I am an avid painter, drawer and now photographer who first picked up a camera as a tool to create more works of art. But what I’ve found is that I can actually use photography for painting and that my drawing and painting ties into my skills as a photographer.

Painting is a slow and steady process, and with a growing family and career, I don’t always have the time for it. Photography — as an art form itself — is a way for me to more quickly capture moments with my family that I want to recall later. I often use photography to capture a scene or concept that I can come back to later for a potential painting.

Here are a few of the ways I use photography for painting, and how you can fuel your inner artist as well.

Photography helps me remember details for my paintings.

Taking a photos helps me capture the details of a moment that I might not otherwise be able to paint from memory. Photographs conflate the senses so that we see and remember at the same time. We can get the sense of space and detail of the scene, but also feel the emotion of when that photo was taken. This inspires me to capture all of that with my paintbrush.

In this photo, I love how I am holding my son so that his body is facing me. I can feel a mother’s embrace and wanted to depict that precious timeframe when my son was a toddler in the painting.

Photo of a mother holding her son
Reference photo
Watercolor painting of mother and son

Photography allows me to study light and composition for my paintings.

I have found that I’ve become a better painter by studying light and various compositions through the camera lens. In photos, I’m able to see how light in real time touches a subject and illuminates the details I want to portray in my paintings.

Before learning photography, I didn’t have a strong individual voice in fine art. Through my camera, I’ve found that I adore shadows, deep contrasts and low light. I now have a deeper understanding of these elements, which helps me as a creative.

How photography can make you a better painter, example painting
photo of boy in black and white
Reference photo

Here, my son was having a day of emotions. I grabbed my camera quickly to capture him looking out the window and froze that moment. I knew that I could not accurately replicate his emotion from memory to watercolor. The photo helped me capture the whole story so I could retell it later with my painting.

I use my photos for reference.

Almost all of the photos I take lead to paintings or drawings that I have in my head — mostly of my son or the both of us. Often, I reference my photos for light and emotional connections.

Photo of a mother and son in black and white
Drawing of a boy, created from a painting

Photos help me experiment with concepts for paintings.

Looking back at photographs has become a great outlet for experimenting with concepts before bringing them into a painting. I often will reference my photos later while I paint and elaborate on the initial idea.

Reference photo

I don’t have any photos of my son and I walking hand in hand, and I wish I did. I looked at the photo of my son and knew I could paint myself in beside him.

Painting of a mother and son walking by Sarah Gupta

3 Ways to fuel your inner artist:

1. Observe.

Life happens every day. Creativity surrounds us. It seems obvious, but we walk around oblivious most days. Take a moment to observe your daily happenings and what drives your creativity. Are there similarities between two art forms that motivate you? I bet there is another creative outlet that fuels you to make art, and that your audience would love to see.

2. Live.

Just living in life can be an excellent fuel for creative thought. Do something that you have never done before. Travel to a new place. See how other people use different creative mediums. Make new friends. Let others teach you!

3. Expose.

When you open up the innermost parts of you, ideas will flow. If you hide behind closed doors, fearful of what others will think, then you might as well stop your creative process. The more you expose yourself, the more expressive and bold you become. If you share your heart, those who view your work will love you for it.

Painting can inspire photography.

I recently participated in a project collaboration with Click Pro Photographers where we looked for inspiration from other works of art and created our own art in the form of a photograph. This was a fun challenge, as I normally paint or draw from my own photos.

I really love the paintings by Carlton Alfred Smith. He depicts everyday domestic life between women and children so beautifully. I especially love how he uses natural light and low light. It was a wonderfully fun activity to recreate this painting with my son and bring it to life in modern times with a camera.

Recreation of a classic painting
My photo (left) from a classic painting (right) by Carlton Alfred Smith.

I encourage you to stretch yourself beyond the genre of art where you feel most creative. When I began acknowledging that my photography was what I needed to become a better artist, I was surprised to see both mediums — painting and photography — flourish.

What fuels you to take photos? What fuels you to paint, draw, cook, sew or write? Often times a creative outlet will spill over and inspire another. Perhaps you can begin to explore how other creative outlets can ignite your main form of art.

Photos and artwork by Sarah Gupta