Category Archives: Photography and photography techniques

The Skies Have It

Maxfield Parrish Sunset June 24, 2016 Winston-Salem, NC digital photograph © Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Maxfield Parrish Sunset
June 24, 2016 Winston-Salem, NC
digital photograph for painting reference
© Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

On October 2nd, we were very fortunate to attend a lecture by renowned surreal photographer Jerry Uelsmann at the Nasher Museum of Art in Durham, NC.Uelsmann delivered an insightful, sincere talk. His lecture was the best I’ve ever heard – and I’ve heard more than a few.
 
If you are familiar with Uelsmann’s work, it will come as no surprise that I love his surreal vision. At a time before digital imaging software, he created such imagery – and still does – using only darkroom techniques.

As he mentioned old favorites like Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, I was on the edge of my seat. I will undoubtedly refer back to more of Uelsmann’s many pearls of wisdom in the future, but one of the recurring themes he stressed was the need to be authentic in your work.

I completely agree, and believe that as you create work that is true to you, you can also discover even more about yourself in the process. Dancing back and forth, these two aspects feed each other as an artist goes deeper within. I often say that the more personal your imagery becomes, the more universal it is – the essence of the human condition, if you will.

“The camera basically is a license to explore.”

– Jerry Uelsmann

In the lecture we attended, Uelsmann elaborated by saying it this way: “A camera gives you license to stare at a crack in the sidewalk and folks don’t think you’re crazy.”

It is usually best for creatives to let go of such judgments or labels imposed on them by others, but Uelsmann’s aphorism reminded me of an experience Jimmy and I had in late September.

While we were in a store, we missed quite a hail storm. We emerged just before sunset to a dramatic sky, so when we arrived at our chosen restaurant for dinner, we immediately starting taking photographs. It was a clashing combination of drama meets delicate color and value shifts. J. M. W. Turner would have been proud.

Then through her open window, a woman in a nearby car asked us in a perplexed but innocent tone,

“Why are you taking photos of the sky?”

I was quite puzzled by her inquiry. But why wouldn’t we photograph such a sky? We are usually delighted to see others alongside us in a parking lot, comrades in admiration of nature’s beauty.

“We’re artists,” I replied simply. She nodded, seeming to accept this as a carte blanche reason for us to do anything she considered eccentric.

As an artist, I stockpile such moments as potential future reference photographs for paintings. You never know when you’ll need just the right dramatic sky with backlit clouds to complete your composition.

Yet even if I didn’t have the “art excuse,” there is something about capturing these fleeting moments that I find satisfying. The sky is never the same twice, which is quite a meditative concept to me. Skywatching instills a sense of peace within me as I navigate this busy modern world.

Dramatic Sky on the Way to the Beach Near Raleigh, NC, May 14, 2016 digital photograph © Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Dramatic Sky on the Way to the Beach Near Raleigh, NC, May 14, 2016
digital photograph for painting reference
© Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Serene Pink and Grey Sunset October 3, 2016 digital photograph for painting reference © Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Serene Pink and Grey Sunset, October 3, 2016
Between Greensboro and Winston-Salem, NC
digital photograph for painting reference
© Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Here are some of my more successful recent attempts – because despite my best efforts, since I didn’t have my professional gear with me, capturing the delicate drama of the post-hailstorm sky on that particular day eluded me, so the results looked a bit lackluster.

I took all of these images spontaneously from various parking lots or on the street with just my mobile phone camera, so here they are complete with power lines and street lights.

Warm Dappled Sunset Clouds on a Vivid Blue Sky August 28, 2016 Greensboro, NC digital photograph © Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Warm Dappled Sunset Clouds on a Vivid Blue Sky
August 28, 2016 Greensboro, NC
digital photograph for painting reference
© Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Flock of Sheep Clouds at the Beginning of Sunset, June 23, 2016 digital photograph © Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Flock of Sheep Clouds at the Beginning of Sunset, June 23, 2016
digital photograph for painting reference
© Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

So the next time you see a striking cloud or dramatic sunset, go ahead – grab your license to explore and stare at that proverbial crack in the sidewalk.

All the best, and Namaste,

Amy


1. Uelsmann, Jerry N. Keynote Artist Talk, Click Triangle Photography Festival and Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University, Durham, NC, October 2, 2016

Voldemort Sky, Winston-Salem, NC September 26, 2016 digital photograph © Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Voldemort Sky, Winston-Salem, NC
September 26, 2016
digital photograph for painting reference
© Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Sunset with Light Rays, Liberty Street, September 14, 2016, Winston-Salem, NC digital photograph © Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Sunset with Light Rays, Liberty Street, September 14, 2016, Winston-Salem, NC
digital photograph for painting reference
© Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Also posted in General art discussion and philosophy, Inspirational Quotes, Other artists Tagged , , , |

Complementary, My Dear Watson!

