painting and photographic works

Archive for January, 2011

Impressionistic Photos – experiments

I want to share a happy accident I stumbled upon this week that brings my two artistic focuses (painting and photography) together. I was out taking photos but when I got the images out of the camera I saw impressionistic paintings.

I was out taking photos at night (well early evening but dark enough in January at this latitude). I generally do all of my photography handheld which means I will set my camera (Nikon D80) at its highest ISO rating and hold my breath (literally and figuratively) to get an image without too much camera shake blur. I am also using vibration reduction lenses which help. Sometimes this works and I get reasonably clear (if grainy) photos. Sometimes I get results which I wouldn’t share as a photograph but are just fine for using  as a photo reference for a painting.

The highest ISO speed rating on the D80 is 1600 so that is typically what I’ve used. There are however some higher setting – basically a 0.3, 0.7 and one full stop faster (i.e. effectively ISO 3200. I haven’t used these higher setting very often figuring the quality just wouldn’t be there – too grainy!

Impressionistic Photo

The photo didn’t come out exactly like that – the original image was this:

original photo

You can see I did increase the brightness and saturation a bit (using Capture NX2) but I did not have to use any Photoshop-like processing to get an “Impressionist painting effect”. I thought that was pretty cool. While a little bit of grain seemed to read as a bad photo, a lot gives it a worthwhile effect. I still need to print this out and see whether it is something I could consider framing and displaying – or whether it will remain as a reference for a painting.

Here is a second similar image:

Impressionist Photo 2

Again , pretty grainy with very soft edges but… well I like something about it. Here is the original, unaltered image:

original photo 2

This one was cropped a bit, as well as having the saturation and overall brightness adjusted. Of course the “Impressionistic Photo” also looks more grainy just because it is blown  up to a greater degree in this blog post.

Curiously, over the last few days I have tried to re-create this effect with some high-film-speed-setting photos, but I’ve not been able to duplicate the look and feel to my satisfaction. I will however continue to experiment  and share my discoveries and  results.


Abstract Photos from a Rainy January Day

Today (2010/1/26) was an unusual January day in that it rained. That the rain froze on the sidewalks made the walking treacherous but the wet and or icy surfaces and a lot of recent snow made for some interesting abstract photos.

Abstract 110126-82

Abstract 110126-84

Abstract 110126-88

Abstract 110126-92

Abstract 110126-99 (Red Light)

Abstract 110126-103

Abstract 110126-94

Abstract 110126-108

Abstract 110126-124

Tom Thomson – Snow

In an earlier post I pointed readers to some of my favorite snow paintings by the Canadian Group of Seven. I did not include there any of the paintings by the not-quite-a-Group-of-Seven-member Tom Thomson. You might say I was saving the best for last. Tom Thomson is my favorite and certainly was a master of the rugged Canadian landscape in all seasons. Although he would typically spend his winters working in his studio in Toronto, Thomson certainly encountered and painted snow and ice in the early spring and late fall.

As I had done with the Group of Seven snow paintings, I studied prints of Thomson’s works to better understand the values he used for snow and the relative difference between snow in the sun versus in the shade. I used my value scale comparator with a value 1 being associated with pure white and a 9 for black.  I observed a fair bit of variation in Thomson’s paintings with snow in sun appearing to be anywhere from a 2 to a 5 but 3 was the most common sunny snow value. When the snow was in the shade the value usually dipped a couple of points. Although not scientific, with my eye I estimated the shady snow in Thomson’s paintings to rand from 5 to 8 with 5.5 being the most common.

First Snow in Autumn is a very snowy painting with clear areas in sun and shade. By my estimate this one of the highest values for sunlit snow. The almost white color I would estimate to be a value 2 while the light blue shadows are about a 5.5.  Early Snow from the Winnipeg Art Gallery although darker in value overall with a 5 in the sun and 7 in the shadows still reads believably as a snowy winter scene. Probably a textbook example of values for snow is in Thomson’s  Woods in Winter with a value 3 for snow in the sun and a drop of 3 to a 6 in the shadows.

The painting that I observed the biggest difference between sun and shade values was Path Behind Mowat Lodge with a difference of 5 – from a 3 in the sunlit area to an 8 in the blue/purple shadows cast upon the snow.

