Three Tips For Choosing Good Photos (That You’ve Taken) To Make Paintings Of

Well, I thought that I’d talk about making art based on photos again today. This was mostly because, out of the hundred or so photos I took on one photo-taking expedition, I could only find about four or five that seemed worth turning into paintings.

Whereas, on a shorter impromptu expedition to Westbrook a few hours before I wrote the first draft of this article, I ended up with dramatic photos like these:

This is a photo of the motorway bridge near Westbrook that I took a day or two after the “mini beast” snowstorm last March. It looks a bit like something from “Twin Peaks” 🙂

This is another photo from the same day. Expect a painting based on it to appear here on the 15th February.

So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips about choosing which photos (that you’ve taken) to turn into paintings:

1) Light and shadow: Generally, a dramatic-looking painting will have a good contrast between light and shadow. My personal rule (which I’ve found far more difficult, if not impossible sometimes, to follow when making paintings based on photos) is that at least 30-50% of the total surface area of the painting should be covered in black paint. This makes all of the colours stand out more by contrast.

As such, look for photos that also contain darker things (eg: trees, buildings etc…) – preferably as close to the foreground as you can get. To give you an example of what I’m talking about, here is one of my photos of Cowplain contrasted with one of my upcoming paintings.

Although I used a bit of artistic licence, the gloomy bus stop in the foreground helps to add visual contrast to the rest of the picture.

So, if you want to make a dramatic photo-based painting, then look through your photos for any of them that contain a good mixture of lighter and darker areas.

2) Buildings vs nature: Simply put, nature looks a lot more dramatic than buildings – but buildings are easily-recognisable and easier to paint with some degree of accuracy and detail – when compared to visually complex natural scenes like the one in this photo of mine:

This is a photo of a really cool-looking tree that I took in Westbrook last March. I have probably got at least fifty gothic photos of trees from my various photo-taking expeditions, but I don’t tend to use them in paintings often since they’re difficult to paint accurately and quickly.

So, deciding whether to make a painting based on your nature photos or urban/suburban photos will depend on a number of factors. If you’ve only got one or two hours to make the painting and/or you want to make something that people will recognise – then paint buildings. Most buildings can be broken down into simple 3D shapes, and are relatively quick and easy to copy with practice.

If you want a bit of a challenge, you’ve got a bit more time or you want to make something “timeless” that will appeal to everyone (rather than people who recognise particular buildings, towns etc..), then use your nature photos as a basis for your next painting.

Yes, nature photos look more spectacular when you’re actually there with your camera. But, it is usually worth taking a few photos of buildings too.

3) Close-up details: Annoyingly, one of my favourite scenes to photograph – Portsdown Hill near Portsmouth – is surprisingly difficult to turn into a good painting. Although the view from this hill is utterly spectacular (especially at night, although I’ve only photographed it during the day so far), see if you can guess what the problem is with painting a photo like this:

This is a photo I took from the top of Portsdown Hill last March. This was utterly spectacular in real life, but it wouldn’t make a very good painting because….

All of the detail is really far away. And, unless you are spending months painting on a giant canvas, you won’t be able to really do all of this distant detail justice. So, one tip for choosing photos that will turn into dramatic paintings is to make sure that they contain at least some kind of interesting close-up or mid-range detail.

If you can make something close to the foreground look detailed, then the audience is less likely to care about less detailed background elements. But, if all of the detail is in the distant background, then choose another photo to base your painting on – no matter how spectacular the scene looked in real life.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂


Two Basic Tips For Making Drawings And/Or Paintings Based On Your Photos

Well, it’s been a while since I last wrote an art-based article. So, for today, I thought that I’d offer a few tips for making drawings and/or paintings based on photos that you’ve taken. This is, as you might have guessed, because a lot of this type of art has been appearing here recently. This is mostly because, with practice, it is quicker and easier than painting from imagination (since, at the time of writing, I’ve been kind of busy).

So, I thought that I’d offer two basic tips for making art based on your photos. I’ve probably mentioned some of this stuff before, but hopefully there will be some new stuff here.

1) Get some art practice before you take the photo: Although you can use artistic licence to improve your painting, it helps to have a good photo to start with. This is where traditional artistic knowledge and/or previous art practice can really come in handy.

