Creating Original Compositions From Your Photos

S.O.F.A. member France Bauduin shares her tips on compositions from your photos.

I have been drawing cats using colour pencils for more than 12 years but I only joined the UKCPS recently and have yet to participate in one of their annual exhibitions.  One of the rules of the UKCPS is that we need to create our drawings from our own photographs for our work to be eligible.  Many think it is a harsh rule but in truth, I think it is for the best as it gives us the opportunity to become more creative, by combining many pictures into a great composition.

As a cat artist and behaviourist, one of my goals is to show my kittens playfulness as well as their connection between each other and their mother.  For this, I take hundreds of pictures every day, hoping to capture a very special moment I can immortalise in a drawing.   Sometimes I am lucky enough to succeed but more often than not, the picture is far from perfect and I need to look back at other photographs to complete what is missing: an ear, a paw, part of a tail…  Background often needs to be dropped, modified or completely replaced.  Sometimes I will try to recreate a scene that I saw but could never capture on film.

All you need is in the same photograph

Somehow, I managed to capture a very rare and funny expression in Silver (left kitten) but in this particular photograph, there was no connection with his brother Gold.  The stick was also in the way and I didn’t see the need to keep Gold’s whole body.

To create that connection, I flipped Silver horizontally, got him closer to Gold and added that feather at an angle where they both seem to look at it.  Using other photograph references I completed the paws, brought the door frame forward and here is the result.

Sometimes I will even replace an entire kitten by another that is more in focus or has a more appealing pose.

Combining two good photos to create a better one

At some point both my kittens jumped into the pot plant to play and I immediately saw the possibilities for a great drawing.  Despite taking numerous pictures, I never managed to take one where both of them looked great. But by combining these two…

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Here is the drawing:

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And sometimes I try to imagine a scene that could happen if these kittens were in the wild, replacing toys by insects & small animals.

Change the story

As I was taking some pictures of my kittens playing in the bath with a ball, I was lucky enough to get one of these rare action shots where both kittens looked great.

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It would have made a very good drawing without background but instead, I went out on a limb and tried to imagine them outdoors, choosing a neutral background that would not take our attention away from the kittens. I went even one step further and changed the ball into a mouse using a field guide for reference pictures of mice.

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Here is the result:

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Let’s face it, whenever you do so, you take a risk.  So you must choose with care.  For outdoors pictures, it can be tricky, especially if this is a sunny day as you need to make sure that light & shadows match.  You also need to ascertain that the picture is taken at the same angle and distance so proportions are respected.  Photoshop can be a great tool to help you create these scenes but in the end, you are the one who will decide if it works or not and for this you need a good eye and a good knowledge of your subject.

If you are going to spend dozens of hours on a particular drawing, it is worth spending a few hours on its composition before you get started.  Not all decisions need to be taken in advance.  I often make further adjustments for the background as the subject emerges.  All I can say is that the end result is generally well worth the effort.  So start using your photographs creatively and surprise yourself with the result!

By France Bauduin S.O.F.A.
France Bauduin’s web site.

Do you have particular materials or techniques you’d like to recommend to other members? Do you have a particular brand of paint or pastels you love to use? Where do you buy your supplies from, do you have a great local art supply shop or do you use an online store? If so we’d like to feature you and your work along with those recommendations on the blog. Contact the editor.

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