Painting Techniques: Photorealism

by Todd Bowerman
A blank canvas is the basic element of most paintings.

A blank canvas is the basic element of most paintings.

Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Photorealism is a special type of painting in which the goal of the artist is to recreate an image as closely as possible. In an ideal situation, the painting and the photograph are virtually identical to the naked eye, and only a close inspection will reveal the painting for what it is. Learning photorealism takes time and dedication, as it is an incredibly difficult art to master. If you are interested in pursuing photorealistic painting, there are a few things to keep in mind as you start your journey.

Items you will need

  • Camera
  • Gesso
  • Paintbrushes
  • Blank canvas
  • Digital projector
  • Acrylic paint
  • Pencils
Step 1

Take a reference photograph with your camera. Photorealism demands a constant subject, so you will need a photo with which to work.

Step 2

Prime your canvas with gesso. Gesso is a liquid paint applied to the canvas before painting begins to help even the paint tone and help the canvas accept acrylic. You will need to apply several coats of gesso before you begin.

Step 3

Connect your projector to your computer and project the image directly onto your canvas. If you do not have access to a digital projector, you can trace the image with trace paper and place the paper on an overhead, though it is more difficult to accurately replicate tones through this method.

Step 4

Trace the image onto your canvas with a pencil. Try to trace as cleanly as you can, as any small differences from the original photograph will give you away.

Step 5

Transfer the image into paint by carefully mixing colors to match your projection and applying them with small paintbrushes. Smaller brushes give you more control over details like light play, shadows and folds, which are critical in photorealism.

Step 6

Set aside time each day to work on your painting, covering small areas of the image with paint until you are finished. Photorealism is a time-intensive process and you should expect to spend weeks, if not months, working on this painting.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you are unfamiliar with techniques like mixing paint or using a paintbrush, you should take a beginner's painting class. A photorealistic painting is far too difficult for a first painting and will prove to be a frustrating and disappointing project.

Photo Credits

  • Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images