Choosing a Style

September 09, 2015  •  Leave a Comment


Light touch painting by Karen Sperling based on a photo by Don Ling.

Whether you are a client interested in commissioning a portrait, a photographer who would like to offer painted portraits to your clients or someone who would like to learn to turn your photos into paintings, the question will come up about what painting style to choose.
Bottom line: not all paintings based on photos are the same. Different artists and different photographers all have different styles and tastes and you can choose whatever style you like.
In terms of style, I find that photographers in general prefer what I call "light touch" painting--very little painting added to their photo. Traditionally, the studio poses with the light touch painting have been the primary offering, going back to John Singer Sargent and all the way back to the Renaissance. I would say the father of this kind of modern hybrid portraiture is Phillip Stewart Charis, who recently passed. I had the honor and pleasure of working with him when I painted one of his photos for my first Painting for Photographers book and he told me that every portrait he created was with the idea that it would be the centerpiece of the family's home.
Many of today's high-end photographers follow in Mr. Charis's footsteps and offer this style to their clients.
Some photographers use the light touch painting style for their more contemporary photos. The photos may not be formal studio portraits, but they have been turned into paintings with the lightest addition of some painterly strokes.
Some people prefer a more painterly approach or you may like the traditional light-touch painterly style. Or you might like something else!
What I'd like you to consider is that you can choose any style for paintings based on photos. Don't get turned off to the "painted photo style." There isn't one style-it can be any style you or you and your artist come up with!
As for me, I've been turning photos into paintings longer than most, since I wrote the first several Corel Painter manuals. I have an art background and as time has gone on, I've gotten into painting for clients and for photographers for their clients and for myself and I've gotten as far as displaying my abstract paintings in New York!
I have a hard time fitting myself into one look or style. I use Picasso as my role model, not that I paint like him, but because he didn't have one style--he enjoyed exploring and painting in many styles throughout his career, including, which many people don't know, very realistic portraiture.
As a result, I have decided to show a range of styles and I let the client or the photographer or the student choose the one he or she would like for their portraits or studies. I have organized my styles into collections in the top left-hand corner of this website, ranging from light touch (the Windsor collection) to Impressionistic (The Parisian), and I plan to add even more artistic choices soon. I even had a client ask me for a pop art style, not something I'd ever done, and I created a painting for them of their wedding that they loved. That was a perfect example of what I'm suggesting-this client didn't see what he was looking for on my website, but contacted me anyway and asked if I could do the style he was interested in. That's what I think you should try-do some googling of artists' styles through the ages in addition to current artists. You may decide that the light touch painting style is the one for you after all, or you may find another style that you think you would like instead.
Offering a variety of painted styles is something I wonder about for photographers, too--why not show clients several different styles based on your photos? I wonder if it wouldn't lead to more sales. Clearly your clients like your style of photography, but maybe they'd like something different for their painting instead of your photo with a few brushstrokes? It would be interesting to try and you might get additional sales.
Bottom line-there isn't one definitive painted style. Take some time to explore all the possibilities--you might wind up deciding you prefer the light touch painted style after all, or you might find that a more painterly approach hits the spot!

Impressionist-style painting by Karen Sperling based on a photo by Shannon Marie Phillips-Long.


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