Saturday, May 23, 2015

When and how to use reference photos in Fine art and Illustration

Prevent unintentionally disrespecting another's creation and copyrights by understanding why you use a photograph.

Every artist uses a photo either for a derivative or a reference use.

Derivative use in:

Fine Art

Copyright free photographs generously provided by photographers are an excellent way to practice artistic interpretation and take some artistic license.  When I was learning to paint I tried to exactly copy a reference picture by using a grid.  However, as we grow as artists we move away from making a derivative and use our own interpretation and take some artistic license instead.

The photo drew my attention because it invoked emotions in me. It allows me to daydream and go back into my youth, growing up close to the beach.
The picture also made me wonder, what is distracting the dog, what broke his focus away from the ball? Emotions and questions are perfect ingredients for a painting.

Even though my watercolor painting "Distractions" on the right became my own independent artistic creation and I used my own artistic interpretation of the photo, I still used the major elements of the photo on the left which are protected under copyright law. As you can see I added a background but deleted other details. Yet, despite my adaptations and changes, my painting is still considered derivative work and I therefore needed permission of the copyright owner of the photograph.

My thanks to JuneartZ Free reference photo's for artists for granting me permission to use the photo and for generously sharing copyright free pictures to use for other artists.


In the beginning it is perfectly okay to base your painting on photographs (or from pictures  you were granted permission by the copyright owner) or other references because that is how we learn. But as I developed as an artist, I explored my own individual talents and my artistic voice.

I knew that painting animals was my strength but realism not. So, I approached clients who were willing to commission me to paint Pet Portraits that would bring out their nature or other more abstract things they would like to see immortalized. This is how I turned the pretty reference picture on the left of the Siamese cat Siro into a painting on the right that brought out his warm true exotic nature.  In this case I used the photograph more as a reference for the exact proportions, color markings, etc. so that the owner could recognize his cat while using my own artistic interpretation of his cat. In this painting I took much more artistic license but it is still a derivative work and I had to ask for permission to use the photo.
With thanks to Bas Verbruggen in the Netherlands for providing me with the beautiful reference picture on the left and for commissioning me to paint his cat Siro with acyrlics on canvas 2011.



After a while I decided that I wanted to study children's book illustration because I needed a field where I really could set my imagination free.

During this course I was looking for projects to put my portfolio together and was looking for pictures where I could take some artistic license like turning this baby picture of my cousin and me into a picture book illustration on the right (watercolors and colored pencils on paper).

Concept and Character Design

After practicing some more paintings from my own reference pictures I was ready to push my imagination a little further.

In a ragdoll group I found this adorable picture on the left of a ragdoll named Axle. Immediately, a picture of a pastry chef came in my mind. The owner loved it and wanted to produce and sell products with the design. That was when the Chef Axle Enterprises was born. As an artist I felt very honored to have been the Chef Axle designer and artist since 2013.

My thanks to Chef Axle Enterprises LLC for commissioning me to design Chef Axle since 2013 till now.

Reference use

When you only have words as your reference you will need some reference pictures.

This watercolor painting was drawn from many reference pictures, especially photos taken from the sky or high towers. The dog, boy and cat are painted from memory and experience since I painted cartoons as long as I can remember. The dragon is created by studying many photos of lizards and birds to understand wings, skin texture etc. Since I used only minor elements from many pictures I didn't have to ask for copy right permission because I only used the information as reference. Once I knew what a pea pod looked like, I could create my own version as you can see in the black and white illustration on the right.

These examples are the watercolor promotion image and one of the black and white illustrations from the wonderful Marvellous Creatures: A Children's Poems Bundle  by Mark Kerger.

Your own and other references

Nature, life, and city scenes are all great source for references. I made this water color sketch years ago in the car on a cold winter day. I always carry a snap shot camera and/or a small watercolor set with me so that I can make my own studies or references for bigger paintings or other projects .

Artistic interpretation is total freedom and the reason why I am grateful to be an artist.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

How to make a living as an artist

Beating the odds

For those who are staring in the face of overwhelming odds and are ready to give up on their dreams or have already accepted defeat, there were many times I sulked and accepted defeat until I realized that there is always a way, even if we have to create that path.

