How to Paint From a Photo | $100 Room Challenge Update 3

Have you ever wondered how to paint from a photo and make artwork to match any room? I love doing this! Here’s how I do it!

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This is my third week working on my $100 Room Challenge space, our upstairs hallway stair landing. I only have $100 and five weeks to figure this all out and make it happen. As usual I jumped in without a real plan , except I knew I wanted a bright pop of color.

I accomplished that with last week’s yellow console table DIY build. But then I thought, now what? Where do I go from a yellow console table?

I spent much of this week second guessing and discussing my yellow cabinet with friends and trying to figure out what to do over it and on it. I was ready to give up on the yellow and repaint the cabinet, but a few things finally clicked and it seems to all be coming together for me.

For me, the space needed something to bring all of the colors together and that means art. 

Before I go any further, I should make the disclaimer that I am not a fine artist. I’m just a gal who likes to paint. In fact, to all of my fine artist friends, this post is probably not for you. It may make you cringe. To those of you who would like to try painting your own artwork to match your color scheme, please read on! 

I'm mostly kidding. I'm just always worried that a real artist will look at my paintings and judge. Really just about anyone can do this kind of artwork, and I think that is awesome!

Keep Up With All of the Updates for This Project

Week 1 |  Week 2  |  Week 3  |  Week 4  |  Week 5

(links will be added weekly)

So how do you paint your own art from a photo to match any color scheme? Here's what I do:

1. Choose Your Photo

Obviously, you need a photo as your starting point. How do you choose a photo?

Consider the space your art is going in and decide what colors you want to be in it. Even if you put the most random colors together in a room, one piece of custom art can bring them all together and make them work. We'll get to this part later, but also consider pictures with colors close to the ones you want.

Pick a subject. Everyone is drawn to different subjects in their art. I personally love water scenes. We spend a lot of time at the beach and I take tons of pictures. So that is where my inspiration usually comes from. But I also love landscapes in general. Maybe you prefer city scenes, portraits, animals... Choose what you love! From my experience, landscapes are by far the easiest to simplify and paint.

Look through photos. Now you need to find a photo. While it is tempting to just find one on Pinterest or somewhere else online, there can be risky copyright issues. If that doesn't bother you, go forth and paint! Otherwise, there are several no risk options to search through to find a photo that includes the colors you want:

  • your own photos
  • friends' photos (ask permission)
  • websites listing free public domain photos
I looked through the pictures on my phone and found like ten possibilities. Full disclosure, I painted three paintings this week that I wasn't happy with when they were done. A few years ago I could have knocked out a painting I loved, no sweat. With such a busy life the last two years, I haven't had any time to paint, nor was I particularly inspired to. I was super out of practice and I needed to get back. But now, doing this $100 Room Challenge, I felt like I got my painting mojo back some.

In the end, after painting every option I chose from my own recent pictures, I had almost given up on this project. But then I was cruising my Instagram and I watched stories my travel blogger friend, Jamin from Cheap Budget Traveling, posted from his current Yellowstone National Park trip and BANG! Instant inspiration and I knew this was the one!

2. Edit Your Photo

Crop. You may not want all of the photo in your painting. I didn't want the road and some of the ground that would clutter the painting up. I wanted to emphasize that big sky and bring in the yellow of the cabinet.

Color. If your picture doesn't have exactly the right colors you are looking for, play with filters and edits to see if you can get it where you want it to be. My favorite app for this on my phone is VSCO. You don't need the upgraded plan to use the filters. Just play around with them and if you find something that tweaks your photo the way you like it, screen shot it. 

3. Blur Your Photo

Here's where we make this whole painting do-able for almost anyone. There are many apps for your phone that will turn a photo into an "oil painting." Years ago I downloaded Brushstroke when it was free, so that is what I usually use. But for this project, I wanted to find a totally free app to recommend. After going through a lot of them I didn't like, I found Oil. It is super simple to use. Just pick your photo from the photos on your phone and use the slider to choose the level of blurring you like. The more you slide, the more abstract and easy to paint it becomes. 

There are a few filters at the bottom that you can play with as well. When you have something you like, click save or screen shot your photo. I chose the first one because it had just enough blurring of the lines, but you can still see the shapes of the trees. It's all about personal preference.

4. Gather Your Supplies

Canvas. Pick your canvas size according to what you need for the space. I have found the larger the canvas, the easier the painting. You can make big brushstrokes that don't have to be super precise. Here's the biggest painting I've ever done. It was a gift to my husband. For this current project, I wanted a smaller sized painting. I chose an 11" x 14" canvas.

Paint. I prefer to use acrylics because they are easy to work with and dry quickly. You can get a great set of acrylic paint pretty cheaply. Honestly sometimes I have used just regular acrylic craft paint, like with that huge painting, and it has turned out great.

Brushes. Have a good mix of soft brushes. The brush I use the most for this is a flat or angled brush about an inch wide. A rounded brush is also useful. And a fan brush comes in handy for making bushes and happy little trees. I like to use a different brush for each color family that I'm using.

Palette. You can use a palette like this. Or a sturdy paper plate. I actually really like using a paper plate so I can blend my colors easily.

Jar of water. You'll need water to wash brushes and help you blend paint.

Paper towels. To wipe brushes.

5. Paint Your Painting!

I'll show you just how I did mine and hopefully it will translate to the photo you've picked. Take a really good look at your blurred photo. Notice where the lighter spots are, where the darker shadows are. Decide where the logical starting place is.

I started at the top since the trees and mountains are layered on top of the sky. The key to getting all of the sky swirls and blended edges and colors is working while all of the colors are still wet. I kept referring back to my photo to add colors and blend them in as needed. I always use more white paint than I think i will. If a section started getting a little dry, I added more paint or dipped my brush into the water just a tiny bit. Keep the paint moving and blending, but not too much that you lose definition and it becomes muddy. But if it does become muddy and too blended, add more of the color paint that got blended away. A big soft brush is best for this. I hope that makes sense!

I made sure I took the sky a little lower than where it actually stopped, so I wouldn't have any gaps between the sky and mountains. Then I added the mountains and blended the edge between them and the sky just a little.
Next I added my tree line. I used a dark green and some black on a fan brush to give the trees some definition. I didn't worry too much about the bottom of the tree line because I cleaned it up after the trees were done.

I'm not sure why it looks like completely horizontal brush strokes in these photos. It even looks like that where I haven't painted yet. That's not how it looks in real life. But since they were progress photos, I can't retake them.
I kept playing with the sky pretty much the entire time I was painting until I was happy with it. I cleaned up the bottom of the tree line with some white.
Then I started working in various shades of yellows, brown and white for the ground. 

And then I called it done! Sometimes it's hard to get to that place, but you have to stop at some point.

In Further $100 Room Challenge Week 3 Update News...

I found the frame for this painting for only $1 at a thrift shop! I also languished back and forth over mirrors from my stash to use over the console table. In the end, I picked this white framed oval mirror. The white wouldn't do on the white wall so it needed to change colors. I gave it two coats of Waverly Chalk Paint in Elephant, then a coat of clear wax, and a coat of dark brown wax.

The Budget

So I'm feeling pretty good about my budget of $100 for this project. Here's what everything has cost so far:

  • Console table - $28
    • Repurposed kitchen cabinet - free, already had

    • Furniture legs - $28
    • Console table paint - free, samples already had
  • Artwork - $2.87
    • Canvas - $1.87
    • Paint - free, already had

    • Frame - $1

  • Mirror - free, already had
    • Mirror paint and wax - free, already had

So by now my total is $30.87.

Please go check out all of the creative ideas this week from the other participants in the $100 Room Challenge.

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