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Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Headless Burros" How to Use Reference Photos

Photo by Tina Jones "Headless Burrow"

Using photos as a reference. If it's not believable in the photo, it won't be believable in paint. This particular photo is an extreme situation to show how "off" something can look. The rear burro turned his head to nibble/scratch at his far side just as I snapped the photo, and now appears headless. If I wanted to shock scare people, I'd paint it as is. If not, I'd use another photo.
   I take ten to twenty reference photos for each subject, because people and animals move, light changes and what looks normal at a glance may not upon later inspection.
  •    The photo is where I choose composition. Usually, I get something workable in the initial shot, but often I crop the photo. In this case, I'd rather the burrows be toward the left side, so I'd crop an inch or two off of the left side of the photo. This is my planning stage.
  • Do I want the burro/burros center top to bottom?
  • Do I want to omit the far burrow or use another reference photo for that one? 
  • Should I move the bottom of the fence? It creates a dead-center line in this compostion. Center is often dull to the eye. Placement of that line at 1/3 from the bottom or top makes for more interest in composition.
  • Do I want the ground shadows as is? I look at shadows on the ground/surface as part of the composition. Do I want them as is, or would omitting some make for a more cohesive piece?
  • Much of the shadow here is cast from a nearby tree. Will it be believable as is, or might I put only shadows under the burrows for better composition?
  • What about the lone vertical steak on the fence? Is it adding anything to my idea of painting the burrows? Might it be ommitted? Might this work without the fence altogether?
  • Do I want to paint the grass, or might this burrow look ok in a desert, among rocks or sipping water?
   These are some questions I encourage you to ask yourself about your reference photos. Be critical of them. I use reference photos as a sort of shopping list of what I'd like in my painting, taking what I like and leaving the rest. Following is a quick, loose sketch to show how I chose to place the burro on my canvas.

 Burro Composition Sketch in Acrylic

Happy Painting!
tina jones


  1. Nice post Tina...
    Also... the burro you've made looks so adorable! :-)

  2. Thankyou, Priya. I love these little creatures. smiles.