Naming Your Artwork – Tips for Fine Artists

naming artwork

Tips for Naming Artwork

Here are some helpful tips you can use when naming your artwork for exhibition or sale.

Tip #1: Keep it simple and keep it short. Don’t make your titles lengthy or complicated. Keeping it simple is always best. Make them easy to remember and understand. You’ll get better results that way.

fruit candle still life painting
Still Life with Fruit and Candle by Teresa Bernard

Tip #2: Make your titles descriptive but not too personal. Instead of being ambiguous, consider naming your art something that describes what is going on in the artwork. For example, you just completed a still life painting of some fruit and a candle on a bedside table; you could name it “Still Life with Fruit and Candle.”

In addition, you should not get too personal with your descriptive titles. If your painting is of your sister, it would not be best to name it “My Younger Sister Liz.” No one except a family member would be interested in buying such a painting.

Girl In Red The Dress Painting by Teresa Bernard
Girl in the Red Dress by Teresa Bernard

However, if you were to name it “Girl in the Red Dress,” then you have suddenly expanded your audience to more potential buyers.

Tip # 3: Include the name of the place when naming a painting of a particular location, especially if it is of a famous place. People want to know what or where the location is especially if it is a place they are familiar with, such as a familiar mountain range, hometown, or old homestead where they grew up, etc. They will also want to know the name of a place they have visited before or hope to see someday. Be sure to title the painting by location name if it is a famous landmark, national monument, or park. Lastly, if it is not familiar to many, viewers can still be curious enough to want to know the name.

Tip #4: Never name your painting “Untitled.” This can be a real deal stopper and a complete turn-off to a potential customer. Viewers and potential buyers will have difficulty believing your work has value if your piece is called “Untitled.” Titles do matter to an art buyer!

Furthermore, if you are selling online, “Untitled” won’t get you anywhere in the search engines. Try typing the keyword “untitled” in Google, DuckDuckGo, or some other search engine and see what the results are. You’ll have a hard time finding your masterpiece in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Page). It will be buried so deep your painting will never get found.

garden tomb painting
Garden Tomb at Sunset by Teresa Bernard

Tip #5: For specific genres, like portraits, landscapes,  historic events, etc., you might try the following:

    • Portraits — Include the individual’s name, and add the date and occupation.
    • Landscapes  —  Start with the location, maybe include the time of day, the season of the year, and perhaps the mood as well. Example: “The Garden Tomb at Sunset
    • Historic event  —  Name it by what the event is, such as “First Man on the Moon.”
Neil Armstrong astronaut painting
First Man on the Moon by Teresa Bernard

Tip #6: Start with the artwork’s focal point. This will usually be the most apparent element of the piece. Titling your painting after the focal point will help others understand your artwork better, especially if your piece is abstract.

Tip #7: Get others involved in the naming process. You can ask others for help naming your artwork or get their impressions on a title you are considering. What might sound like a clever title to you could be a total flop. Getting feedback from others will help you choose just the right name for your masterpiece.

Tip #8: For multiple pieces in a series of paintings, you might want to name them sequentially. For instance, if you wanted to do a series of snow paintings, they could be titled “Fence Post in the Snow #1”, “Fence Post in the Snow #2”, “Fence Post in the Snow #3,” etc. You get the idea. Or you can give them all similar names as I did in my Peggy’s Cove series. I simply named these “Peggy’s Cove,” “Return to Peggy’s Cove,” and “Peggy’s Cove Revisited.”

commissions Oil Paintings Index
Peggy’s Cove
by Teresa Bernard
Oil Paintings Index of fine art
Return To Peggy’s Cove by Teresa Bernard
commission Oil Paintings visual Index
Peggy’s Cove Revisited by Teresa Bernard

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Using Linear Perspective to Create Depth in Your Paintings

linear perspectiveLinear perspective is a rendering technique used by fine artists to create the illusion of depth on a flat surface. It is the most basic form of perspective in which parallel lines appear to converge in the distance at a vanishing point on the horizon line. (See illustration to the right.)

