Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Digital Copies: The Lost Generation

"Burke Falls" - 9x12, oil/knife - contact Michael

Back in the bad old days - the days before computers - it was not unusual to see a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy. It was barely legible, with letters seen as through a fog. Now that we're in the "good new days," in which the two-millionth digital copy of a document looks just as good as the original, you'd think all this new technology was doing us artists a favor.

Not so fast. Yes, it's true that a digital image can be copied and disseminated ad infinitum without any deterioration. But the bad news is, that original image was flawed to start with.

There are many steps - and many possible missteps - between photographing a painting and getting the image ready for publication, whether in digital or print form. No matter how good a photographer you are, you'll never capture the painting perfectly. For starters, a painting is a three-dimensional product. Whether pastel or oil, it has a discernable surface texture that is impossible to capture effectively in a two-dimensional medium such as a photographic image.

But worse yet, because no camera or scanner is perfect, you will always end up adjusting the image on your computer monitor. You'll try very hard to get the saturation, contrast and color balance right. But every monitor is different. For example, I think my desktop monitor is usually spot on. My new laptop's screen, however, shows the same image cooler and bluer. My wife's monitor shows it with too little contrast. There are calibration kits you can buy that will help you adjust your monitor (and your printer, too), but even if I have calibrated mine, you may not have calibrated yours. And then there's the color gamut difference between Macs and PCs.

Finally, size does make a difference. A large painting reduced and seen on a typical desktop monitor will usually look more impressive than a small painting enlarged. And please, don't even start me on the topic of looking at artwork on the 3.5" screen of an iPhone!

So, every time you look at one of my paintings on-screen - or any other artist's - please keep in mind that the real thing is surely going to be different. And, hopefully, better.


Nartizt said...

Thanks Michael, I appreciate you writing on this subject. I've been struggling to get what I feel are true images of my paintings. I will not worry too much about it now after your post. It is similar to taking a photograph of nature, where the camera doesn't capture what our eyes see.

Brad Perkins said...

Michael, I love the knife painting!

Annapurna Moffatt said...

I have a poster of DalĂ­'s "Santiago el Grande", which is NOTHING compared to the original. When the painting was photographed for the poster (by Peter Gross, who's one of my teachers and the head of the photo studio at NBCCD), it was done in sections (if you've ever seen the "Santiago" in real life, you'll know that it's HUGE--160.5" x 120", according to the blurb at the bottom of the poster), and the light in the gallery had to be fiddled with so that there wouldn't be any glare (if you look at the original, you have to move around in order to see the whole thing, due to the shininess of the oil paint).

And then you have to play around with getting the colour in the photo right, and piecing all those photos together...

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Thanks, Brad! Not to worry, Nancy - I've stopped worrying. I just try to make the image look as good as possible, and if the painting, in person, looks different, so be it. Nice tale, Annapurna!

Annapurna Moffatt said...

I forgot to mention that the colours of the poster version and the colours of the original oil painting are different. They tried to match the colours as closely as possible, but there were limits to what they could do, since computers only "see" certain colours, which is one of the reasons why the poster just doesn't compare to the original.

teresa johnson said...

This painting is awesome Michael.

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