Four Very Basic Tips For Painting Or Drawing Landscapes From Photos (With An Example)

2014 Artwork Landscapes From Photos article Sketch

Well, although I’ve copied quite a few old paintings and practised copying photographs over the past three or four months, I’d never really tried painting landscapes from photographs until a couple of weeks ago when I decided to make a series of watercolour pencil paintings based on some old photos I took of Aberystwyth in 2009 (as well as my memories of this amazing town).

Although I still consider myself an absolutely beginner when it comes to painting landscapes from photos, I’ve learnt a bit from simply practising it repeatedly and from some of the skills I’ve picked up from copying old paintings. So, if you’re completely new to this, then I can provide four basic tips which might come in handy.

For the examples in this article, I will be using a painting from my “Aberystwyth Series” called “Aberystwyth – Gloom Descends” – which is based on this old photo that I took of the Old College and the Pier:

Well, at least a smaller version of the original photo...

Well, at least a smaller version of the original photo…

And here’s the final painting (after some rather hefty digital editing):

"Aberystwyth - Gloom Descends" By C. A. Brown

“Aberystwyth – Gloom Descends” By C. A. Brown

So, let’s get started:

1) Use a ruler: If you’re drawing or painting from a photograph, then a ruler is essential. No, not for drawing perfectly straight lines, but for working out proportions.

Unless the paper or canvas that you’re working on is the exact same size and aspect ratio as your photograph, then you are going to have to scale things down or scale things up so that they will still look vaguely the right size. So, how do you do this?

Simple – firstly, you measure the height and width of your paper or canvas. Then you take a look at your photo and work out roughly how tall, wide or long the key parts of your photo are in terms of fractions (eg: “that building is half the height of the photo”, “The edge of that mountain is one quarter of the width of the photo away from the edge of the photo” etc..)

Once you’ve worked these fractions out, then take a look at the measurements of your paper or canvas and divide them accordingly (use a calculator if you have to – it isn’t cheating). This will give you the approximate height and/or width that the key parts of your painting should be. Here’s an example from my original sketch for my painting:

Obviously, your own sketch will look different to this unfinished sketch. But I hope this gives you a good idea of what to do.

Obviously, your own sketch will look different to this unfinished sketch. But I hope this gives you a good idea of what to do.

2) Outlines: There’s an excellent book called “Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain” by Betty Edwards which explores this whole subject in much more detail. But, for people new to copying pictures by eye, it can be difficult to work out how to draw everything realistically (eg: so that it looks like it’s 3D).

The thing to remember here is that, although a photo is a picture of a three-dimensional scene – it is actually only a flat two-dimensional image. And so is the paper or canvas you are drawing or painting on.

So, don’t feel daunted about working out how to make your picture look 3D – after all, the photograph itself has done all of this work for you.

All you have to do is to look at the basic outlines of everything in the photograph and – however strange they may look – try to copy them accurately. Remember, these outlines are what a three-dimesional scene looks like when it’s “squashed” into two dimensions.

Likewise, pay careful attention to the exact angle of every line in the flat two-dimensional photograph in front of you. If you need to use a protractor, then use one – but try to copy the angles of these lines as precisely as you can.

Don’t worry, after quite a bit of practice – drawing “three-dimensional” pictures will become almost second nature to you.

Once you’ve copied the outlines and lines, you should end up with something which looks vaguely like this:

The lineart for "Aberystwyth- Gloom Descends".

The lineart for “Aberystwyth- Gloom Descends”.

Well done, you’ve already finished the most difficult part of painting from a photograph.

3) Simplification and accuracy: Remember, if people want a totally accurate depiction of somewhere, then they can look at the original photo.

As an artist, you have a lot more room to be inaccurate. As long as your painting vaguely resembles the photo you’re copying, then you’ve done well. People who know the location shown in the photo will still recognise it and people who don’t will probably still appreciate your painting on it’s own merits.

