The Way Things Are

These days it’s easy to get caught up in all the digital tricks and edits of photography. I am obviously not some kind of  film purist, but I do try to remember that I take pictures because something about what I am seeing in real life engages me. I have a couple shots here of pretty pedestrian subjects. One is from the port in Dover and the other from Kensington Gardens in London. Those were places we went to see sights, but definitely not the objects we came to see. I noticed things I thought were beautiful and took advantage of what I could get in the frame—the kind where I am less worried about representing what it is, just what it looks like.

Water spilling from a pier in the Port of Dover, England

This one is water spilling from holes in a mussel encrusted concrete pier. I had to warm it up a little in Photoshop because even white-balanced for cloudy, my camera recorded the evening light much cooler than it really was. That’s Photoshop so that you could see what engaged me, not so I could trick you into thinking I saw something else.


Clouds above Kensington Gardens in London

This one is clouds. I am a sucker for clouds. I’ll be honest though. For a split second I thought about messing with the levels to increase the contrast, or pumping up the saturation just a little. Then I realized that would subvert my purpose. I took a picture of these clouds because I liked them the way they were. I spent time making sure my camera was set to capture them the way I saw them with my eyes—now I am home thinking about throwing that all away because people are used to seeing photos doctored to be more striking and more colorful. Well don’t worry, I came to my senses. Here are my Kensington-clouds as-shot and unaltered. I hope maybe you can see a little of what I loved about them.

Back from England and Wales

We just got home last night from our trip to England and Wales. I have a-gillion photos to go through, but here is one from London.

Tower of Big Ben in London ©Jameson Gardner Art


I wanted to save space and weight in my bags so I only packed a 50mm lens and a 75-300 zoom. That meant that the 50 was my widest angle. I quickly learned that I often just plain wouldn’t have the space to get an entire site or building in the shot. That meant that I had to try to compose something nice in what frame I had, or as with this one of the tower of Big Ben, take multiple photos so I could stitch them together at home.

Vintage Photo

Vintage style portrait of mother with two girls. © Jameson Gardner Art

I have a this shot of my sister with her two girls that I took at a birthday party a while back. I thought it would be fun to try to make it look like a vintage print. Turns out there is more to that than you’d think. There is the photoshop work, of course, but I also created the distressing patterns by hand. I didn’t follow any instructions or tutorial, so there may be an easier way. I thought it turned out kind of nice. It makes me want to try out different techniques, which also makes me wonder if there is a market for portraits like this. Let me know if you’d hire me for portraits of you or your family in a vintage style.

Also, my wife and I will be in the UK for the next two weeks, so blogging may be sparse. But rest assured I’ll be back with plenty of material soon.

Don’t Settle

Bighorn sheep in Wasatch mountains Utah

Whether you are painting, drawing, photographing or doing whatever you do, remember your first attempt at a problem probably won’t be your best. Use the first try to learn and improve so the second, third or nineteenth attempt can be a success.

I went for a little hike with my friend on Saturday. We didn’t really have a plan, we just knew where we were starting and that we’d have to end up back at the car if we wanted to go home afterward. It was enjoyable, though the route we took up was way too steep and the route we took down was even steeper. On the way down we spotted a couple of bighorn sheep. I had to try to take a photo. The sheep were close enough to be really tempting, but far enough to make it a challenge.

The photo below was taken free standing at the 300 mm end of my zoom lens in strong wind—all this on top of the fairly harsh afternoon light. Needless to say, I wasn’t very satisfied with the results. I had to get closer.

Bighorn sheep, first attempt photo in Wasatch mountains

I managed to get within a reasonable distance and climb onto a rock that was below the ledge where the sheep were hanging out. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see much of them from where I was, so, my friend and I starting making strange noises to attract their attention.

The photo below shows one of the sheep looking over the ledge to see what on earth I am doing. It was taken in the same conditions as the previous, but I was a lot closer and was sitting on a rock which helped stabilize me.

