Monday, June 29, 2009

Before I Hand-Color:

The hand-coloring of my images is really the last step of my process. When I was still using film, the workflow consisted of taking the photograph, processing the film, developing the print and then toning. I use to do a lot of batch work during this time. I would go through phases where I shot a lot film, spent days in the darkroom, and then for weeks my time would be devoted to hand-coloring all the photographs I had just printed.

Since I went digital I spend more time with individual images before moving on to the next one. I like this approach.

One thing that has really changed since my digital transition, is I now shoot in color.

This image is shown exactly how I shot it originally. I thought it would be fun to show the progression of this photograph. There was no question that I would crop this, but after playing around a bit I decided that I liked this crop the best. The reason I didn't photograph the flowers this way in the first place was because I truly believed that I wanted to show the whole vase of flowers. That was before I started to experiment and found I really liked this slightly panoramic look. There are photographers that would say you should never have to crop, but there are a lot of rules I don't follow!

While you can change your camera to shoot in black and white, I find I have a lot more control of the final image if it's in color first. There are many ways to convert a color image to a grayscale one, but the technique I use the most is the black and white adjustment layer in CS4. With this method you control the different channels instead of simply switching the mode to "grayscale".

Adding a slight warm tone is the next step.

But I am not finished yet. Before I am ready to print I usually add a soft focus filter and sometimes a special edge treatment.

© Dianne Poinski

With the exception of converting to black and white and the edges, every step I performed digitally I also did in the darkroom. I believe every photography student should learn darkroom printing. The tools I use the most in Photoshop are the same ones I used in the darkroom - cropping, exposure, contrast adjustments, dodging and burning. I understand these tools better because I had to manually perform them during my darkroom days. I also feel that my darkroom experience has increased my appreciation and delight in the magic of Photoshop and I have no desire to go back!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Memories Part II - Polaroid

In the spring of 1995 my husband and I made the decision to sell our house in the foothills and move into Sacramento to be closer to our jobs and to everything we liked to do – plays, concerts etc. I was excited about the decision and ready to go when our real estate agent informed me that I would have to take down the darkroom I had set up in one of the bathrooms. She was a friend, she knew how important that darkroom was to me – but she insisted.

About 6 weeks into this period of darkroom exile, I started feeling very depressed. Could photography be an addiction? It felt that way. Sure, I could still take pictures and have a lab process and print them, but it wasn’t the same. I wanted the magic of seeing an image emerge from nothing.

During this time, I started seeing a lot of alternative Polaroid work being done. It was cool, it was edgy and artistic and………you didn’t need a darkroom. So one morning I got up and decided that I was going to find a Polaroid SX 70 Land Camera to buy! I don’t have a lot of patience so I was thrilled when I tracked one down at a store in Sacramento that sold used camera equipment. I bought the camera and some film and started playing. The SX 70 film is the type of Polaroid film where the image develops right before your eyes (like in the darkroom). The trick was to get to the emulsion on the print while it was still soft and manipulate it with various tools.

© Dianne Poinski

It was great fun and instantly gratifying. Rhiannon Connelly has posted a wonderful description of the camera on her blog. In addition she has some beautiful examples of SX70 and other Polaroid processes on her website. Another one of my favorite SX70 artists is Lori Emmington. Polaroid has stopped making this film but I keep hearing of other manufactures experimenting with similar products.

My next Polaroid adventure required a Polaroid Daylab. The original purpose of this machine was simply to make prints of your slides. You would place the slide in its holder and expose Polaroid 559 or 669 film (depending on the size of the base), pull the film out, wait the required time and peel the film apart to reveal the image.

I played around with two alternative processes that used the Daylab and this type of film – image transfers and emulsion lifts. I won’t go into detail here, but the basic technique of image transfers involved peeling the film apart early and then taking the negative side of the film and carefully placing it onto another surface. I usually transferred the image onto watercolor paper but I also experimented with transfers on silk. This technique required a lot of patience and practice but I loved the results.

© Dianne Poinski

Emulsion lifts required taking the developed print and placing it in very warm water and gently lifting the emulsion off and placing it on to another surface. Again, I used watercolor paper. I loved the way these looked. Kathleen Carr is considered one of the experts when it comes to Polaroid manipulations and has written a couple of books about all the techniques I described above.

© Dianne Poinski

So there it is – my walk down memory lane. All of the examples in this post as well as the last one, were found in one box. This experience has reminded me what an important role photography has played in my life for many years. I consider myself very lucky to have found something I am so passionate about. It will be fun to see what I find in boxes 15 years from now!

Footnote: We finally did sell our house and we moved to house that was about a mile away from a rental darkroom that I used faithfully until just a couple of years ago.

Monday, June 22, 2009


I recently began going through closets and my basement trying to clean and clear things out. I came upon a box the other day that held a lot of memories and in some ways told the story of how I began to really see myself as a “photographer”.

