Skyscape [photo manipulation]

Manipulation 01
Photo manipulation of mixed media on paper.

Photo manipulation has a long history, beginning not long after the creation of the first photograph (1825) by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. Anyone interested can read the history at Wikipedia.

I recently became interested in manipulating some of my photographs to make them look like paintings. I tried various methods of applying paints and inks to the photos and came up with some interesting if not bizarre results. Learning to control those results has become a skill with a bit of good luck thrown in.

Other methods—to name a few—are cutting and pasting different photos into “coherent” collages, scanning and printing photos to paper, and using computer programs like Adobe Photoshop to manipulate the photo images. These three methods are not new either. I made photo collages 50 years ago in high school, scanned and printed photos at college, and played with Photoshop in the 1990s. Using Photoshop is a major task to learn and one I never had time for or took seriously.

Manipulating photographs has a stigma of deception to it because it fools the viewer into believing something that is not true. This issue arises because too many of us believe the camera does not lie. Any photographer can tell you that our camera lenses distort reality every time we snap a photo.

But I am not here to argue the science of photography or the ethical implications of photo manipulation.

For me, manipulating a photograph is another artistic form of expression. I did it with 35mm film when I froze it and then thawed it before loading it in my camera. Freezing cracked the emulsion on the film and made interesting web-like lines on the photos when developed. Adding inks and dyes often enhanced the crackled images.

I also experimented with double exposure, negative scratching, shooting with special lenses, and darkroom manipulation involving dodging, burning, and masking.

Lately, manipulating images has been fun to do again. And having fun is the key to being an artist who constantly produces art. The more I work with manipulation, the more abstract my art is. I understand better how colors, shapes, and designs attracted abstract artists.

Whichever side of the fence you are on, photo manipulation is an interesting visual tool—it makes a picture well worth a thousand words or more—and requires a lot of creativity, precision, and skill.

The Lonely Road of Creating

My blog is often a neglected child crying for attention. I have a tiny window of time to write, proofread, and post new blog posts. My daily life is a rush that keeps the heart pumping and puts a limp in my walk at the end of the day.

Smile. There is always a moment when I can write a few sentences or thumbnail a new drawing or painting. It’s a yin and yang thing that keeps me balanced.

I have pages of incomplete sentences too, in notebooks, on index cards, and even in fancy leather journals. I am a sketcher. I see a light at the end of a tunnel and work my way to it. Sometimes, it takes years to get there. Sometimes, which is often the case, I find another tunnel and branch into a new direction.

Sometimes the tunnel is not a tunnel at all, but a lone highway that starts with no people, houses, or traffic. I take those lonely walks along such highways when I begin writing my stories. But I soon meet an interesting character—sometimes two or more. They join me on the journey, taking me to places and other people, showing me which way to go and telling me how to get there. That’s the fun of writing stories.

But that is internal. Externally, I am by myself, thinking, planning, writing—or thinking, planning, making art. I suppose, that’s the true walk on the lonely road. It’s what writers and artists do.

An artist friend calls her time spent sketching, her social time. It’s time spent with family and friends while she gathers and plays with ideas. But the time she spends while painting is a time for solitary confinement. And she’s right: I cannot write a book, or draw or paint artwork without shutting myself away from the rest of the world.

It’s lonely, yes, but necessary. Because that is where the lightning is—the juice that brings your creation alive. Without it, you’re just walking alone in the dark, going nowhere in particular.

To all my creative friends, I encourage you to walk the lonely road and create something great.

Sarah’s Nightmare, 3 [fiction]

Author’s Note

I penned this on December 2, 2007. This is the last installment of Sarah’s Nightmare.


Sarah could not believe Julie had followed her. Did Julie actually think scaring her with the knife would make her want to go back? How stupid was she?

Thunder growled.

Sarah stumbled toward the highway. She had to keep going.

More thunder growled. The storm was closer. A car passed before Sarah reached the highway. She wished she had remembered to bring her cell phone. She could have called Annie to come get her and be gone by now.

Sarah turned toward Clearview and the purple-gray sky. Escape from Julie and Odinwood meant going into the storm.

So be it. The thought of Julie following her did not slow her.

She scanned the woods for any glimpse of her. Her muddy boots were evidence she had come from the swampier part of the pond, which meant she had kept herself hidden by the woods on that side of the highway.

She flipped a middle finger at the woods.

A crow cawed from its perch atop a pine tree. Then the bird lifted into the sky with bulky wings as the first drop of rain struck the top of Sarah’s head.

The crow banked left, soared across the highway, and perched atop another pine tree. It pranced on a branch and positioned itself so it faced Sarah. Then it stared down at her.