Still Life for Mastering Color workshop, August 27-28, 2016 Lit by green gel to show red shadows © 2016 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved

Still Life for Mastering Color workshop, August 27-28, 2016
Lit by green gel to show red shadows
© 2016 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved

In this Still Life, what colors do you see?

If you aren’t familiar with the Color Wheel, in essence, it is a system of organizing the colors of the rainbow by placing them in a circle that flows from one color into the next. Red and yellow make orange, so red flows into orange which in turn moves into yellow. Yellow and blue create green, so yellow melds into green, which flows into blue, and so on. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet move around the Wheel, then violet connects back to red.

The way colors combine with other colors on the Color Wheel, interacting with our eye to create certain optical effects and emotional reactions, are called color schemes.

For my recent Mastering Color workshop, after setting up these objects, I lit them with a spotlight covered with a green theatrical lighting gel to demonstrate how a color will create natural shadows of its complementary color. Complementary colors are those opposite each other on the color wheel — in this case, green and red.

Look in the shadows cast by the objects in this still life. Once my angled green light hit the objects, the shadows appeared dramatically redder.  The complements look for one another.

They also neutralize each other when mixed, and look for one another. This is the most dramatic of color schemes, and provides the highest color contrast. As artist Marc Chagall said, All colors are the friends of their neighbors and the lovers of their opposites.”

Claude Monet knew this when he painted his wife and son in Camille and Jean on a Hill — or any number of other works, for that matter. He did not hesitate to daub red within the dramatic cast shadow in the green grass, rather than simply relying on a darker green. This results in a lively, rich shadow.

The other main pairs of complements are yellow and violet and blue and orange. Start looking around you!

The Report on Mastering Color

On the weekend of August 27-28th, I hosted the Mastering Color workshop at my studio, and was thrilled with the color scheme projects created by the participants.

We explored the nuances of that most emotionally evocative of elements with the help of the Color Wheel, and examined some of the reasons behind our physiological and psychological reactions to color. The participants’ enthusiasm was infectious!

Many thanks to all those who attended! If you missed it, I hope you can join me the next time I offer the workshop.

All the best, and Namaste,

Amy

August 27-28, 2016 © 2016 James C. Williams, All Rights Reserved

Mixing demonstration in watercolor, Mastering Color workshop with Amy Funderburk August 27-28, 2016
© 2016 James C. Williams, All Rights Reserved

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Taking Time: Looking at things differently

This post originally appeared as a feature article in the March 2016 issue of my newsletter, Off the Easel.

Patterns, St Tabitha'sThe Purple SpiralCloud Planet with Jack-o-Lantern Face, Corrimony Cairn

“I decided that if I could paint that flower in a huge scale, you could not ignore its beauty.” (Georgia O’Keeffe)

When I saw the following tweet by David Borthwick (@BorthwickDave), I was delighted:

“Turn your back on sunset: watch what the trees do when you are looking the other way.”

His eloquent words were accompanied by a lovely shot of dancing limbs painted deep rose and burnt orange by the fading light. I have noticed this myself many times – trees facing the closing day are set aflame by the retreating sun.

Seeing things differently is a major component of the artist’s mental toolbox. Sometimes that means looking in an altogether different direction, or, like Georgia O’Keefe, taking the time to see things on behalf of others — which is perhaps as good a definition of the role of artist as any other.

“Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” (Georgia O’Keeffe)

When I was in Painswick, Gloucestershire, in the famed Cotswolds region of England, I made a discovery. Before our arrival, I had not heard of a holy well there, but as an enthusiast, I knew that wells could reveal their whereabouts via street names. The city of Wells in Somerset, home to the famed cathedral, is itself named for the presence of three wells. A bit of code breaking or translation is sometimes involved – it helps to know that Tobar is Irish and Scottish Gaelic for well or spring, for example.

When I saw “Tibbiwell Lane” on the map at the bed and breakfast, I was eager for the quest.

We found the modest well wedged between the lane and a retaining wall. The clear, refreshing water flowed from a stone channel into a small, shallow pool just below. A gentleman who lived above was out tending his garden, and he showed us an inscribed stone on the wall: Saint Tabitha, the origin of the “Tibbi” part of Tibbiwell Lane. This well was dedicated to her.

At first, I photographed the entire well in a more documentary fashion, showing it in its narrow space. As I got closer and started looking for more unique views and angles, however, I began to capture what I felt were more artistically successful images.

The Purple Spiral and Patterns, St Tabitha’s were two such works from this shoot. Focusing on the way the bright light fragmented the leaves below the surface or on the spiraled snail shells from the well’s encased inhabitants led me to discover more than just the small well itself.

Had I been satisfied with my initial photos and not taken the time to look closer, I would not have been so fully rewarded.