In this box were prints and negatives from 15 or 16 years ago as well as notes, invoices and miscellaneous artifacts from that time.

One of the first things I found was this image taken in San Diego back in 1993 or 1994.

This image is special because it won “Best of Show” at one of the first competitions I entered. This was a competition put on by the local camera club I had just joined. Nobody told me I would have to sit there and listen while the judging took place. I was terrified and thought my beating heart could be heard by everyone! Needless to say, I was thrilled about this honor and look back at it as a beginning of sorts.

With my new found confidence I started to dabble in children’s portraits, setting up backdrops and lights in my garage and experimenting first with my children and then with the children of friends. Pretty soon friends of friends were calling to see if I could take pictures of their children. I was in business! Among the souvenirs I found in the box were copies of invoices I made for these “jobs”. “Sitting fee, including 2 5 x 7 prints…………………$20”! All of my portraits were black and white images that I printed in my “bathroom darkroom”. The enlarger fit over the toilet and the trays were set up in the shower. It would be a year or two before I started hand-coloring these portraits.

Next post I will share some examples I found in the box of alternative processes I experimented with when my house was on the market and the darkroom was out of commission.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Pond Reflections © 2008 Dianne Poinski

So was this a coincidence or divine intervention?

I mentioned in an earlier post that I have been working on new originals and having them scanned by Sacramento Giclee. The plan was to take these scans, import them into my computer and use the new files to create higher quality reproductions of my hand-colored originals.

The problem is I don't like making reproductions. The perfectionist in me is never satisfied with the way the prints look after they come out of the printer. I would rather be making black and white prints and hand-coloring those. That is where my passion lies.

When doing shows, the bulk of my inventory is made up of these “reproductions” so you can imagine how much time is spent tweaking files, printing and then packaging these prints. A couple of years ago I stopped matting the reproductions which cut down the labor significantly, but I was still pretty miserable while in this “production phase”.

So a couple of weeks ago I mentioned to more than one person how I wish I could be like painters who after finishing their painting, hand it over to be scanned and printed. As a photographer, I never thought this was an option.

Then last week I began working on a large print job that I had a week to complete. I was still proofing the first of 10 images when my Epson 7600 began having problems. The images were purple and almost looked like negatives. A quick call to my repair guy and it became obvious this was not something I was going to be able to solve over the phone. The fact I was going to be out of town for 3 days made it pretty clear what I needed to do. I would take my files over to Sacramento Giclee and have them make all ten prints.

I calculated how much this was going to cost and almost bailed on the decision. I then started imagining what it would feel like to be off having fun or working on originals while my prints were being made. That sealed the deal.

Today I picked up the prints and they are beautiful! What did I do while they were being printed? Had fun and worked on originals……………..

So was it a coincidence that shortly after declaring how I didn’t want to make prints anymore, my printer breaks down? Luckily, this is not the printer I use to make my black and white prints. As a matter of fact I am pretty sure I am not getting the 7600 fixed. Instead I will get a repair estimate and try to sell it. Anyone looking for a large format printer?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Donating Art

Filoli Gate © 2008 Dianne Poinski

This is the piece I donated to the Crocker Art Auction which takes place this Saturday. The auction is a fundraiser for the Crocker Art Museum, “the longest continuously operating art museum in the West”. I feel good about donating to this event for a couple of reasons. One of them is selfish – I get to keep 50% of the winning bid. I usually subtract my family membership to the museum from this amount. I also believe that this is an important institution in the Sacramento region and we all know about the difficulties art organizations are having these days.

Through the years I have donated to many charity auctions and feel good about most of them. For example, last year I donated a piece to the SPCA auction in memory of someone who was a regular visitor to my booth at local art festivals and a joy to talk to.

When I started to get requests for donations, I said yes to almost all of them. I was happy that my art had the potential to help all kinds of charities, even if it was in a small way. I learned early that donating would not really help my business and it wasn’t about “exposure”, it was about giving back to something I believed in. It did seem though that the more auctions I donated to, the more requests I began to get. Just this week, I received 2 separate requests for art to be donated.

One thing that most people running these events don’t realize is, as artists we can only deduct from our taxes the cost of the materials we used to create the piece, not the market value. There has been movement to change this law for many years and it continues today. There is a bill in the House right now called the Artist-Museum Partnership Act of 2009. There was a good article on the Etsy blog by Chuck of DownToTheWireDesigns on this subject. He includes a link where you can contact your Representative to let them know how you feel.

The way I have decided to handle this situation is to decide ahead of time what auctions I will donate to. Then, when I get a request I simply say “I limit my donations of art to a set amount each year and I have already committed to a number of charities this year. Please keep me on your list and I may be able to help out next year.”

I am curious how other artists feel about this. I know I can’t save the world with my art but it does feel good to contribute even a little bit.