So what did I learn from my little  study? Snow in the sun should be depicted with a value of around a 2 to 4 and the shadow on the snow are about 2 to 3 points lower (darker). This generally mean a value between 5 and 7. Of course my little investigation is not highly scientific. I was just working off prints in books (Incidentally Tom Thomson, edited by Dennis Reid is a good one, full of images ). I think that maybe if I could measure the value with scientific instruments directly off the original paintings then I could know the secret – but then again I think it probably wouldn’t make that much difference and having a formula, or specific numerical values certainly isn’t going to allow one to recreate the magic of a Tom Thomson painting.

Here are links to a few other Tom Thomson paintings featuring snow from the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, Canada:

Snow Covered Trees

Ice in Spring

Thaw in the Woods

First Snow in Autumn

Winter in the Woods


January Variety (Photos)

Here are a good variety of photos that I took this third week of January 2010. There are some night, some day, some clear, some snowy, some abstract, some representational:

Edmonton Southside Skyline

Snowy Morning - Dawson Bridge

Street Rabbit

Blue Waves

Abstract Snow

Facade and 50 Abstracts

Diebenkorn in New Mexico – a Book Review

I fell in love with the art of Richard Diebenkorn first when I saw some of his  pieces in San Francisco at the Museum of Modern Art, then when I read “The Art of Richard Diebenkorn” by Jane Livingston (See my earlier blog post). I was hungry to learn more about him and to see more of his work.

This book, Richard Diebenkorn in New Mexico, satisfied my hunger. It  focuses on Diebenkorn’s time in Albuquerque while he was doing a Masters degree at the University of New Mexico. He was there from 1950 to 1952 and produced some 200 works (paintings mainly but also some prints and sculpture). I like how the paintings occasionally hint at the colors and forms of the New Mexico landscape.

Richard Diebenkorn in New Mexico, the 2007  book was published in conjunction with an exhibition of the same name. It features 83 full page color plates and many other photos of his work amongst the text. The text is made up of an introduction by Charles M. Lovell and 3 essays – by Charles Strong and Gerald Nordland and Mark Lavatelli.  These three takes on Diebenkorn’s time in the region have some overlap but are nonetheless each interesting.

Charles Strong is a curator and artist who studied with Diebenkorn for a short time in San Francisco. Strong’s two page “The Sky is the Ocean” serves as an overview to Diebenkorn’s life and work.

Gerald Nordland is the author of the book Richard Diebenkorn: Revised and Expanded and a recognized authority on Diebenkorn. His substantial section of this book entitled “Richard Diebenkorn: Routes to New Mexico” sets the stage for the Albuquerque period describing  Diebenkorn’s life from his childhood to his life as a student in New Mexico (and a little beyond)

The Mark Lavatelli short, 5 page essay, “Diebenkorn’s Albuquerque Years” focuses on just that. He talks about the paintings from that time as well as the influences and how the period shaped Diebenkorn’s style. Lavatelli too know the work of Diebenkorn well, having done his MFA on Diebenkorn’s paintings from the New Mexico period.

All in all, this is a good book. I’d loved to have seen the exhibition which this volume accompanied but since I didn’t, this book will have to do.  I know I will be coming back to the images in this book regularly in the future, as I enjoy and try to understand, the works of this wonderful painter: Richard Diebenkorn.

For more, read the New York Times review of the book.

Color in a Cold Dark City

Consider this part two of my presentation of photos taken on the cold snowy night of January 14th in downtown Edmonton. In a previous post I shared 7 black and white photos from that evening. In this post we look at color photos, although admittedly in some images the colors are pretty subtle.

Trees, Signs and Lights in a Snowstorm

Some Kind of Snow Monster?


Snow Booth


Lights at the Corner

Lonely Bike Rack

Jasper Avenue Southside

Snow on the Wires, Snow on the Windows

Lamp and Snow Mounds

Snow Load

In the Cold Dark City

Here are some black and white photos from a cold, snowy January evening in downtown Edmonton. The evening was cold but I wasn’t. Bundled up as I was and moving about, I actually felt warmer out on the street taking photos than I often do sitting around inside the house. Being something like -30C with the wind chill, there weren’t many people on the street and certainly no one else with a camera, so I think I saw things that others will not have seen, and I got some good shots that I would like to share:

Northside of Jasper Avenue (East of 97 St.)


