Wednesday, March 9, 2011

If it isn't Broken . . .

I mentioned in my post "No Rules or Expectations....", that I had been doing some experimenting with gesso. What was I doing and more important - why?

"What" is the easy answer - I was experimenting with applying clear gesso over a black and white inkjet print to see how pastels would react to that surface. I was also curious to see what would happen if I tried Marshall photo oils on the prepared print. The gesso would act as a barrier, making it possible to combine the oil paints with the cotton paper. I guess that answers the "why" part as well, but it got me thinking about the creative process and what keeps the fires burning.

When I first started my quest to find a way to hand color digital prints, I remember feeling energized. It was like I had a renewed sense of excitement about photography.  Not only was I trying out new papers, tools and medium, I was also jumping head first into the world of digital photography at the same time. It reminded me of when I took my first darkroom class and the joy I felt about learning something new almost every day.

That was a few years ago and the method of hand coloring I use and teach has been working great. So why am I am trying to improve on that? Because that is what we do..... The old saying "If it isn't broken, don't fix it" really has no place when it comes to creative pursuits. Searching for different ways of doing things is part of the process and part of the fun.

Since I do not have a painting background, up until recently I didn't even know if gesso was pronounced "guess oh" or "jess oh" (it's the latter if you are anything like me). Opaque white gesso has been used for years as a primer applied to surfaces before painting.  When I discovered that there was a clear version available I decided to do a little experimenting.

My first attempts did not go very well. Pretty awful actually. The gesso did not really appear to be "clear" and you can see my brush marks. When I applied pastel to the prepared print it did seem like it was easier to get a deeper and brighter color, however, the Marshall oil paints did not take to the surface like I thought they would. It was also pretty hard on the paper.

I have since heard that it might be better to apply the gesso with a foam brush - so that might be the next step. In the meantime, I am also playing around with SpectraFix, a pastel fixative made with milk casein. It's natural and you don't have to go outside to use it. Spraying it on the print (no gesso) also seems to be allowing for deeper color. I also discovered that if you apply your pastels before the spray dries, the pastels seem to spread in a way that reminds me of using photo oils.

So even though my current method of hand coloring is working just fine, I am excited about the prospect of changing it up a little. I think that renewal of passion is what keeps us searching and learning. I will keep you posted on how this all goes.......


  1. Let us know how the SpectraFix works--it would be nice to have an environmentally positive alternative....

  2. I can't wait to see how this unfolds...mad scientist/artist/photographer!

  3. I will keep you posted Betsy. I was actually thinking of you when I was doing these experiments. I know you would like your images to have a little more color. Thanks for the comment!

  4. Thanks Beth! Your comment put a smile on my face!

  5. I think you've put your finger on it Dianne--I'm often told I'm tampering with work that doesn't need "fixing." But I think that's part of the essential nature of an artist. We see/perceive/understand something in our mind's eye--some way our work could unfold and develop--and no one else is privy to that. Go for it--I think you're heading in a rich direction.

  6. Thanks Hannah! It is that vision that keeps me going......

  7. It's amazing what new products come on the market every year. We work with pastel artists and the idea of not having to go outside to spray is great. (I know it's a little different than your main blog point but thank you for the product info! :)