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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Paintings I've Not Done Yet--Flowers

Copyright, Jim Lane
Tulip Tumult, May, Keukenhof Gardens near Amsterdam
Let me start by saying I'm not great fan of painted flowers. I'm not sure why, perhaps it's simply too easy to obtain, and artfully arrange, the real things. Moreover painted blossoms are, at best, a poor, flat, fragrantless imitation of the real things. Having said that, there's nothing like a few blobs of brightly hued paint, imitating flowers, amid virtually any landscape, to brighten it up and work wonders for both the painting and the eye. I suppose that's why I so often shoot so many flowers whenever I encounter them. Also, it's exceedingly hard to shoot a "bad" picture of flowers. Even the worst such photos I've ever taken, with a little digital editing--cropping, cloning, brightening, lightening, sharpening, and stitching--can often produce some incredibly beautiful results.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Floral Fields, Keukenhof Gardens
Before going further let me confess that I was responsible for taking only one of the photos seen here today (the last one at the bottom). My wife is a great lover of flowers (most of them are). She toured the famous Keukenhof Gardens just outside Amsterdam about four years ago and came back with some glorious images. These are the best, chosen after quite a rigorous "jurying" process to reduce their number to a reasonable level. I believe I toured the northern Netherlands the day these images were taken. That's probably good, or we'd likely have come back from our Baltic cruise with nothing but tulips and daffodils.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Two scenes "stitched" together.
A moment ago, in discussing photo editing, I reeled off a sequence of digital magic tricks of which most such software users are quite adept. Each have dictionary definitions, even as applied to photography, with which most people would be quite familiar. That is, all but one--stitching. Everyone knows what stitching is, of course, but how do you "stitch" digital imagery? Let me make clear, there are no needles or thread involved. With the understanding that "a picture is worth a thousand words," take a look at the photo above. If you haven't already, compare it to the two just above it. That's stitching. In seeing both source photos, it's relatively easy to see where the two were "stitched" even though there's no obvious hard line where they come together. However had you not had the two source photos at hand, the combined scenes would be quite natural, especially translated from the medium of photography to painting.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Tulip Time, Keukenhof Gardens
The real beauty of all this "stitch witchery" is that, IF you choose compatible photos, it's really not all that hard. The stitched image here took me all of five minutes to produce. You'll noticed I've not joined any of the other images on this page, the simple reason being that they were not as compatible (some far from it, in fact). The biggest challenge is maintaining a single scale between the two images (though with a little effort, size and scale can digitally be adjusted). The same applies to color values, though the skill in making these adjustments is often quite a challenge, even for the color eye of a painter. Likewise content and composition play a sizable role in creating stitched images. These two factors may well be far beyond what the image editor can mitigate.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Two-tones, Keukenhof Gardens
Often, the decision to "stitch or not to stitch" comes down to one of composition. It makes no sense to force together two photos, even assuming some degree of compatibility, if the resulting new image isn't essentially more than the sum of its parts. All but two of these images involve tulips yet only the two I used resulted in a more interesting composition of massed curves and colors than they possessed individually.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Monsella and Maxima Lutea, Keukenhof Gardens
Compositionally, there's also the problem that artists tend to like painting on rectangular surfaces. Even in photography, the eye anticipates such rectilinear conformity. However, stitching together images (especially when using more than two) sometimes doesn't conform to this standard. The image may therefore require some degree of cropping, which may or may not defeat the purpose of the whole exercise. Of course, if the artist can make up the deficiency, filling in missing content etc., then putting together three or more photos, while perhaps suffering photographically due to parallax distortion, may still result in a usable source image.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Springtime Spirits, Keukenhof Gardens
Quite apart from stitching, when an artist uses edited images (as all of these are), there comes the decision as to whether the painting colors should be faithful to those in the photos or simply related to them to varying degrees. There's no right or wrong answer to this decision, which used to be easier when color was a matter of chemistry rather than digital variances. Usually the artist would choose his own color interpretation. Today, especially if the artist is the one editing the photos, the great temptation is to keep adjusting the color until a printed or video image satisfies the artist's taste. It comes down to when and where the artist chooses to make such color choices.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Birds of Paradise, western California near Monterey.
We don't think about it a lot, but quite often a pitfall the artist/photographer encounters when faced with a gorgeous gardens setting such as Keukenhof, or when I was at Monet's Giverny, is in not seeing the blossoms for the flowers. The masses of color can nearly overwhelm the senses to the point there comes a need to consciously switch ones point of view from "macro" to "micro." Sure, there are a million flowers, but taken together, they may not be as lovely as a single blossom or two...or three...or four. The Birds of Paradise (above) are an example, though it's highly unlikely you'll ever see a whole field of such avian florals.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Market Day Array, Cavtat, Croatia
And finally, as beautiful as they may be either individually, or when massed, flowers are, after all, merely life's decorations. Sometimes they're architectural adornments. At other times they hang in pots from streetlights or in boxes from windowsills. In other words, the photographer should try to capture them in context, remembering that even the most beautiful decorations of whatever kind, have the potential to become boring, either in photography or painting, after being viewed for as little as a minute or two. The lowly bed of petunias (above), which I found in the resort community of Cavtat, Croatia, may not be much to look at, but the brightly striped market tents in the background would be just as uninteresting as the flowers, one without the other.
As the thirteenth group in this series, like the others, these photos are available free of charge for use by painters as source material for their own work on an individual basis. Simply e-mail me with a request to do so at and indicate which photo you would like to use as well as your full name (no nicknames) and geographic location. If you have a website, please include the URL. All I ask is that, when finished, you e-mail me a photo of your painting. These images are not for publication as photos (except on a royalty basis) nor are they in the public domain.

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