Large scale paintings

Hello artists!

This is my first topic here so, I hope you wouldn’t let me down😉
I’d like to know if someone of you is dealing with large paintings whether it’s a portrait or still life (I mean like the large portrait which is a trend now and created by our fellow hyperrealistic or photorealistic artists who are committed to paint or draw every little pimple or pops that appear on the skin) and have faced the issue of the resource photo that are copied from, I have seen some excellent artists on social media sharing their in progress shots of their artworks and i asked myself what’s the nature of resources they’re copying from? I truely have tried to ask them privately about this matter but I didn’t succeed in getting any answer from them. I noticed when i copy from printed photos that my paintings are getting better than when i use a laptop or tablet, do I have to print my resource images at the size of my canvas and paint sight size? My printer is Pixma Canon and as you know it can’t do this and even if i tried printing the parts of the image the ink will run out and cost of ink is high! Do I have to give the images to a specialized printer office who uses plotters to print these images? Any ideas?

Thank you


Hi Yasser—What an absolutely great topic.

I think that many successful artists today are using whatever type of reference source they can to realize their intent. Often I see many representationalists using large monitors/screens as reference. But if we look at projectors-for-reference as a precursor to the computer monitor–it’s not all that new. I remember visiting the personal studio of Ann Schuler when I was attending her school in Baltimore. I remember the neat setup she had for her still lifes and landscapes. She had a placed a large white screen next to her easel next to a large cabinet of carefully organized 35mm slides. Next to that was a slide projector that would project reference images onto the screen which she could then use as reference. It was the first time I had seen anything like that.

Since then, I have seen people work from all kinds of reference sources. As to your concerns about size–It’s important to understand that working large though does not mean that you necessarily need reference of equal size (unless of course, like you mentioned—you are trying to work sight-size.) But as you stated—that can be crazy expensive. Instead consider just “scaling” up. For example, Chuck Close appears to use smaller reference photographs that are fitted with a grid. He then uses the grid to scale up his work. You can see this in his “at work” photos.


(notice though that there is still a monitor on the right in the bottom photo)

However, there are others that really like that 1:1 reference. However, this does not mean that they will print the entire reference at the intended work size. For example, here is an artists named Christopher Minafo working in a more “piecemeal” fashion. Artists can make use of just a few 1:1 size prints of what they consider important areas–improvising or using past experience to tie them all together.


But again–yes—I do think many hyperrealists and photorealists are using monitors. If you search for images of such artists as work–you’ll be sure to spot some studio monitors on the scene sporting some reference material. For example, here is a shot of Carlos Bruscianelli’s work space that popped up from just such a search. You can see he has his reference loaded up on his laptop front and center.

I am sorry that you ran into some issues with trying to get information directly from the artists that you had reached out to. It seems that many can choose to be somewhat quiet of their process (which I do understand.)

Overall, in my opinion, the biggest issue that you would need to consider when deciding whether or not to use a monitor as reference would be gamut. In other words—can you achieve the same perceived value/color relationships, chromas, and value range of you find with your source? Online tools like SensualLogic’s Paintmaker can really help you to better “calibrate” your palette to your monitor. Here is the link:

I’d be curious to know if anyone working large here has some first hand experience with using a computer monitor as a reference source.


This is an incredible response Anthony! Thank you for such a detailed info, you of course is the only artist who is generous in giving explanations to almost every question I was asking in the messenger😉 and would like to tell you how your answers have helped me a lot, although the place I’m living in absolutely doesn’t help. I’ve tried for two years to paint using a monitor but this monitor was small, may be you don’t believe , but in using my iPhone 6 as monitor and for economic reasons i can’t afford larger screens.

As you’ve explained, I taught myself at the start to guess the colors off the screen but it was very difficult and aching to the eyes since the backlit screen won’t allow to judge the values or colors easily, so the works I’m working on turned to be good but not to the level that I was aspiring to over the time since I’m seeing daily more wonderful works by a number of excellent representational artists who are over the seas, the place I’m living in (in Jordan) is a hell for realist artist and an absolute grave! The guys here just don’t understand ( it’s unbelievable when you go to all galleries and hear the same matter each time; (like; hyperrealism is just copying!)

Then i started searching in the web and social media and I found that photographs played a major role in producing respectable artworks, and I mean by that the exacting of things portrayed whether it’s portrait or still-life, this is, to me at least, what Iam looking for, so I begun printing the images and the artworks were moderate in sizes, then i noticed the problems with going larger. At this level, my works were getting better even if they took long time to finish but however there wasn’t deadlines for them, so i was working slowly. But i know that to you and to number of experienced contemporary artists this isn’t an obstacle to producing quality artworks.

For the artist Ann Schuler, which i May have noticed her name before but never looked to her artworks, are her artworks photorealistic ?
Also I’ve heard before about Robert Clause, however, I’ve never seen any work of contemporary artists in person.In fact there are few artists who share info or shots of their process while working, since he’s may be the oldest known hyperrealistic artist, his name is quite known, thank you for sharing these images of these talented photorealistic artists, I’m sure I’ll look to them in the social media, I’ve come across some highly talented and renowned international names such as Robin Eley, Eloy Morales, and the incredible Marco Grassi! I’ve found myself that I could learn so much by knowing the personal experience of these respectable artist, including you.

