Weekend Work

I started layering colors on Dean’s face last Saturday. I’m going at it slowly and probably being way too tentative, but I’m not sure how to work the layers yet. I do know that there has to be enough colors deposited on the paper before you can blend with added layers, with brushes or with your fingers.

The part of Dean’s face I started on is not really a good place to test this out because I want it to remain as one of the lightest spots in the whole piece. I really can’t add too many other colors into the mix apart from the pale pinks, yellows and creams here.

As a side note, I found a great new color to use in the highlights for skin tones. The color is Buff Titanium from a trial batch of Caran d’ache Luminance pencils I bought a few weeks ago. I had been using white to try to blend into the pinks and yellows to get bright skin tones, but the white just made the color too cool. That’s fine if the effect you want is silvery or cool light, but for a warmer bright like the one I want for this piece, it just wasn’t working.

I want the colors in this portrait to be as if the figures were in bright daylight, the skin tones tan and maybe a bit golden. Titanium buff is an off white ivory color, warmer than stark white, but not as yellow as the Prismacolor cream color.

I have a whole lot of Buff Titanium on the right side of Dean’s face now, which did blend nicely with the underlying colors. Of course from a distance, it looks just like the color of the paper. ūüôā

In the close-up you can appreciate the blended color a little better.

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In the next shot, I have layered a little more color into the shadow areas of Dean’s face, added darker colors in the bit of background on the right and also put some color in his hair. I probably should have done this before and not got so caught up working the brights on his face.

Applying colors to the surrounding areas gives you a better idea of how everything is going to work together eventually.¬† I realized I needed to see some of the dark areas to judge the lights better. Now that I think of it, I’m sure I stumbled to this conclusion previously, but it must not have impressed itself sufficiently on my brain. Hopefully it will take better now.

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It was hard to tear myself away from working on Deans features, especially his nose and lips. I would be trying to work on the shadows when before I knew it I would be back to tweaking his top lip or eyelid.  I indulged myself a bit more by seeing if I could put a few freckles  on his nose before firmly turning my attention to other areas.

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I did some more on the weekend, but I will write about it in another post.

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Tips on Photographing your Artwork and Making Prints

I thought I would write a little about how I take pictures of my artwork for use in making my own prints. None of this is very profound, just some practical tips gathered from my own experiences and experiments. If this is of interest to you please read on.

It has been a long and interesting journey to get to the point where I actually produced a print I liked. Some of the important factors in getting a good result have been; lighting and set up, a good camera, a good printer, a bit of knowledge about using ICC profiles with Photoshop (or any graphics software) and having proper art paper for printing.

Lighting and Set Up

My first tries taking photos were with digital cameras many years ago, so the resolutions were low, but still I was able to get some decent pictures, if only for posting on the web.

I had no special equipment except for a newfangled digital camera. I would prop up the artwork somewhere and take hand held shots. I realized pretty soon that I needed a tripod, no way around it. So we bought a tripod.

I also started taping the artwork up on my art easel and paying more attention to lining up the camera as perpendicularly as possible to the surface of the artwork. I learned to zoom the lens in to avoid distortions caused by wide angle shots.

I experimented with using natural light and/or the flash.¬†When I used the flash indoors, I could get a clear enough picture, but I didn’t like the cold washed-out look it gave to the artwork. If I turned on overhead fluorescent lights I’d get weird color casts that I couldn’t get rid of entirely. If I tried using natural light from a window, I had to wait for bright days in the early afternoon, and even then, depending on how I placed the easel and camera in regards to the window, I might get a shot too bright on one side and shadowy on the other. My best results were achieved when I took the whole shebang outside to the yard on a clear day. I could get fairly sharp, color correct pictures. Windy days were annoying because then I had to hurry and take shots before the wind knocked things down.

My back patio was another good option because on sunny days I could get some bright diffused daylight back there without having to worry about the wind or curious pets. Also helpful was learning a little about the white balance settings on my camera and making sure to choose the best one for the type of light I was attempting to shoot in; fluorescent, incandescent, daylight, etc. When I didn’t have the ideal shooting conditions, using the correct white balance setting really helped to tone down unwanted color casts.