There is a great difference between passion and devotion

For example, I learned that there is a difference between being interested in something and being devoted. I always loved drawing and creating since I was a little girl but the large chunk of my life I “accepted” the notion that an artist could never make a living from art. Therefore, I entered the finance industry and only created art when it was convenient, like in my free time after work or doodling while waiting somewhere in line. Art was still my passion and I showed interest in creating art but not much real commitment.

Create the right environment to charge your creative battery

The past 13 years of my life, I decided to only choose work environments that would nourish my mind and soul, such as the MCH Hospital in The Hague the Netherlands (surrounded by caring coworkers/friends). When I moved to the US in 2005, I worked in the familiar hospitality field, which reminded me of the satisfying feeling I got from working with my parents in their hospitality business.

Silence the naysayers, including your own inner critic

While my imaginative and dreamer side was able to create again, my financial background helped me to not accept the label of “starving artist” and other lies artist tell themselves such as, that art is a luxury and not a necessity, that art is like a bird song and that birds sing for free for everybody to enjoy.

Find out what people want to pay for and be willing to create that.

Despite shocked purist fellow artist eyes, I looked proactively for every job that had anything to do with creating necessary and wanted art such as designing flyers, making pet portraits, cartoons, cards, murals and illustrations. I would design anything, even for free or very low pay until I was able to get so much work that I could only work part time outside the studio. My last job outside was delivering news papers 4 hour a day. But even this odd job enriched my life because it enabled me to see inspiring night creatures such as owls and raccoons while everyone was still sleeping.

Only commitment will bring results. Be more than just interested and passionate.

For 6 years, I approached my art work like a serious career and business and was willing to do whatever it takes to get myself into this energized passionate vicious circle pleasing others but also my heart and soul. But at times it also scares me because every process creates a snow ball effect that forces you out of the comfort zone, away from the excuses that once were protecting you from change.
Never stop improving your art skills. The more you learn and are able to do, the more confident and successful you'll become.
Reach out to people so that they can find your work and get to know you. See marketing as a way to connect with people rather than just promoting yourself. Appreciate your fans and followers and keep them interested in your work. They are the ones who will help you get exposure, work and sales. No matter how hard you work, without a fan base nobody will ever know you or your artwork.

Use your imagination to go were you want

We artists are very good at creating mental dead ends in our head but our privilege and real talent is our imagination.  Create that beautiful scene where you heart flutters and soul sings and then find or create a way to get to there. Once you got there you will gain the confidence and determination to create more of those dreams and the possibilities to realize them.
That is my wish for you in 2015 and always!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Water color painting of horses in 5 stages

Five steps or stages of my latest watercolor painting “exile”:

"Exile" watercolor on paper

The creation or "head-scratching" stage :

This is for me the most important stage if I want to create a detailed painting or have a lot of control over the outcome. It is the only time I allow myself to think and plan the subject, composition, values, focal point and color palette. Sometimes, I never get to the second stage and start over with a new idea. Definitely the most time consuming and frustrating part of the process but necessary and, in the end, worthwhile to hang in there...(Munching on my favorite cookies helps me through this stage). 

Wet-in-wet or "merry-go-around" stage:

The aim here is to cover as much paper as quickly as possible, carefully saving the whites. This is the most exciting stage where I am still full of confidence. The challenge is to make these first layers not too dark or too light because this is just the under painting. I royally splatter water and mix and pour paint like a happy worry free kid. The world looks bright and pretty too me....

Form and texture or "sprinkle some fairy dust" stage:

The paper is still moist but not completely wet as in the first stage. Now it is time to add form and texture by adding colors in the middle value. Nothing really stands out yet except the lightest value which is the white of the paper.  In this stage I still feel confident because it is still about building tones and shapes. I wildly keep moving my brush around the whole painting like a fairy moving her wand. At the end of this stage I become a little more skeptical and a frown might be showing on my forehead...

Detail or "danger zone" stage:

Now I am treading carefully and continue building on the shapes by adding more color to create the darker values and depth. At this stage the focal area gets the most love. The painting is still moist, yet no longer wet. My confidence sneaks away and doubts creep in.  My trust issues are starting to show. This is probably the stage where artists seem mad…..where they start staring out of the window or through you. Maybe they just abandon the painting at this stage all together. I have a blank stare and a big question mark is hovering above my head. What now? How to proceed? The paint is drying and I have to remind myself that thinking is only allowed in the first stage. This stage is all about diving in and letting go. It is about trusting that the painting will come to life or end up as one big muddy blob. Since I can't trust my thinking or feelings at this stage, I just move on to the last stage when I feel that I should spend another hour on the painting. This decision is protecting myself from overworking the painting and from hating myself and the painting afterwards....

