What is hyperrealism?

Hello online community!

Today I would like to chat about hyperrealism as a style.  I have been meaning to publish this blog for a while as its something I personally get asked about a lot.  Before I do I would like to say one thing so its very clear.  WHATEVER STYLE YOU WORK IN IS YOUR CHOICE AND NO BETTER OR WORSE THAN ANY OTHER.  It is simply what you feel moved by.    

Hyperrealism is much like traditional realism.  Traditional realism is creating something that is a realistic representation.  Hyperrealism is taking it another level and going beyond what might appear in a photo.  It is defined as an 'advanced form' of realism, which it grew from.  

Hyperrealism does not mean that the artist reproduced a high quality photo.  

I myself will often be asked to work from photos with issues.  Whether they are bad lighting, blurry or just low quality.  I often play with the image and change a number of things about it.  So we move away from just reproducing. I have included a couple of examples below of some of the more well known pieces I have done from lacking in quality photos or where the background is altered.  Please note these are not free to use images.

Original photo reference by myself.  vs   Artwork - oil paint on panel.

Original Reference image by myself        vs       Artwork - pastel on velour

The ideal to me (and has been since a very young age) has been to paint hyperrealistic imagery with no reference at all.  This is a journey that I am partaking in.  I don't know an artist alive that feels they have 'made it' particularly when it comes to realism.  The destination isn't really the point though, its about creating work that moves both yourself and those around you.  

This skill however is sometimes called upon for commission work.  A client may have low quality photos of a beloved one that is no longer here.  It is my great honour to paint these subjects to the best of my ability in order to provide comfort to their families.  Anyone that has been witness to the emotional response by clients would understand the art in photo realism.

Hyperrealism artist CHOOSE to paint in this style and often have a variety of styles they can work in.  Its simply that this art form speaks most loudly for them.  Artists are an emotional bunch!  We use our emotions to channel into our work so that you the viewer may also experience something.

The main myth I find that surrounds hyperrealism is that it lacks emotion.  There are so so many ways in which to convey emotion on the canvas.  As a reader of this blog, I hope you have found this yourself in my work.  It is the number one piece of feedback I receive.  For me the texture, expression, colour and lighting all play integral parts.  I think for clients though the eyes are often what speaks so strongly.  

When I paint wildlife I want the client to feel as if they are standing right there in front of my subject.  Feel the individuals emotion and power.  Especially in todays climate where many of the animals I paint are on the verge of disappearing forever. Some suffer horrible atrocities at the hands of people and it is my fervent hope that my art will move people in a way that fosters a love and deep respect instead of indifference.  

Another myth is that we can only work within the parameters of the photo reference.  This is 100% false.  Sometimes with clients that want a person or pet painted I will choose to use photos and simply 'lift' certain aspects.  This way I can be sure each tiny piece that makes up the whole of that person is correct.  However within my own work I prefer to change up the photo where possible.  Don't like that tree?  Move it/remove it and so on.  In fact most animals I paint live in captivity while I prefer to transport them back into the wild.  

I think the main thing people don't realise is we work the same way as any artist would but on a micro scale.  Photos don't have those tiny details I want, even the good quality ones.  So on the tiniest of scales I change colour, direction, texture and so on.  When you look at the whole it looks impressively realistic.  I underlay much of the image with colours you wouldn't expect as some of you may have witnessed in a workshop or open studio.  

Many people notice the outline on my undercoat and question how that is artistic.  While its true I measure and draw that outline very carefully so that the proportions are correct, if you asked ten realism artists to draw the exact same photo each one would be unique.  What we see as individuals varies. Not matter how realistic. How we read the lines on the paper also varies and between artists we often can't decipher each others lines.  This has never been more apparent than working in a tattoo studio.  I have the pleasure of working with other talented artists and even those that work in the same genres cannot read my 'maps' and I struggle to work to theirs.  The human mind is an amazing thing and realism demonstrates this!

To me hyperrealism is a style I find appeals to a broad range of people.  They can tell what they are meant to be looking at so that first defence is down allowing them to then appreciate the artwork.  It also speaks to me as an individual.  I feel so much emotion and am extremely passionate about what I do.  I hope more people will come to understand that hyperrealism in itself is a true creative art form not a reproduction as some would claim.  

I would like to add just one more thing.  Its a bit of an out there statement so bare with me but I know there are some that will be whispering "Yes" when they read it!

If you, as an artist choose to define your style by pulling down others, you should really consider why.  You don't need to say'xyz style is rubbish and not true art' to explain why you feel passionately about yours.   We are all artists, but what moves us is personal.  Nor does it have to be exclusive.  I think learning to express ourselves in the verbal form is a good quality for an artist to have.  Learn what it is you love about what YOU do and go from there.  

All the best,



  • Thank you Valerie, you’re very kind.

    Janet Thatcher
  • Janet, I think your work is magnificent and an absolute joy to behold. Thank you for sharing your amazing talent and insights.


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