Sunday, May 29, 2016

Adjusting a Photo for Painting

"Why They Paint Doors Blue"
12x16 oil/panel by Michael Chesley Johnson
For Sale - $1200, includes shipping and frame

As many of you know, Trina and I just recently returned to the summer studio for the season.  There's always tons to do when we get here:  firing up the well pump and checking for leaks, vacuuming up dead flies, ordering and restocking art materials, seeing if I can get the lawn mower started—well, I could go on.  Honestly, I don't get any painting done in the first few weeks.  But I had cause to make a small studio painting, and for that, I wanted to return to a scene I'd painted several years ago.

That first painting was based on a photo, and I wanted to repaint it to see if I could do a few things differently.  Here's the photo.  It's a shot of a historic part of Santa Fe in New Mexico in the fall, a time of year when stately cottonwoods cast a golden light on warm adobe walls.

First reference photo

There are a couple of problems in the photo.  First, it shows a paved road, and I rather prefer a dirt one edged with grasses to evoke an older time.  But more importantly, the gate door isn't blue.  Doors and sometimes windows in Santa Fe adobe houses are often painted a bright blue.  Some say that the Puebloans and early Spanish settlers painted entry ways this color to keep out evil spirts.  Others say that blue represents the sky and adobe walls the earth, which is fitting since the high desert of New Mexico is all about sky and earth.  This all sounds right to me, but I also like a blue door because blue is a complement to the muted orangey colors of adobe, and together they visually enhance each other.

Second reference photo

I could have just made it up, but I wanted to have a reference to work with.  Using Photoshop, I took the original photo and painted the door with a blue that looked similar to what I remember the doors being in Santa Fe.  But I couldn't just apply an opaque blue to the door; that would have wiped out the shadows and texture of the door.  Instead, I applied it with 50% opacity to preserve some of these elements.  Although they didn't make it into the final painting, you can see some of the shadows in the adjusted photo.

For the road and grass, I found another photo from which to copy-and-paste these.  This one also shows a "coyote fence," and I decided to add this element as well.  This required a little more work, as I didn't want the fence to obscure other parts of my main photo.  I also used a few tricks to better integrate these new elements.  Finally, I cropped the photo and increased the saturation.  (I'm by no means a Jedi Master with Photoshop, but I can wield a light saber well enough.)

Here's the final adjusted photo:

Final combined photo

After painting this piece, I found a rustic barnwood frame that enhances the feeling of a time gone by.  Not many of my paintings like a rustic frame, but this one seems perfect.  Here it is in the frame, along with a few detail shots.  (I'm offering this painting for sale; let me know if you are interested via e-mail.)

"Why They Paint Doors Blue" - Framed

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