Final touches or "the-next-time-better" stage:

When the painting is completely dry I either breath a sigh of relief or comfort myself with the words "next time better" making notes about what I want to avoid the next time. But I will not fix any thing to satisfy my perfectionistic silly ego. Instead, I am using only a maximum of 10 minutes (yes, I do set a timer to control myself) to add the final touches and dark accents. Then I let it go and consider it finished.  Consider this phase like the exclamation mark or period after a sentence. No more long winded paragraphs or sentences.  In the past I would fuss over a painting until the paper and my head would rip in two. By moving on I protect myself from crazy behavior and I happily look forward to starting the next “better” painting.  I throw out the empty cookie bag and look back on a fun time with my brushes, paint, paper and soul, craving for more...

The original painting is no longer available but prints, greeting cards and iPhone case can be purchased at  Fine Art America. Their commissions seem to be meant to starve us so I need a lot of buyers to buy one bag of cookies...!

Or visit me at my Facebook cave or leave comments below. They are an artist's mental and emotional food. So, thanks for nourishing my soul!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Difference between Fine Art and illustration Part 3

What is the art used for?  

Usage is probably the biggest difference between Fine art and Illustration.

Fine Art

Watercolors on paper

Usage: aesthetic pleasure 

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

In this painting Peluca, a Colombian Paso Fino, is following me without halter to her stable after a fun ride.  I never had horse riding lessons before and the first moment riding this lively horse was scary. Her hooves were moving rapidly. It felt as if we were hovering over the ground. In those first moments, she taught me what Paso Fino "brio and a smooth gait" meant. 

I wanted to express the duality of these beautiful horses. They have a calm loving nature when not mounted and the warm colors show their spirited nature and eagerness to please their rider.

My fine art work is mostly hung on the walls of collectors' houses or offices but also has been exhibited in art shows and featured on covers. 

Creating Fine art depends on my own mood and what inspires me. Financial compensation is not the main reason for me to paint nor the automatic result. It all depends on taste and demand.

It is also important to improve my observation and art skills to gain more confidence.


Illustration of Ragdoll cat Axle as Pizza chef
Watercolors on paper

Usage: Visual communication and commercial use

"The first step in exceeding your customer's expectations is to know those expectations".
Roy H. Williams 

Based on the information and requests of the client (or brief), I created this image of a Ragdoll named Axle as a pizza chef.

This is one of the illustrations for a book for children on cooking healthy. Axle, the Ragdoll cat, is a character based on the author's cat Axle who can always be found in the kitchen when they are cooking. The illustrations of Axle will also be used on the author's kitchen products. 

Since my illustrations can be used on different products and not only in books, every copyright for a specific usage is sold separately for a specific time. The client determines what the art is going to be used for. The usage for my illustrations is agreed upon from the moment I am asked to create work. Therefore, a contract or written agreement is a must to avoid misunderstandings and to build a strong and healthy business relationship. 

Unlike Fine Art, I can't wait to be inspired by something or to be in the mood to create. I have to rely on my drawing skills, imagination and my visual vocabulary to create an illustration that meets or exceeds my clients expectations in a specific amount of time. 

To learn more about these expectations and to learn the technical aspects of illustration,  I followed the 2 year children's book illustration course at the London Art Academy besides working full time as an illustrator for the past 5 years. I will be graduating next week.

Another illustration project I am working on can be followed at the author's Facebook page: Marvellous Creatures

Axle also has his own page on Facebook: Axle Reid , owned by the author of the Chef Axle series. 

Both are being published this year. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Difference between Fine Art and illustration Part 2

Art contest for illustrators or Fine Artists?

For the “Make Ugly Contest”, I needed to quickly grab the audience and show them what smoking and second hand smoke does to the smokers and their loved ones. Following the instructions to the letter  (a.k.a brief) and carefully planning a composition (or design) is the very nature of illustration.  

Fine artists would find this way of working very restricting but to illustrators this is exact the opposite. The illustrator, like an actor, has total freedom to create a believable character or design that interprets the idea/story.  In this case I was completely free to create characters that would play the advocacy role regarding anti-smoking education.