The technique is based on how the human eye perceives the world around us. Meaning objects closer to the viewer appear larger, while more distant objects appear to be getting smaller as they move away. Linear perspective comes into play when parallel lines that recede into the distance appear to get closer together as they converge at a vanishing point on the composition’s horizon line.

linear perspectiveThree basic elements must be present in a work of art to make linear perspective possible. These are a horizon line, a vanishing point, and convergence lines. If any one of these elements is missing, the illusion of depth is weak.

Horizon Line

The horizon line defines the farthest distance of the background and is the place where a central vanishing point is established. It is the level plane where the earth’s surface (or sea) and the sky appear to meet. The line at the top of mountains or buildings is not the horizon line; these objects “rest” on the horizon line.

The horizon line will ALWAYS be at eye level regardless of whether you are at ground level or standing on a mountain top. It changes as you change position. Sometimes hills, trees, and buildings, or other objects can hide it from view, but the horizon line will always be present.

Convergence Lines

Also called orthogonal lines, convergence lines are when sets of parallel lines appear to get closer together as they recede into the distance and meet at a single vanishing point. All parallel lines will eventually converge at a vanishing point. Sometimes they can even represent the edges of objects, and some objects can have more than one set of parallels lines. An example of this would be a box or cube. Depending on where it is viewed from, we can see one, two, or three sets of orthogonal lines.

Vanishing Point

The point on the horizon line where all parallel lines appear to recede and converge is called the vanishing point. It is helpful to note more than one vanishing point can be present. This is called two-point and three-point perspective. There will be two vanishing points when there are two sets of parallel lines that appear to converge. If there are three sets of parallel lines, then there will be three vanishing points. See “The Rules of Perspective Drawing” for more information.


  1. Create a rendering by drawing a straight highway or railroad track using a horizon line, vanishing point, and convergence lines.
  2. Use linear perspective to create depth in an illustration using a row of trees, a fence line, and telephone poles running alongside a road.

Additional Reading

Using Atmospheric Perspective To Create Depth in Your Paintings

The Rules of Perspective Drawing

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Using Atmospheric Perspective To Create Depth in Your Paintings

Art Terms Used

Atmospheric perspective (also known as aerial perspective) refers to the effect the atmosphere has on the appearance of an object as it is viewed from a distance. In art, and especially painting, artists attempt to mimic this effect to create depth or distance (three dimensions) on an otherwise two-dimensional (flat) surface.

Color saturation is a color’s purity of hue; it’s intensity.

The background is that part of a painting that appears to be farthest away from the viewer.

The horizon line is where the land (or sea) and sky appear to meet. This is an optical illusion, however. It’s an imaginary line to which things recede.

The middle ground is the part of a painting that lies between the background and the foreground.

The foreground is the part of the painting that appears to be closest to the viewer.

Creating Atmospheric Perspective

Atmospheric or aerial perspective is achieved when the illusion of depth is created by depicting distant objects as paler, less detailed, and usually bluer or grayer than objects close up. Some ways this illusion can be created are by using the following techniques.

size and placement in perspectiveSize and placement — Objects appear smaller as they move further away from the viewer towards the horizon line. Larger objects tend to appear closer and smaller ones tend to recede into the background. Also, related elements placed lower to the bottom of the canvas will appear to be closer to the viewer than those placed higher on the canvas.

overlapping objects in perspectiveOverlapping objects — The easiest and fastest way to create depth on a 2-D surface is to overlap objects. Partially covering one object with another gives an appearance of depth. This can be accomplished by allowing the contour of one element to slightly cover the shape of another, so it looks like one item is physically sitting in front of another.

color saturation in perspectiveColor — As objects recede or move off into the distance, the intensity of their color becomes less saturated and shifts towards the background color, which is usually a blue-gray middle value. Even bright whites and rich blacks tend toward medium gray and will eventually disappear into the background.

