My Blog List

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Black and White Photography, A Painter's Best Tool

The Glory of  the Garden: Japanese Dogwood
A digital photograph taken with my Nikon Coolpix L120

While rain has dampened summer expectations, it has produced lush growth in the garden. The Japanese Dogwood, in particular, is enjoying the humidity and cool temperatures with a profusion of blooms. It isn't a big tree. It isn't showy. It is elegant.  Eventually,  the tree will form a roof shading the attrium entrance to my home. This is not a reference photograph. It stands on its own. In this case, nature's art surpasses any rendering I could produce.

Photographically, I do prefer black and white to color. Color distracts. With black and white, the range of the  gray scale reveals the quality of the picture.  There's a nice range of grays  in this photo.
A full range of grays in a photograph is the the mark of a good photograph.
Converting a photograph of a painting in progress to black and white is an excellent tool for artists.
To see how I was doing with If a Tree Falls, I checked it out in black and white.  I was happy to see it was coming along nicely and was nearly finished.

Check the painting against the black and white reference photograph I'm working from:

Before I got side tracked by the beauty of the Japanese Dogwood after a morning rain, I ransacked the studio again looking for Burnt Sienna oil paint and FOUND IT!  The find restored my opinion of myself.


  1. The dogwood photo is achingly beautiful to these moisture deprived eyes.
    Love the active/energy feeling in your if a tree falls. The black and white illustrates your great design.
    Burnt sienna? never use it myself. What do you like about it?

    1. It's a good color--it's the color I've always used to do the initial layout of a portrait--particularly if the portrait is going to be done with a cool palette. Raw Sienna would work too--but that has a lot of gray in itmore than Yellow Ocre--a color one instructor never used--hated it, while I thought it had unifying qualities. These colors all go back to my initial instruction. I guess they are habit for this old dog.

  2. Sono d'accordo con te,la fotografia in bianco e nero è poetica e si apprezza tutta la sua scala tonale.
    Il tuo lavoro con i tronchi è molto difficile,sei stata molto brava nel riprodurre ottimamente il gioco di luci e ombre!
    Ciao,buona serata!:-)

    1. Grazie Franz. Da questa traduzione in bianco e nero dei dipinti che, ho ancora bisogno di luci brillanti. La composizione è bene, ma ho notato che devo oscurare la cirle di luce ho disegnato attorno al centro del dipinto. Non c'è lavoro da fare.
      Un po 'più di una semplificazione troppo, ma io amo la complessità di quella base dell'albero. Sarebbe un ottimo disegno grafite pure. Abbracci per commentare.

      Thanks Franz. From this black and white translation of that painting, I still need brighter lights. The composition is fine, but I notice I have to obscure the cirle of light I've drawn around the center of the painting. There's work to be done.
      A bit more simplification too, but I love the complexity of that fallen tree base. It would make an excellent graphite drawing as well. Hugs for commenting.

  3. Hi Linda,
    Great words. The Maestro always stressed how value is true and color is whatever you choose. I've never forgotten his words and whenever color causes me challenges, I always fall back on his basic truth.
    On a lighter note, I invited you to have a Mai Tai with me this evening and wondered if you had a favorite recipe for the drink. My favorite of all the many places I've tried them, is the Moana Surfrider Hotel's version. Here's their recipe:
    1 oz light rum
    1oz dark rum
    2 oz sweet-and-sour mix (Margarita mix is a good substitute)
    1 oz fresh orange juice
    1 oz fresh pineapple juice
    1/2 oz Orgeat syrup
    1/2 oz Orange Curacao
    1/2 oz rock candy syrup (bar simple syrup works, too)
    Mix together, pour over rocks, garnish with fresh pineapple wedge, maraschino cherry and a paper umbrella
    It's a lot of trouble to go to, but worth it. :)
    I did have one tonight and toasted you and Ellis, in absentia.
    Have a great day tomorrow.

    1. So that's what goes into Mai tai, wow. I'll put the ingredients on the shopping list and we'll sip a bit of Hawaii the very next sunset--or sunrise?

