Sunset Photo Manipulation

Manipulation 02
Manipulation of photographs and painting on paper.

I wrote in a recent post about my interest in manipulating my photographs to make them look like paintings. The sample I included was a skyscape. I like skies. And water.

Skies would not be skies without clouds. I could look at clouds all day.

The photo above is another skyscape. It is a combination—a collage—of photographs and paintings. I used oil paint for the sun and some of the clouds and watercolor for parts of the sky. It looks almost surreal.

A lot of effort went into making this picture—more time and effort than I usually contribute to this style of art.

But it was fun. And for me, that’s what art is all about.

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 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.

Using Canvas Stretcher Bars To Stretch Watercolor Paper

You may, like I do, have stretcher bars normally used for stretching canvas waiting to back your next canvas. But have you ever considered using those bars to stretch paper instead?

A sketch of a wooden stretcher bar
A corner of a wooden 20” stretcher bar

Here’s an easy technique for stretching watercolor paper with those bars—a technique that has many advantages over other ways. One, it avoids the awkward weight of a solid board. Two, the paper will dry faster because both sides are exposed to air. Three, you’ll have to be gentle while painting (which is what watercolor painting is about). And four, the clean-up time consists of simply removing pushpins from the frame. Afterward, the frame is ready for you to attach a new sheet of paper.

  • To begin, you will need to assemble your four stretcher bars into a frame. (I use 16”x20” because they’re easy to assemble and carry.) I glue my frame together and allow the glue to dry overnight before I begin attaching watercolor paper to the frame. This makes the frame permanent, but you can choose not to do this.
Once the stretcher bars are assembled, you can tack watercolor paper over the front
Once the stretcher bars are assembled, you can tack watercolor paper over the front
  • You will also need a box of pushpins and a soaking tray filled with room temperature water. My soaking tray is a shallow 24”x30” Formica baking tray that I bought from a bakery, but a large aluminum baking tray or a clean bathtub work just as well. Fill the tray or tub with a half-inch of water (I use the distilled kind).
  • The dimensions of your watercolor paper should be two or three inches longer than the height and width of the stretcher frame, which means I use 20”x24” sheets of paper.
  • Before attaching your paper to the stretcher bars, draw any information you intend to use in your painting on the paper’s front side. Do not draw on the paper after you have stretched it.
  • Next, soak the paper for a minute or two by submerging it in your water. Do not soak the paper too long. You may end up washing off the sizing and your pencil drawing.
  • When both sides of the paper are completely wet, drape the paper over the stretcher frame so about two inches overlap the edge on all four sides. (The frame should be laying flat on a tabletop or workbench, with the stretcher frame’s front facing up.)
  • Once the paper covers the frame evenly, attach the paper to the sides of the frame using your fingers GENTLY, and your pushpins to wrap and fasten the paper around all four edges. The stretching sequence goes:
  1. Wrap and pin the paper at the top center of each length (the side that would sit flush inside a picture frame). Start with the top bar. Place a pushpin in the paper and bottom bar, then the left side, and finally the right.
  2. Return to the top bar and place a pushpin half an inch to the right of the first pushpin. Then place a pushpin half an inch to the left of the first pushpin. Proceed to the bottom bar and do this until you have three pushpins on all four sides.
  3. Return to the top bar and pin again until you have five pushpins half-an-inch apart on all four sides.
  4. Continue until you reach the corners.
  • When attaching the watercolor paper to the frame it is best to gently tug the paper taut while pinning. If the paper is not taut, you may end up with a warped surface to paint on.
  • After you have attached the paper, allow about three hours for it to dry. Or, you can use a portable hair dryer to speed things up. Just don’t scorch your paper in the process. Keep the frame lying flat in a horizontal position—resist the urge to lift the frame and chance knocking it out of alignment (even if you glued it earlier) and warping the paper.
  • Once the paper is dry, you’re ready to paint. Use gentle touches when applying your paint so as not to tear your paper.

Give it a try, happy painting, and let me know what you think.

Giving [painting]

"Road Traveler"
Road Traveler, Watercolor/Gouache on paper, 1985

My first job was selling the Grit newspaper on weekends. I was 9. During that time I began selling greeting cards for a company that advertised on the back pages of my favorite comic books. I made enough money to buy a bicycle and a pair of roller skates. I used the bike to help me deliver newspapers faster. The skates were shared with my younger brothers; they had no income other than their weekly 25 cents allowance.

I sold enough cards to purchase some colored pencils and drawing paper. Then I made my own greeting cards—Merry Christmas, Happy Easter, Get Well Soon, etc.—and gave them out for free to my newspaper customers. Later I learned my handcrafted cards were treasured by many customers for the artwork.

I gave away a lot of my art as gifts, even when I became an adult. “That’s not a good business venture,” an acquaintance told me when I started my career as an artist. He asked how I thought giving away my art could be profitable.

All my gifts are given with love, and my profit is the smile on people’s faces when I give them my art as gifts. Being an artist isn’t always about making money.

On the other hand, the painting I’ve included in this post is one I gave to a brother for his birthday. That was 1985; I was 28. Twenty-seven years later it is proudly displayed in his home with the other paintings he has received from me. During that time his friends told their friends about my artwork, word got around and I made money selling my art to them and their friends, and then to their friends, and so on.

Not profitable? I suppose it’s how you define the word.

Art [painting]

I have been trying out some new watercolor paints to use with photography. Photo manipulation has a long history, but not one I want to delve into right now. Perhaps in the near future.

There are many ways to manipulate a photo, including digital photo programs. I sometimes use Photo Deluxe, an ancestor of Photoshop.

I think this is one of my better experiments.

This is a lake not far from where I grew up. I love the bands of pink in the clouds.