At some point in an artist's life, "how to paint" becomes less important than "what to paint." 

 Here's my latest project: Clip Art iBooks for artists - a series of inexpensive and beautiful photographic resource material made for iBooks. 

ROSES Book 1, 214 pages of roses by Judith Hope Brown. 

For a few years I've been using some of Judith Hope Brown's photographs for reference and discovered that she had a treasure trove of images!

  She was willing to team up and we decided to publish clip art books for artists by specific categories to make it easier to find what is needed. iBooks seemed to be the ideal venue - photographs that are high resolution and backlit on an iPad screen are far superior to a print with a limited range of color and value.

ROSES Book 3, 219 pages of roses by Judith Hope Brown

All three volumes of clip art photographs of ROSES are shot in natural light and are packed with full page reference photos. They are copyright free for artists to use in their art. 

There are about 200 full page photos in each book (more would be difficult to download). A traditional print book would probably cost more than the iPad or Mac requited to view it.

Click on the covers to download free samples and let me know what you think.

The whole collection is here. (More clip art books to come)

NOTE REQUIREMENTS: To view these iBooks, you must have an iPad with iBooks 3 or later and iOS 5.1 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

Until the technology catches up in Kindle format (not full page, 16 shades of gray) these book are ONLY available on iBooks. 


I have a collection of over 300 vintage portrait photographs that I put into two iBooks. Unfortunately the collection was too large to share on this blog. 

iBooks turned out to be the ideal venue and these books are best viewed on an iPad which has a very high res screen. However, because many of you do not have an iPad (seriously, it is my best studio tool) I will share some of the lessons from this collection here on the blog.
That old saying, “you can’t paint a good portrait from a bad photo” is certainly true.
Each one of these photos would make a fine portrait reference.

These photos provide a treasure trove of knowledge that appears to have been “forgotten” by many modern-day portrait artists. A lot of the tips and tricks to making a great portrait photo hide in plain sight. But the beauty of this collection is how easy it is to spot the elements of a good reference photo.
Here are some of the things I have learned from these Old Master photographic portraits. I am sure that you will find other lessons that I may have have missed.


These photos easily break down into the three basic values so you can appreciate the strong compositions. (Click to enlarge).

Some say that value is more important than color. A good photograph must have a a dark, medium and light value. Breaking down a photo into a few basic values can help us see and adjust important design elements to determine a composition. Since color often confuses the eye, these black and white photographs easily illustrate the importance of a good range of value.

Note that there are variations of value to be found within in each of the three basic values. (Click to enlarge).

So, the next time you need a reference photo, be sure to begin with an object that represents white (or light value) and another object that represents black (or a dark value). All of the rest will automatically fall into the middle range. Be mindful of the value of the background and make sure it enhances the value of the foreground (the figure).

Don’t use a “fill” light or you run the risk of cross shadows. Examine an Old Master portrait painter like Vermeer. Note the lighting and see that the photographs in this book tend to duplicate it.

The Old Master painters like Vermeer used a single source of light. He also use the camera obscura to project the image.
The shadows are not confusing and are consistent with a single source of light. In general, light coming from the upper left is preferred. The light should be soft and wrap gently around the form. A painter needs to be able to see into the shadows. Shadows define form and the patterns they create are important design elements in a composition.

“Back in the day,” clothing, especially for women, seemed much more interesting to photograph - especially those wonderfully big hats - a surefire design element. However with some effort and the tricks you see here, even modern-day clothing can translate into a beautiful and timeless reference photograph. Note the lack of fussy patterns in all the photos in these two volumes.


A portrait is much more intimate when the sitter's eyes directly engage the viewer. In a realistically painted portrait, "these eyes will follow you around a room."

In general, the placement of the camera lens in relation to the sitter’s eyes is subtle - but necessary to understand.
Women are traditionally photographed at eye level. A direct gaze into the camera lens will result in a general feeling of “intimacy” for the viewer.
Men (and others who wish to appear “important”) are photographed with the lens below the eye level. The viewer will then be forced to  “look up” at the sitter. 
Children are usually photographed above eye level and thus we can see more of the top of the head. It is a subtle indication that the sitter is is small or young.


The hat, clothing and the contrast of values makes for interesting shapes and a striking silhouette.

These portraits have clearly defined the large silhouettes of both the positive and negative shapes. These areas are interesting and not repetitive or uniform in size and shape. The costume and the pose all frame and flatter the face.

The depth of these portraits are shallow and seldom include any perspective. The background is sometimes “suggested” but seldom, if ever, clearly defined. The value of the background always serves the portrait.

Often the backgrounds are plain - a compositional element to serve and enhance the figure. 

