By: Mike Chan
January 05, 2016
As kids, we were taught to color within the lines. When we get older, we are taught to draw freely on a blank sheet of paper. Many refine their techniques and carry it on through adulthood as a profession, a hobby or just doodling when you are bored. Some say it is a skill that you are born with, but I believe that it is a learned talent that, unlike riding a bike, does NOT come back easily once you haven’t done it for a while.
I graduated with a fine arts degree so I was required to take a lot of art courses, ranging from art history to paint and sculpture. Through those courses, I have used a lot of different mediums such as charcoal, paint, watercolor, pencils, metal, clay, etc. Once the medium of computer graphics became more popular, that is where my concentration went. Like many, I thought that was the path of the future, as well a path to a career after college. Fast forward to these days where the digital medium is stronger than ever and I can’t draw freehand with any sort of proficiency anymore.
As we get more entrenched in digital mediums (think all of those people that take tons of pictures that then sit on a hard drive or the cloud), we lose touch of the tactile feeling we get when we hold a printed picture, like a lot of us did when we were younger. The nice part is the freedom we now have to pick and choose a digital file to print, turning a snapshot into a frame-able piece of art for the wall.
This project I worked on, which involved printing photos and using mixed media, brings together the freedom of drawing and coloring with the digital media that we are all so accustomed to. By simply printing a black and white image on a paper type with some tooth (i.e. not glossy photo paper), you are able to create a great looking piece with a second medium (in this case, colored pencils) and have some fun in the process. Here are the basic steps:
- Choose an image that has a nice amount of contrast between the foreground and background. You will want what you are adding your second medium to be lighter (while retaining a lot of detail) than the part you are leaving in B&W.
- Take your image to your photo editing program of choice (ie. Adobe Lightroom or Canon’s Digital Photo Professional [DPP]) and change your image into B&W. I recommend raising your contrast to ensure there is a large difference between light and dark.
- Print your image on a matte type of paper with a good amount of tooth on it. I chose the PIXMA PRO-1 because of the 13x19 format (I was printing an 11.5” square image) and added black ink tanks. As for paper, I chose the Canon Fine Art Photo Rag paper for the texture and expected result from printing on it before. But you don’t have to use a PIXMA PRO-1 – a normal 8.5x11 photo printer would also work well. If the paper you want to use doesn’t come in that size, cut it so that it will. Try different papers and see which you like the best. Be sure to change your paper type in printer settings to best match the paper before you print.*NOTE: purchase your frame (if you intend to frame it) before you print. There is nothing worse than printing out an image and realizing that you can’t find a frame size for it.
- Choose your second medium. Here is where you can get creative. I chose colored pencils, but you can expand your palette with charcoal, watercolor, etc. The trick is to choose a medium that is soft enough (not opaque) that will let the hard lines on the print shine through underneath.
- When using your secondary medium, keep it light and build your layers. Work with similar color families to build shadows and depth. The nice part about this is you don’t have to figure out how to make shadows look realistic, as it is in your print already. Just follow your print with your color (almost like “paint by number”) to create depth.
- Be free and take your time with your colors and strokes. Because the image is still visible underneath, your additions are more like accents to the overall piece. Don’t be afraid to experiment with color, lines and strokes. Remember that it doesn’t always have to be in a straight line. It is almost like a painting by Monet in that up close it looks doesn’t look right, but step back to a normal viewing distance and it all comes together. Or perhaps even like Bob Ross, whose happy little trees came out as masterpieces.
There is a reason why those paint and wine nights or coloring books for adults are so popular. It takes you back to a point in your life where you enjoyed just sitting down and concentrating on an art project that you can see, smell and touch in real life and not just on a screen. It is the ability to create something that, for most adults, takes you out of your element and walk away with something you will be proud of. For me, I think I was secretly jealous of my kids coming home with their paintings and drawings from school. Take a trip to your local art or craft store, pick up some supplies, and try it out!