She yelled at it, told it to fly away.

It cawed at her. A few more raindrops fell as she started up the highway. Sarah had gone about twenty yards when the crow flew past her head and landed a few feet in front of her. It turned, faced her and stood defiant.

Sarah refused to stop. As she passed to the left, it pecked the back of her right knee. She yelled out as pain burned there.

The crow struck her leg again with its chisel-like beak and sent more pain shooting through her.

She jumped away from the crow, then kicked at it as it came for another peck. It dodged her foot, spread its wings, and danced along the shoulder of the road as it squared off with her.

She turned and ran. More rain fell and struck her face. As she wiped rain and tears from her eyes, the crow flew past her head again and landed in front of her. Then it turned and charged.

Sarah screamed and kicked at it as it attacked her legs. Its beak made direct hits as she kicked and screamed at it to leave her alone.

Her legs throbbed in pain. The crow tore at her pants legs and at her tender flesh beneath the jeans. Her head swam and her knees nearly buckled. Her stomach lurched and she staggered to escape. Rain fell harder. A vehicle passed dangerously close. The driver blew its horn as the car whizzed past and continued on.

The crow continued its attack. Sarah kicked blindly, erratically, and uselessly. She stumbled, caught her balance, and looked up. A pair of headlights came at her, fast, and lit up her eyes in a painful, fiery red.

She leapt out of the way in time for the truck to miss hitting her. The crow took flight. Its flapping wings sounded like someone shaking sand from a beach towel.

When Sarah turned, the truck had stopped. Dr. Bisbee got out of the driver’s side and hurried to her.

“Sarah? Is that you?”

She nodded her head and sobbed.

“What are you doing out here on the highway?”

“The crow,” she said in a bullfrog’s voice. “It’s trying … to hurt me.” The pain behind her knees caused her to stagger.

Dr. Bisbee took her by the shoulders. “Where’s your mother?”

Thunder rumbled. Cold rain fell. Sarah lifted her head, opened her mouth, and let the rain quench her thirst.

Dr. Bisbee led her to the passenger door, away from the truck’s warm grill, and helped her climb into a dry seat. The allover warmth inside swallowed her immediately. Before the doctor closed her door, the crow cawed from somewhere nearby.

Sarah’s Nightmare, 2 [fiction]

Author’s Note

I penned this on November 25, 2007.


Sarah knew the way back to Clearview. She also knew the many miles that lay ahead of her.

When she reached the highway, she didn’t slow down. She popped up a thumb and prayed for someone to pick her up. No one passed by.

After walking for nearly three hours, her stomach complained of hunger. She was well into the countryside and had passed several cornfields. It was three weeks past July fourth and the cornstalks were barely above knee level. Rain had been scarce this year, but a storm brewed somewhere nearby. The humidity smelled ripe with impending thunderstorms, and the white sky had turned to a gray and green bruise. She glared one last time with all the hate she could muster at her mother’s house behind her, and hoped her anger could somehow inflict pain on Julie.

Her stomach yelled at her, so she scanned the area for food. It was too early in the summer to find any ripe fruit, berries or nuts, and she had no clue as to what lay inside the woods on either side of the highway. She spotted an apple tree with green apples along the edge of a field. The hard ones on the ground were dry and bitter, and the soft ones were rotten. She climbed the tree and found softer, juicier apples there. They were sour but helped ease away the thirst and soften her hunger pangs.

She ate and for the first time since moving into that creepy Odinwood house, and was able to think with a clear mind. She looked out over the countryside, enjoying the view and the coolness of the fingerlike branches wrapped around her. Canada geese honked from a pond just beyond a grove of pine trees. Water glimmered from where she stood and she knew she needed to go there and replenish the liquids she had lost during her walk if she planned to—

What? What did she plan to do? She had no plans, only a longing desire to get to Clearview before nightfall. And to do that, someone would have to drive her there. But what sort of person would stop for a pretty teenage girl?

She realized she was on her own until she reached Clearview and the friends she had left there.

A crow cawed from a nearby pine and caused her to catch her breath. Suddenly, the branches seemed to take on a sinister feel, like fingers with claws closing around her. She scrambled out of the apple tree and ran toward the water.

A hawk screeched from overhead, scaring her and causing her skin to prickle. The air outside the tree felt hotter than before, so she lifted her T-shirt to let in the tiniest of breezes.