As you’ve mentioned, I’m amazed how you could read my mind😉 about difficulty to get visual info of color and value from digital screen, I myself have asked this many times but it seems that there isn’t a direct comparison between the subject in the monitor screen and the dynamic physical paint we’re working on unless ( as you’ve mentioned) the calibration or the recent websites or applications dedicated to make this process easily and approximate, may be it’s the only exact option at the moment. I’ve played with golden virtual paint mixer for a while, the website you’ve mentioned is terrific too!

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Hi Yasser,
I work from both reference photos and a monitor. I hook my computer up to a 26 inch TV monitor that is capable of high resolution. I like using the monitor a little more than photos because I can zoom and I can see more details. That may have something to do with my printer or my printer photo paper. The amount of details is at least 50 percent better when looking at the monitor. Where the photo comes in handy for me is to cut up slices to put right beside my painting so that I can see size. I print this out from photoshop to size for whatever section I am working on. It’s not a full photo but just an 8.5 X 11 except. But before I start working on my painting I print out 2 or 3 full size prints of 2 or 3 sizes from Kinkos (a print store here)in black and white and I ask them to do it on their cheapest printer and paper. It’s only about $6 for a 24 X 24. That way I can choose what size works best. I use the Kinkos copy to draw by. I place Saral transfer paper between my panel and the full size print out and draw out a cartoon. Sometimes I draw too much, other times I don’t draw enough information. It’s not perfect but I don’t own a projector which a lot of people use. I tend to think that is not perfect either. I have dogs running about and could see my set up moving when it got bumped if I used that method. The biggest obstacle is not being able to get the monitor really close to the painting and adjusting the value. Adjusting values will just take time. You can also adjust your image levels in photoshop on your monitor as the SusualLogic program suggests (Anthony mentioned it in his reply) But I tried adjusting levels and noticed I have looked at a monitor for so many years that I forget I am am adjusting levels and over adjusted when looking at an adjusted image. Just remember that you will never get a white as white as you can see on a monitor. That was a huge learning point for me. I basically never use pure white except on highlights. I look at my painting and find the lightest part and save the white or lightest values for that and scale down in proportion from there. I hope this helps. I am always available if you have any questions.


Thank you for sharing your valuable experience Diane, I’m sure I’ll try your methods soon as it’s common with all painters nowadays to do the same setup but with everyone’s personal differences. I’m sure I need a monitor too and you’re right that nothing perfect, even the projector method isn’t perfect too because the fixture of it is difficult and I don’t use it for large paintings because my space is limited and it can’t be mounted and move freely.

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Great response Tony. Just had a chance to read this. I don’t work at painting portraits 6’. The largest head on a figure to date is 9.5-“.

To respond to Yasser’s question, I only work from the monitor when I need to see more detail by zooming in. I work sight sized mostly and have used various methods to produce a painting…some that were mentioned such as gridding out the photo print or on the monitor you can turn on grid view if you like using the lcd. You can also tile sections of your print but you need to slightly overlap the prints to align properly. I then tape the back and its a poster color print. You dont have to do it as a whole and just paint sections. Mark off the exact placement on your panel or your composition may change which is a big no no for me.

I like to do a traditional drawing from scratch ad if its painted or drawn from life if its no bigger than 20x30. Two ways are to mark off your center and get your vertical and horizontal. Then on your peint poster or monitor, do the same and draw with willow charcoal soft-medium to get your drawing precise and in scale. I mark off sides tops and any other important big angles in my envelope. Anthony Ryder, great artist and draftsman, has a great book on enveloping called Figure Drawing. If i go much larger, i do a precise drawing of the figure and portrait and leave background simplistic. I don’t draw every detail, but that is my temperament as i like to do it with the paint. I then go to kinkos and print my drawing on their oversize machine to get it to scale.

I transfer using nitram medium charcoal as it does not leave residue and marks…more convenient than saral as that usually comes in small sheets unless you buy a roll and tape together. You can also use 2 b lead tombow pencil and use a big window as a light box to outline the back of your drawing only with the lines you need and transfer that. All work including cartooning the whole image.

I only shoot in camera raw as that does not compress any info on the camera. Think darkroom! All info is there in pre production. In post production you risk loosing values called dynamic range as well as compressing you millions of colors to 256.
Richard Schmid said it best 20 years ago, if you need information and are using a camera, make sure its a good one, camera raw, good glass (lens)

As painters, we need to see detail and info, so make sure your shots are in focus, do not shoot jpg! Big mistake! Your info will be list forever. Get a decent printer like epson better than artisan 1430 but don’t break the bank! Inks are quite costly!
I hope this helps! Good luck!

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Thank you for sharing your experience and giving great advises. I’ve found that the advantage of doing sight size and/or drawing/painting part by part can’t be compared with other methods, especially when doing photographic realism, also known as photorealism. To me, at this time, I don’t take my photos by myself. I also don’t use large monitor. But as Anthony has explained, comparing values with the subject in monitor can be a very daunting to impossible task, i can’t compare values/ colors with the backlit screen, i need something physical to compare its values with my physical colors, it looks that I’m looking at a ghost (the subject in monitor) and trying hard to make a tangibe life copy of it on my surface, I’m sure you know what I mean.

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Agreed! I feel the same and we work similar!