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Paintings from old photographs

Creating house portraits from old photographs is something I am asked to do from time to time. Sometimes only a fragment or a small faded photograph exists of a family home, and I’m tasked to create a portrait of how it would have looked in its heyday. Here’s how I went about a few of them.

Shannacknuck – 6” x 8” watercolour

A cottage in Ireland was the home of my client’s parents. All she had was a grainy black and white photograph from when they lived there, and a recent photograph of the house, modernised.

My client described what she could remember of living there as a child and drew me a sketch of the layout from above, which helps to put markers in the photograph in context. If you only have one point of reference, objects in the photograph can appear to be in a different place to where they really are. For example (in the old photo), is that tree on the left right next to the house or several yards away and in the foreground? More on that in the next example.

We discussed more over the phone about the picture - wall colour, roof colour, that sort of thing. It was decided to move the tree on the left still further to the left in order to paint in the side windows that had been described to me. A bed of flowers not in view in the photograph was added in the foreground.

Finally, when the layout had been approved, I went ahead and commenced the painting. Fine art prints of the original were made for distribution to the rest of the family.

Breaffa - 6” x 8” watercolour

A small farmhouse was again another ancestral family home. This one proved quite difficult initially to get all the structures in the correct place.

I made a preliminary sketch of how I thought it should look. There seemed to be an attachment to the side of the house that wasn't in the second photo. Had that part of the building been pulled down at some stage? Which incarnation did my client want painting?

After discussion it was evident I'd got bits wrong in the sketch. More photos were retrieved from relatives to help with the layout.

Ah, now I see there's a standalone shed! From the first photograph it looked as if it was attached to the house. (Remember what I said about having only one point of reference?)

The client wanted me to add a pair of stone pillars at the entrance to the lane in the foreground. Again, an aerial photograph was found to show me where the pillars were in context with the house, as there wasn't a photo in existence that showed the house with the pillars in the same photo.

After having initially sketched the gate going in the wrong direction my final sketch was met with approval. Everything is where it should be. All okay to go ahead! Now to transfer my layout to watercolour paper.

The finished article. A happy client and tears all round! Again, this was made into a set of prints for giving to the family.

Old Chapel Lane - 7” x 5” watercolour

Another client wanted a painting of her father's childhood home for his birthday. She had a good recent photo of the house but only two partial photos from her father's day.

I used the modern photo for the structural basis. The two earlier photos were used to match the wall colouring, window dressing, door, garden, wall and gate.

A little questioning was needed to ascertain which downstairs window to paint in And what was in the upstairs window, in the garden to the right of the path, the left hand wall, and the garden gate shape?

The final outcome. The client was delighted with the result.

Google Images

Here’s a recently completed little house portrait (7" x 5"), painted entirely from images on Google Earth. If photos of the house aren’t available for whatever reason, (maybe it's a surprise present for someone living far away) I can often make something of it from using Google’s Street View facility.

Care must be taken though - the street view photos aren't entirely accurate and can distort structures. Viewing the property from above can help - as you can see the street view photo makes the garden look much wider and angular at the front. From above it is revealed to be much squarer than first thought. Where possible I try to paint the front garden in with the house in all my paintings. There may be some distortion to fit the garden in to the confines of the paper, but overall the shapes is as accurate as it can be.

If you wish to commission a house portrait (all of the above are my little 'Bijou' house portraits at £39 each) please email me using the contact form on this site to discuss. Alternatively you can order through my Etsy shop:

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