Monday, January 24, 2011

Actual vs. digital

It doesn't really seem that long ago that I developed my ideas for paintings by shooting dozens of photos with my heavy SLR, then sending off the rolls of film in little prepaid mailers, then waiting to receive that fat package of 3x5 photos in my mailbox. If I was feeling flush, I might have ordered the 4x6 size. But that must have been long ago, since I had no problem seeing the details in those little photos. But since cameras have gone digital and my eyes have gone south I've been shooting my reference photos with a pocket-sized digital camera and printing out nice big 8x10's on my inkjet printer.

Lately I've somewhat guiltily started skipping the printing process altogether and setting up my laptop next to my work area. I don't know why, but it feels a bit like cheating to me. I like that I don't have to deal with a finicky printer and feed it expensive paper and even more expensive ink.  I can also merge photos and zoom in for detail (sometimes a mixed blessing). And I don't really mind getting paint on my keyboard.

But am I'm heading down the slipperly slope of becoming a {{shudder}} digital artist? I don't think so, my pleasure in the materials is too strong. Give me a 1939 blank canvas and I'm thrilled. A chance to take a woodcut class from an 85 year old master instead of hitting the "print" button? Sign me up.

So I think I'll continue working from printed reference photos and just occasionally supplementing with the laptop for now. I won't let go of the ritual of sorting through stacks of photos easily. There is something contemplative about flipping through the 8x10's and working from them till fingerprints of paint obscure the corners, the information they provide gleaned and translated, and they are dropped to the floor to gather dust and footprints.


  1. I'm hooked on using my laptop as a reference. Mostly because I don't have to spend oodles of cash on the ink (a.k.a., liquid gold). Also, the colors are more true and the shadows don't become obscured. If I want to ignore the details, I just zoom out.

  2. Luddites with laptops--who woulda thunk? Computer bits can be creepy, but in spite of the occasional digital shudder, laptops do save a lot of paper and ink, both of which come from some chemical wasteland. I also agree that sometimes a print in the hand is worth two in the disk. But hey, it's all rock and chisel.

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  4. I know, I used to feel like working with photos was considered "cheating", now I cling to them like they were hand ground pigments. Next I'll be saying working from the computer monitor is more authentic than working from the computer chip embedded in my brain.

  5. I've often wished my computer was in my studio but they have always been in separate rooms, often at opposite ends of the house. Printouts aren't always as accurate with the colors and there are times when, like you, a photo reference is just what I need to get going on a work or make sure I'm not going to astray in the process. I've gotten over the sense that it is "cheating" - it's just another tool in the toolbox.

    Gosh, I have so many prints from the days of sending off rolls of film - I know just what you mean. The way I take pictures though has changed dramatically with the advent of digital cameras. That instant feedback is terrific, and the no cost multiple shots a godsend.

  6. I work from the computer all the time! And I absolutely love not having to buy prints. Although I actually prefer working from life, but that's not always possible...


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