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Note from Caerus: This is a re-posting of a previous blog in a better format.

The Camera as Sketchbook

Because I’ve always been drawing-challenged, I began my artistic life as a photographer. And though my work today is mainly mixed media and printmaking, I’ve found that my camera makes a terrific sketchbook.

When it isn’t practical to use paints or pens to sketch, you can easily catch the details and the atmosphere of a scene or a place with a simple digital camera. I keep a small Canon model (SD800, now about 5 years old) in my car or in my day pack when traveling. This camera takes only JPEG images, but these are fine for most purposes and ideal for remembering what I saw in my wanderings.

In the field I take lots of photos. I often use the “multiple” setting on the camera to take many images quickly, from a variety of angles and viewpoints, and for some scenes I take a 360-degree view, making sure that I let each image overlap a part of the one before it.

At home I copy my photos from the camera to my computer and use them to discover how I might create a mixed-media piece or a printing plate. One good use for a group of photos is to understand the shape and volume of an object, such as a tree. The four images below show some variations of a nicely formed tree; they could be the raw material for a new work.

Sometimes the photo of a scene works well as the model for a painting or print; at other times, you may want to experiment with cropping a photo several ways to find a good composition. The image below is cropped from a larger original.

One other way that I use photos to explore the potential for a new piece is to modify them in a photo-editing program such as Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, iPhoto, or Picasa. These applications and others like them offer adjustments that let you see your photo in many variations. For example, if I want to make an etching plate or an image transfer, I’ll look at a black-and-white or tinted version of a photo.

Or I might want to simplify the scene to emphasize shapes and planes rather than details; using the filters or add-ons (called plug-ins) in Photoshop, I can give myself good models to work from.

If you don’t already, try using a camera as a tool for inspiration and memory, as well as a sketchbook alternative. It can give you lots of ideas and perhaps even expand your way of seeing.

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