Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Year-end Review

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Balboa Park
Watercolour and crayon
©2012 Charlene Brown

Here's how I think I did with respect to following my plan for 2012:
As usual, I tried to paint more spontaneously and to move away from representational painting, and made some progress in stylizing landscapes by working on more than one picture at a time.  I’m quite happy with the way Balboa Park (based on photos I took during our Christmas trip to San Diego, California) turned out, and have another in the works, which I will post early in the New Year.
My favourite travel journaling was very close to home – the first six of these British Columbia posts.  
I’ve continued to participate in the Virtual Paintout, completing all 12 of the 2012 locations: Colorado, Elba, St. Petersburg, Gdansk, Jerusalem,Latvia, Thailand, Tasmania,Zealand, Croatia,New Brunswick, and Slovakia.
In May, I turned a couple of full sheet watercolours I painted about 15 years ago into same size (and much more striking) posters.
By far my biggest undertaking was to get a good start on a small book, Plein air Painting: the drama, a compilation of some of the stories I’ve written about painting en plein air over the four years I’ve been writing 1150 Words.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

How to get everything you want into your picture

Christmas at the Cabin
Watercolour and crayon
©2012 Charlene Brown

This is the view from the loft in the cabin where we spent Christmas last year. Parts of it are quite realistic – for example, the Christmas tree really was two stories high.  The moose-like thing on the wall between the two upper windows actually looks more like a moosehead than the real thing.  The real thing is a large plush toy with velvet antlers.

And you can see the reflected tree lights and alpenglow on the Rockies... just not through that window from that particular angle.  I’ve invoked my (self-granted) right to use multiple viewpoints again, in order to include in the painting a few more of my favourite things about the cabin.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Virtual Paintout in Slovakia

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Lomnický štít
©2012 Charlene Brown

The Virtual Paintout is in Slovakia this month.  I've been to Slovakia, so I knew exactly what I wanted to paint for a change, and headed directly for the Lomnický štít and found this Google Streetview of it from Tatranská Lomnica in the High Tatras. 
I briefly considered another location (fun, but no mountains) in front of the L’Institut français de Slovaquie in Brataslava.  As you might have noticed, Napoleon himself provides a photo opportunity at this location for tourists.  Here he is with one.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Experimental sun-lighting for beginners

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September snowfall
Watercolour, crayon and computer
Charlene Brown

I painted this a few years ago from a photo of famously-turquoise Moraine Lake, taken after an early snowfall before freeze-up. The painting was nowhere near as spectacular as you’d expect, because the sunlight wasn’t strong enough to cast nice sharp shadows. The only good shadow reference photos I was able to find were taken in summer under a much higher sun.  So I decided to make some up.
In order to keep my options open, I put in the shadows on this jpeg file only… the original is still its same old flat white self.  Someday, when I’m a little surer of the shadows, I’ll use actual paint (Daniel Smith Moonglow, I think) instead of just Photoshop Polygonal Lasso Select>Edit>Fill.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Cutting-edge design (not)

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Computer montage
©2012 Charlene Brown
When my sister asked me to paint a picture of our childhood home, I decided to compile a QR code-derived arrangement of dozens of tiny pictures mounted on a watercolour painting.  It was to be a very cutting-edge, 21st century design of family photos from the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.  Here is what happened instead…
It turned out I was the only person in my generation or the next generation of our family who could find any photo albums from the old days, and I didn't have 'dozens' of photos taken inside or near the house. Everyone's photos had been de-cluttered or stashed or had otherwise become at least temporarily inaccessible. So I decided that this layout, pretty much along the lines of a regular photo album, might be of more interest.
Technical note: The newer photos (only 50-60 years old) were sort of in colour, so for consistency, I rendered them all into gray scale, then sepia.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Painting in the Bugaboos IV

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Beyond this point be grizzlies

