Nicholas Baxter

My 20-Step Program for Perfect Art Reproductions

If you’re a painter or visual artist working in any traditional media, capturing digital images of your work is practically a requirement nowadays, and has been for a while. I don’t know any artist who could survive without getting images of their work onto the internet, submitted to publications, made into prints, or a variety of other applications that require a quality reproduction. And quality is the key word here: representing yourself with a poor version of your work will hurt your chances of success.

 

You wouldn’t think that capturing quality images of a completely still, flat object in a controlled indoor setting would be one of the most challenging photography jobs, but it is. I’ve actually paid pro photographers to shoot images of my paintings, and gotten a disc full of yellow-tinted garbage and flat-out unusable files, because those photographers weren’t well versed in the highly specific nuances of this photography application.

(untitled), oil on linen panel, 8 x 10 inches, 2016

The details matter here, and skipping any of the major or sometimes even minor steps will usually compromise the end result, to varying degrees. With so many factors that can go wrong, it’s wise when possible to devote an area of your studio to this, with dedicated lighting, equipment, and pre-measured distances and angles.

 

Depending on the level of compromise or imprecision in your studio setup, the more editing of your raw files you’ll need to do on your computer. But even the best photography results will still require basic cropping and picky stuff like smoothing over a blown pixel from your camera’s sensor, or eliminating a small cat hair that somehow floated and stuck to the painting (cats are thoughtful like that, always trying to help…).

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Recent Painting Progressions

I love process in art–seeing it, knowing how things are made, reverse engineering them, speculatively forward-engineering them, reflecting on my own process and learning from that reflection… so enjoy these progressions of 2 recent paintings.

1. “Vernal Fugue”, oil on panel, 18 x 24, 2019

(progress detail)

“Vernal Fugue”, oil on panel, 18 x 24 inches, 2019

“Vernal Fugue” (details)

 

2. “Civilization”, oil on panel, 36 x 48 inches, 2019-2020

“Civilization”, oil on panel, 36 x 48 inches, 2019-2020

On The Benefits of Drawing

About 10 years ago I leveled up my artistic practice in all areas after discovering the classical atelier system of art education.

Before that time I had been piecing together my own slow, winding learning trajectory in the realism painting genre, unintentionally slowing my progression with an over-reliance on photographic reference. In contrast, the atelier system is based on working directly from life, whether it be a live model, a still life, or a landscape.

Painting from life in Ohio, 2017

“Lower Falls at Old Man’s Cave”, 8x 10 inches, oil on panel, 2017

In short, observing directly with one’s own eyes forces the brain and the artist’s hand to convert the 3 dimensions of real life into the 2 dimensions of a flat canvas.

Over time our eyes-brain-hand feedback loop becomes seamless, and we learn how to reproduce exactly what we see. The real-time, real life mental calculations of angles, lines, curves, planes, perspective, light and shadow, and millions of color possibilities have a measurable result: if the drawing or painting looks indistinguishable from what we’re observing, then those myriad calculations are overwhelmingly correct. Of course, eventually, an artist needs to learn how, when, and where to diverge from absolute accuracy in order to create a work of art that transcends the mere replication of reality…but the learning process that we submit to in order to reach that point is surprisingly valuable in its own right.

Arguably the single most important artistic discipline or skill, simple life drawing is actually a fairly complex amalgam of skills, requiring at least a rudimentary working knowledge of geometry, physics, optics, and the ability to plan sequentially. True life drawing begins as little more than primitive map making–the plotting of coordinates in space–and ends ideally with an incredibly nuanced understanding of the physics of form, mass, and light.

This great article I stumbled across got me thinking about drawing; what it forces our brains to do, and how it benefits our brains. While intended for the non-artist reader, it makes great cross-disciplinary connections and serves as a nice reminder and motivator for anyone who is an actual practicing artist, of just how valuable drawing is to our art.

 

https://qz.com/quartzy/1381916/drawing-is-the-best-way-to-learn-even-if-youre-no-leonardo-da-vinci/

 

“Form & Emptiness”, graphite on paper, 2012

Form & Emptiness (detail), graphite on paper, 2012