Saturday, January 31, 2009

House Portrait - Preliminary Work

This week I finished a house portrait commission. I thought I would share some information on my process in case it would be useful to anyone working on a similar project.

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.


Anita said...

how brave of you to take on a challenge like this. I've once been given a really bad photo and been asked to do a portrait - NEVER again. Now I either insist on taking the photos myself or I am very strict and say no to bad reference pictures.
Looks like you are going to win this one. Will be waiting to see the finished picture.

Jeanette said...

You've had to do a lot of homework on this prior to a final piece. I hope your price reflects that work.

Bad photos are the bane of artists and sometimes a silk purse just can't be made out of a sow's ear.

Stacy said...

Anita, I hear you about bad reference photos, that's why I normally take my own. Luckily for this I had a lot of decent photos just not the exact view I wanted. And I had a very understanding client who, at my request, checked my progress along the way and gave her input. Of course I was still relieved when she was pleased with the final painting.

Jeanette, I took the prelim work into consideration when pricing, but honestly what I learned working through this process was worth just as much to me. Biggest lesson - Doing the up front work really pays off! (I know I've learned that one before, but it seems to be a lesson that needs to be repeated or I forget about it.)

Mary said...

Stacy, another one of your wonderful house portraits, I so admire those of you that can do this type of work.

Jennifer Rose said...

You colour guide looks nice, the shadows look right and the foliage is well done. looking forward to seeing the final :)

(and I love live search maps. we can see how the yard to our flat looked like before we moved in and get a better idea of the layout of the area. If the photos were taken now, it would be hard to recognize our yard)

Anonymous said...

Stacy, I'm glad you went to school to be an enginerd. It pays of in your way of thinking. This is so interesting and your scketches are really good.
Love Dad.

JoAnn said...

Great work. Looks wonderful.

GoogleMaps now has street views for some areas of the US. I can see a front-on photo of my daughter's house!

Did your client ever consider asking an old neighbor/friend in the area or the new owner to take some photos?

I once did that for a friend who moved away....she wanted a painting done. She had some photos, but wanted some taken in early spring. So I did them.

Stacy said...

Thanks Mary!

Thanks Jennifer! I didn't get the final painting photographed today because I got caught up in a drawing. Tomorrow's questionable too, but hopefully by Wed. I like looking at my own house on the maps too and admit I had a fun time putting in family members addresses my first time to the website. :)

Thanks Dad! At least that education paid off for something -- oh, make that two things -- I had to use it to help the kids with their homework tonight. Honest.

Thank you JoAnn! I didn't know that Google maps had the pictures now too. I'll have to check them out. And what a great idea to ask neighbors or friends in the area for new pictures. Unfortunately, neither one of us thought of that, but I'm writing it down in case I'm ever in a similar situation!

bluelilac said...

Hi Stacy
I have been following your journey on this project. Now I see why you have been so excited about this one.
Oh! And the live search information is so great to know about. Thanks for telling us about the process.
It is looking mighty fine.

Robyn said...

Good heavens, Stacy. Now I see what you had to go through to paint the house. You're amazing!

Ramana KV said...

This is beautiful.. Like the depth created by the colors..