If you have to change a few things to make your painting better, then change them (eg: in my painting, I had to “squash” the Old College building slightly in order to fit it onto the page). Since your painting doesn’t have to be as accurate as the photo you’re copying, then you need to focus on what works best in artistic terms – even if it isn’t completely accurate.

Likewise, don’t worry about copying every tiny detail of every part of the photo. Just copy the important details and fill in the really small details with simple shapes, squiggles etc… which look vaguely like the details in question.

I’ve written about this in another article but, when it comes to small details, never underestimate the fact that your audience’s imaginations will often “fill in the gaps” as long as the main parts of your picture are clearly recognisable.

4) Know when to use your imagination: Finally, if you’ve got an idea of how to make your painting look cooler or more interesting than the original photo, then follow it.

Part of the art of painting a landscape is knowing when to just copy things and when to add something new.

For example, the photo which “Aberystwyth – Gloom Descends” is based on is a very … .well… grey photo. To me at least, this colour scheme is about as dull as you can get.

Grey... lots of grey...

Grey… lots of grey…

Whilst I liked the gloominess of the original photo, I wanted my painting to stand out a bit more – so I changed the colour scheme very slightly and added some orange and yellow to the sky and made everything slightly brighter.

See what I mean?

See what I mean?

Although it isn’t entirely “accurate”, it makes the painting into something better than just a simple copy of the original photo.

Just remember, if someone wants an exact copy of a photo, then they can use a photocopier or a computer. If someone wants a piece of art based on a photo, then they’re looking for something more than this. So, don’t be afraid to use your imagination.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful :)

Today’s Art (19th April 2014)

Well, I’m still making one larger painting per day (rather than two smaller ones) and, although today’s painting required quite a bit of digital editing after I scanned it, I’m quite proud of how it turned out :)

"Star-Crossed Lovers" By C. A. Brown

“Star-Crossed Lovers” By C. A. Brown

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

Follow Your Strangeness And You’ll Find Originality

Yes, I think that floppy disks are cool....

Yes, I think that floppy disks are cool….

I’ve probably mentioned all of this in other articles before, but it bears repeating (partly because I’m terrible at following my own advice). You’ve probably heard it said that there are no original stories or truly original forms of art. This is true.

Not only is every creative work influenced by the many other creative works that the artist or author has seen read, listened to etc… throughout their life, there’s also the fact that everything has been done before.

Until someone invents a functioning holodeck or discovers a totally new type of emotion, then everything has been done. There are already stories out there that can elicit every emotion that you can imagine (from laughter to abject terror).

Over the history of humanity, there have been billions of stories written, billions of paintings made, billions of films made and probably millions of videogames too. Whatever art form you choose, there will be lots of people who have already done everything possible with it.

So, if you try to be totally, completely 100% original – you will fail. It is a fact.

Unless you’ve spent your entire life in a cave with no contact whatsoever with any form of human culture – you can’t produce anything completely original. Even if you somehow manage to spend your entire life in a cave, then your cave paintings may well look fairly similar to existing pre-historic cave paintings.

So, if it’s impossible to be totally original – how do you stand out from the crowd? How do you make your work unique?

Simple. You follow your strangeness.

How do you do this? There are a lot of ways:

You can add the parts of your personality that you’re afraid to express around other people to your art. You can tell stories about the kinds of characters that you, and you alone, can relate to. You can allow your own art style to develop (rather than, say, just using a widely-used style like manga art).

You can draw or paint the kinds of pictures that you think are cool (regardless of what anyone else thinks). You can tell stories and make comics that you can geek out about. You can express your own unique worldview in the things you create.

You can look at the unique and eclectic mixture of stories and/or art that you like, you can work out exactly what makes you like them so much and then you can create something which includes as much of this as possible.

There are lots of ways to add your own “strangeness” to what you create.

The fact is that we are all unique people and, to some extent or other, we all contain something which other people would consider “strange”. This is a good thing. If something is strange, then that also means that it’s new. It means it’s something that other people either haven’t seen before or don’t know much about.