Bighorn sheep second attempt photo, peeking over ledge in Wasatch mountains Utah

Not bad, about a jillion times better than the first, but it still wasn’t “the one”. So I climbed to a new location at about the same level as the sheep. I had better view of where they decided to sit down, so we didn’t have to squawk or roar anymore. It also put some of the landscape in the background, which made for a more wildlifey composition. I got some decent 3/4 light from there too. Still harsher than I would have liked, but it worked out ok.

The main image at the top is from that location. Not bad, I’m glad I didn’t settle for the first attempt.

After that we surfed on scree (small loose rocks) down the face, and headed back to the car.

Landscape Commission

Colorado mountain winter landscape oil painting ©Jameson Gardner Art

This is the landscape I was working on a few weeks ago. The client was giving it as a gift, so I’ve held back on posting about it.

I started out with a few thumbnail sketches that I sent to the client. The bottom right was approved so I got to work.

Work in progress winter landscape oil  painting. Mountains © Jameson Gardner Art

I toned the canvas with burnt sienna. It’s one of my favorite colors, and it make for nice temperature contrast when you are painting a lot of cool colors over it.

Work in progress winter landscape oil painting. Mountains © Jameson Gardner Art

Work in progress winter landscape oil painting. Mountains © Jameson Gardner Art

I tend to paint pretty thin. I usually move across the painting filling in areas at medium finish and then going back over it for details. That, of course only works because I sketched in the composition first. When painting from life, it works better for me to bring the whole painting up together, rather than moving across it.

Work in progress winter landscape oil painting. Mountains © Jameson Gardner Art

Work in progress winter landscape oil painting. Mountains © Jameson Gardner Art

Work in progress winter landscape oil painting. Mountains © Jameson Gardner Art

Self Portraits: Real guy, Evil Genius, Distinguished Guy

I took several photos of myself yesterday hoping to use one on my website. When I was finished I uploaded them to my computer and picked out a few that I liked. I wanted to name the files so that I could distinguish between them later.  I named each the first thing that came to mind as I looked at the it. These three are Real Guy, Evil Genius and Distinguished Guy—but let’s see if you can guess which one is which.

©James Gardner Tweed Herringbone Jacket, black tie and blue button down shirt portrait

This is kind of embarrassing…

©James Gardner Tweed Herringbone Jacket, black tie and blue button down shirt portrait©James Gardner Tweed Herringbone Jacket, black tie and blue button down shirt portrait

Taking photos of yourself isn’t as easy as it looks, but if you don’t like the pictures, maybe you at least like my blazer.

Art for Art’s Sake

I keep coming across the phrase “Art for art’s sake”. I don’t believe it one bit. At least not from the people who are saying it.

Yellow mixed media ash © Jameson Gardner Art

Usually, I hear the phrase used by acquaintances studying visual arts in the studio area. That means they are learning contemporary art—art that doesn’t have to look like something, but has a deeper message which gives it meaning and purpose… or it has no meaning which can also give it meaning and purpose.

I get the feeling that “art for art’s sake” is the way they dismiss the large number of people who don’t appreciate what they make. Basically, they are saying “It wasn’t made for you, so I don’t care what you think of it.” The phrase would tend to indicate that they don’t care what anyone thinks of it, because it was only made for the sake of being made, not for an audience—this is the part I don’t buy. If that is the case, why are they trying to get into galleries? Why do they want to have shows or take part in exhibitions?
They care an awful lot about what certain people think. But why do only certain people get to decide what good art is?
Not everyone will agree on everything, but if a work of art is really great, shouldn’t a lot of people be able to feel what you are conveying, and appreciate the skill with which you execute it?

Fine art sometimes seems like a snobby society where food that tastes like garbage is passed off as a sophisticated acquired taste. If you don’t like it, it is because you aren’t cultured. Well sorry. I’d rather have a gourmet hamburger than cheap caviar.

I am certainly not saying that all contemporary or non-representational art is bad. I’ve seen some pretty amazing things that didn’t look like anything, but those were the ones you didn’t have to be trained to appreciate. those were the ones where I didn’t feel like the artist was trying to convince me that there was meaning—I could feel it already there.

