Help Me Choose the Next Painting Project

I have a lot of candidate subject matter, based on my own photos, for a new painting project.

I’ve processed the photos somewhat, messed with them in Photoshop and other programs, and then cloned them with a painting program or two to simplify the shapes and give them a more painterly cast.

Although the initial results often resemble an oil painting, that is just to soften the shapes and mix the colors a bit. I could go with watercolor or acrylic painting, or break out my collection of soft pastels. Or even mix the media together, given the right subject matter.

Here are the current images under consideration. Tonal studies and more serious composition will come later. Anybody who wants to pipe up and tell me one of these has more potential than another, well, that would be most appreciated…

Shipyard Oil

This is from a local drydock in Ladner on the Fraser River delta. There’s a lot of old fishing boats slowly rotting due to years of dwindling salmon runs.


This is an adaptation of a photo taken in Shanghai. I like this meeting of the street cleaners a lot. The guy’s wearing pretty nice shoes and socks for a street cleaner… probably just to meet girls.

Shanghai Night Oil

Keeping on with the Chinese subject matter, this is a Shanghai scene at night. This would be challenging. I’ve never done this kind of scene before. Pastels would work for this, perhaps with a charcoal undercoating… Tough to get watercolors dark enough. I like the abstract patterns in this, along with the perspective of the street, and especially the dark blue-mauve-purple colors. Photo was shot from a pedestrian overpass.

Dog WC

I snapped this through the windshield of my car one rainy day… The dog seemed to be used to the situation.

Cedar Road Boat Oil

This is a real drydock, a fishing boat out in the middle of nowhere. I like that tree alot too… It’s got some Group of Seven boughs sticking out. I think I would crop this down and maybe rearrange a little, but I like the suggestion of movement in the foreground grass towards the tree.

Pitt River Oil

I like the potential here a lot. The girl with the pink sweater and the hat adds so much to the scene she’s leaning into. I’m getting a Winslow Homer vibe… This is over at the Pitt River, a tributary of the Fraser River, which is still close enough to the ocean, although fresh water, to have a tidal influence.

False Creek Twilight WC

This is down at False Creek, actually an inlet of the ocean that winds its way into Vancouver. Again, more an acrylic or pastel piece than watercolor.

Seasons WC

This might make a good still life painting, although maybe the glasses are too much the same. A photo taken at the Seasons in the Park restaurant in Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver.

ShanghaiYamSeller Oil

And finally, another photo from Shanghai, of a yam seller waiting for customers on a busy street sidewalk. My wife would often buy the cooked yams to take home from on top of that barrel which serves as a stove. The photo has a lot of distracting cars, motorcycles and vans in the background, which I’ve tried to desaturate and fuzz out… more would need to be done there, while still suggesting the traffic behind.

So those are my candidates… My top three at the moment are the Shanghai evening street scene, the dog in the back of the truck and the pink girl by the Pitt River. I’m leaning towards the leaning pink girl…


Explore posts in the same categories: Art, Awareness, China, Environment, Photography

17 Comments on “Help Me Choose the Next Painting Project”

  1. Hi Fencer
    I vote for the yam seller; and I wouldn’t fuzz out the cars any more than they are already. They are essential to the context.
    The yam boy has a nostalgic look to him; or it’s his figure that says so much about his boredom given there is no one around to buy his yams and he has to wait whether he likes it or not.
    My second choice is of the street sweepers, though I think I would move them out of central position a little more to the right. This one would be a lot more complicated to paint because of the detail, but the light and the colour is excellent in this image.
    Third choice is the still life with three glasses – the light and tonal balance is just perfect; and I like the coloration you have achieved with Photoshop. It contrasts warm and cool colours while staying freshly upbeat – it’s those golds and aquamarines…
    The light in the boat picture at the top is good, but there must be a million and one boat paintings. It would be nice, but it wouldn’t be special. Equally, I find the other pictures pleasant but not unique enough. Those kinds of images have simply been done by so many.
    I’ll be checking by to see how you are getting along with your painting. I hope you share it with us!

  2. fencer Says:

    Hi lookingforbeauty,

    I’m hearing what you say… I like your top choice of the yam seller too, because it’s not a usual subject, and it would be interesting to get the yam guy’s posture just right. Unlike the boat, which too true has been done until triteness.

    No feeling about the dog shot? (That image was coming back to me the most today whenever I thought of painting.)

    I will give some thought to your suggested repositioning of the street sweepers…

    For some reason, I find the three glasses of somewhat uninteresting redundancy in the proposed still life, although that gold/sienna contrast with blue is one of my favorite color schemes. But maybe by varying the water levels in each glass, or even taking out the middle one… I don’t know. Put a spoon standing up in one?

    More to think about… thanks for your thoughts on it. I can always do more than one at a time, I suppose!


  3. Hi Fencer,
    Yes, I liked the dog shot too. It reminds me of a Maxwell Bates painting although I don’t know if he ever did one. I like Bates – he was a gutsy painter, no fiddling with detail and not worrying if the faces were pretty or not. Very direct.
    The three glasses reminds me of something out of South West Art Magazine – all the right colours, beautiful light. But you are right – a painting has to mean something to you. If it’s just painting for copying’s sake, then it may not be powerful enough.
    Know what I would do with the three glasses?

