in height and width. For example, a 16″ x 20″ or 24″ x 30″ canvas would require the viewfinder window to be 2″ x 2.5″ or 4″ x 5″.

Other proportions that might be useful are:

  • canvas size = 16″ x 24″ or 24″ x 36″, window cutout = 2″ x 3″ or 4″ x 6″.
  • canvas size = 9″ x 12″, 12″ x 16″ or 18″ x 24″, window cutout = 3″ x 4″ or 6″ x 8″.

After carefully measuring and cutting out the opening of the viewfinder, move it around slowly on the surface of your snap shot until the image that interests you appears in the opening. Once you have decided on the composition, tape the viewfinder in position on your photograph to hold it in place.

artist L shaped viewfinderThe L-shaped viewfinder is made from two L-shaped pieces of cardboard, mat board, or paper that when placed together create a frame around your area of focus. You then look through this frame to determine the scene you wish to paint. The L-shaped viewfinder is beneficial in helping to determine what size canvas is required for a particular scene if you do not plan on using a standard size canvas. The two L’s work together much like an aperture of a camera. You move them out and away from each other to enlarge the opening or move them closer together to shrink the inside opening. To make one of this type, you will need a ruler and pencil to draw two identical sized L shapes on a piece of paper, scrap mat board or cardboard. A good width is about two inches so they can easily crop out the unwanted areas of the scenery. The length of the arms of each L can be any size; 6″ to 8″ works best if you are going to use it on photographs.

Using an Artist’s Viewfinder

using an artist viewfinderUsing the viewfinder is a simple technique that has been around and used by artists for hundreds of years. What a viewfinder does is to frame and crop out unimportant areas of an image. This would be the background details that could muddle up a landscape and take away from the overall unity of the artwork making it a weak composition. The elements that are left make up an interest focal point that can be used to begin creating your painting from. This is achieved by filtering out the distractions from outside the field of view allowing you to focus only on the important elements you want to keep. How this is done is to take your image and slowly move the viewfinder around on it until you pinpoint a precise spot that makes an eye-catching center of interest. Once you have your composition picked out, attach the viewfinder to the picture using artist’s low-adhesive tape to hold it in place. This will permit you to make several drawings of the scene that is needed or even sketch it directly onto the canvas to get it ready for painting. Artist’s tape is easy to remove once your painting is finished.

A viewfinder is also beneficial for training your eye to distinguish a good composition, because this instrument will give the artist an idea of how an arrangement might potentially work as a viable composition. In time your “mind’s eye” will be able to ignore undesired extraneous elements present in the photo and will be able to visualize what a composition will be like without any help from one.

Lastly, both types of artist viewfinders can be used in either portrait (vertical) or landscape (horizontal) position. This allows the artist to use the it as a drawing aid to determine which orientation works best for your painting. By holding the viewfinder in portrait mode, the top and bottom of the view will be emphasized; by holding it landscape, the width of the composition will be emphasized. This helps you focus on particular parts of the scene, enabling you to decide what will make the best composition, both in terms of emphasis and orientation.

Using a Grid to Enlarge and Transfer an Image to Canvas

There is a simple technique used by great artists everyday to create sensational works of art. The best part of it is, you don’t have to be skilled in drawing to achieve extraordinary results when using this method. In fact many of the world’s greatest oil painting artists don’t draw well at all, yet they use the grid enlarging technique to start their paintings which then go on to become wonderful works of art. Regardless of where you get your inspiration, be it from a photograph, drawing, or some other representation of an image you want to paint, the grid enlargement technique can help the artist transfer a smaller size image onto a larger canvas with exact detail or as much detail as the artist desires.

What exactly is grid enlarging?

grid enlarging techniqueGrid enlarging is the process of using a grid to precisely copy and enlarge a smaller image and transfer it onto a larger canvas. Artists use this technique on a regular basis to enlarge and transfer compositions they desire to paint to a canvas as part of prepping it for painting. What this entails is to draw a grid on your reference image and then drawing another grid on your canvas of equal or greater proportion. You then draw the picture onto your canvas concentrating on the contents of each square, one square at a time, until the image has been completed in its entirety. Just about everyone knows what a grid is, however just in case you don’t, a grid is a series of equally spaced horizontal and vertical lines that intersect to form a boxed pattern. What it basically accomplishes is to divide the original image into smaller blocks so that you can more easily see what goes where. Grid enlarging is a useful exercise in helping to improve your drawing and observational skills.

5 Easy Steps to Grid Enlarging

Step 1 — Select your reference photograph and use a viewfinder to isolate the section you want to paint. Next you will need to determine the proportions of your composition. To achieve the best results, it is important for the image and the canvas to be the same proportion. For example, a composition that measures 4″ x 5″ is the same proportion as a 16″ x 20″ or 24″ x 30″ canvas. If your canvas is 12″ x 16″ or 18″ x 24″, then you will need to crop your reference photo to a 3″ x 4″ or 6″ x 8″.

Smart tip: For detailed information about what a viewfinder is and how to use one, see article titled “Making and Using a Viewfinder to Compose Better Paintings“.

Step 2 — The most important to thing to keep in mind when drawing your grids is they must be a 1-to-1 ratio. It’s math 101. The size of your reference photo must always be equal in proportion to the size of the art canvas. If you fail to adhere to this principle your drawing will be distorted. Also the lines must be equally spaced vertically and horizontally, intersecting to create perfect squares.

