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I saved the best tip for last. I think this method is a *game changer* for Self Taught Artists because it helps to train your eye with what is important! If you want to loosen up your painting, or just become better at painting from a reference photo, this episode is for you. I’ll walk you through my favorite method for loosening up my painting step by step.

 It takes just a little bit of technology magic to make it happen. 

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Episode Transcript

Hello, and welcome back to the Self Taught Artist Podcast. I’m Lauren Kristine, your host. This is a bonus episode, part two of the episode I just completed on how to loosen up your painting. So if you haven’t already listened to that episode, I encourage you to start there.

This tip for loosening up your painting is actually my favorite, and that’s why I wanted to separate it out and make sure that it was easy to come back to, and easy to reference, and that it did not get lost in the shuffle of my many, many other tips for how to loosen up. If you can tell, this has been something that I’ve been working on in my own painting practice. And this tip, I think, has made the biggest difference. Now it does take a little bit of technology, but not too much. So don’t get worried.

This tip works best for people who like to paint from reference photos, which by the way, is something I do recommend. Sometimes our memory doesn’t quite get the perspective right. And if we have to invent where we think the shadows would be in a scene, for example, sometimes we don’t always get it right without being able to look at a photo reference and take some of our cues from that. There are just some laws of nature that need to be in your painting for it to work for our brains if it’s a landscape, or a still life, or a portrait. These are things like light and shadow. That’s one of those big key foundational elements. Working from a reference photo makes it much easier to get those big things right.

However, the downside of reference photos is that sometimes I think they can overwhelm my brain with information. When we look at a reference image, there’s so much to look at! It’s really easy to get carried away and bogged down in the details. And the tiny little details is the opposite of painting loose. So for example, if you have a landscape, and you’re looking at a reference photo, it’s easy to notice all of the trees, and then zoom in. You look at all of the little leaves. And then you start getting distracted from what I think really matters, which is the larger shapes: The essence of the trees, not all of the tiny little details and every little leaf. There’s no way you want to paint every single leaf. But our brains see them nonetheless and can get overwhelmed.

The same thing is true for faces. You get distracted by the complexity of all the features combined. For example, the eye, the eye lashes, each little crease in the smile, each tooth. You miss the larger shapes, making it much more difficult for yourself, especially if you’re trying to paint loose, which is what we’re talking about today. So what if you could have a reference photo that helped you to see what’s really important? To help keep your focus on the big picture, and the foundational elements of the reference photo without distracting you with all the details? Voila! That’s the goal.

If I have just enough information to make good artistic decisions in my painting, but not all the tiny little details that bog me down, it really dramatically helps me to paint loose. This method has been a game changer, both in helping me to see my subject matter more clearly and in helping force me to loosen up. So frankly, even if painting loose isn’t your primary goal, but you want to improve the way that you’re able to look at a reference photo and pull out the foundational pieces of it, pull out what’s important, then this is for you as well.

So the method we’re going to follow here is adding a filter to your reference photo digitally. Now, not just any filter. I have a particular filter that I like to use. It’s a filter that actually distorts the photo a little bit. It removes details. And it distills the photo down into its most relevant parts. I think this filter method is great for self taught artists, it helps to train your eye with what is important.

Some teachers have told me that I should squint at my subject matter to see what’s most important, and try to sort out what shapes are the biggest ones, and where the darkest darks are and where the lightest lights are. So I heard that in an online course that I took, and you may have heard it as well or read it in a book. I think that’s a very common method for distilling down a photo: that you should squint and make your eyes small, so that you don’t see all the little details. However, I can’t paint like that, you know! I’m not going to just squint and squint-shut my eyes for an hour while I’m painting. So this filter kind of does that for me. It’s like squinting, but it’s digital. And I can reference it all throughout my painting session. Ultimately, I like it so much better than squinting! It’s a 21st century improvement on the squinting method.