If there was nothing strange in the world, then just think about what a terrifyingly dreary and robotic place the world would be. Just think about what it would be like if everything and everyone was “ordinary”. It’d probably look something like this.

So, although every type of story has been told before and anything you create will inevitably be influenced by something or other, you can make it your own by adding your own strangeness to it. Your own unique blend of interests, your unique sense of humour, your strange philosophical beliefs, your unique personality etc….

There may only be a certain number of basic stories in existence, but there are an infinite number of unique ways to tell those stories.

A bowl of fruit may look like a bowl of fruit, but if you got two artists to paint it – then both paintings would probably look different in some way or another, even though they’re painting the same thing.

So, don’t worry about being original. Just make sure to put enough of your own “strangeness” in whatever you create and you’ll stand out from the crowd (or, at the very least, attract a like-minded fanbase).


Anyway, I hope that this was useful :)

Today’s Art (18th April 2014)

Well, I was still in an art nouveau mood when I made today’s watercolour pencil painting. I’m not sure if I’ll stick with making one A4-size painting a day or whether I’ll go back to making two A5-sized paintings a day (I don’t know, at the moment, I prefer the space and quality of A4).

I don’t know, I was trying to create something vaguely reminscent of those old French calendars and I’m quite proud of how “Avril” turned out (even if had to do a lot of digital editing after I scanned it).

"Avril" By C. A. Brown

“Avril” By C. A. Brown

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

Four Tips For Clothing Designs In Your Comics (With Examples)

2014 Artwork Fashion design article replacement sketch

Although I don’t make anywhere near as many comics as I did last year (and I got about 22 pages into my most recent one before I ended up abandoning it), I was thinking about the subject of clothing designs in comics recently and I thought that I could offer a few useful tips. Four to be precise.

Although I’ll mostly be focusing on fashion designs in comics in this article, pretty much everything here can also be applied to ordinary art too.

So, let’s get started:

1) Keep it simple:

For example, Jadzia Strange's outfit consists of four colours and various types of stripes.

For example, Jadzia Strange’s outfit consists of four colours and various types of stripes.

If you’re making a comic, then you will probably be drawing the same characters over and over again. As such, it’s usually a good idea to try to make your fashion designs as simple as you can to both save you time and to ensure that your character’s clothes look fairly consistent throughout the comic (since, for example, it’s easier to draw two simple tops that look identical than it is to draw two virtually identical complex, asymmetrical tops with lots of appliqué , patterns etc… on them ).

Yes, this will limit you very slightly – but not as much as you might think. After all, most forms of clothing have relatively simple outlines and shapes. Not only that, most complex patterns can be replaced by similar (but simpler) ones.

Remember – it’s better to have a character wear simpler, but more consistent, clothes in every panel on a page of your comic than it is for your character to wear complicated, but slightly different clothes in every panel.

2) Avoid real logos, brand names etc…:

The first panel of my unfinished (and possibly abandoned) dystopic sci-fi comic contains a few generic T-shirt designs.

The first panel of my unfinished (and possibly abandoned) dystopic sci-fi comic contains a few generic T-shirt designs.

Although the copyright status of actual fashion designs themselves is slightly complicated (and varies from country to country – so do your research. Disclaimer – I am not a lawyer), the situation seems to be slightly more clear with logos and brand names.

Virtually all brand names and logos are trademarked – whilst this means that you can still theoretically use them in your art and comics, you have to be very careful to make sure that you aren’t misrepresenting the brand in any way or passing your work off as something that is endorsed by the brand in question. Again, I’m not a lawyer, so do your own research here.

But, to save yourself a lot of research and trademark-related paranoia, it’s usually best to stick to fictional logos, brand names etc… in your art and comics.

Likewise, with T-shirt designs (eg: band T-shirts etc..) – the T-shirt itself might not be copyrighted or trademarked, but the art printed on it will probably be covered by copyright and/or trademarks. So, if you’re including pictures on your character’s T-shirts, then design them yourself.

