painting and photographic works

Archive for January, 2012

ValueViewer – A Handy App for Painters?

I recently discovered and purchased the ValueViewer App for the iPhone. This app was endorsed by PleinAir Magazine so I figured it would be good. The premise is very good – take a photo of a scene with your iPhone camera then let the app break it down into a few values (lights and darks) so that you can rough-in the appropriate values to start a painting. Getting the values right, from the start, is a very important part step for producing a representational painting. The basic functionality of the app does allow you to capture a scene, break it down into 3 values and allows you to play around with the composition by zooming in on the image and cropping it to one of 3 common canvas/frame proportions (3:4, 4:5 & 11:14).

However, beyond the basics there is not much to this app. The following shortcomings quickly become obvious:

  • can’t save the grey-scale image (so  you can’t upload the image or print it)
  • only 3 values (black, white and grey). I would like to see it selectable to 5, 7, 9 or 11 values
  • only 3 set frame sizes (no ability for user to define others) and
  • you can’t toggle between portrait and landscape  orientations

I do like that there are 7 setting that allow one to adjust the scene for high or low key image. That is you can choose a 2-scale image (mainly black with a bit of grey or mainly white with a bit of grey) or five 3-tone (different proportions of black, grey and white) between these extremes.

So overall this app show promise but I’m afraid it’s not really ready for prime time – certainly not at a $4.99 price. In the current version (version 1.1 released 2011 July 22) I’m not even sure it would be up to the value of other 99 cent apps. The ad in PleinAir magazine does promise “more features coming soon” and it was on the basis of that promise that I made my purchase, to show support and provide encouragement for the developer to take this app to where it should be. It could be a very handy tool for painters working en plein air or in the studio.


Addendum: a new version (2.1) of this app was released in April 2012 – see my thoughts here.

The Triumph of American Painting – a book review

A few month’s back, in my quest to learn more about the Abstract Expressionist movement, I purchased a recent book by Irving Sandler. The description of that book intrigued me in that Sandler would be taking a second look at the movement – having written a definitive account of the history of the Abstract Expressionists, back in 1970. I thought it would be best to first read his first account before learning how his interpretation might have changed with 4o years of thought and observation. As luck would have it, that latest book sat on my “to read” pile and in the meantime I found a copy of his first book at a library.

So having  now read that first book, The Triumph of American Painting, A History of Abstract Expressionism, I will tell you what I found.

I enjoyed this book. It was generally accessible and definitely educational. I have read a few biographies of key Abstract Expressionists and have become familiar with the painting style of maybe half a dozen of these artists but I never felt that I had the big picture. I had questions like: where and why did this movement come into being?, what were the influences (from without and within)? and what was the common thread that brought a number of artists with quite diverse approaches to their art, to be lumped into this movement called abstract expressionism? Having read The Triumph of American Painting, I feel that I got answers to those questions.

The 300 page book is divided into 20 chapters and includes a comprehensive bibliography and a section with short biographies of fifteen of the painters. Just over half of the chapters are devoted to individual artists, while the remaining chapters are of a more general nature, with titles such as The Great Depression, The Gesture Painters, The Color Field Painters, The Abstract Expressionist Scene, 1950-52: Success and Dissolution. The artists to whom individual chapters are devoted are:

  • Arshile Gorky
  • William Baziotes
  • Jackson Pollock
  • Willem de Kooning
  • Hans Hoffmann
  • Clyfford Still
  • Mark Rothko
  • Barnett Newman
  • Adolph Gottlieb
  • Robert Motherwell, and
  • Ad Reinhardt

The book contains many images, photos of paintings, but unfortunately they are all in black and white. It would have been nice to see these works in full color but surprisingly, these monotone images do still convey a strong sense of the energy and style of the paintings. The only little gripe I had with this book and specifically the  images, is a lack of indication of the size of each work – especially given how important this element was to a number of the abstract expressionists.

Through the course of the book Sandler describes the origins of the movement from the politics and philosophies of the time, through the drive to create art that would be distinct from the European traditions and particularly the influence of Paris. I learned how abstract expressionism grew out of cubism and surrealism and strove to be something distinct from these movements and how  abstract expressionism could be broken down into two main branches: gesture and color field. The final part of the book describes the eventual recognition of the movement in the 1950’s, after a long struggle for acceptance.


As mentioned the author, Sandler revisited the movement in his 2009 book, Abstract Expressionism and the American Experience: a Reevaluation. I am looking forward to reading that book and when I do, I will pass along my thoughts.

More Photographic Landscape Abstractions

Fresh off a brief period of sharp black and white photos, I returned this week to some abstract color images. As I’ve said before, these photos are intended as references for future paintings but so far I have not gotten around to that next step.

Abstract Landscape 361-135

Abstract Landscape 362-165

Abstract 361-143

As you may be able to see, that last one was an urban landscape, a street scene.

Abstract Landscape 361-137

A Wedge of Sunlight

As I have done with previous photos of this style, I used a slow (4-second) shutter speed and moved the camera during the exposure.

Winter – Naturally Black and White

Of course there can be color in the winter landscape, you just might have to look a little harder for it. In this post though don’t strain yourself looking for color as I am featuring 5 black and white photos. Although there has not been a lot of snow in Edmonton in this winter of 2011/12 there has still been enough to keep the ground basically white. On the day I took these images the sun was out and the sky was deep blue – which with a color filter in the black and white conversion, yielded a deep dark sky on some images.

Packed Snow Field

Two and the Forest


Reach to the Sky

Frozen Bend in the River

Technical Notes: The photos in this group  were all taken in the early afternoon on January 7th, 2012, near Laurier Park in Edmonton. I used a Nikon D80 with a 18-55 lens and a polarizing filter. Post processing including conversion to black and white was done with the Capture NX2 software.

Abstracts in Blue

Not much to say about this group of photos, other than that they were all taken using long (4 seconds) hand-held exposures with deliberate camera motion. The early morning time of day is responsible the dominating blue cast to these images.

Blue Fenceline

Abstract 356-033

Abstract Landscape 356-038 (River in December)

Abstract 356-034

Abstract 356-039