Another of my photographs, Cloud Planet with Jack-o-Lantern Face, Corrimony Cairn is perhaps a more extreme example of my desire to photograph the essence of a location beyond the appearance of the outer whole. I realize now that by lying down in the center of the Scottish cairn and looking up at the blue sky peeking through the clouds where the capstone had been removed, I aimed to capture the substance of the place as I experienced it.

I also now utilize this philosophy of seeing when installing certain paintings. My ceiling boss paintings are designed to hang from and parallel to the ceiling. When developing these works, I was inspired by the medieval carved wooden ceiling bosses in St. Andrews Church in South Tawton, Dartmoor, England. I designed this installation to give a viewer the same sense of place as I had when visiting the church. At the opening reception when I debuted these works, it amazed me how many viewers neglected to look up unless prompted.

South Tawton Ceiling Boss: The Green Man (Simhasana -- Lion's Breath)South Tawton Ceiling Boss: Sheela Na Gig (Supta Baddha Konasana -- Reclining Cobbler's Pose)Installation View, South Tawton Ceiling Bosses

I invite you to take up the artist’s stock in trade – to take the time to really see something. Perhaps this will be a subject that you pass by every day, like one of O’Keefe’s flowers. They say that artists can see approximately thirty values of any given color, whereas non artists only see ten. I think this is simply a matter of training the eye, of taking the time to discern subtle shifts in light, dark, and intensity.

If you are a fellow artist, I encourage you to look again, and to look within. To see with the wide eyes of a child, with that boundless level of wonder, enthusiasm, and curiosity.

All the best, and Namaste,

Amy

Also posted in Art Travels, Creativity, General art discussion and philosophy, Inspirational Quotes, Other artists, Painting and painting techniques, Sacred Sites, Travel Tagged , , , |

Origins of a Painting: Second Sight/2nd Site

Second Sight/2nd Site
diptych, 12″ x 30″
oil on oil primed linen, ©2012 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved
The Rollright Stones, King’s Men Stone Circle
Oxfordshire/Warwickshire border, England

Originally published in my April 2015 issue of Off the Easel

Before leaving England on our 2008 trip, I was determined to see the Rollright Stones. After all, many visitors describe this as an eerie site, and the King’s Men Stone Circle was where my husband’s photography mentor was pulled down by an unseen force.

An internet search will yield you a bumper crop of folklore and interesting stories about this site. I confess an additional appeal for me was that this megalithic site was the shooting location for the Tom Baker Doctor Who episode The Stones of Blood.  How could we resist working the Rollrights into our itinerary before heading back to London for the return flight?

The Rollright Stones are actually comprised of three sites. Joining the late Neolithic King’s Men stone circle are the Neolithic dolmen called The Whispering Knights, and The King Stone monolith dating from the middle Bronze Age.  Since we were not pulled down in the stone circle, I surmise we were welcomed by the guardians of the location. As I circumnavigated the circle — legend says that you cannot count the stones since you will get a different number each time — I was struck by the unusual, contorted and weathered appearance of each limestone form. The stones truly looked as though they were the frozen spirits of various totem animals and ancestors.

As I came to one stone in particular, I was drawn to the nearly circular opening within the limestone. Compelled to look through the hole as if it was a frith divination tube from Irish and Scottish tradition1, I found my message in the limited depth of field inherent in human vision. I was reminded that if you look at the stone, that is what is in sharp focus to the exclusion of the hazy background, whereas if you focus on the fields beyond, the texture of the stone becomes soft. To me this was a metaphor: what you focus on is what you see, both literally and figuratively. If you look for the positive aspects in your life, you will find them, but if you look for the negative attributes, you will see only that and no longer notice the good things in your life.

I photographed the stone focusing both ways, using the low light on this cloudy late afternoon to my advantage and exploiting limited depth of field with my camera. After printing a reference photograph of the stone the way it actually appears (as seen on the viewer’s left of the diptych), I flipped the other version with the landscape in focus using photo editing software before printing. Once I had both reference photographs in hand, I played with cropping the proportions and the location of the intersection between them until I arrived at a pleasing orientation.

To echo the concept of sight, I wanted an arrangement reminiscent of eyes or a mask. I folded the two reference photos along the guidelines I had drawn, but when I placed the two sides together, I discovered something quite amazing — at the intersection between the two photographs a perfectly formed swallowtail butterfly appeared at the very top edge of the stone! When painting this, I only had to clarify the bottom forked edge of the hind wing; the butterfly shape was clearly there. Had I cropped and joined the photos in any other way it would have gone undiscovered. When unplanned events like this happen during my creative process, I delight in such synchronicities.

All the best, and Namaste,

Amy


1 The frith divination seeing tube was formed with one’s hands, and was particularly employed to located someone or something who was lost. The origin of this augury is attributed to St Brigit or St Mary.

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