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Using Photographs As Templates

One of my favorite parts about my job as Resident Artist is helping people create their vision, and getting them excited about new techniques! During my workshops at art societies and trade shows, I bring my own work and create a small representational painting, because that’s what I like to paint. But sometimes, people come up to me afterwards and shyly confess, “This is all very nice, your work is good, your products are wonderful, but I can’t draw. How can I paint?”

I firmly believe that everyone can paint. I admit that solid drawing skills can certainly help – especially if you want to paint representationally – but you shouldn’t let that hold you back. There are many ways of transferring a template to your surface, but one of the easiest is to paint directly on photographs. It’s a great way to learn about colors, values, forms and shapes of objects, as well as composition.

Where to find good photos to use? The first – and the best source – is to use photos that you have taken yourself, so you can avoid any copyright issues. There are many resources on the web, too. Sites such as and have millions of images, but be sure to read the license agreement. Many will allow you to purchase and download a photo for personal use, but not allow you to use the images for profit.

The following examples illustrate how I used my photograph on an 8 x 10 canvas board. But if you want to work larger on canvas, take the digital file to your local print/copy shop and they will be able to enlarge it to the desired size. For a clear image, you’ll need a high-resolution file, generally 300dpi – just check with your print/copy shop.

Supplies needed:

  • 8 x 10 digital photos printed on matte photo paper. Use only your own photos that you have taken, not work from other people.
  • 8 x 10 canvas board
  • Jo Sonja All Purpose Sealer
  • Assorted Jo Sonja Colors to match the colors of the photo
  • Clear Glaze Medium
  • Assorted brushes


  1. Print 2 copies of an 8 x 10 digital photo on a high quality, matte photo paper using your home ink-jet printer. Glossy paper does not work as well. Trim the edges of one so it will fit exactly on the 8 x 10 canvas board.
  2. Using a large brush, apply a layer of All Purpose Sealer to the canvas board and to the back of your photo. Place photo on canvas board and smooth out any bumps. You’ll need to work quickly, as the canvas board and the back of the photo will need to be wet in order to get good adhesion. Tip: Use a brayer to help work out any wrinkles. You can also start at the center and smooth the photo in a circular fashion to work out any wrinkles.
  3. When the print has adhered to the canvas board, use a large brush and apply 1-2 layers of All Purpose Sealer on top. Use a light hand and a soft brush, so you don’t agitate the ink on the print.
  4. When dry (about 1 hour), use assorted Jo Sonja colors to paint the photo. Use the second photo as a reference for highlights and shadows.
  5. When your painting is dry (about 1 hour), apply a coat of Clear Glaze Medium as a barrier coat.
There are (1) Comments, Comments are now closed for this discussion?
  1. comment_1_6851

    Judy commented on April 14, 2009, at 2:50 am.

    You sealed photo to board and actually painted on the photo paper? How do you keep the ink from bleeding when appling the sealer?