Illustrator, Norman Rockwell, painted from life for around 20 years before he began using photographs. His advice was to paint from life until you can function completely without photographs - and only then use them. I've done it backwards, it seems.

As an illustrator I've painted almost exclusively from photographs. It's unavoidable when you couple painting realistically, like I do, with tight deadlines. Most illustrators do it and I see nothing wrong with it. It's even become more acceptable in the Fine art world.

But upon my return to Fine art, in 2006, I decided to adhere to Rockwell's advice. So for a six year period, all of my Fine artwork was from life and not from photographs.

These days I'll paint from photographs only when the painting is large or a subject isn't able to be still for extended periods of time. Yet even in those instances I will at least render part of the painting from life, or paint color studies from life for reference. But I overwhelmingly prefer to create an entire painting from life, without the use of photographs.

Painting from life is the traditional Fine art method, after all. Besides that, though, I find that all of the detail replicated in photographs gets in my way as an artist. Without them, I'm better able to edit out the irrelevant details and paint the essence of a subject. Also subtle color shifts in a subject are an essential part of their essence and photographs simply don't get those right.

With my oil paintings I endeavor to achieve a painterly realism by combining thin and thick layers, combining soft and hard edges and by replicating colors that I see in the subject before me. I paint a variety of subject matter, because what is more important than the subject itself, is whether or not something awakens within me in response to it - something which I then strive to convey in a painting.

Watch The Video

Don had so much fun shooting the Biography page's musical plein air video, that he just had to share some of the outakes and bloopers which ended up on the editing room floor: