How to Find Painting Reference Photos Without Breaking the Law

"Head in the Clouds" - Oils on canvas board. 5x7"

I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m out and about, especially when travelling abroad or in the countryside, I’ve always got one eye on my surroundings, looking for potential scenes to photograph for use as painting reference.

I’ve got quite a backlog of image files just waiting to be painted.

But sometimes, the photos don’t inspire me, and I want to paint something that I don’t have a reference for.

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Own an Original

"Avo" by Dan Johnson

I’ve not done much in the way of trying to sell any of my paintings for a while (in fact the last painting I sold was a pet portrait commission back in 2012!)

A few people have expressed an interest in buying some of my work in the last few months, so I decided to make some of it available to purchase.

You can see my available paintings in my DailyPaintWorks gallery.

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What it means to be a ‘self-taught’ artist


I consider myself a ‘self-taught’ artist.

What does this mean?

Essentially, it means I have had very little formal training in art/painting. I took art in high school, and very briefly in college, before switching to psychology for some reason, but since then, everything I’ve learnt has been through self-guided learning, using books, videos, informal online courses, and a large dose of trial-and-error (heavy on the error!)

So in a sense, I have been taught by the people who wrote those books and made those videos/courses, but not directly, and the ‘self-taught’ label applies more to the self-directed nature of the learning. I chose what to learn and when, and at what pace. I wasn’t following a curriculum, or being told exactly what to study.

As such, my learning has been sporadic, and I’ve been known to go for months at a time without picking up a brush/pencil (although I’m getting into a more regular routine these days).

How to be a self-taught artist

Here are some of the most beneficial resources I’ve used in my learning path so far. I hope you’ll find them equally useful.

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Don’t wait until you’re ready

Zhujiajiao - oil study 10x8"

I have a folder on my computer called “To paint”, which contains all the photos I’ve taken that I might someday like to use as reference for a painting.

Maybe you have a similar system?

If you’re anything like me, there will be a handful of photos in that folder, which you’re saving, because you don’t feel like you’re ready to paint that particular subject just yet.

It’s such a great subject that when you paint it, you want it to be the best it can possibly be, so you think you’ll just wait a bit longer, until you have more experience and you are more likely to do it justice. When you feel ready, you’ll paint that masterpiece.

Well I have news for you…

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