    • Foreground = objects are normal intense color.
    • Middle ground = the color would b a little lighter in tone and bluer
    • Far distance, horizon line, or background = colors would be much lighter and even bluer

Contrast — As the distance between an object and the foreground increases, the contrast between the object and its background will decrease.

Tone or Value — Objects further away will appear lighter than those up close. Using a lighter tone on what’s in the distance of a landscape painting immediately gives a sense of depth.

Spacing — Objects that are clustered closer together seem farther away. Also, horizontal lines will move closer or even converge (disappear) near the horizon line.

Focus — Objects tend to lose detail as they recede into the horizon. This does mean they are out of focus or blurry.


  1. Use atmospheric perspective to create depth in an illustration or painting of only two or more mountain ranges.
  2. Create depth in an illustration or painting of a field of sunflowers or another type of flower using “size and placement.”

Additional Reading

Using Linear Perspective to Create Perspective in Your Paintings

The Rules of Perspective Drawing

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10 Tips for Painting Mountains

tips for Painting Mountains
The Grand Teton Mountains by Teresa Bernard

Mountains have always been admired for their grandeur, which is one reason why they are a popular feature for artists to include in their landscape paintings.

If you’re an artist who wants to paint mountains, then these ten simple tips are for you.

Mountain Ranges You Can Paint

Mountains are popular with art buyers from all over the world. So much so that many top art galleries prefer to display oil paintings of landscapes featuring some popular mountain ranges.  With so many mountain ranges globally, artists will never run out of subjects for their mountain landscapes. Some famous mountain ranges you might want to consider painting are:

Mount Kilimanjaro Africa painting
Mount Kilimanjaro Rising by Teresa Bernard
    • Blue Ridge Mountains
    • The Canadian Rockies
    • Grand Tetons
    • Himalayas
    • Matterhorn
    • Mount Kilimanjaro
    • Rocky Mountains
    • Smokey Mountains
    • Swiss Alps
    • and numerous others

Painting Mountains From Your Imagination

mars landscape oil painting
Land Rover Tracks of Mars by Teresa Bernard

Or you might want to design a mountain range from your imagination. No hard and fast rule says it has to be an actual mountain that exists somewhere on earth. You could even paint a mountain range that is on some distant moon or planet. Olympus Mons, the highest mountain on Mars, for example. Of course, you would have to rely on some reference photos from NASA’s image gallery for something like that.

Here is a painting of an off-world landscape with a mountain range made up entirely from the artist’s imagination.

Tips for Painting Mountains

Tip #1 — Pay special attention to the mountain or mountain range profile you are painting. Especially if it is a recognizable landmark, every mountain has a unique feature and specific shape. Those who view your painting will recognize the scenery and will want to buy your painting as a result because it has some special meaning for them.

Tip #2 — As you are sketching the mountain onto your canvas, consider making it the dominating feature to show off its majesty. This can quickly be done by giving it the most space on the real estate of your canvas surface. This will reduce the surrounding supporting elements such as trees, lakes, sky, grass, wildlife, etc.

Tip #3 — As the distance between you and the mountain range increases, everything gets lighter in value. As the landscape hits the horizon line, the color is less saturated as it disappears into the distance and becomes closer in value to the sky color.

Tip #4 — When painting mountains that are off in the distance, be sure to employ atmospheric or aerial perspective to create a sense of depth. A faraway mountain range will usually appear lighter, hazier, and bluer as it gets further away.

Tip #5 —  The further away a mountain is, the less detail it will have. That means crevasses in the mountainside will become less defined, and you probably will not see any trees either.

Tip #6 — Tone is essential when painting mountains. The mountain will be a pale tone near the top and will have a deeper tone at its base. This will help to give the mountain depth.

Tip #7 — As a general rule, try to arrange the shape of your mountains, so they slope into the picture and not out. This will help direct the viewer’s eye into the painting as they follow the outline of the mountain.

Tip #8 — Try to blur the outline of the furthest mountain into the sky. You can blur it more than you would initially think as the viewer will “create” the shape of the mountain in their mind’s eye.