    Your Photoshopping of this image has worked out beautifully loose and the colours are excellent. If you don’t want to paint it, at least take the digital file and get a good print made on card stock at a printer’s shop, on something heavier than regular photocopy paper.
    I’m really impressed at the quality of painterliness that you can get with your Photoshop manipulations. They already look like paintings. If you hadn’t said they were manipulations, I might not have realized that they were photos rather than real paintings.

    So I have to ask – if you’ve sorted out everything in these images through various manipulations, to paint this would simply be like doing a coloring book exercise by copying what you see on your photo-based image onto another surface – watercolour, oil, acrylic, etc.
    I’d find it more fun to try and reach these imagery conclusions with my brush rather than the computer. So if it’s already all done by you via the computer, what satisfaction are you getting out of transferring the image?
    That’s not a criticism, it’s a question, and maybe a rhetorical one at that. I’m not necessarily asking you to answer it, but at least for you to think about it.

  4. fencer Says:

    Hi lookingforbeauty,

    I appreciate your question.

    For a while I was interested in producing “paintings” out of photographs. For instance, the specimens above have been doctored a bit with Photoshop to start, for exposure and contrast mainly, but mostly I’ve used other programs on them designed to simulate paintings like Deep Paint, Art Rage, and Gertrudis.

    You do get some attractive results that way. But that just seems like a useful jumping off point or another way of seeing the subject matter… a way to get out of potentially bad habits caused by painting from photographs like too concerned with detail and not shapes and losing the shadows.

    Now if I were to take the above altered photos and copy them exactly, then there would be little point in going further with “real” paintings. But my tenuous facility with all the media I play with, from watercolor to pastels, means I will get something different, even if I tried to copy them exactly.

    And I really enjoy the process of making a painting, from working out a composition to tonal study to the risks of muddy watercolors, for instance. The tactility of the real thing is so much more rewarding, and satisfying, than just the occasional eye candy of the digital alteration. I believe that implicit tactility registers somehow with an onlooker, even if only on a subconscious level.

    It will be interesting to work from one of these above and see how, and if, it evolves as I struggle with it on real paper…

    I don’t know Bates… I will look him up on the web. Thanks!


  5. forestrat Says:

    My son says to paint the yam seller. How can you go wrong with the opinion of an 8 year old?

    I checked out those Metzker photos you told me about. I’m not so big on the recent reflection photos, but the early stuff is way cool!

    There is a lot of steel in those old cars and the chiaroscuro effect really highlights the shiny cold smoothness of it all. Some of them are showroom type photos with polished surfaces and clean glowing edges, while the ones with the snow and the drivers in them show what happens when people take them out to the street and live in them.

    Thanks for the t… Aaaaaaargh… Gak… Zombie.. eating.. brain.. Noooooooooooooo

  6. fencer Says:

    Hi forest rat,

    I value that 8-year-old opinion a lot! A younger person like him probably intuits in a fresh way the connection to the viewer. So that’s the second vote in favour of that one from valued sources…

    You can see how wishy washy I am in some ways… each time somebody finds something to like about one of them, I start to feel that too… But I am open, pretty well, to working on any of them.

    But maybe I should work on a zombie painting instead…

    Glad you found something of interest in the Metzker photos.


  7. qazse Says:


    I like Shanghai because: 1. the light – through the bus, from above … 2. the juxtaposition of a possibly warm human encounter amid the bustle of a very public and urban place(humanscale amid urbanscale). Then again it could be a supervisor addressing a subordinate. That would explain the shoes. (The shine in the shoes provide another surface of light.)

    If I wanted to emphasize intimacy, I would move them a tad closer together.

    Have a warm and festive holiday season! Qazse

  8. fencer Says:

    Hi qazse,

    Thanks for taking a look…

    I like what you say about the streetcleaners’ rendezvous… and the part about putting the figures a little closer together… charges the scene a bit more. Okay, one vote in that direction.

    All the best during the holidays to you and yours, too!


  9. So did you choose one?What are you painting now?

  10. fencer Says:

    Hi lookingforbeauty,

    I am, ahem, in my Christmas season downtime that has gone on too long. I am gravitating towards the yam seller though. I want to try some kind of combined charcoal – watercolor thing… don’t know if that will work out.

    Gotta start doing some sketches and playing around soon…


  11. It sounds like an interesting experimental thing. I’m eager to see your results.

  12. fencer Says:

    Hi lookingforbeauty,

    I’m starting to play around with the photo again for starters… see what I get out of that.


  13. Streetz2twit Says:

    I think your project is a great idea – partially deconstructing or “painting” interesting photos via computer and then painting those images. Please post the results of whatever image you decide to paint (or render in pastel, charcoal etc). It would be interesting if you could select a relatively ordinary landscape photograph but then transform it into a high-impact intense painting a la Van Gogh.

  14. fencer Says:

    Hi Streetz2twit,

    Thanks for your comments…

    I’m still in process with this, but plan to post soon with the work I’m doing on the chosen photo.


  15. […] you’re so inclined take a look at and give me a piece of your mind on my next painting project… although it may not be […]

  16. Lynn Says:

    Shanghai at night

  17. fencer Says:

    Hi Lynn,

    Thanks for the suggestion. Looking at it now, you’re right, might be good one to do. I’m thinking pastel on top of dark purple or blue paper….


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