Smoker's Bane. Pen and ink 2013

For this piece, I tried to go within and remember how smoking changed my father’s body into an aggressive self destructive monster.  Memories of several X-rays, that not only showed how badly his lungs were affected (after 40 years of smoking) but also how the lung cancer ate away at his liver and brains as well, motivated me to illustrate this terrible transforming process. Reliving the pain when he left my mother and my siblings behind gave me an idea of how this loss looks like on paper. The fact that after 20 years we still miss him and that we are suffering from bronchitis and asthma because of the second hand smoke helped me to express that not only the smokers are affected, but their loved ones as well. 

I feel very honored that this piece made it into the semi-finals.

The quest to find the difference will be continued. 

If you entered an art competition, what skills did you use? Do you consider yourself a Fine Artist or Illustrator?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Creating a fantasy story book illustration

How do I come up with a fantasy scene that I can't draw from life?

First, I find a subject that does exist in our human realm and study it for accuracy.

Horses are my favorite subjects. Growing up on Curacao I learned to appreciate and respect the Colombian Paso Fino horse breed and their trainers.
These gaited Paso Fino horses are graceful and natural dancers and carry their tail proudly. The rider in my picture wears zamarros, chaps which give the rider an elegant appearance. 

This quick study drawing/sketch is created from my own reference pictures and from cherished memories. Horses were the first subjects I started drawing 35 years ago and they are still inspiring me. The more I draw a subject the easier it becomes to draw from memory. To create the right mood I listen to the kind of music that I remember from those Paso Fino horse competitions (Gloria Esefan album Abriendo Puertas). Listening to this kind of music while drawing brings me back to the images of the beautiful horses and I can almost hear their hooves dancing on the beat.
Second, from study to illustration. 

It all depends on what the story is about. This quick sketch could work for a book about Paso Finos. But in this case I needed to create a fantasy illustration. Asking myself questions such as, who are the characters, where are they and what are they doing help me to get an idea.  
Again, I use music (in this case more dreamy music like Enya, Era, classical music) to create the fairy tale atmosphere. But without drawing skills they remain just ideas and daydreams in my head. Only by daily observing and practicing drawing from life can I make my imagination come to life on paper.

For the fairy I used my own pictures of childhood and made my ears just a touch bigger and gave myself a pair of wings as well.  I always carry a sketch book with me and over the years I have not only tried to capture the wings of our own chickens but also the wings of swans and raptors in the wild and captivity. 
These observations from wildlife enabled me to create a horse with wings or Pegasus. Once I have designed the characters, the background naturally unfolded. 
No worries about copy right issues 

By working from my own studies and creating my own reference pictures I never have to worry about infringing someone's copy right. Nature provides enough references and my imagination does the rest!

In this self portrait below I illustrated my own happy memories of my beloved first Paso Fino friend and the beautiful beaches of Curacao.
Imagination, observations and memories can be powerful tools for creating illustrations.

What is your favorite tool? Feel free to add a link to your illustration work.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Restricting the imagination can be freeing

After my last post I realized that I missed the necessary skills to continue illustrating my children's book and  enrolled in the Illustrating Children's Books Diploma course at the London Art College.

The most valuable lesson I learned from this course is that restriction can be freeing...

Having to follow the instructions of the assignments or sample briefs to the letter sounds very restrictive but it is also very freeing.

The course unleashed my imagination in a contained area, in the same way a wild mustang is put into a round pen to get used to becoming comfortable, responsive and in tune with its rider.
Thanks to these restrictions I was able to create pictures on paper that otherwise would just have been ideas floating aimlessly in my head.

The school didn't teach me how to become imaginative just like the Mustang can't be taught how to be a horse. As a young girl I had a vivid imagination and I could just never draw a normal horse. I had to turn it into a ballerina, add wings or clothes because I always was a dreamer. This course brought out my strengths and helped me improve my weaknesses, enabling to use my imagination in an effective way.

In a couple of months I will be graduating and feel that I have finally have found my artistic path.

This feeling of finding my way has been one of the most joyful experiences in my life.

Holiday Joy Watercolors on paper by Ursula "Ariannah" Brozovich

Therefore, I wish that 2013 will be the year for you to do what you love or find out what you want to do.

Merry Christmas!

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