Deciding What To Paint

Deciding What To Paint

By Wes Siegrist

How do we decide what we are going to paint? We never run out of subjects since we are always experiencing those “wow” moments in nature and life. The digital age has inundated us with overflowing reference photos from cameras that can store literally thousands of shots from each excursion. What is it that makes one thing get chosen to be immortalized by our brushes over another?

Rachelle Siegrist photographing in the field

Rachelle and her sister, Hayley, enjoying an Armadillo (2004)

Getting Inspired For Subjects

Ninety-nine percent of the time we’re inspired by encounters in the field. Something we see, experience and enjoy! We want to capture that moment to share with others. Why paint it versus just share a photo? Well, mostly it’s because we love reliving the moment as we recreate it with our brushes. We may change the mood, composition or color to reflect more of what we felt at that time. Perhaps we just want to make it more “artsy” by adding metallic gold. Viewers will interact with the painting on such a deeper level than they would were they merely observing our reference photo. Painting it we experience the joy of the encounter over and over!

Rachelle Siegrist with a Gecko

Rachelle’s in heaven with a Gecko during a behind-the-scenes tour at the TN Aquarium (2004)

The Highly Complex Selective Process!

But which subject gets chosen? Beyond those awe inspiring experiences or perfect subjects in perfect light remains literally thousands of images, thousands of encounters all competing for our attention. While we foremost paint what we want to, we’re influenced by subject constraints with some shows and almost always in the back of our minds is the thought: will it sell? Since sales are our only income the thought is always there. We’ve sold dozens of swan paintings but no snails. Even though we’re always photographing inspirational snail compositions on the trail! We also look at what we’ve already painted, what we have available to send to shows and sometimes, based on cold business facts, what would look best in the frames we currently have on hand.

Wes and Rachelle Siegrist birdwatch in Yellowstone

Birdwatching in Yellowstone (2004)

Which One Of Us Paints It?

Rachelle is fond of answering this question with we “arm-wrestle” it out and she always wins since she tickles Wes to get the edge. The truth is closer to we lean to who saw it first or was most inspired. Since we’re always together there’s abundant overlap in our reference. We used to specialize more. Rachelle did all the human portraits. Wes painted all the boats. Now, only our signatures are a sure-fire way of knowing who painted what.

Wes Siegrist photographing Bison in Yellowstone

Photographing Bison in Yellowstone (2004)

Bottom line, we have 20+ years worth of images already chosen “to paint” without ever going back in the field or picking up a camera. Therefore we’re always going to be DECIDING what to paint. But what a great life to have so many choices based on so much fun!

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2 thoughts on “Deciding What To Paint

  1. Great article Wes & Rachelle! You have hit the subject right on its proverbial ‘nail’! One of my issues is wasting time flip flopping around all those images trying to pick the ‘one’ instead of just simply choosing one and jumping into a painting. Sometimes I think I could probably get a miniature painting done in the time I spend mulling through images. Thanks for sharing. Kelly

    1. Thanks Kelly! I try to drastically cut down the reference photos after each trip by deletion and selection of which of the images would make the best painting when they’re so similar. The best images go in to our “Potential Paintings” folder. We also print off a dozen or so “possible paintings” when we’re working on selecting reference. This way, we have a bunch of immediate options to get started with rather than starting from scratch each time to decide. Happy painting!

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