So, back to art for art’s sake. I realized a while back, that the only people making art for art’s sake are the ones that “Fine Artists” denounce as hobbyists. Art for art’s sake comes from people like Emily Dickinson, who produced nearly eight-hundred poems, only a handful of which were published during her life. I think the watercolor painting your aunt did of her cat would probably also qualify.

(If you were wondering, I am the author of abstract image featured above.)

Watercolor Girl in Dress

watercolored ink drawing of girl in medieval/ renaissance dress.

Yes, “Watercolor Girl in Dress” is a pretty lame title. But, it describes what I’m talking about.
I just finished this ink/watercolor project. This image was born from a combination of my love for the work of Arthur Rackham, which makes me want to do watercolored pen/ink, and the fact that my sister owns a cool medieval/renaissancey dress.
I started by shooting reference photos of my sister in the dress. We just tried different poses and I decided which to use later.

I would include the photos here, but I haven’t asked her permission to show them—they look a lot like the drawing, only more photographic.

Work in progress shot of drawing girl in medieval/renaissance dress

Using the photos for reference, and having found a hairdo on pinterest that I liked, I made a pencil drawing on watercolor paper (Arches).

Work in progress shot of drawing girl in medieval/renaissance dress

I inked the drawing with a Pentel brush pen (I like the thin black pocket version best). I used to use a nib pen for stuff like this, but you can get really great lines and variety with these pens without having to dip or clean.

Work in progress shot of watercolor girl in medieval/renaissance dress

For the next stage I use watercolor techniques, but with acrylic gouache. The result is very watercoloresque but once it’s dry, the acrylic polymer sets and it won’t run if you rewet it. As you can see, I forgot to stretch my paper before I started painting. It buckled quite a bit and I had to soak and dry to flatten it when I was done painting.

Work in progress shot of watercolor girl in medieval/renaissance dress almost finished.

finished ink and watercolor drawing painting of girl in medieval/renaissance dress.

Once finished painting I photographed it because my scanner is tiny, and overlaid a some handmade textures using photoshop.

I suppose I could just paint my textures right on the paper, but I like to be able to play around with the layers until I find how they work best. I also like to preserve the original the way it is.

Hope you enjoy. I’ll be selling prints on Etsy.

Animated Snow

So, animated gifs have been around for a long time. I’ve seen weird little cartoon people and cats falling off of chairs, but recently I’ve seen a few gifs that were a little more artistic. The idea of a looping image created purely for aesthetics was novel to me, and I had to try it out.

This is an image from one of my recent adventures that those who follow my blog will recognize. But you couldn’t really see the snow that was falling in the original. So, I added falling snow as a looping gif. Nothing amazing, but kind of cute.

falling snow with tree and water droplets gray/blue animated gif

I’m considering making short loops like this using my dimensional illustrations, maybe even a little stop-motion.

Building a Website From Stone

The point of my website is to market hand-made traditional and dimensional illustrations—real things with real texture and dimension. So, I decided to drop the digital, though custom, typography from my header and replace it with something that would emphasize my brand. I thought it would be cool to make it out of stone.

Ok, I don’t actually know anything about carving stone, but I do know how to make faux stone. So here is what I did:

Weathered stone tablet for Jameson Gardner Art and Illustration

The first step was to carve it from styrofoam. High density foam works best because it holds the little details better, but I actually just used some foam that came in a box of shelves.

When the styrofoam was carved I covered it in a thin layer of plaster of paris, enough to protect the foam from solvents and to give me something to carve the type into, but thin enough to preserve some of the details carved into the foam.

work in progress

I then chiseled the type into the plaster.

work in progress

And covered it with a stone texture spray that I picked up at Home Depot. It comes out a variegated grey, and provides a pretty good texture, but it sure doesn’t look like believable stone until you do some painting by hand. I used acrylic washes to finish it off.

work in progress

Of course, photographing it in the right light and separating it from the background are necessary too.