Although having some practice at drawing, painting etc.. won’t help you with the technical details of photography, it will help you with everything else. It will mean that you will be aware of things like composition (eg: where everything is placed), it’ll make you think about perspective (eg: the “camera angle”), it will help you to think about things like lighting, colours etc… Simply put, knowing what makes a painting look good will help you to work out what makes a photo look good.

For example, I’ve had relatively little experience with photography. At the time of writing, my technical photographic knowledge is literally just “point the digital camera in the right direction and press the button“. But, thanks to all of the art practice I’ve had over the past few years, I was able to take this photo of Westbrook shops last March:

This is a photo of Westbrook shops that I took last March.

When taking this photo, I ducked beneath a tree so that there would be something in the close foreground (eg: the branches) that would help to “frame” the picture and add depth to it.

In addition to this, the dark tree branches also help to make the colours in the rest of the photo look bolder by contrast. Likewise, by taking a photo of the corner of the building and angling the camera very slightly upwards, I was able to place extra emphasis on the building’s size and shape.

This then allowed me to make this gothic digitally-edited painting (and, yes, I’ll explain what went wrong with it – and why- at the very end of the article):

“Westbrook – Haunted Mansion” By C. A. Brown

A lot of the reason why I was able to make the painting look so gothic was because I remembered a few of the artistic “rules” (that I normally follow whilst painting) when I was choosing where to take the photo from. So, yes, having some artistic knowledge will help you to take photos that you can turn into interesting-looking paintings.

2) Proportions: Aside from learning how to look at the actual shapes of things in a photo (a photo is a 2D representation of a 3D scene, so the precise outlines of things will be different to what you might think), knowing how to handle proportions is one of the most important skills to learn when making art based on photos.

This is because your photo will probably be a different size or shape to your painting or drawing. Yet, you still need to make sure that everything looks at least vaguely “right”. So, how do you do this?

Simply put, you think about everything in relation to everything else. So, if something in your photo is half as tall as the photo, then it should be half as tall as the area you are drawing or painting on. If there is a tree that takes up a quarter of the width of your photo, then it should take up a quarter of the width of your picture. Basically, think of your photo in terms of ratios and fractions.

It can take a while to get an “eye” for this kind of thing, but it is well worth practicing until you do. If it helps, then use a ruler to take and compare measurements (eg: if something is 10cm tall in a 30x30cm photo, then it should be 5cm tall in a 15x15cm drawing etc..). When done vaguely well, the results look a bit like this comparison:

This is a photo I took of Westbrook shops during the snow last March.

“Westbrook – Gateway” By C. A. Brown

But, yes, there are limits to this. This is why, for example, the gothic painting I showed you earlier looked so “squashed”. I tried to use this technique to compress a large rectangular photo into a much smaller and shorter rectangle (within a square-shaped area).

So, yes, this technique will result in distortions when compared to the photo, but it can help to minimise them to some extent.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

How To Turn Photos Into Fake Pixel Art Using MS Paint

2014  fake pixel art article sketch

[Note: This guide will teach you how to convert photos into something which might, to the untrained eye, vaguely resemble something similar to pixel art. It will not teach you how to make proper pixel art.

Anything you create using this method will, almost certainly, be unusable in any sprite-based games that you plan to make. The images you make using this technique will probably only be useful for novelty value only. You have been warned.]

Well, a couple of weeks ago, I felt like making some retro pixel art. “How difficult could it be?” I thought.

Still, I thought that I should probably do some research before trying to make this type of art in case there were any major mistakes that I had to avoid. So, I looked on Google and quickly found two excellent guides to making pixel art (which can be found here and here).

Pretty great, right?

Wrong. It quickly became obvious to me that pixel art is actually one of the most difficult art forms to work in. You have to have a very good understanding of colour theory, you have to manually add a whole host of visual effects to your picture (eg: anti-aliasing, dithering etc…) and you need to be a good enough artist to draw a clearly-recognisable character in a 16 x 16 pixel square.

Making real pixel art is a skill and it is a skill which requires a lot of knowledge and probably years of practice in order to get right. Drawing pictures and making watercolour paintings seems like child’s play by comparison.

Still, not wanting to go away from this experience completely empty-handed, I was able to work out a way to turn photos into vaguely realistic-looking fake pixel art using MS Paint (I’m using version 5.1 of MS Paint – because I’m behind the times). And, well, I thought that I’d share it with you.

