Friday, 14 December 2012

DIY Paintings (without any paint!)

Last week in your Friday Phil, I outlined some strategy to picking artwork from my in-laws, with the caveat that we had never really put it to the test. The reason was, for most of the significant pieces of art we've acquired, we made it ourselves. I promised then to let you in on our secret of how we do that.

Now, let's be clear: I love colour and art, but am by no means an expert on painting or photography. I've heard the names Ansel Adams and Annie Liebovitz. I could recognize Whistler's Mother and that one with the melted clocks by Salvador Dali. But I am by no means an art critic or could even consider myself an aficionado.

(Side note: have painters ever considered doing mash-ups like musicians sometimes do? If so, how do we not have the "Screaming Mona" or "An American Gothic in Paris"? Well, we do now! And somewhere an art historian is convulsing uncontrollably.)
Are these the only painting inspired by Linkin Park and Jay-Z's Collision Course mashup album? If so, you're welcome, art world!

But I love colour, I love art in so many forms, and I love being creative, and here's a few ways you can achieve interesting results that fit your space without breaking the bank.

Idea #1: Actually get good at painting

Watch a lot of Bob Ross. Practice with The Joy of Painting (maybe even buy the 10-DVD set!). Buy canvasses in bulk to save on per-unit costs and practice your happy little trees. (Bonus points if you get into it and grow a majestic afro.) As a result, you'll have gained a really cool new skill AND you'll have made a new friend, may he rest in peace.

Idea #2: Find somebody who's cheap and good

Commission a painting from a struggling artist or a friend who dabbles. This way allows you less control over the creative process, so make sure you have a solid discussion at the outset in which you lay out your requirements. The result is a little less DIY, but you'll get a real original piece of art and have supported the local economy and/or a friend in need.

Idea #3: Photoshop 'til you drop

The following is the strategy we promised, which we've used twice to results we're very happy with:

Step 1: Go through your art store and find an theme you like. Maybe it's a picture of a carousel, maybe it's a famous landmark in your hometown, or maybe it's morning light filtering through a hazy forest glen. 

Step 2: Search the Stock.Xchng or EveryStockPhoto for a free or cheap stock photo that suits the theme you're looking for. Pay close attention to your rights as a user of the photo, particularly if you are considering selling your work.

(Alternative to Step 1 and 2: Skip this whole bit and find a photo you've taken in the past that you love.)

Step 3: This step requires Photoshop or a comparable product, which could easily be the most expensive part of the whole process if you need to buy it. (I've seen great results for free out of GIMP, but have never used it myself.)  
Import the photo, resizing it so it's at least 300dpi and the dimensions you want for your final piece. Then, save this as a separate file to preserve your original in its pristine, untouched state. (Why do I recommend this so strongly? I couldn't provide you with the step by step instructions of what I did both times we used this process because I didn't follow this advice myself.)

Step 4: Copy the base layer and start experimenting! 
Want a painted look? Try working with the Watercolor and/or Paint Daubs. 
Want an ink drawing? There's a filter for that too.
Want to keep the photographic look, but isolate a specific colour? Photoshop's Magic Wand or Magnetic Lasso Tools are great for that. Or (spoiler alert) do what we did in the bedroom, and take a black and white photo and add colours to it that suit your room!
Be warned though; most filters don't immediately produce distinctive, original results; experiment with different foreground and background colours until you get results you like.

If you're really brave, create a new layer above your artwork, select an appropriately sized/shaped brush, and try to recreate the photo. It's a little like Paint By Numbers meets The Internet. (If you try this, I recommend creating a new layer for every colour you use.)

Step 5: Once you're happy with the look, find someone who will print "photos" on gallery-wrapped or framed canvas. Groupon used to sell coupons for a bunch of these kind of printers, but for our money, we always used Costco Photo because they were very competitively priced, offer a 36"x24" size that we wanted (most don't go that big), and we can pick it up at our local store 10 minutes away.

Show and Tell

Now, this is useless unless we show you what we did. Unfortunately we don't have the original photos we used, nor a snapshot of the "paintings" in progress; at the same time, the process of experimenting with what looks good doesn't always yield linear progress conducive to step-by-step instructions. That said, here are the final products"

Our first fake-painting using this method.

For the first piece, we were inspired by the aforementioned idea of dark tree trunks in a vivid forest. I was hoping for more of a Monet-ish painted look (i.e. a natural landscape or image but not aiming for photographic realism) so I used the Paint Daubs filter a bit, and because we wanted it to fit in our living room, I worked in the espresso browns of our living room furniture as well as the blue of our condo's living room's feature wall (now the darker blue in our office). The result hung in our dining room at our condo; we haven't decided where it'll end up in Grandpa Joe's House.

Our second, calmer fake-painting. (Actually, more of a faux-tograph perhaps?)

The second piece we did we wanted to have a more calming influence. Inspired by a photo of the aforementioned forest glen, we filtered the photo (that was originally black and white) less heavily. I added in extra mist, but apart from that, the most I did to adjust the photo was add some blurring (as much to hide pixellation of a smaller photo as anything) and added the colour to the grass and tree. The finished result will hung over the espresso fireplace in our bedroom in the condo, and when we picture that in our house, we still like that idea.

One Way to take it to a whole. 'Nother. Level.

As a final note, if there's something a gallery-wrapped canvas print lacks, it's--no, not a soul, although some "real artists" might argue that point (and who am I to refute them?). It's texture. But I saw a Thomas Kinkade 60 Minutes feature (that you can watch online) once that showed the Painter of Light in a whole new, well, light. His was a very commercial enterprise that offended many art critics who felt that art should be about creativity, not formulaic cash cow exploitation, while Kinkade's defenders used a variation of the "subjective nature of taste" argument to justify the value of his endlessly-reproduced work; I'll let you decide where you stand on that.

But one thing I saw that I've been reminded of recently is that he had a crew of people who would take prints of his work and add spots of real paint to various sections (maybe highlight the snowcapped trees with some real white paint) to add texture and increase the value of the works when sold.

Thinking about it now, why couldn't I do that to some of the prints I've made? Not to add to their monetary value per se, but to add texture and make it feel more "real." I could match some real paints to the colours in the print, grab a brush, and spread it on thick. I've stocked that idea away for a rainy day, but we'll be sure to let you know how it goes, for better or for disastrously worse!

How about you? Have you created a painting for your home and get any interesting (perhaps even Pinteresting) results?

1 comment:

  1. Love you for having these cool skills and I love having original artwork in our house. Can't wait to start hanging things up on our new walls!