Since we're on the farm motif already, here's another recent painting. This was done from a photo, as a class demo. I wanted to emphasize to my students that we don't have to be slaves to photo references.
Mother Nature rarely gives us perfect compositions all ready to be translated onto canvas. Photo references too, are typically pretty lousy as they are. I mean if the photo were perfect, there really would be no point in making a painted version of them, would there?
In designing a painting, we need to go beyond – sometimes way beyond – just copying the photograph. We can edit, move, and otherwise alter any element we find in a photograph, or combine elements from more than one. It's all fair game. After all, we want to end up with a good painting. Nobody cares if it's a faithful copy of a photograph.
In this painting, I made many alterations. I moved the trees, eliminated the sky, Brought the distant hills closer and planted some trees, eliminated the barn, moved the road, added some foreground shadows... and oh, made up my own color scheme.
The photograph is used mainly for inspiration and structural reference. Not color, not value, and not composition. Composition, or design, is something the artist articulates with intention, and is rarely just "found" in nature or a snapshot. If you're copying a photo, you're not designing. And if you're not designing, what the heck are you doing? Exercising your hand-eye coordination? May be.
Of course, editing and altering elements that we see in the photo reference or out there in the field doesn't necessarily mean improvement. Sometimes it's far, far worse. But to me, trying to make your own statement and failing, is preferable to succeeding at making a mindless copy of a photograph. The former teaches you something; it counts towards your canvas mileage. The latter doesn't.