Saturday, May 31, 2003

The National Geographic web site carries a discussion of digital imaging on its Message Boards.
Apparently some readers were upset by some of the surreal photo images which appeared in the magazine. Images were distorted and superimposed – one showed a goat suspended by spider silk growing out of its back. The point being that a silky fibre has been extracted from the milk of a genetically modified goat, the ethic of this procedure merits a debate of its own but it seems odd that people might be taken in by an obviously contrived photograph.

Now that photographs can be digitally manipulated so cleverly it could be difficult to detect whether the image is an accurate representation or not. The National Geographic has built up a reputation for objective photo journalism and it was the fact that some images shown in the magazine may not be what they seem that upset some readers.

On the other hand digital photography offers a creative tool for artists that needs to be explored. It rarely gets used in an imaginative way outside the world of advertising. By using Corel Draw or Adobe Photoshop to merely make copies of their paintings artists are missing the creative potential of these programs. There are artists with the necessary skill and training who use graphics software to create original digital images. Their new art form has been described as ‘Digitalism’. Examples of Digitalism can be found on the internet at

Monday, May 19, 2003

giclee prints can't equal a hand crafted artefact

The proliferation of prints made with an inkjet printer, usually from digital scans or photographs of watercolours, is a depressing phenomenon. Craft and garden centres are the main offending outlets. Those prints that are signed and numbered to simulate the limited editions of hand-crafted prints are a crass attempt to give the print an artistic value which it can never have. There are good technical reasons why a wood engraving or etching is produced in a limited edition the plate or block has a limited life before the quality of the print degrades. There is no reason why an inkjet print from a digital source should not be produced by the thousand and of course the cheap prints sold in department stores are. L.S.Lowry – an artist with some business acumen allowed his work to be marketed in this way. A print of one of his paintings would sell for around £35 unsigned but for over twice that if signed. It amused him to think that people would pay £35-£40 for his autograph. A story goes that a sharp dealer once brought a batch of prints to his house to be signed. He started to sign them L.S.Low. when the dealer asked him what he thought he was doing, he replied, “Well you’ve only paid me half a fee so you’re only getting half a signature.”

Sunday, May 18, 2003

The visit to Yns Hir reminded me that some years ago I became interested in painting birds – this is a watercolour I did at that time. It is based on sketches and notes made on a trip to Skomer off the Pembrokeshire Coast. I used to go to the local museum where there was quite a varied collection of stuffed birds that the curator kindly let me draw in the storeroom where they were kept. It was a useful discipline but cannot compare with the experience of observing and drawing in the wild.

C.F Tunnicliffe was a wildlife artist that I greatly admired and I visited Anglesey where at Llangefni there is a permanent collection of his work to study. Tunnicliffe was lucky to live at ‘Shorelands’ a bungalow on the estuary at Maltraeth and the waders, swans and ducks which were his main subjects were birds of a reasonable size. The garden birds that were my subjects were all too small to record with anything other than a miniaturist’s technique. So the interest waned and I’m left with my puffins, which my wife won’t let me sell, and sketchbooks.

Friday, May 16, 2003

William Condry wrote a ‘Country Diary’ for The Guardian for a number of years. His piece always appeared on Saturdays and it was generally the first thing I turned up when the paper dropped through the letterbox. He was Warden of the RSPB reserve at Yns Hir on the Dovey Estuary in Wales. I was fortunate to visit the reserve many times and benefit from his knowledge of birds on his tours of the reserve with parties of visitors.

In addition to his column he wrote several books ‘The Snowdonia National Park’ published in Collins New Naturalist Library is one of my favorites. When he died five years ago his moving obituary in The Guardian, pointed me to his autobiography ‘Wildlife, My Life’ which I still find moving every time I take it from my bookshelf. On the way home from a visit to Yns Hir I made a new discovery, a second hand bookshop with a shelf full of Bill Condry’s books. I picked up a title I didn’t have ‘Pathway to the Wild’. For Condry enthusiasts a visit to Coch-y-Bontddu Books in Machynlleth will be worthwhile.

Saturday, May 10, 2003

As often as I can I grab a sketchbook and draw the first thing that catches my eye. It is a good way of ‘keeping your eye in’ to borrow a phrase from cricket. So this is a page of sketchbook studies of plants. It might be of interest to know that they were done with a cut turkey quill. Having seen some Rembrandt drawings I was moved by a fit of nostalgic idealism to get back to traditional artists tools and carried around a little bottle of Acrylic Artists Ink to use with the quill. (I baulked at Rembrandt’s method of making drawing ink by using soot mixed with water!)

I also had a spell of making copies from Leonardo’s landscape drawings and plant studies. The BBC website currently carries some fascinating material about Leonardo da Vinci to supplement Alan Yentob’s television programmes. Leonado was first and foremost trained as a painter but his restless enquiring mind took his interests beyond purely painterly concerns. For Leonardo painting was a science, a branch of optics by which it was possible to describe the world through careful observation and applying the principles of perspective.

What interests me most about Leonardo is his astounding ability to communicate his ideas and explore the world through drawing. Draughtsmanship was the primary tool he used to explain his ideas. His notebooks are full of beautiful drawings the written notes seem to be dashed down and frequently written backwards due perhaps to his left-handedness and have to be deciphered in a mirror.

In addition to the BBC web site it is also worth visiting these:-

Saturday, May 03, 2003

In a rare act of kindness my geography teacher on learning of my love of hill walking loaned me a copy of ‘Snowdonia Through the Lens’ a book of mountain photographs by W. A. Poucher. I was captivated and grabbed every opportunity to avail myself of any of Poucher’s books in the local library. His books of mountain photographs were published by Chapman and Hall during the latter years of WW2 and continued through the 1950’s when he became a regular contributor to ‘Country Life’ magazine.The photographs in the early books were all in monochrome taken on Kodak Panatomic X film with a Leica III camera. Later on Constable produced a series of books of his colour photographs but these were terrible – ruined by bad colour reproduction.

The early books quickly went out of print and became keenly sought by collectors, I managed to pick up two of the Chapman and Hall books some years ago and have been browsing second hand bookshops over the years to find others in acceptable condition. Copies worth buying eluded me until last week when I found a copy of ‘Snowdon Holiday’ in a bookshop in Malvern. It was published in 1943 and had been well cared for, the only damage being slight iron staining on the endpapers and dust jacket.

The reproduction in these early books is superb even though this one was produced under war-time restrictions. The paper has a warm neutral tone and the ink a warm black tone with a hint of sepia about it. This represents for me the best in artistic photography for anyone who has walked the welsh hills the photographs gently evoke memories of the experience – colour reproductions are too intrusive and rarely interpret colour accurately anyway. I can use the Poucher monochrome photographs aided by my own memory as the starting point for paintings but anything which has colour is best avoided.