Watercolour and crayon
©2012 Charlene Brown

This is the ‘snowbank-encrusted pond’ I referred to in my last Bugaboos painting.  It is the only location where we saw evidence of the recent presence of bears (not the still-steaming kind of evidence, just some roughly overturned rocks and up-rooted bulbs).  All hikers and painters are accompanied by guides with radios, air horns and bear spray, but close encounters are rare as the bears leave the areas where they know the helicopters will touch down as soon as they hear them coming.
I’ll admit right now that none of the flowers in this tundra-like meadow where we did our sketching were glacier lilies  – which bloom in early July – but I decided to include some anyway, after figuring out how to paint them using masking fluid a couple of years ago.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Virtual Paintout in New Brunswick

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Water Street, St. Andrews-by-the-Sea
Watercolour and crayon
©2012 Charlene Brown

The Virtual Paintout is in New Brunswick this month. I’ve never been in the southwestern corner of the province, but everyone who has says St. Andrews is a lovely little town, so I headed there first to find something nice with a Bay of Fundy background – and then found this delightful Streetview that runs parallel to the water, and doesn’t show the Bay of Fundy at all.
If you click on this link to it, you can swivel the Google camera to the right, and see how close it is, if you like... 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Nine years after the Kootenay Burn II

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More Purple Trees
©2012 Charlene Brown

This picture was painted from a photograph taken in the Kootenay River Valley a couple of kilometers north of the picture I painted last week. It shows the view over the Vermillion Pass to Castle Mountain in the Bow Valley.  The patches of ‘purple’ tree trunks in the foreground identify the edges of the Kootenay Burn of 2003, and the similar patches further up the pass are the remaining signs of the Vermillion Pass Fire of 1967.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Nine years after the Kootenay Burn I

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Purple trees
©2012 Charlene Brown

2003 was a terrible year for fires in British Columbia, but the endless miles of burned trees now have a beautiful silvered mauve patina – at least that’s the way they look to those of us who see purple trees wherever we go… Almost all the trees in the Kootenay Valley are part of this ethereal forest, with occasional survivors and some brand new growth along the ridges and in the gullies.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Virtual Paintout in Croatia

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Maslinica, Croatia
©2012 Charlene Brown

The Virtual Paintout is in Croatia this month.  We had the whole country to choose from, and I first went looking for mountains – and found a very acceptable view from Selca in Split-DalmatiaBut then I thought I’d have a look along the famously-beautiful coastline, and found this charming little harbour in Maslinica.  I selected this view of it, as it seemed to have the best shot of the Croatian flag.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Virtual Paintout in Zealand

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Højbro Plads, Copenhagen
Watercolour and CP
©2012 Charlene Brown

This month, The Virtual Paintout is in Zealand, part of Denmark that includes the city of Copenhagen.  Zealand is lovely, with lots of picturesque vistas… Here is a link to the view shown here.  Try manoeuvring around a bit in Google Streetview, and I’m sure you’ll agree.  
But is it ever flat!  I hope the Virtual Paintout finds itself in some mountains sometime soon…

Monday, September 24, 2012

Painting plein air in the Bugaboos III

Cobalt Lake
©2012 Charlene Brown

My last full day in the Bugaboos was my best plein air painting day ever! After an hour of sketching and a picnic lunch in a flower-filled meadow beside a snowbank-encrusted pond, we descended to a ridge above spectacular Cobalt Lake.
Sara Genn got us off to an inspiring start with a demo on capturing the spirit of a place in 20-minutes... First she covered the canvas completely with a richly-hued under-painting of Sara-colours; then she carved out the craggy cliffs and cols with a super-energized blizzard of titanium white. (As you can see in the second picture below, when she tossed it to one side and began another, her first demo was inspected by an oddly colour-matched caterpillar)
Then we each painted as fast as we could for 20 (well, actually 30) minutes, and produced this array of captured spirits – shown laid out for a totally uncritical crit.
Only then did we begin, and in most cases almost finish, our serious paintings. What a day! 


