For previous house portrait commissions, I traveled to the property and photographed it myself making sure to take many pictures from different angles. Obviously I would take pictures from a distance so I could capture the entire structure, but I also snapped some close-ups so I would have information on details that might be fuzzier in the wide shots.
However, the commission which I just finished presented a unique challenge. My client no longer lives in the home they wanted painted, and the home is located in another state, many hours from either of us. So I had to make due with the pictures the client had on hand.
Unfortunately, the client didn't have any pictures from the angle we wanted for the painting. And in fact didn't have any pictures at all of the right hand side of the house! Also, the photo with the best lighting was a close up of a small portion of the front of the house. What's an artist to do?
I decided that despite (or maybe because of) the challenges I wanted to give this project a try. The first thing I did was explain the challenges and schedule reviews with the client. At these review points we would both have to agree we wanted to proceed.
Next I asked for as many photos as the client had. More information is always better than less. When we realized that we didn't have a single picture of the right hand side of the house, the client offered a unique solution... Live Search Maps. These maps show satellite pictures combined with maps.
From the Live Search Maps home page, you can enter the address of interest into the search bar at the top of the page and click the green search button. This brings up a map of your requested location. To see the photos, zoom in as far as possible using the magnifier button with the + sign. Next click the Bird's eye button at the top of the map. Now click on each directional letter (the letter, not the arrow) on the compass in the top left hand corner of the map to see a view of the property from that direction.
Obviously the satellite views are not as good as taking your own pictures, but they are pretty amazing considering they are shot from outer space. And they are a heck of a lot better than nothing! Without this online tool I don't think I could have painted the house from the angle the client and I chose.
Since I was working from several different references, I decided that I needed to do some preliminary work before jumping into the final piece. In addition to an accurate line drawing (which took every bit of perspective knowledge that I had!), I decided to also create a shadow guide. I felt this was important because my lighting reference photo did not show the entire house. This is the quick shadow reference that I drew.
8" x 4" graphite drawing
I also painted a small color guide, since I was pulling my colors from several different references. I felt a smaller preliminary painting was a good way to test if the colors would look consistent. Below is my color reference.
7.5" x 4.5" watercolor
Creating these two preliminary pieces helped me avoid some problems in the finished painting and really got me familiar with the property before moving on to the larger painting. In my next post I'll talk about some of the changes I made from these study pieces, and I'll show you the finished painting so you can judge the success of this approach for yourself.