      I like how your maestro put that. Julie wanted to know why I like burnt sienna (and, by association i supposed, the other old fashioned colors which have been on supply lists every class I ever considered taking). Those colors translate on the gray scale to about 5,6 and 7--7 being burnt sienna. They are mid tones without a lot of mixing. Mid tones pull a composition together. Indeed mid tones are the largest percentage of a painting. Artists should be very familiar with photography's gray scale. It's a good thing to understand. Then practice via monochromatic color schemes.

  4. If the tree falls is fabulous! Interesting how you use black and white photo's, I should do that!

    1. When you photograph a painting you've finished or are working on to publish in a post, you're half there. If you got the colors recorded accurately--or as accurately as you can with Windows picture program--under 'effects' is 'convert to black and white.' Make a copy of your color painting and convert the copy to black and white. It's a great way to see how you did--or usually in my case how I'm doing.

      I did want you all to see that that abstraction wasn't really an abstraction, but actually taken from life.

  5. Wow! I also prefer the black and white photos to color, but I was never sure why. However, those last two pictures with the painting and the photo comparison finally made it clear to me. I happen to love that painting in color, but now comparing it to the photograph gives me a much better appreciation of both.

    1. Black and white is a wonderful tool for painters--and photographers. I didn't think you liked Tree. It is different for me, but not really. I started this blog out just drawing whatever and followed the subjects other blogging artists were doing. After nearly four years, I am finding my own voice and solidifying my thoughts about my art, what I want from it and what gives me the biggest kick. It's been an interesting period of time. Revealing. Makes me think of all those discussions in pysch classes about self actualization. I have concluded that that happens on one's death bed for I am still self-actualizing--if that's a word?

  6. I rarely paint anything from colour always preferring to use black and white photos and work with my own palette so I am not influenced by the colours I see. I often introduce black and white photos to my workshops and it is amazing how difficult people find using their imagination to produce a pleasing palette so although I now also recognise their use in seeing all the tonal values my initial reason for using them was to become more inventive with colour and freeing me from the chains of what I see. I also use burnt sienna and it is a colour I love and I often try to use an alternative but whether it just pleases my eye I don't know but I often revert back to it finding the alternative either too red, too brown, too yellow and just not right!!

    1. I paint from color and just use black and white as a tool for value/composition checks. It's often that color is what attracts me. The colors and forms of that fallen tree that morning were what made me take the photograph. Zooming in and appreciating the abstract design of the event is what made me decide to paint it. Trees is done in Acrylics. Red Oxide is on the palette instead of Burnt Sienna. But JD will be a portrait in oils with skin tones Burnt Sienna for that subject is a great color to layin the initial washes ranging in tone from dark to light. For the lights though I usually wipe those out with a rag dampened in mineral spirits. JD will also be a cool colored portrait, so a warm underpainting will add richness.

      I've used Burnt Sienna and Yellow Ocre my whole oil painting life for the wash ins. It would be interesting to photograph the two colors, convert the photo to black and white and see just where they do fall in the gray scale. I'd add Raw Umbra to the line up as well.

  7. Gelukkig maar dat we niet allemaal het zelfde zijn ik waardeer je werk zwart wit of kleur lieve groetjes Danielle

    1. Dat maakt de wereld rond gaan Danielle. We zijn allemaal verschillend, maar toch hetzelfde. Groeten aan u ook - en een knuffel.

      That's what makes the world go round Danielle. We're all different, yet the same. Greetings to you too--and a hug.

  8. If a tree falls is a beauuutiful painting..! I love that dogwood photo too.

    1. Thanks Celeste. If it were a movie, it would be called It's Complicated. The dogwood not so much. It stood still in the garden dripping wet so I could take its picture. Very accommodating. :-))

  9. Your photography is just as beautiful as your chalk and paint works. I'd love to see your studio in person!
    I just noticed you have an email subscription form and I just signed up!! YIPPEE!! Now I won't miss a thing. Thank you!

  10. What a revelation! I never thought to do the black + white comparison, but, for goodness sake, it is so obvious! And simple. Tank you, Linda.