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Painting plein air in the Bugaboos II

Tamarack Glen
Watercolour and marker
©2012 Charlene Brown

In my eagerness to tell you about the helicopter drop-offs, I left out some numbers I hope you’ll find as impressive as we all did at the time… There are five spires in the Bugaboos that top out at more that 3000 meters.  The first day we were dropped off at glacier level, about 2600 meters, with winds gusting to … well not much actually, but at just a few degrees above freezing, any breeze is an icy blast, and those of us who weren’t wearing our storm gear just about froze. One of my fellow-painters, shivering violently commented:

Tim from Denver:  I think I’ve just discovered how Pointillism was invented!

So, the next day we were dropped off in Tamarack Glen, a lovely plateau at an elevation of only 2300 meters.  But it rained, just a little…

Liz Wiltzen, our other instructor (and guide) has painted and hiked in these mountains under even more bracing conditions. Once she got us to our position beside one of the tarns, she pulled her toque over her ears, poured everyone a nice cup of tea (I am not making this up!) and did a brilliant demo of 10-shape, 50-brushstroke painting. I think the 50 brushstroke limitation is a useful concept only for oil and acrylic painters, who can scrumble one fully-loaded stroke all over the place, but I decided to apply the 10-shape paradigm to my watercolour painting, after seeing how well Liz’s boldly-stated demo turned out… Unfortunately, the numbing cold dulled my boldness somewhat and I proceeded to block out the 110-shape jumble on the left, instead. 

Many people already know that Robert Genn is amazing... but here's a picture for those who require proof.  He is starting his third demo of the day on the underside of a board that he has slanted to keep the rain off the paint!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Painting plein air in the Bugaboos

Pigeon Spire and the Howser Towers over the Vowell Glacier
Watercolour and gouache
©2012 Charlene Brown

I’ve just returned from the ultimate plein air workshop – heli-paintingwith Robert Genn in the Bugaboos!
This is one of the paintings I started the first day.  Note the word ‘started’… Robert suggests that when you’re dropped off (note the term ‘dropped off’ as I’ll be going on about that at some length) in a spectacular spot such as this, you capture the ambiance, the lights and darks, and general awesomeness of the place as quickly and spontaneously as you can, then put your painting aside before you start puttering. He himself started as many as six paintings every day. 

In the format of my on-going Drama of Painting Plein Air, his actual words, when he saw the painting as it looks below, were:

Robert Genn: You must abandon this immediately.

It has taken me almost two weeks to see this with ‘fresh eyes’ and add the shadows and extra clouds that appeared later in the afternoon.

Now, about being dropped off by a helicopter… On the bus from Banff to the heliport in the Columbia Valley, the procedure was explained to us.   At first, I thought they were kidding, but no, this is really how it is done…   When you set down on some windswept, not-particularly-level ridge, the helicopter doesn’t actually stop, and they don’t want anyone near the ends of the rotor. So, as soon as you’re out the door, you crouch down no more than two meters from the runners, covering your head and holding all your stuff down until the helicopter is gone, and the prop-wash and the racket give way to silence. Then you straighten up as smoothly as possible, brush yourself off, and try not to think about assuming that crouched position again (with your eyes closed) while the helicopter lands beside you when it comes to pick you up.  

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sturdy Roots - Strong Foundations

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Blue Atlas Cedar at St. Ann’s Academy
Watercolour and crayon
©2012 Charlene Brown

On the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the founding of the City of Victoria, ‘Artistic Renderings of the Heritage Trees at St. Ann’s Academy National Historic Site’ were requested.  We each picked whatever tree or trees we’d like to paint, a process which took way longer than I expected.  They have a wonderful arboretum from which to choose, and I finally selected the Blue Atlas Cedar, described in their Botanical Guide as ‘Native of Africa, conifer. Very popular as an ornamental garden tree, it features silvery blue needles and cones up to 10 cm in length.’  It’s absolutely beautiful, but I think I should mention it would only be suitable for huge ornamental gardens.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Painting with the Al Frescoes at the Chinese Cemetery

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Feng Shui
Watercolour and gouache
©2012 Charlene Brown

This was going to be the outing where I completed a painting that included the other people in our group… but they just didn’t line up properly with the obligatory mountain background and the grave markers I wanted to include in my picture.