Tip #9 — To create a sense of depth in your landscape painting, paint your mountain ranges in layers going from those that are the furthest away to those closest. The mountains that are furthest away should be painted first. They should be the lightest, haziest, and possess the least amount of detail. Next, add another range of mountains closer to you. These would be placed in front of the first mountain range. They would be more intense in color and have more details than the previous range, but not as much as the next range to be added. Continue doing this until you have all your mountains in place. Layering various additional elements in your painting’s foreground will help give distance and perspective to the mountain range in the background.

Tip #10 — Not all mountains resemble inverted cones; many are lopsided, pyramidal, or even flat on top. Some have snow caps, while others do not. Add interest to your mountains by varying their contour, texture, and color.

Additional Reading

The Rules of Perspective Drawing

Using Atmospheric Perspective to Create Depth in Your Paintings

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Making and Using a Viewfinder to Compose Better Paintings

What is a Viewfinder?

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 viewfinder is a tool used by a painter that performs a similar function. Artists use these devices as an aid to organizing 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 viewfinder opening, move it around slowly on the surface of your snapshot 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 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 frame and crop out unimportant areas of an image. These 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 attractive focal point that can be used to begin creating your painting. 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 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. This instrument will give the artist an idea of how an arrangement might 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 artist viewfinders can be used in either portrait (vertical) or landscape (horizontal) position. This allows the artist to use 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 composition’s width 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.

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Using a Grid to Enlarge and Transfer an Image to Canvas

The Grid Enlarging Technique

There is a simple technique used by great artists every day to create sensational works of art. The best part is you don’t have to be skilled in drawing to achieve extraordinary results when using this method. 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 become beautiful 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, grid enlarging 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 regularly to enlarge and transfer compositions they desire to paint to a canvas as part of prepping it for painting. This entails drawing a grid on your reference image and then drawing another grid on your canvas of equal or greater proportion. Then, one square at a time, you draw the picture onto your canvas, concentrating on the contents of each square until the image is complete.

Just about everyone knows what a grid is; however, if you don’t, a grid is a series of equally spaced horizontal and vertical lines that intersect to form a boxed pattern. It serves to divide the original image into smaller blocks to see what goes where more easily. Grid enlarging is a valuable 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. It is important that the image and the canvas be in 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 the article titled “Making and Using a Viewfinder to Compose Better Paintings.”

Step 2 — The most important thing to keep in mind when drawing your grids is they must be in 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 in your picture.

using a grid for enlarging an imageStep 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.

Be sure to draw the grid very lightly to 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.

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

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 and ignore all the others until the one is completed and it is time to copy the next block to canvas. The reason you should focus on only one block at a time is so that you will end up drawing what is actually there – what your eye sees – rather than what you think should 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 the drawing and start over from the point where you went off-grid.

An excellent 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 and begin your oil painting.

A helpful online tool you can use to draw your grids is by ArtTutor. Here is the link.

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Two Composition Techniques to Use In Your Paintings

There are two composition techniques you can use that will help you to create great paintings. They are rebatment of the rectangle and the golden ratio.

Composition is how you arrange various elements in your painting to create a pleasing and eye-catching arrangement. It is paramount to whether or not your painting will be a strong and interesting work or a weak and disordered one. When the composition is done well, you do not notice it so much. 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 feels awkward.

Creating a good composition will be challenging initially, and you will have to work at producing a strong one; however, it will become second nature with practice. Here are two easy composition techniques that you can use to improve your oil paintings dramatically.

Rabatment of The Rectangle

Composition Techniques
Rabatment of The Rectangle

One method 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 equal to the short side of the rectangle. In other words, it is the perfect square that is 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. See diagram.

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 the focal point is not located directly in the center of your canvas.

rabatment exampleWhen you use this simple technique to compose your oil paintings, you are more likely to create a unified, harmonious, and balanced composition.

In your next painting try enclosing the main center of interest inside the rabatment square. 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

The golden ratio is the next composition technique we’ll discuss, and it’s a little more complicated than the first. It is a mathematical ratio found in nature that can be used in a painting to create pleasing, harmonious proportions. 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 are called the Golden Number, Divine Proportion, Golden Proportion, Divine Section, Golden Cut, Fibonacci Number, and Phi (pronounced “fie”).

Composition Techniques
The Golden Ratio

The golden ratio isn’t merely a definition; it’s an actual ratio of 1:1.618. A simple way to demonstrate this ratio 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.

golden ratio exampleThe golden ratio can 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 aren’t created by chance. They necessitate a great deal of thought, planning, patience, and visual familiarity. It should, however, become easier for you if you use these composition techniques.

Additional Reading

Creating Better Compositions In All Your Paintings

Principles of Good Design: An Introduction

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

Artist Reference Photos — Part 2

In Reference Photos, Part 1, we learned about the advantages of using reference photos as resource material for your compositions in painting. In this continuation of part 1, part 2 covers where artists can go to find good sources of reference images and copyright issues when using them.

Where do I find good reference photos for artists?

There are many places where you can find great resource pictures to refer to while painting. The most obvious (and most preferred) place is by taking these photographs yourself. When you are the photographer, you will never have to worry about copyright infringement. Another source is old family photo albums. Pictures of family vacations can be an excellent source for painting landscapes of places visited and bring back many fond memories.

Another way to find reference pictures for your paintings or drawings is to look for them on the internet. However, you must first get the photographer’s permission to use them. Do an Internet using the term “reference photos for artists,” and you will find quite a few websites such as Pixabay, Pexels, and Public Domain Archive, to name just a few, which have photos you can use free for reference material. The photographer has granted permission to use their images on these sites as long as certain conditions are met.

In addition, there are several groups on various social media platforms that you can join which provide free reference photos and other resource materials for artists to use.

reference photos for artistsPhoto reference books for artists are also available for purchase at your local art store, bookstore, or even online. They contain images of landscapes, sky, water, wildlife, and others. These images are all copyright-free as long as you use them according to the terms specified.

What About Copyright?

Any photo or illustration you find in books, magazines, newspapers, and even on the internet is protected by copyright law. However, suppose you use one of those images as resource material for a painting by copying it exactly, and you do this without the copyright owner’s permission. In that case, it is considered copyright infringement, and that is illegal.

If you want to use reference images in your works of art, you will need to:

    • First, obtain permission from the owner of the copyright. As a cutesy, consider giving the photographer credit for the resource photo you use.
    • Use images that have become public domain. An image becomes public domain when the copyright has run out. This happens when the original creator has been dead for more than seventy years. If you Google “public domain images,” you will find plenty of sources for free images that may be used. Or you could look at
    • Make significant changes to the reference image to create an original work of art. The best way to use reference photos is to have multiple images to work from. You might prefer to use various elements from several different photos and combine them to create a new and interesting composition for the best results. Feel free to take artistic license by repositioning the components in the different images to accomplish this. When combining photographs, be careful that the various elements in your painting are unified by making sure your light source, color temperature, value relationships, and relative scale are consistent with each other.

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

What are reference photos?

Reference PhotosReference photos are simply a collection of images used by visual artists for inspiration and as raw material to create their compositions from. They are handy tools and an excellent resource for artists to work from. When used as resource material, reference images can be of any living or inanimate object, a place or location, an animal, plant life, or an individual. They come in handy when it isn’t feasible for the artist to be there in person and observe the element or subject matter they want to paint or draw.

Reference Photos For Artists

There are several reasons why an artist would want to use reference images:

1. A good reference photograph can take an artist to any location in the world without leaving home. Sometimes artists do not have the means to travel to faraway or exotic places to paint a particular area or location. And for others, it might not be possible to go out on location day after day with a canvas, easel, and paint box in tow. Reference photos make it easier for the painter to go anywhere without having to travel there. They are also a convenient way to avoid having to brave the elements in some cases.

