Whether working from life or from a photo one needs to know their subject. I remember my first painting trip. I did a lot of driving - looking for that perfect subject. Ended that first day quite disappointed. I'd used up a lot of gas and had seen a lot of so-so subjects. I didn't know part of being an artist was being able to see the important things like the farms and barns I passed up were people's lives. Came home with a few paintings, just nothing I could be proud of. Instead of wandering around the country looking for a Wyeth painting or a Schmid painting I picked a place I knew something about - the Clark Smith house. Not an impressive scene, but one I knew something about.
Clark Smith fought in the Civil war, was wounded and died twenty years later from that Confederate musket ball. Knowing that the house and barn had been built by a veteran of the Civil War added a bit of color to my painting. Knowing Clark and his wife are buried in the little grove of trees just south of the house added even more interest for me. As a teen, a few of my friends and I checked out the story. We found the grave markers, five in all. Whether the story was true or not really didn't matter to me. Knowing the farm had maybe belonged to a Civil War soldier gave me that little something to do a better painting.
Not all artists need some connection to the subjects they put on canvas. I found for me a connection, no matter how trivial, makes for a better painting.