What did line up was the cemetery itself, the site having been chosen for its excellent Feng Shui. It is flanked by the Azure Dragon, Qinglong, to the east and by the White Tiger, Baihu, on the west, and embraced by the Living Water, Shengshui, of Juan de Fuca Strait and Gonzales Bay, Those who are buried here command a Grand Hall, Mingtang, in front and face a distant Worshiping Mountain Range, Chaoshan, the Olympics.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Virtual Paintout in Tasmania

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Cockle Creek Road
©2012 Charlene Brown

The Virtual Paintout is in Tasmania this month.  I have a painting of Lake Oberon in the Western Arthur Range on my website, Paint Every Mountain, so I looked in that spectacularly beautiful part of the state for a Google Streetview first of all. I soon discovered, however, that the Google camera car didn’t make it south of Scotts Peak Road. So I went looking for more accessible spots and found this lovely Streetview of Cockle Creek Road on the coast only about 50 kilometres southwest of Hobart. Here is a link to it.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Adding people (at a safe distance) to a painting

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Painting at Willows Beach
©2012 Charlene Brown

Whenever I’m painting with a group, I’m fascinated by the painters who can incorporate the people around them, including the Roving Art Critics, into their pictures. Katherine Tyrrell does this a lot and does it very well, so I decided to have another look at her article about sketching people … and was particularly encouraged by a couple of things she said not to do:
  • “Don’t draw faces. If people can't be identified they can neither object nor can they be upset if your drawing of them isn't flattering.”  Katherine simply concentrates on getting the bodies and posture looking right… to which I would add clothing – it’s pretty easy to get that looking approximately right.
  • “Don’t assume they'll be annoyed. I've had people (approach me) more than once to see how the drawing of them turned out.” That’s easy for her to say, you might be thinking, because her drawings always turn out beautifully…
But she’s right! Even other artists, who could probably do it better, got a kick out of recognizing their hat or something in my picture. Admittedly, I only began this drawing while on location at Willows Beach – actually completing a painting with people in it will be the next big step in the Drama of Painting Plein Air.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

California Adventure on the Sea-to-Sky Highway

Do you see what I see?
©2012 Charlene Brown

Does anyone besides me think, “California Adventure" whenever they see this bear mountain rock formation on the highway coming south from Whistler?  By 'bear mountain' I mean the bear-shaped artificial mountain at  Disneyland. 
On the right is a picture of this California Adventure bear, the one that’s actually in California. And here’s a link to my California Adventure bear on Google Streetview. What do you think?
BTW, my bear is only slightly more natural than the Disneyland version – it’s what was left of a ridge blasted out when the Sea-to-Sky Highway was widened for the Olympics.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Winterizing photos

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Thunderbird Corner
Watercolour and marker
©2012 Charlene Brown

This painting of the No.16 Corner of the luge run at the Whistler Sliding Centre is based on a couple of photos I took just two weeks ago.Right now, however, this area (at the final corner where the track circles round a vertical wall and heads back uphill to the finish line) is covered in lush green grass and the track itself is bare concrete...