Over the years, my lighting set up has gotten more sophisticated. Thanks to my supportive and ever more knowledgeable hubby, we have accumulated some great equipment.

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Our current set up includes:

  • Canon 5D Mark II camera with a 24-70mm F2.8 L lens
  • Canon Timer Remote Controller
  • Bogen / Manfrotto Tripod with 3-Way Head
  • Gossen Digipro F – Digital Incident, Reflected and Flash Light Meter
  • Photogenic StudioMax III 2-Light Basic Studio Kit

Now I can take pictures anytime, and indoors too. Thank goodness.

Camera

We have migrated through 5 generations of digital cameras. First was a 1 megapixel Kodak, then there were two Nikons ( 5 and 8 megapixels respectively) and lastly, the Canons; the 8 megapixel 20D and most recently the 5D Mark II (21.1 megapixels!!)

What I learned was that the more megapixels , the better, though honestly, I don’t think I’ll be needing any more than 21.1megapixels. Up until this last camera, I never felt that I could get images sharp enough to print well at large sizes. I got nice enough pictures to post to my websites, but not to print. The 21 megapixels have made the difference. The 13 x 19 inch prints that I have been able to produce with the files from this camera are faithful reproductions of my artwork.

Printer, Profiles and Photoshop

We have had an Epson 2200 printer for many years, but only recently have been able to take advantage of it’s excellent photo (and art) printing capability. Previously when I tried to print a photo I would get a hideous off-color version of my beautiful shot. I sporadically read books about color management and searched the web for information. Over time,I did learn a lot, like what¬† ICC profiles were and how to use them. I learned about work flows and monitor calibrations and color spaces. But somehow I always managed to fall short of producing a nice color print of anything.

The new camera spurred me on to try again to get a great image on to paper faithfully. I had the right lighting set up to capture good color, I had the camera that took great high resolution photos. I had a large-format printer that was supposedly capable of producing high quality prints. All I needed was to work the kinks out of my work flow.

It helped that I had a nice new 24 inch LCD monitor to view my raw camera image. I opened the file in Digital Photo Professional, a graphics utility program that came with the 5D camera. I was able to do some extra sharpening and white balance corrections using the raw format file before transferring it directly to Photoshop as a tif file. In Photoshop I tweaked the color some more with the original sitting next to the monitor as a reference. I loved the image I saw on my monitor but I knew that getting it on to the paper would be the hard part.

My next step was to start printing proofs. I cut down pieces of  regular watercolor paper to 13 inch widths, which is the largest paper  width that the Epson 2200 can accept. I sized my image in Photoshop to 12 x 18 inches so as to leave a half inch border all around.

For the sake of not using up too much paper and ink, I¬†would temporarily crop a slice out of my picture that represented¬† the most critical color areas. In the Photoshop print dialogue box I chose what I thought would be the closest Epson profile match to the paper I was using. It was called “SP2200 Watercolor – RW_PK”. The RW stands for radiant white and the P for¬† the photo black ink cartridge in my printer, as opposed to a matte black cartridge.

There is a good tutorial available on the Epson website called¬† “Color Management Workbook” . It shows you how to set up the print dialogues in Photoshop to use Epson profiles in your color managed prints. You can also find all the latest and greatest paper ICC profiles and instructions on how to install them to your computer.

Printer Art Paper

To tell the truth, the proofs I¬†did with the watercolor RW_PK profile turned out pretty crappy. This was probably because the profile was not created for the watercolor paper I was using. My paper certainly was not radiant white and it was real watercolor paper, not specially designed Epson watercolor art paper. Switching to other profiles, I achieved the best results using the generic “Stylus Photo 2200” profile, and also one called “Adobe RGB (1998)”

After getting these wacky colors on my proofs, I realized that I was going to have to buy some real honest-to-goodness Epson art paper. The knowledge finally consolidated in my head, I needed the correct ink jet art paper, I needed the correct Epson paper profile. I put away my proofs and ordered some Epson Velvet Fine Art Paper.