Alright, so now I want to walk you step by step how to do it. It’s very easy, but it will require you to download an app on your phone. But first things first, go ahead and select a reference photo, and make sure that you have it on your phone. Second, you’re going to want to download the Prisma app. It’s a free app. You can find this on the Apple App Store. I have an iPhone myself. So all of my instructions will be specifically how I see it on an iPhone. However, they have the Prisma app for Android and other phones as well. So you can find that in the Google Play Store. I have included links to both of those app stores (the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store) in the show notes. And if you click on it, it will take you directly to the Prisma app page.

Okay, so that step is all about downloading the Prisma app, it is free, so it shouldn’t ask you for any money or anything. Once you have it downloaded, open up the app. Now at some point, when you’re inside of the app, they are going to try and upsell you on Prisma premium, but you do not need it. When that little in-app advertisement comes up, just click the X (in the left hand corner is where I see it). Okay, so I repeat, you do not have to pay anything to do this on your phone. At least that’s true for me on the iPhone. But any listeners out there with an Android, you can let me know if this is any different. But I don’t think this is something you need to pay for. Even on an Android, this should be free, no money required. Alright.

Once you have the Prisma app installed, and you have it open, go ahead and click the plus sign to add your reference photo to your personal library. You’re probably going to need to grant a permission on your phone to let Prisma access the images on your device. Do that and add your reference photo to your personal library. Once you have it there, select that photo, and it will open up what I call the Prisma workspace. You’ll see your photo up at the top. And then at the bottom, there are a few buttons.

Go ahead and look at the very bottom and you’ll see a style library. And in that list, there’s a particular style filter, the one that I use, and it’s called “Dallas” like the city in Texas. I live in Texas, but that’s not why I love this filter so much, but it’s called Dallas. All right, so for me if I scroll through the style library at the bottom of the screen, it’s there. But you can also click on the style Library button. I see that at the very bottom left hand side of my screen. And that brings up the full list of styles available. I think they have like 700 Plus styles available right now. But at the top of the style Library is a search bar, search for the Dallas filter and add it to your favorites list. Once it’s on your favorites list, you can add the Dallas filter to your image with one click, and then watch the magic happen.

Once you click on the Dallas filter and you apply it to your image, you’re going to see exactly what I’m talking about. The Dallas filter makes a more simplified reference photo, it removes some of the details and helps me to see where the colors are, where the light and shadow really are, and what shapes matter the most what color blocks are there, and where the big shapes are. This just helps me so much. I can’t understate it in how much it helps me to not get too focused on the tiny details and stay focused on the big picture and paint much looser as a result.

Okay, so once you see your image there, in the top right hand corner, you’re going to see a save button. Click on that and then you will have your improved reference image saved in your photo library for easy reference. I am obsessed with this method. It helps me so much and has just helped me to really move the needle and how I’m able to interpret a photo and turn it into a painting.

Now sometimes I really wish that I could visually show you something on the podcast. This is one of those times I know it’s hard to explain technology sometimes through just audio. But I really hope you will try downloading the app and figuring it out. Because I just think the Dallas filter on Prisma is the coolest thing. I’m very excited to share it with all of you because I do think it will help if you try it out. So in your quest to loosen up or just become a better artist, I recommend it for both of those things.

Now if you try this and enjoy it, send me a note. I’d love to know if you like it as much as I like it. I am on Instagram at LaurenKristineArt. And you can email me at Lauren Kristine Art at as well. You’ll find all of that plus links to the Prisma app in the show notes. That’s really it for today. That is the end of our bonus episode on how to loosen up your painting. I hope you loved it. If you would, please leave me a five star rating wherever you listen to your podcasts. It really helps to spread the word to other artists. The reason I do this is to create the resource that I wish I had when I first started learning how to paint and I first got interested in art. So my mission is to get this podcast out to all the self taught artists out there and you can really help by just taking one second and leaving me that five star rating wherever you listen to your podcasts. Thank you so much. Happy Creating, my friends!

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