For winter colour and shadow reference, I was able to use some pictures I took during a race three years ago.  But I had to get Google to find me a picture of a luge rounding the Thunderbird corner during the Winter Olympics, in order to know where to put it in the painting. On the right is my only photo of this part of the track.  I managed to take it just after my grandson went by, so it wasn't really helpful.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The drama of painting plein air

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West coast waterfall
Watercolour, crayon and marker
©2012 Charlene Brown

I was out with the Al Frescoes   again, this time at Witty’s Lagoon, west of Victoria. 
Because of the sound of the waterfall, I didn’t realize that a line of hikers was filing past me – until a big black dog planted his pointy face on my painting and smiled up at me.
Leaping out of your seat is quite a conversation-starter. The dog’s owners were very apologetic and almost frantically effusive about my painting.
As always, I was trying to shift away from a straight-up representational landscape toward something more stylized, but still recognizable – but I suspected that if it weren’t for the waterfall being right in front of us, they wouldn’t have recognized it…

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Virtual Paintout in Thailand

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Mahamakut Buddhist University
Watercolour and gouache
©2012 Charlene Brown

The Virtual Paintout is in Thailand this month, with a choice of finding a spot to paint in an area stretching from Bangkok to Phuket in the south, or the area around Chiang Mai in the north. I picked Chiang Mai, and hit the jackpot on my first try – Phrapokkloa Road, where there seems to be no end of very paintable cityscapes.
I picked this view of a restoration project on a stupa at Mahamakut Buddhist University because it includes an illustration of the project on the sign on the left, providing a nice balance, I think. Here’s the link to the real thing.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Composite Viewpoints in Landscape Painting

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Whistler Sliding Centre
©2012 Charlene Brown

‘Composite Viewpoints’ is the term I’ve chosen to introduce the fact I couldn’t find a spot from which I could actually see everything I wanted to include in this painting – the sliding centre, a few Whistler and Blackcomb ski runs, the Overlord Glacier and Alta Lake.
This happens to me a lot, and has resulted in the occasional Drama of Painting Plein Air, where roving art critics point out the error of my ways.
Some of the dramas – in Peru, Malta, Egypt, Tunisia and Honduras – have been mentioned before. 
Other 'composite viewpoint' paintings, such as one in Alexandria, which includes the Pharos Lighthouse (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World no longer in existence) and Tehuacalco, in Mexico, were like this painting of Whistler – they didn’t elicit any drama because nobody was there when I lined up my fragmentary photos, sketches and site maps (and in the case of Alexandria, illustrations from Wikipedia) to compose the final image.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Painting plein air with a flash mob

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Haro Strait shipping lane
Watercolour and gouache
©2012 Charlene Brown

My April 26 post included a conversation with a roving artcritic at Copan  that led me to think a less defensive, more confident approach to The Drama of Painting Plein Air would be a good idea… and a pleasantly confident approach might be a great idea. 
I got a chance to test this thought when I joined a plein air painting group, the Al Frescoes at Willows Beach here in Victoria. The Al Frescoes operate on a flash mob basis… gathering anytime after nine every Friday morning at a location that’s been emailed to everyone a couple of days in advance.  During the morning, quite a few of us took time to wander around and look at other works-in-progress.
I should mention that when the following Drama of Painting Plein Air took place, Haro Strait shipping lane was pretty insipid, and the clouds were too dark and just about everything else was too light. I wanted to be open to input from anyone who offered a suggestion. So, for the first time, I resisted the temptation to display my expertise by launching into a listing of my painting’s faults.

Fellow watercolour artist (the best kind of roving art critic): Mind if I look?
Artist: Of course not – I’ve just been doing the same thing myself.
RAC: I see you’re still at the ethereal stage... pale Prussian blue is a great way to start Mt. Baker.
Artist: I wish I could be adventurous like the acrylic or oil painters. (I had noticed that a lot of them  kept painting over their pale but realistic starts with just about every colour they’d brought along.)
RAC: They have the luxury of being able to go back to ‘ethereal’ if ‘bold and dark’ goes wrong. But we’ve always got gouache! That cloud bank around the mountain cries out for gouache!
Artist: What a great idea!  But I didn’t bring gouache because I always use it fresh out of the tube and I don’t bring tubes on location.
RAC: Those clouds will still be crying out for gouache when you get home.  It’s better to wait until your painting is really dry anyway – then you get to decide how much colour to stir up with the stuff…