It arrived about a week later and I tried again. This time I made sure to get the Velvet Fine Art Paper profile from the Epson web site before even starting.¬† A few more slices of Dean’s face later and I¬†was thrilled to see some true resemblance of the colors on the paper to the ones on the screen.

I was very happy! After all, this was a watershed moment, the culmination of many years of trying. I deserved my happy time. ūüôā

I continued my proofing process, with suitably small tweaks, until I had it, a print I could be proud of. Here is a picture of my first proofs on top and then the second truer batch on the Velvet Fine paper below. I posted it before, but it fits here too.

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There it is folks. My adventures in making prints, with a happy ending, no less. Thanks for reading!

Follow Me

Busy, busy, busy. With work and with some new projects! I recently ordered a new type of sanded paper called Fisher 400. I heard some good things about it and decided to try it out.

I received two 20 x 28 and two 14x 20 sheets a couple of weeks ago and  started two large new drawings, one in pastel and another in colored pencil. Having dabbled in both mediums now on this paper I have to agree that it is quite wonderful.

The pastel is a non Supernatural piece, so I¬†will just talk about the colored pencil piece here, which is a Sam and Dean drawing which I ‘m calling “Follow Me”. I worked out this sketch over the weekend.

FollowMe1

The Fisher 400 paper looks just like a fine gauge sandpaper, though it is manufactured solely as art paper. I had to order it from England, since the artist who created it does not have any US distributors yet. I sure hope that it becomes available more locally soon.

I discovered that this paper is translucent enough to allow me to use my light box to transfer the sketch to it. This is good news because I already had the dubious pleasure of copying a sketch on to this paper using transfer paper. It was a pain. Here I am working away at it.

FollowMe2

It took me a few hours to finish transferring all the little lines, but I’ve learned patience. The more details you capture the easier it is later to draw later.

Here is a bad picture of the transferred drawing. I have to get a better set up next time. My daylight source was off to one side and when I tried to add light with my fluorescent drawing table lamp, it just added another color cast, which I was unable to remove.

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Still it gives a good idea of how it looked. I used a couple of different colored pencil to transfer the lines, blue ones for the clouds, some grey for part of Deans shirt, white for the circle around the figures and a brownish ochre for all the rest. Mostly it was just experimenting. I also varied the pressure. I think the right side is probably a little too faint, though I finished off at a pretty good line thickness on the left.

I almost forgot to take a picture at this stage.That is why Dean’s face actually shows some shadowing which I¬†had started to block in. Fortunately I still captured the mostly un-worked line drawing.

All the brainstorming for the composition, drawing the sketch and getting it transferred took most of my weekend. I finally got it to to the point of starting to draw this evening, and I was able to get this far.

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I got a better picture this time, though it is still shadowed on the right.

I think this paper is going to hook me completely. It takes color incredibly well. I have barely gotten started but I can tell I will be able to layer lots and lots of color on it.

I’m also going to get hooked on working at this large size paper. The 20×28 inch size gives me such control over the drawing of details on the face. One thing though, this paper is going to eat my pencils by the bushel.

Here is a close up of my start.

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The layering has just begun, but I¬†couldn’t resist¬† working his eye more,¬† to catch a glimpse of what this paper might yield.

Now a little on what was in my head when I came up with this new project. I wanted to do Sam and Dean together, but show a little of the challenges they are facing in their TV lives this season. I wanted a background that would reflect some of forces that are helping and hindering them. A little of heaven on the right and some touches of hell on the left.

Looking for inspiration I looked at countryside landscapes reference images and came across a picture of a beautiful valley and it just seemed to click in my mind. And a phrase from the 23rd Psalm came to mind:

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”
I¬†think that though Sam and Dean are scared in different ways, they still have hope and an inherent trust in each other. If they stay together maybe they will make it through the shadowed valley. Dean will say “Follow me”, determined as always to save his little brother. Sam will have his back, trusting his brother just one more time to lead them out of danger.

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