Empty Sidewalk, Deserted Benches

Wall Advertising from Another Era on a Historic Building

Cleared Path Through the Snow Drifts

Steamy Skyline

Top of the Riverbank Path

These photos were all taken within about a 2 block stretch east from Jasper Avenue and 97th Street in downtown Edmonton. These were the images that I think look best in black and white but I also have a number  that I will leave in color and will share in my next blog posting.

Steps in Developing a Painting

Some people may wonder how I go about creating a painting. In this post I will share my steps in the development of a recent canvas.

This painting started off from a photo. The photo was one I took while out for a walk with our dog in Edmonton’s river valley. When walking I am usually carrying my Nikon D80 equipped with either a 18-55  or 55-200 lens.  I took over 100 photos over the course of a couple of hours. This is the photo that inspired me for the painting:

original photograph

The broken tree trunk was the obvious central object that attracted me but I also liked the snow, some of the other tree forms and also the sky with the contrast between sky and clouds.  I don’t like my paintings to be too much like a photo, especially with respect to color. Therefore I will often convert my color reference photo to black and white. I will want to get the values right but not be a slave to the natural colors. In the process of converting to black and white I will also take the opportunity to apply color filters and adjust the contrast/brightness. I use Nikon’s Capture NX2 software for the processing. This is my black and white reference photo:

enhanced black and white photo

I really liked the way the “red” filter turned the sky dark. What I didn’t like about the photo was how busy the mid-ground looked with all of the brush. Here I was able to apply my artistic license to clear out the million little lines and emphasize a few key tree elements. I may have done a few small thumbnail sketches to test out my idea , then I transferred my design to the canvas (12 by 16 inches/30×41 cm), drawing it in with charcoal:

charcoal sketch on canvas

You can see how much I have simplified the scene, taking liberties with the sky and the trees. From there it was time to start applying color. I did not refer to the color photo for the “real” colors. At this point I went with my gut to realize the colors that I somehow envisioned. In this case, I started by painting in the sky. You can see even at this stage I made some alterations to the design as I had drawn in with charcoal:


The painting continued as I moved to the tree and foreground. Especially for these key elements I choose to apply the paint think and juicy.

"finished" painting

I call this work “finished” (in quotes) because it may not be. I see a number of things that I wonder if I could improve upon. I could continue to rework this painting but I generally I do not like to re-work, especially after the paint has started to dry. Instead I would prefer to live with this painting for awhile, thinking about what I like and noting what I think can be improved – and then I will paint another version.  In fact with this one, I am thinking of  a couple of small studies and then I will paint a larger version.

Link to more of my abstracted landscape paintings (often developed in similar fashion from photos)

Dawn, Dusk and Dark

Here are three photos from 2010 January 11. It was a cold day (-20C not including the  wind chill), a few days after the heaviest snowfall (30cm) in Edmonton in the last decade

Dawn and Purple Snow

The above photo was taken as i stopped to catch my breath while trudging uphill through snow that was knee deep in places.

Snow-laden Pine at Dusk

The above photo  is calling me to create a painting from it. I like the fact that this classic landscape motif has an urban backdrop.

Lighted Curve in the Dark

And the sun was gone by the time I took this photo. It is in central Edmonton looking east over the North Saskatchewan river valley with the  glow on the distant horizon from the  distant oil refineries.

Northern Winter Landscape

There is something about that winter landscape that I find particularly suited to black and white photography. There is not a lot of color to start with, so going completely hue-less really can accentuate some great forms and compositions.

This set of photos were taken on January 5th (2010) in Edmonton, Canada *

Frozen River


Little Bridge


I think this last photo has some potential as a reference for a painting. I will play around a bit with the composition and clear out some of the busy-ness. I often like to start a painting with a black and white photo as a reference, particularly when I want to be free and expressionistic with the color.


*specifically, the location was the trail on the northside of the North Saskatchewan River between the Capilano bridge and the 50th Street footbridge