Friday, June 22, 2012

Experiments with painting cards

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Four winter cards
©2012 Charlene Brown

When I painted folding cards like this a couple of weeks ago, I taped them flat on the board – and when I removed the tape, a bit of one of the paintings ripped off.
So this time I folded the cards before taping them down, two of them with just the back of the card taped (and protected) and two with the whole thing taped, as shown in the picture on the right.
As you might guess from this picture, The top ones were more difficult to work on, with the paint finding its way over the flapping edges of the paper.  Besides that, I prefer the results of the bottom ones – I like the paintings to have a white border. So from now on, I’ll be painting with tape all round the folded card.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Virtual Paintout in Latvia

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Bank at the end of the Bridge
©2012 Charlene Brown

The Virtual Paintout is in Latvia this month. I’ve noticed that several people have found good Google Streetviews to paint in some of the smaller cities – but I headed straight for Riga as I know there are some great church spires there.  I was out on a bridge trying to find a spot with a panoramic view that might include two or three of these when I noticed the bridge itself and the building at the other end of it had arranged themselves in what I thought was a pretty terrific design.  Hope you agree.  It reminds me of a bridge I painted about a year ago  when the Virtual Paintout was in Japan.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Masking tape with a mind of its own

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The Olympic Mountains
©2012 Charlene Brown

Did you notice the little cloud at the top of this? Have you ever had similar weather changes in your paintings?
When you’re pulling off masking tape, it’s a good idea to pull at an angle away from the paper… but when you’ve taped a card along the flattened fold, you have paper on both sides of the tape.  Apart from actually being careful when removing the tape, the odd cloud seems inevitable.
Next time I try this, I’m going to tape the card in the folded position.  Or maybe pay attention to the subtle message on the package of blank cards – all their illustrations are painted right out to the edge of the paper.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

How to mend a sail

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Mt. Baker
Watercolour, marker and collage
©2012 Charlene Brown

This was painted with watercolours… and then pretty well ruined with felt markers, when I attempted to add tiny little spinnakers to the sailboats. That interesting three-dimensional effect I hope you noticed was created by collaging tiny little pieces of watercolour paper (cleverly cut to exactly cover each little blotch.)
I painted two of these Strathmore 5.25” x 7.25” Watercolor Cards,’ flattened and held down with masking tape, and will present the pros and cons of that process when I write about the other card.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

On the road again

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From the Sea-to-Sky Highway above Squamish
Watercolour sketch
©2012 Charlene Brown

‘On the road again’ usually implies you’re going somewhere, but this is not the case here… in fact I’m back in Victoria at the moment.  But I was over on the mainland for the Mothers’ Day week-end and had the opportunity to drive up the Sea-to-Sky Highway again, a road where I did a series of paintings, such as Howe Sound, and Horseshoe Bay, three years ago during the run-up to the 2010 Olympics, which took place in venues at both ends of this highway.
This view shows the iconic Stawamus Chief rock face, a popular spot for climbers and vertical dancers, Shannon Falls, now swollen with a huge spring run-off and visible for miles (though not as visible as I’ve shown it here) and the head of Howe Sound, the southernmost fjord in the Northern Hemisphere.  (Pay attention there will be a test!)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Turning Paintings into Posters III

Here are the posters I generated in Photoshop using the two large paintings I described.  I hope you’ll agree they go together surprisingly well considering the dissimilar landscapes involved.
Posterizing a picture greatly increases its impact.  The process causes portions of the original image that contained gradual colour transitions to be replaced by abrupt changes in shading and gradation from one area of tone to another. 
Specific colour sets (roughly the same for both pictures) were assigned to these sharply defined image portions.  I mentioned I’d gotten so I didn’t even notice the paintings anymore, even though they are full sheet size (~ 75 cm. in height) and hanging in our front hall… It’s pretty hard not to notice these posters!