Monday, January 25, 2010

Finding People to Paint

"The Baker"  8x10"
Lucien Freud takes months and even years to paint a large portrait and his model is in the studio for almost the entire painting time.  But Freud's work sells for millions of dollars and he can afford to pay the hourly model rates.  Most of us aren't so blessed.
So what's a painter to do if she's inspired by the human body but can't afford to hire a body to pose on a regular basis?
There are, of course, places where artists can go and draw or paint models in a group setting, usually one evening a week.  These groups are great for working on proportion and gesture but I find it impossible to get really inspired and absorbed in a room full of distractions. 
My recourse is to take photos of people: some that I know and some that I don't.
My children are a huge source of reference images for me as they play and explore their world.  The nice thing about photographing them is that they have grown used to having my camera trained on them and are very unselfconscious.  They carry on swinging, wading and playing as if I'm not there and that makes for some wonderfully natural pictures. 
I also take pictures of people in public places.  This is a varied, if unreliable source of material and you have to take a lot of shots to get one good reference.  American painter, Karin Jurick takes many thousands of photos every year to gather the images for her lively paintings of people going about their daily lives.
My camera is small and unobtrusive and I never point it in an obvious way, just aim it in the general direction of crowds in markets or at outdoor events.  Later I can zoom in here and there and see if there's someone of interest.  In most cases there isn't, but occasionally I find someone who has an arresting gesture, expression or light pattern.  Sometimes, as a student of mine found out in one of her reference photos, the arresting gesture is a rude one as someone in the crowd noticed what she was doing. 
The image above is of a serene, young baker that I was lucky enough to photograph in a New York bakery.

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