Having the sitter in focus but not the background helps the subject stand out and appear more important.

Props add interest to the photograph, help define the person and assist the pose by giving the sitter something to lean on or hold. They are often an interesting design element. 

The props can help define the sitter and often can "make the portrait."

Parasols, feathers, furs, flowers and chairs with fancy carvings all add to the portrait. One photographer created a dynamic composition by placing a pillow behind the subject’s head in order to frame and enhance the face.


The large sculptural shape of the hair makes this portrait interesting. If you are able to see the rest of the photographs in these books, you will notice that much of the hair is fake - simply added for the sake of making the photo "interesting."

Those big hats and interesting sculptural hair shapes are an important design element and are certainly used to best advantage. They add to the overall composition and frame the face.


Not your average "street" clothing - but it sure looks good in a portrait.

The clothing may look great in a portrait, but one would seldom walk down the street “dressed for a portrait.” Street clothing is not portrait clothing. “Portrait hair” and “portrait hats” are seldom worn everyday.

Drapery is subtle and sometimes a second look will show that what you assumed was a dress is merely cloth draped over and around the body.

It's not clothing, it's drapery of a necessary value and a flattering shape. And the photographer cleverly added a pillow behind her head to make an interesting shape. 

 Drapery can and does hide many figure “flaws.” Drapery can be timeless - whereas clothing can date the picture. Plain drapery of some needed value has been used in so many of these photographs. 

Eliminating the appearance of a double chin in an older woman can be done by having the sitter lean forward and tilt the chin upwards.

To give her that impossible, but flattering, long-leg look, the subject is standing on a small box hidden by her clothing.

Do you want the subject to appear tall and slender? Have her stand on a small box hidden beneath her long dress in order to create that illusion. Sometimes you see a shoe peek out from underneath clothing that “suggests” a much longer leg than a model really has.
A hand or a prop can conceal or “correct” a sagging jaw line.

Pre-Photoshop coverup?

The feminine form is often enhanced and exaggerated by a lot of corseting - and a figure-flattering pose. 
Gloves can be useful as a design element for both men and women. They might introduce a needed value, color or texture - and perhaps  hide hands that shouldn’t be shown.

If a subject is to be photographed for a reference to rely on for a painting, a closed mouth (smile or otherwise) is best.

Rule #1 in painting portraits - NEVER EVER paint a subject whose teeth are showing. Always try to capture a closed mouth smile.

Do not show teeth in a painted portrait - It is asking for trouble. Since “the eyes are the mirror of the soul,” they should be as wide open as possible. And that means the mouth is shut.


Close cropping a photo is okay - but never close crop a painted portrait.

Although these portraits are shallow in depth, they are not claustrophobic. There tends to be ample space left above the head.

When you look at these portraits you can be pretty certain that not every woman has long, thick, luxurious hair. On closer examination, you can often see all sorts of things holding that (sometimes fake) hair together. 

Extra hair pieces, ornaments and even jewelry have been added to insure that the hair will have an interesting “sculptural” shape. I am sure that the backside of these hairdos are frightful. However, the hair is manipulated into an interesting shape just for the camera lens.

Who knows how the drapery is secured behind this sitter? Safety pins? Clamps? Tape? It really doesn’t matter as long as the camera doesn’t see it.

Jewelry, buttons, bows, ruffles, buckles, ties and embroidery can be utilized to add detail and design. It is said that “God is in the details.” Little tiny shapes generally don’t work as well as larger ones. Ditto clothing. 

Pins, wires, staples and tape can secure clothing and drapery when necessary - as long as the camera doesn’t see it - it will mimic “reality.” If you can get away with it - do whatever serves the portrait.

Many poses are not comfortable - but they make for a very nice photo. 

Carefully placed drapery and an awkward way to read a book makes for a beautiful portrait - and the sitters comfort is seldom questioned. 

Be mindful that some of these poses take a real effort on the part of the sitter. It is not obvious unless you are aware.

Successful portraits of men take some creativity to produce. In general, the white collars frame the face and represent the light value. The contrast of light and dark usually form a shape as a major design element. 

Note the simple but effective pose. Where do you suppose the sitter’s left arm and hand is in order to raise that shoulder?

The position of the shoulders frequently matters to the composition. Note that in general, one shoulder is often dramatically higher than the other. It is seldom “comfortable” to put a body in this position - but it sure looks great in the portrait.

Painting portraits from life is a luxury many artists simply do not have. Sitters can’t always schedule the time you need to paint them. They get tired and often have difficulty holding a pose for a long period. 

Drapery and clothing shift whenever the sitter moves. The solution? Learn to take a good reference photograph using a single source of light. 
Use all the tips and tricks necessary to produce a good photographic reference for a portrait. You can learn a lot of them from these wonderful old photographs. 

