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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Art on Vacation

The Winter Palace, St. Petersburg, Russia

Now that summer has officially arrived, it's time for artists to take a vacation. Some artists still pack their art stuff and paint what they see. I once met an artist vacationing on a cruise ship. Every morning he set up his borrowed easel in the atrium and worked painting an abstract image employing shapes he encountered on the ship. Moreover, he sold the painting before the cruise ended. In the years before photography reached today's heights of technological refinement, artists very commonly sketched and painted using watercolors to capture vacation memories. Some, in fact, made a career of it. Before I go on in offering tips and advice on the art of vacation photography let me admit I'm not a professional photographer. I don't think I've ever sold a photograph in my life. I am, however an artist; and I have taken lots of vacations during which I've taken lots of photos. I'd like to claim that each one was taken with an artist's eye and thus stands alone as a work of photographic art. I'm still working on that part. However, quite a number of photos I've taken while on vacation have, in fact, become the basis for works of art (below).

Copyright, Jim Lane
The paintings often differ considerably from the photos
especially as to color.
My first bit of advice, upon arriving at some famous picturesque location is to by a packet of picture postcards. They're probably the cheapest and most practical souvenir a traveling artist can acquire. Once you've paid your dollar or two for them, look at them, study them, and memorize them all from an artists' perspective. Then, having done that, do not shoot anything like what you already have. Such images are shot by professionals capturing the essentials in a manner which tourists are predisposed to desire (below). Your goal should be to search out that which tourists are not likely to buy.

What not to shoot in London.
As you tiredly trek from one familiar landmark to another look for unusual angles (below); look for local color; look for the unexpected; look for details often overlooked by others. And as you do, think like an artist. Compose each photo; watch out for brightly lit backgrounds which destroy foreground items (unless you're using flash). Include a few strangers in your photos but avoid crowded scenes. Be on the lookout for exceptional colors--flowers, fabrics, even souvenirs. Take the time and make an effort to be the star of your own photos from time to time (if traveling alone, carefully choose a stranger to take your picture). Do not waste time taking gimmicky shots. There are a million photos already of people holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

This is the type of work which separates the amateur
artist from the professional.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Never pass up flowers or local ambience.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Murano glass in the form of masks, two of the most
colorful symbols of Venice Italy.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Selecting and composing is a learned art.
Color is but one component in the process.
Much of the art of capturing your vacation in a creative manner comes down to simply being sensitive. Don't get so wound up by the excitement of seeing some famous landmark that you ignore that which may one day be the basis of one of your best paintings. The young boy (below) on the seawall was a shot I grabbed as we were landing from the ship's tender in Villefranche-sur-Mer along the southern coast of France. It was totally unexpected, un-posed, and took only a few seconds. I spoke not a word to him either before or after taking his picture. I'm not even sure he knew. Yet for me, it totally summed up the entire day on the French Rivera, beyond all the other photos I shot that day. I've never painted it, perhaps because I could never improve upon the photo.
Copyright, Jim Lane
The symbol of the city.
Copyright, Jim Lane
An artist at Eze.
The photo of me (left) was taken by my wife as I paused during a long, uphill trek to the ancient medieval village of Eze (the same day as the photo above). An artist friend saw it on my web page and asked permission to paint it in watercolor as a seminar demonstration piece. In return, he gave me the painting. He placed a walking stick in my right hand. The same day, in the street opposite the tiny marina, there was a local flea market. There I encountered the unexpected, an honest to goodness French nude, likely from the 19th-century. That was 2001. It looks to have been an amateur painting of someone's great grandmother. I wish now I'd bought it.

Copyright, Jim Lane
The leading lady of the
French flea market.
As an artist who has sat through many hot, sunny days with an outdoor art display, I'm always on the lookout for others so inclined to such torture. Usually the medium of choice is watercolor, and usually depicting the area's most famous landmark. Sometimes I even buy one or two. There's nothing new about that. The 18th-century Italian painter, Canaletto, worked the tourist trade in Venice, and later London, for most of his life, eventually organizing a virtual "factory" of young, probably underpaid, artists to keep up with demand. Venice is still one of the best venues in Europe for colorful street art (below).

Copyright, Jim Lane
This hardworking painter was, I believe, in Venice,
probably a descendant of Canaletto.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Cities such as Venice are so iconic and, quite frankly, overexposed, it's
very difficult to find a truly creative point of view. I did a painting based
upon this photo with a giant cruise ship poking its nose into the scene
from the right (as indeed, they do). I called it, Intruder of the Seas.
Copyright, Jim Lane
A Venetian panorama from our balcony with the ship "flying bridge"
and the tour boat adding scale and depth to a scene virtually
unobtainable from any other platform.
All artists know something about framing, as suggested by the slight, peripheral presence of the ship in the photo above. Never is this more important that when shooting landscapes. The vacationing photographer/artist should learn to think in layers as seen in the photo from the Dalmatian coast near Dubrovnik (below).

Copyright, Jim Lane
The rocky foreground frames the lower part of the scene, while the
overhanging tree frames the top, drawing the eye to the tiny center
of interest in the middle. It was a hot day. I was tempted to join them.
Copyright, Jim Lane
A villa atrium in Pompeii. Rendering perspective in a painting
is far less difficult than using it to compose a photo, especially
when the main center of interest is in the foreground.
One of the more difficult and persistent problems encountered by vacationing artist is in shooting large objects in a confined space. In visiting the island of Maggiore opposite the San Marco Piazza in Venice I came upon a typical Italian marina with one particular boat (ship?) I thought might make a nice painting. However the street next to the stone quay was too narrow (not to mention too busy) for me to back off far enough for a good shot. Instead, I centered myself as far back as possible and shot three separate photos of the vessel, rotating slightly between each shot but being careful not to change position. The three photos are below. The final result, as edited, is below that.

Copyright, Jim Lane
The digital source photos.
Copyright, Jim Lane
The city of Venice is in the distant background.
The Memphis, Tennessee skyline. Shooting at
night is a great way to capture nuances not
seen during the day. Smartphones now
make it easy.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Bugs on the sidewalk? No, baggage
carts waiting to come aboard the
Grandeur of the Seas in Barcelona.


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