Getting a Great start

Choosing source material, different ways to get a sketch onto canvas, and defining your vision. 

Choosing Source Material

Here’s the formal recorded lesson

Live lesson and office hours

Photo Reference – from the live lesson

Resources: Source photos you’re welcome to use from me,, If you know if other great resources, comment below.

Mapping In – from the live lesson

Painting together time – starting on a chicken painting (source photo below)

The rest of the chicken painting (painting demo)


Source Material
You can paint anything in the world! When choosing source material, make sure you love something about what you are painting. Paint what you’re drawn to, but make sure to start simply.

Here are a couple options.

  • Painting from Photos
    You can pull up a photo on a screen to paint from, or use printed photos.
    • Your Own Photos
      When taking photos, take lots so that a few of them will work for painting source material. Don’t be afraid to spend time looking for the right photo. And when choosing a photo, make sure there is something in that photo that you love, and try to name that thing (for example “the light is great”).
    • Other People’s Photos
      When you want to paint from someone else’s photos, make sure they are OK with that. Photos are automatically copyrighted by the photographer, but there are some photographers that are generous about sharing. is a great place to find photos as source material. Also, there are great photos that National Parks Service employees have taken while they’re working that are open for use. Definitely check any image’s copyright statement before using it.

      It’s a good practice to note on the back of your painting (on a piece of masking tape if you’d prefer not to mark your work directly), and/or in your record keeping, whose photo you painted from.

      Be aware that using other’s photos changes the painting’s eligibility for some contests.  
  • Painting from Life
    Painting from life is great, and will help you quickly develop your ability to see and make choices. Have fun, and try to control what you can.
    • Plein Air (outdoor) Painting
      If you’re out in the world, move around until you find a spot with a view you love. Don’t let fear keep you in a spot with a boring view.
    • Still Life (object) Painting
      Start with something simple, like a single apple or a single flower in a cup, with one single light source on the object. Try lots of simple things and note what you love painting and also what you find easiest to paint.

      Your light source can be a window (North windows have light that doesn’t change as fast as other windows). Or your light source can be a directional light. Make sure you have adequate light on your canvas, too. The light on your canvas does not need to be the same light source that’s on your still life setup. Video link.

      Here’s a fast and easy way to set up for a still life with controlled lighting. Make sure you light your canvas & palette as well as the still life setup
  • Master Copies
    A master copy is a copy of someone else’s artwork. Lots of artists make master copies in the quest for artistic improvement. Make sure to follow good ethics for a good experience. I’m not a lawyer – so please do not take this as legal advice.
    • Working from an old master’s painting that is in the public domain is a great way to learn! I love seeing people sketching in museums. Make sure to note on the back of your work that it is a master copy and represent it that way in any documentation.
    • If you want to paint from a painting demo, that’s a great way to learn! You are welcome to paint from my painting demos! Sometimes that is a master copy and sometimes it’s just using the same source material or being inspired by the demo, depending on how you use the demo – But all of those things are great.
    • If you want to paint from paintings that are not in the public domain, and have not specifically been shared with you by the artist for the purpose of learning, use caution.

      All paintings (and photos) are automatically copywritten by the artist when they are created. I’m not a lawyer – so here’s in case you’d like the actual info.

Starting Your Painting

  • Blocking In
    Starting general and working to more specific will help keep your objects where you want them on your canvas.
  • Transferring
    Transferring drawings VIDEO COMING SOON

Defining Your Vision

This can be as simple as noting what you love about your source material, or why you want to paint it. Do you love the way the light moves? Do you love the colors, a gesture, something else? Try, for the next few paintings, writing on your palette or a piece of paper what you love in your source material – just one or two words, and see if that changes how you paint.

Demo Photo