2. Resource images allow the artist to capture and preserve the moment. I know of an artist commissioned by an upscale seafood restaurant to do a painting for their main entrance. He set up a still life using real fish and other types of seafood in the setting. He then took a photograph of his composition to paint from. I can only imagine what that fish would have looked and smelled like after a few days of painting! The resource photo he took allowed him to work on his painting without worrying about his props smelling fishy.

Another artist I know loves painting flowers; however, fresh flowers start to fade after a few days. She takes a picture of them that she can refer to repeatedly while painting her flowers. The image makes it possible for her to finish the painting with bright, fresh-looking flowers instead of faded and wilted ones.

3. Reference pictures come in handy for the sheer convenience of them. If an artist is painting from a live model, taking a photo of the pose will mean he or she can paint when it is inconvenient for the model to be in the studio. Many portrait artists often work this way.

As you can see, resource images are great tools for busy artists. However, some artists frown at the notion that a fellow artist would ever use reference photographs to compose from. They believe the appropriate way to do it is to make on-the-spot sketches when they go out on location. While this may be the ideal way of working, the reality is many artists don’t always have the time to make the necessary detailed drawings that would be required for studio work.

Ever since the camera was first invented, many famous painters whom you will recognize have used photographs to paint from. Such renowned artists include Edgar Degas, Paul Cezanne, Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso, Toulouse Lautrec, and Vincent Van Gogh, to name but a handful. If you use reference photos too, this puts you in excellent company.

To Be Continued…

This article is continued in Reference Photos, Part 2.

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Creating Depth on a Flat Surface

Creating Depth On A Flat Surface

The painting above effectively conveys the illusion of depth on a flat surface.

Depth is a basic building block of all visual art. What makes it such an important element is that it creates a strong sense of reality in a painting. It can be defined as the illusion of distance or three-dimension on a two-dimensional or flat surface. A lack of depth in a composition means it will be less than lifelike. Therefore one can see just how important creating depth on a flat surface is.

Creating Depth

Primary techniques an artist can use to create depth in a painting are (1) layering and overlapping, (2) changing size and placement, (3) linear perspective, and (4) relative color, hue, and value. Let me explain each of these.

Layering and overlapping are placing one or more elements in front of another element to create the illusion of depth in the composition. Objects that appear in front of others seem nearer, while those behind seem further away. This method is the strongest way of creating depth, and it will override all other signs when there is a seeming conflict.

Changing size and placement is another method artists use to create a sense of depth in a painting. This technique states that larger objects appear closer and smaller objects appear further away. Also, objects positioned at the bottom of the painting appear to be in front, and those at the top appear to be in the back.

Linear perspective allows artists to give the impression of depth by the property of parallel lines converging in the distance at infinity. An example of this would be standing on a straight road, looking down the road, and noticing the road narrows as it goes off in the distance. The point of infinity is what is called a vanishing point. These lines don’t actually need to be visible, though they can be. The objects in the composition can also imply them.

For more information about using perspective to add dimension to your paintings, read the article titled The Rules of Perspective Drawing.

Relative color, hue, and value can also add the illusion of depth.

    • Darker colors look closer to the viewer, and lighter colors look further away.
    • Colors that are close in value seem close to each other, and strongly contrasting colors appear to separate.
    • Warm, bright colors (red-orange, yellow) seem to advance toward the foreground, and cool, dark colors (blue and bluish green and purple) seem to recede into the background.
    • Saturated colors seem to advance, and low-saturated colors seem to recede.

Other things to consider are:

Lighting and Shading — Light adds depth by casting external shadows. It also shows depth in how it acts over the surface of one object. The closer to the light source, the brighter the surface is with more reflected light.

Cast and drop shadows are another common way to add depth. Reflections work similarly in that a reflection appears on a different surface. The illusion of depth can be increased by making the shadow larger and lighter and further away from the object. Blurring the edges of shadows also increases the illusion of depth.

Focus, Texture, and Detail — Objects that are more detailed, sharper in focus, and more textured appear closer, while those with less detail, blurred, or little or no texture are perceived as far away.

*Click for more information about the basic elements of art.

Additional Reading

Using Atmospheric Perspective to Create Depth in Your Paintings

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