For this guide, I will be using a photo called “Immaterialization” by Marendo Müller, which was released onto Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons- Public Domain licence (and is therefore free for anyone to use without copyright issues).

"Immaterialization" by Marendo Müller (Released under a Creative Commons Public Domain Licence - Image from Wikimedia Commons)

“Immaterialization” by Marendo Müller (Released under a Creative Commons Public Domain Licence – Image from Wikimedia Commons)

First of all, you need to make a backup copy of the photo you want to convert into fake “pixel art”, in case the conversion doesn’t work very well. After you’ve made your backup copy, you need to resize your picture in order to make it smaller.

For the purposes of this tutorial, I have shrunk “Immaterialization” to 300×200 pixels – but you should probably make your image smaller than this.

The resized 300 x 200 pixel version of this photo.

The resized 300 x 200 pixel version of this photo.

You can either shrink your image in MS Paint by using the “Select” tool and then moving the corners of the selected area or, if you want more precision, you can use another image editing program to resize the image. I resized the image in this tutorial using my (ancient) copy of Paint Shop Pro 6, but most other image editing programs probably have a “resize” feature too.

Once you have a smaller version of your image, you then need to click “Save As” and, when MS Paint asks you which format you wish to save it in, select “256 Color Bitmap” (I’m not sure if this format is supported in modern versions of MS Paint, but it’s certainly there in version 5.1 at least). Once you’ve selected this, a dialogue box which looks like this will appear:

Click "Yes" - losing colour information is all part of the process.

Click “Yes” – losing colour information is all part of the process.

Once you’ve done this, you will be left with a version of your photo which only contains 256 colours. This is important because most old games consoles from the early-mid 1990s and many old arcade cabinets from the same decade could only display 256 colours.

Yes, real pixel art often uses fewer colours than this, but reducing your image to 256 colours will instantly make it look at least slightly retro (although we need to do more than just this to make vaguely convincing fake pixel art). Anyway, your 256 colour photo should look something like this:

With 256 glorious colours! [I had to re-save this image as a ".PNG" because WordPress won't allow 256 colour bitmap images to be uploaded]

With 256 glorious colours!
[I had to re-save this image as a “.PNG” because WordPress won’t allow 256 colour bitmap images to be uploaded]

Sometimes converting a photo to this format can mess up the colours or make them look surreal.

For example, when I’ve converted some of my own art to this format for animations (to keep the file size down and to allow easy editing between saves), I’ve noticed that pale skin tones can sometimes become a strange shade of pale green (this shade of green can be seen on the front of the woman’s vest in the 256 colour version of “Immaterialization” in this tutorial).

But, if any surreal colours appear in your photo, all you need to do is to use the “Pick Color” tool in MS Paint (the one that looks like a dropper and will change the paintbrush colour to the colour of the pixel that you click on) to click on areas that are the right colour and then use the other drawing/painting tools to smooth out any strangely-coloured areas.

Anyway, now that you’ve got your small 256 colour version of your photo, you need to change the brush colour to black (from the colour menu at the bottom or side of the screen) and select the “pencil” tool or the “line” tool.

Once you’ve done this, you need to zoom in and start drawing thin black outlines around all of the significant parts of the photo [eg: people, buildings, animals, cars, trees etc…]. These lines should only be one pixel wide.

Unfortunately, the cursor disappeared when I took this screenshot. But, hopefully, you get the idea....

Unfortunately, the cursor disappeared when I took this screenshot. But, hopefully, you get the idea….

Once you’ve done this, you should end up with something that looks at bit like this:

The 256 colour photo with outlines.

The 256 colour photo with outlines.

Now all you have to do is to use MS Paint or, preferably, another image editing program to resize the image again. This time, we’re making the image larger (I increased the size by 300%, but you should probably see what works best for your photo).

After you’ve done this, you will need to save the image as a “.PNG” file (and NOT as a a JPEG, because this will blur your image slightly and ruin the “pixel art” effect.)

You should end up with something that looks like this:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE]. This sort of looks like pixel art when it's viewed at full size.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE]. This sort of looks like pixel art when it’s viewed at full size.

Congratulations! You’ve just made some fake pixel art 🙂


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