Yes, your fictional designs and logos can be similar to real logos, T-shirt designs and brands(since you’re drawing or painting a picture, not making a piece of clothing – so counterfeiting rules probably don’t apply) and they can even be parodies of real brands, but they should be different.

3) Do your research:

If you’re already interested in fashion, then you’ve probably done this already. In fact, you may be lucky enough not to have to look further than your own wardrobe for research material. But, if you’re totally clueless about all the wonderful fashion styles out there, then do your research and collect reference material.

Look in magazines (if you don’t feel like buying a glossy magazine, then most newspapers – at least in the UK – usually come with a style supplement on weekends and a daily fashion page of some kind or another), look on Google Images, watch TV and look at what everyone is wearing etc….

The fact that almost everyone wears clothes most of the time means that the media and the internet is absolutely crammed with research material which will help you to see what does and doesn’t work when it comes to fashion designs.

4) Good artists borrow… …and great artists steal, or so goes the famous quote. Obviously, it isn’t a good idea to just directly copy an outfit you’ve seen in a magazine or on TV, but don’t be afraid to take inspiration from any great outfits that you see.

Just make sure that you change enough elements of the design and add enough new things and enough of your own imagination to it in order to make it into something new and distinctive.

Yes, you can probably allude to the original outfit quite heavily – but be sure to use your imagination too. Not only is this good practice, it also gives you an opportunity to make whatever improvements you feel should have been made to the original design in order to make it look even cooler.

To give you an example of what I mean, here’s a piece of copyright-free clipart from this site:

A piece of public domain clipart from

A piece of public domain clipart from

Now, here’s an outfit design I came up with, which was heavily inspired by the outfit in the clipart picture. I’ve changed the colour scheme of the outfit, shrunk the hat slightly (and added a hatband) and I’ve also added a pattern, lapels and a pocket to the jacket:

My slightly different version of this outfit.

My slightly different version of this outfit.

Although the outfit in the clipart picture was the starting point for this outfit and I’ve only made a few changes, it’s been turned into something slightly different from (and I would argue better) just a simple copy of the original design.

Likewise, it’s also good practice to combine elements from several outfits that inspire you, rather than just being inspired by one outfit. Basically, the more things you take inspiration from and the more changes you make, the more likely it will be that you’ll come up with something interesting and distinctive.

So, remember – it’s ok to be inspired by current fashion designs. Just be sure to use your own imagination too.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful :)

“Aberystwyth Series” – The Next Painting :)

Well, although my “Aberystwyth Series” will be going on hiatus for at least a few days (and it probably won’t be a daily series when/if it returns), I’m really proud of today’s Aberystwyth painting :)

"Aberystwyh - Memories Of The Hill" By C. A. Brown

“Aberystwyh – Memories Of The Hill” By C. A. Brown

Aberystwyth – Memories Of The Hill” is a painting based on my memories of Penglais Hill in Aberystwyth and, although I probably got quite a few details wrong, it turned out surprisingly well :)

Today’s Art (17th April 2014)

Well, it’s exactly two years to the day since I decided to start making art on a daily basis. Since 17th April 2012, I’ve made over 2000 drawings, comic pages and paintings and I’ve learnt a hell of a lot in the process.

So, I thought that I’d continue my yearly tradition of re-drawing (well, actually painting this time round) the first picture I made after I made this decision. And, for comparison, I’ll include the other two versions of it too.

As usual, these three pictures are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"The Important Question (III)" By C. A. Brown

“The Important Question (III)” By C. A. Brown

In case you’re puzzled by the dialogue in “The Important Question (III)“, it’s basically a reference to the fact that there is an official or unofficial version of “Doom” for virtually every piece of computer technology in existence.

Anyway, here are the other two versions of this picture from 2013 and 2012. Enjoy :)

"The Important Question (II)" By C. A. Brown [17th April 2013]

“The Important Question (II)” By C. A. Brown
[17th April 2013]

"The Important Question" By C. A. Brown [17th April 2012]

“The Important Question” By C. A. Brown [17th April 2012]