She staggered through the tall grass and scratched at the dust and flies settling on her sweaty neck and arms. She slapped at the flies biting at her arms, then stumbled upon a wide footpath. It led toward the pines, so she followed it to a log someone had placed across a narrow creek. The air was cool here and she swallowed it into her lungs. Beyond the creek and between the trees and scrub, the pond beckoned her to rid herself of the sweat and dust and flies that fouled her body.

There were no thoughts of snakes or quicksand or any other danger as she raced to a deserted clearing at the water’s edge. The pond was small and except for a group of Canada geese swimming in the middle, the place was deserted. Green brush and willow trees surrounded the area and there were large crops of rush along the shore that served as refuge from the highway behind her. She hurried out of her clothes and draped them across the rush. She enjoyed the cool air as it pleased her exposed body. Then she strolled into the cool summer water until it covered her breasts. Her feet sank into the dark ooze of the muddy bottom, clouding the water as it rose all the way to her chin.

She stayed there for several minutes and let her body relax and go with the gentle push against her. Her tired body came alive and she wept, sobbing away anger, hatred, and frustration until a fly bit at her face and forced her to submerge and scrub away the dirt and sweat. When she surfaced, a gentle wind rustled in the trees. The cool breeze prickled her skin.

Crystal jewels of water that glittered like diamonds adorned her body when she returned to the shore, and the cooling air brought relief to the welts made by the biting flies. She sat and stretched out in the grass at the water’s edge and basked under a willow tree until she could no longer deny her fear of Julie. She had to get to Clearview and to Annie Freemont’s house if she wanted to stay alive. The Freemonts would let her stay for a day or two, and then she would have to work hard at convincing her mother that she couldn’t return to the house in Odinwood until Julia Stillman was gone.

She managed to put on her underpants without too much difficulty of sliding the cotton over wet skin. And she was about to hook into her bra when a knife’s long silver blade flashed in front of her eyes. She turned and stared wildly at the blonde-haired girl who smiled at her with a beguiled look that twisted from ice blue eyes.

Sarah screamed at the sight of Julie and the hunting knife gripped tight in her right hand.

Julie put a finger to her mouth. “You’ll scare away the geese,” she said. She wore a blue cotton shirt and low-cut blue jeans. Fresh mud covered her black hiking boots. She smiled too kindly as she held the knife at her chest.

“Is this your knife?” she asked.

Sarah covered her breasts even though Julie stared into her eyes, which locked her gaze. Her jaw turned rigid and her mouth became useless. She shook her head no when Julie asked again if the knife belonged to her.

“Found it lying here in the grass. A real beauty, with no rust or nicks or any blood on it.” Julie held the blade close to Sarah’s face. “If it isn’t yours, I think I’ll keep it.”

Sarah tried to speak, but her mouth stayed closed.

“I could use a good knife like this,” Julie said.

Sarah thought of running until Julie pressed the tip of the cold blade against her throat and backed her against a willow tree.

“Finders keepers,” she said.

Sarah swallowed and wished Julie away.

Julie laughed. “Cat must have your tongue.”

Sarah pleaded with her eyes for Julie to release her.

“Lucky cat,” Julie said. “I love tongue.”

Sarah tried to scream but her voice was gone. She clenched her jaw as Julie stepped closer and touched her right breast with her left hand. She pinched gently at the nipple. “Hell of a shock I gave you,” she said. “Did I scare you?”

Julie’s words felt numb to Sarah’s ears. Would the obviously insane girl actually kill her? The point of the knife pricked her skin. She stifled a cry and watched the geese swim on the pond, felt the wind breeze by, and saw it ripple over the water’s surface.

Julie took her hand from Sarah’s breast and held up a fat aquatic worm. “Can’t believe you didn’t feel this bloodsucker feeding on your tit.” She tossed it toward the pond. “That nipple will get sore. Why don’t you come home and let me take care of it for you?” She wiped blood from her long fingers down Sarah’s breastbone. “You do want to be my friend, don’t you?”

Tears flooded Sarah’s eyes. “Wh-What do you want?” she managed to ask in a raspy voice.

Julie licked the rest of the blood from her fingers. Then, “I came to see if you really think you can run away from me,” she said. “That’s all.”

“Please leave me alone.” Sarah struggled to breathe properly. The words felt dead as the pond disappeared beyond the wall of tears growing in her eyes. Her hearing stopped. Her tears fell away to let in grayness where Julie and the rest of the world no longer existed. She was unafraid in the grayness. Here she could move again, breathe again, speak again.

In the grayness, she screamed.

The pond hurried into view. She fell against the willow tree, then bawled as she hurried into her clothes.

Julie was gone. Across the pond, a goose honked. It sounded like her mocking laughter.

Then the first rumble of thunder traversed the sky.