Exercise: Working from a photograph


Slopes of Mount Snowdon, acrylics, 40 x 28cm

Choose a landscape photo with plenty of space and either tall trees in the middle ground or mountains in the background…

My inspiration for this project started with the work of Gwilym Prichard, a highly  accomplished and much admired Welsh painter who, sadly, died this year. I am captivated by his work which I have studied on the internet and found myself lingering over this landscape painting of Snowdon. I was particularly taken by the color palette,the  texture including the sense of the rock underpinning the landmass, and the way colour is applied in blocks.

snowdon2While obviously not wanting to copy Prichard’s work I found myself very excited  and wanted to have a go at mountain scene and work with a palette knife. I found a photograph of the slopes of Mount Snowdon (see left – I could not find the name of the photographer for a credit) on the internet and did some preparation work in my sketchbook to explore  how elements of this photograph might be used. Taking my lead from Prichard’s work I decided to use a relatively small section of the  scene.

Sketchbook exploratory drawings/watercolours 


Sketch 1







Sketch 2


Sketch 3


Sketch 4


Sketch 5


Sketch 6






I choose to work with Sketch 2 because of the teeth like contours of the rock and the peak in the distance but 3 and 5 also felt like workable options… and provide me with material to return to in future.


Interim under painting before applying acrylic mixed with PVA glue using a palette knife

I drew the broad shapes and then filled in with acrylics using a large brush, working quickly and loosely. Then I went back over the image with a palette knife using acrylic paint with a little PVA glue mixed in which enabled me to achieve a thicker, textured paint effect in key areas, such as the “teeth”.




When you’ve finished look at both the painting and the reference photo.


Finished painting









In what ways did you depart from the photo?

I used a section of the photo as discussed above and this I feel was a good decision as it gave my painting a clear focal point. Although I thought I was painting in quite a loose and abstract way when I look at the two together I realise that I have interpreted the scene very literally in terms of tone and form. This surprises me as I did not feel, as I was working, that I had a great deal of control over the palette knife.

Did you produce a painting that satisfied you or were you over influenced by the photo?

I am reasonably satisfied with this painting – even though the result is surprisingly representational it feels quite painterly and is for me  a welcome move away from the overworked brushwork I have been frustrated by. I will use a palette knife more – it has enabled me to bring greater depth and contrast to my painting and I enjoyed it much more than painting with a brush because I had to let go of some of the detail.

What I have not achieved is the blocks of colour in Prichard’s work… these I think bring a peace and harmony to his paintings. By contrast mine feels  busy and frenetic.

This was a very enjoyable and rewarding exercise for me both because of the pleasure in the process and also because I feel this painting represents a stride forward. Even though working from a photograph I still felt engaged… perhaps that’s because I spent many childhood holidays up mountains in Wales.


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