Smart tip: After you have drawn your grids on both your reference photo and canvas, count the number of squares in each row and column on your canvas. It should be the same amount as the ones on your picture.

grid enlargingStep 3 — Use a pencil and ruler to carefully measure and mark along the outside edge of the photo. Put tick marks at every inch, half-inch or quarter inch depending on the size of your reference image and how much detail you need to transfer. Then carefully connect your marks by lightly drawing your grid directly onto the image.

Smart tip: Use a mechanical pencil to draw your grid. A mechanical pencil produces a very thin and precise line.

Be sure to draw the grid very lightly, so that you can easily erase it when you are finished. If you don’t want to draw on your photograph, you can tape a piece of clear acetate over your picture and then draw your grid on it using a very fine-point Sharpie marker.

grid drawing methodStep 4 — Begin your transfer by drawing everything you see in one block of the reference photograph into the corresponding block on your canvas. Focus only on one square at a time and ignore all the others until the one is completed and it is time to copy the next block to canvas. The reason you want to focus on only one block at a time is you end up drawing exactly what is actually there – what your eye sees, and not what you think is there or even what you think should to be there. Try as best you can to copy exactly all the details you see in that one little block on the photo to its corresponding block on your canvas. Be sure to include the shadows and highlights too. Continue this process one block at a time until all the blocks have been drawn onto your canvas. When you have finished that last block, you will have a very close rendering of your reference photo ready to paint.

grid drawingA good place to start drawing is with the top left square of your canvas. Then work your way across and down the canvas, row-by-row and column-by-column, until you have completed your detailed drawing. Pay careful attention to make sure you are in the correct square or your drawing will be off and you will have to erase some of your drawing and start over from the point where you went off grid. A good way to keep your blocks straight is by marking them numerically and alphabetically along the edges of the photo and canvas. In other words, the first block on your canvas that is located in the top left corner would be block A1, the next one to the right on the same row would be A2 and so forth. This will help keep you from getting lost especially within much larger paintings that have a lot of squares. Write the numbers and letters small and faint enough so that they can be easily erased.

Smart tip: Use a thin piece of sharpened charcoal instead of a pencil when transferring your drawing. The advantage of charcoal over pencil is that charcoal can be easily wiped off with your finger, kneaded eraser, paper towel or rag, whereas pencil lead requires more effort to erase. Spray with a fixative to keep your charcoal drawing from rubbing off when you finish your drawing.

Step 5 — When you have finished transferring the complete image to canvas, gently erase the grid lines to begin your oil painting.

Two Composition Techniques to Use In Your Paintings

In art, composition is how you arrange the various elements to create a pleasing and eye-catching arrangement or design in your oil painting. Good composition is paramount to whether or not your painting will be a strong and interesting work of art or a weak and disordered one. When the composition is done well, you do not notice it so much. You just know there is something interesting about the painting that you find appealing. However when it is done poorly, the painting doesn’t look quite right and just feels awkward.

Creating a good composition will be challenging in the beginning and you will have to work at producing a strong one, however eventually with practice, it will become second nature. Here are three easy methods of good composition that you can use to dramatically improve your oil paintings.

Rabatment of The Rectangle

Rabatment diagram
Rabatment of The Rectangle

A technique for creating better compositions is called “rabatment of the rectangle.” Rabatment is a way to divide up the space within a rectangular shape to create a square with four equal sides that are equal to the short side of the rectangle. In other words, it is the perfect square that can be found inside any rectangle.

For each landscape (horizontal) rectangle, there is either a right or left rabatment and for each portrait (vertical) rectangle there is an upper or lower. It is within these squares that you would place the most important aspects of your composition, thereby creating a center of interest. Compositions are much more interesting to view if they are not located directly in the center of your canvas. See diagram above.

rabatment exampleWhen you use this simple technique to compose your oil paintings, you are more likely to create a composition that is unified, harmonious and balanced. Next time try enclosing the main center of interest within the rabatment square on the canvas. You can use either upper or lower square on a vertically oriented canvas, or left or right square on a horizontally oriented canvas. The elements outside of the rabatment should compliment the center of interest that is located within the square.

The Golden Ratio

golden ratio diagram
The Golden Ratio

The next technique used for compositions in art is called “the golden ratio” and is a little more complicated than the first one talked about. The golden ratio is a mathematical ratio commonly found in nature that can be used to yield pleasing, harmonious proportions within a painting. It has many names, with the most common ones being the Golden Section, Golden Ratio or Golden Mean. Some lesser known names for this rule is called the Golden Number, Divine Proportion, Golden Proportion, Divine Section, Golden Cut, Fibonacci Number and Phi (pronounced “fie”).

golden ratio exampleThe gold ratio isn’t merely a definition, it’s an actual ratio of 1:1.618. There is a simple way to demonstrate this ratio and that is by using a rectangle with a width of 1 and a length of 1.618. Within this rectangle is a square with a ratio of 1:1 and another rectangle with a ratio of 1:1.618. If you were to draw another square within the smaller rectangle, once again you have a 1:1 ratio square and another rectangle whose proportions are 1:1.618 just like the larger original rectangle. You can continue to divide the resulting smaller rectangle as before on into infinity. Give it a try.

The golden ratio can be used to create beauty and balance in the layout and design of all your paintings. Note the point where the diagonal lines intersect. That particular point is key when using this ratio to compose your paintings. You want to place your key elements or focal point at this intersection. As already stated, the golden ratio is infinitely divisible. This means multiple intersections can be identified where sub elements of a scene can be placed.

Great compositions don’t just happen by accident. They require a lot of thought, planning and patience, as well as a familiarity with the visual elements.

Additional Reading

Creating Better Compositions In All Your Paintings

Principles of Good Design: An Introduction