As suggested in Ginger's recent email to the group, I will describe the process that I follow to create a painting in Photoshop, in this case the current Trowbridge episode. My art school training may put me at odds with some, due to my non-purist "commercial" methodology.
Because of my art school training, I'm not hesitant about using tracing methods, when it's time-saving and advantageous. That's what we were taught in art school when doing representational art. Why take three times longer to be a purist and copy a photo freehand? To me it's not practical. In one of my art books on realistic watercolor painting, the author traced all of his images for watercolor paintings from photographs. It was obvious, but he never came out and stated it in his book. To me, there's no shame in tracing.
It's a totally different story when I do my humorous illustration projects. Everything is pure freehand drawing and imagination. The Trowbridge episodes are also obviously freehand, with the exception of this flower series. I'm doing these flower paintings for my new realistic watercolor painting workshop web site that I'll mention a bit later. I'm getting extra mileage out of the the paintings by using them for Trowbridge episodes. I've also blown them up into a large format and had them printed on canvas. The yellow tree hibiscus posted at the Trowbridge blog now hangs over our fireplace mantel. I will also blow up and print this red hibiscus on canvas.
Below is the photo that I used, taken on our Rarotonga trip. When you examine the painting below you can see how many modifications I made. The yellow anthers are much brighter in the painting than in the photo, and I modified the light and modeling quite a bit, and of course darkened the background to add contrast and drama.
In painting realism from photo references, the photograph is almost as important as the quality of the painting. The photograph must be well composed and cropped, it should be an ideal example of the flower, and it MUST have a strong light source. Without strong light and shadow contrast, the flower painting falls flat on its petals. The flower below is not a good example of strong light, but it's all I had to work with. That's why I enhanced the light on the petals as much as I could. I got only a handful of "paintable" photos from the trip. Unfortunately, I couldn't spend the whole time on the island shooting flowers.
My painting process is not complicated; it's quite straight forward. I choose a photo, decide where to crop it, then I trace the image onto the paper within the prescribed dimensions, in this case 7.5 inches square (Lulu book dimensions). I'm careful in the tracing stage to include all of the details that will be necessary for the painting. Next, I scan my pencil drawing as a foundation for the painting. I paint in Photoshop on a layer on top of the pencil layer in the "multiply" mode.
Much of the success of the outcome depends on the photograph(s) that I'm using for reference. If it's a dramatically lit photo, it's up to me to bring that light into the painting.
The trick to painting realism is in being familiar with rendering techniques. We did a lot of rendering in art school. It takes considerable patience to stay with it and keep the rendering tight throughout the painting. To enhance the realistic effect, the background may be rendered in an "out of focus" manner. It doesn't have to be the same background as in your photo. You can use a background from parts of other photos, or you can invent a background as I did in the red hibiscus. FYI: This photo was shot in the botanical gardens at the resort where we stayed.
If anyone would like to take a dream art vacation, I'm planning a return trip to the South Pacific next winter to teach a realistic watercolor floral painting workshop. I will soon be launching a new web site, called Painting in Paradise, that will spell out all the details. It would be wonderful if some of my blogging friends were part of the group. I'll let you know when I launch the web site. It will be in a month or so. I hope you find this explanation helpful.