I hope you can access these two volumes and see how the Old Masters of Portrait Photography did it. Copy the poses and study how they did it.

I have included some of the various illustrations of the day and photos of the actors on stage during performances in these books. 

You can easily see that “the make a photograph” is far superior in artistic quality to the more ordinary “let’s take a photo” approach.


Old Master Portraits, Volumes I and II are part of my iBook Photographic Reference for Artists Series and are available for download on the iTunes bookstore.


These books are available for download with iBooks on your Mac or iPad, and with iTunes on your computer. Multi-touch books can be read with iBooks on your Mac or iPad. Books with interactive features may work best on an iPad. iBooks on your Mac requires OS X 10.9 or later.

(I kept the prices low ($4.99 each) in the hopes that enough copies will sell to cover the cost of the ISBN numbers.) 

Also, Check out the other copyright free clip books for artists in this iBook series:


Classical Painting Workshops  



in Hancock, New Hampshire

My teachers are offering very intensive week long workshops on Classical Painting. Numael and Shirley Pulido are not only great painters, they are the best teachers I ever had.

Portrait by Numael Pulido

 It is really exciting for me to see what happens when "talent finally meets a teacher."

You can enjoy some of their work here. Numael's works are in oil and Shirley's works shown here are in pastel ~ and oil. More information here.

This five and a half-day course is meant to accommodate artists looking for a unified approach to picture-making and oil painting technique.

Contact them here.

Portrait by Numael Pulido

Their workshops are an intensive course of instruction and open to only 11 students per workshop.

Still Life by Numael Pulido

It is a teaching applicable to all levels, - for beginners or for advanced painters who are looking for a more classical approach.

Still Life by Numael Pulido

Each student will start a start a still life with the same instruction and advance according to his/her own level of experience.

Portrait of Shirley by Numael Pulido

Some time will be devoted to advice for doing more effective set-ups for both still life and portrait painting.

Portrait by Numael Pulido

This is a workshop which provides the student with a great amount of procedural information and time-tested principles that allow the natural talent of the student to become more accessible.

Flowers (pastel) by Shirley Pulido


Begin Monday 9 am.

Friday will be the last day of formal instruction. 

Saturday morning, 9-12 AM they will cover reference photography and be available for questions.

Flowers (pastel) by Shirley Pulido

The price of the course is $750 which includes some materials such as non-toxic medium.

Portrait by Shirley Pulido

Accommodations are abundant in the area - and New England’s oldest, beautiful inn is right in town.

Good lunches, a five minute walk to town center.

And Peterborough, a cultured and elegant town, 7 miles down the road from Hancock for relaxed evenings.

Portrait by Shirley Pulido

The Manchester NH. airport is 45 minutes from Hancock.

The Pulido Studio is located at #6 Forest Rd. (Rte 123) Hancock, New Hampshire.

Portrait by Numael Pulido

We urge anyone considering this course to call so that we can discuss in further detail any of the above.

Portrait by Numael Pulido

Emails are fine, but we would also like to establish a personal contact by phone if you are planning to come.

Portrait by Numael Pulido

Contact Numael and Shirley Pulido,
Hancock, New Hampshire

Still Life (pastel) by Shirley Pulido

Intensive 6 Day Workshop

Study Form, Composition, Light, using the limited palette: ideal for artists wishing to enhance their knowledge of master painting technique and classical composition.

Still Life (pastel) by Shirley Pulido

This is a real opportunity to study with two masters of classical realism. And they are only accepting 11 people.

I recommend The Hancock Inn (one of the oldest inns in the country) as a delightful place to stay. It is within walking distance of the Pulido Studios, dining, library, grocery store....and a large picturesque pond.

"The Classical Realism Workshop" is a rare opportunity - so grab it if you can. I promise, you won't be disappointed.

Some Earlier Workshops:

I stopped by the last workshop toward the end and snapped a quick picture of the students busy working. This studio is small - but very comfy. The Pulidos have painted a mural on the far wall that gives their space a delightful "airy" (and classical) atmosphere.

I never met anyone who wanted to paint that was totally lacking the talent. But without solid instruction it is nearly impossible to get to a professional level.

For a lucky few, Numael and Shirley Pulido took their workshop participants through a step-by-step classical oil still life painting. Having experienced this procedure first-hand, the student can now return home and bring this traditional knowlege to all of their future works.

As I expected, they all "got it" - and the resulting work is most impressive. It is really exciting for me to see what happens when "Talent Finally Meets a Teacher."

Visiting the Pulido Studio Workshop made my day!

Here are some photos from recent workshops: