Hand-colored photographs

©Ellie Ivanova. Watercolor on a vandyke  print

©Ellie Ivanova. Watercolor on a vandyke print

I’ve been playing with the idea of hand-coloring photographs for quite some time. But it has been mainly daydreaming about it, researching it, being fascinated with it, without actually doing it.  Somehow I’ve been looking to discover the real reason I want to hand-color; to give shape to my ideology of hand-coloring first of all. Or maybe I’ve been afraid to ruin the prints 🙂

Before the advent of color film, hand-coloring served the purpose of adding color to black & white images. It was meant to restore reality where it was still technically lacking. And as happens with all photography tools, when technology finally catched up with a possibility, people embraced it for all the practical purposes but also disregarded it f0r art’s sake. Since the 50s, hand-painting on monochrome images has been happening for different reasons, mainly to alter the original color, to make a statement, or to embrace the aesthetics of times past.

Here are some approaches to hand-painting that have fascinated me the most:
My favorite is Kathy Vargas‘s palette that somehow speaks “colorful monochrome”.
Jan Saudek‘s mix of real and unreal.
Aline Smithson’s seductive green.

I have yet to find, though, a hand-painting approach using watercolor. Yes, there are some artists who use watercolor to hand-paint, but that has been in the same way as if it were oil, not in its own terms; certainly not taking advantage of watercolor’s unique features. If you ask me what this should mean, I have no answer myself. But here is something that I’ve been thinking and working on.

The still life above is a van dyke print on heavy-weight cold-press watercolor paper. To the rusty tonality of van dyke, I wanted to add saturated red, green and orange, some of the dominant colors associated with the “old film” aesthetics. But I wanted the flowing feel of watercolor. I wanted subject matter that “bleeds” and that bleeding to make sense for the color. As a working term and until I find something better, I’ll give it the name of “coloring outside the lines”.

Still looking and poking around. But feel free to comment and critique. And let me know of your favorite examples of hand-panting photographs!


9 responses to “Hand-colored photographs

  1. Back in the “old days” of film…I selectively handcolored my photographs. If I recall Ilford was the best paper for this; I used with transparent photographic oils…it’s took hours, but it was my therapy . With photoshop the art is gone, even I take the CS6 shortcut, but it’s not the same!

  2. Really?? I’d love to see what you did and how you did it! Marshall’s photo oils or something else?

    Yes, indeed, good old Ilford has been the best for hand-colored silver gelatin prints. I love their matte paper. However, there is a new paper they started producing two years ago, called “art” (or “eggshell” by street lingo 🙂 that was designed particularly for hand-painting. You should try it!

  3. Actually, I think this is quite beautiful! I’m sure you’re glad you took a chance, because it’s lovely. I really like your choice of colors- so pretty with the subject matter.

    • Thanks, Abby! Yes, I like the result here, but still hesitant if this is a happy accident or something to develop as style. I like the concept of coloring outside the lines, though, I’ll definitely do more of that 🙂

  4. Really vintage experiment!

  5. I respond strongly to hand colored photographs. I have used oil paint, colored pencil and watercolor, not in combination. Lately I have been printing my black and white photos on watercolor paper and then painting the image. It looks much more like a watercolor than a photograph. Joe

  6. Joe, your images are lovely. Thank you for sharing!
    What paper do you use for printing the photographs?

    • Joseph Finkleman

      I use a variety of papers, depending. Velvet Fine Art for the pencil work. Sometimes canvas for the watercolor washes and B&W more graphic shapes. The latest ones that I haven’t posted yet are on a lustre paper. The latest are more like illustrations, like from the ’50’s, even though they aren’t anything but contemporary, just the colors remind me of the inks used in lithos from that period.

      All of the work is scanned, reprocessed to get more middle tone contrast and then printed. Theoriginals are quite flat and I like the idea of reproduction.

      I have a show next year, in about 18 months where I will be showing these new images.

      Thank you for the kind words.

  7. Pingback: Hand-colored photographs by Joseph Finkleman | Parasol Photography

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