Lightfastness – New Mediums, Old Problem


The explosion in new, and sometimes awesomely cool, paper-crafting supplies got me to thinking recently.

Manufacturers have apparently responded to a huge rise in interest with a steady stream of “cool stuff” for the paper-crafting big three – card making, scrapbooking and journaling; including new markers, inks, dyes, powders, mists, etc., etc. Any self respecting fine art painter (an area, I might add, where new things don’t come a long nearly as often) would be crazy not to occasionally cast a sideways glance at the craft market and say, “hmm, wonder what I could do with that in my painting?” Multimedia artists (some of which are also journalers) especially would seem to benefit. But wait, not so fast… or maybe I should say, not so LIGHT fast.

Chasing the Fugitive

Marker lightfastness

Scrapbook and journaling suppliers in particular seem to have responded well to the archival needs involved. Acid free papers, adhesives and mediums abound but there is still a big gulf where fugitive colors are concerned. Paper crafters have the luxury of not needing to worry about this much. Exhibiting art and prolonged light exposure is likely low on their “caution” priority list.  But with so many new alluring dye-based mediums surfacing, any artist hoping to hang or exhibit work needs to be very careful of the mediums they incorporate. Dye-base mediums are the absolute worst in terms of fugitive colors. Pigmented mediums in the craft market exist but there aren’t nearly so many as you might think. Many illustrators fluent in using Copic or Prismacolor markers are not new to the concern over dye-based mediums, even experienced studio and gallery artists may tell you first hand, its no fun to see your precious artwork vanish before your very eyes after hanging on a well-lit wall for a few years.

Without doing a ton of research (for which I have no time), I thought maybe it better to just point you to some good reads where the work has already been done, by people who know where of they speak. Yeah, I’m just lazy that way. So, if your art will ever be displayed, read on and think carefully (think pigmented and archival) before you go including that cool new set of watercolor markers, powders or sprays in your next painting

Good Basic Overview of the “Marker” Problem

Copic Q&A

Doing a Simple Lightfastness Test

Six-Part series by James Gurney

Lightfastness: Part 1 of 6

Lightfastness: Markers

Lightfastness and Dyes

Lightfastness in Pencils, Watercolors, and Oils

Lightfastness and Alizaring Crimson

Lightfastness: Final Thoughts

Happy 1st Day of Spring – 13 Cool Facts

Spring has always been my favorite season. If I had my way, the new year would start on March 20th. The themes of renewal, rebirth, growth, resurrection, longer days, shorter nights, and wonderful weather all burst forth in a timely manner from the doldrums of winter. Its simply invigorating!

Just for fun, here are some random facts about the first day of spring, or the Vernal Equinox if you please. Some you may know, some you probably don’t.

1. Doodling spring.

To start things off on an artistic note, today’s animated Google Doodle in honor of the first day of spring was created by cartoonist Eleanor Davis. Credit where credit is due right?

2. One man’s spring…

Yep, lest we forget and become northern hemisphere snobs, the southern hemisphere is actually beginning its autumn today. Woot!

3. East to west, for real!

Everyone knows that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, but did you know it only precisely does so on the spring and autumn equinoxes? Amaze your friends at parties with that little tidbit.

4. Day and night in the balance.

The length of day in hours becomes roughly equal to the length of night. Ok, you probably knew that one. Equinox, “equal”,  get it? (this actually occurs more precisely a day or two or three before the equinox but hey, close enough)

5. What’s he looking at?

The spring equinox was a big deal in a lot of ancient cultures. The Egyptian Sphinx is looking directly where the sun will rise on this day. Give that dude some shades man!

6. Me and my shado… hold on, what?

The great pyramid of Giza, the biggie, was designed so that at noon on the spring equinox it would cast no shadow. Freaky!  The Mayans did a similar thing with their El Castillo pyramid. At sunset the shadow forms a serpent shape on the side of the stairs – as if just building these structures weren’t cool enough!

7. Egg on your face.

Don’t bother with the standing-an-egg-on-end myth. It can be done sometimes, but no more frequently or easily on the equinox than any other day. Sorry. And that goes for broomsticks too.

8. Imagine that.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono were married on this day in 1969. What does this have to do with the spring equinox? I have no idea, just thought I would mention it. Perhaps they wanted the first spring wedding of the year.

9. Aah! Springtime in Paris.

After his escape from Elba, Napoleon marched into Paris and entered the Tuilleries palace on this day, March 20, 1815. Maybe this has nothing to do with the spring equinox either, but who knows, the renewal, rebirth theme so associated with this date seems appropriate. In another strange irony, his son, Napoleon II, was born on this same day 4 years earlier.

10. Happy New Year!

The first day of spring is also the Persian New Year (aka Iranian New Year), with references dating back to the 2nd century AD. See? I told you it was a good idea.

11. What’s that I smell?

If you live in Annapolis, MD, and are part of the maritime crowd, you are no doubt familiar with the tradition begun by Captain Bob Turner, who burned his socks one spring equinox to celebrate the coming gleeful months of barefoot yachting. Oh yeah, let those babies breath! The Annapolis Maritime museum has managed to make a pretty big deal out of that Sock Burning, turning it into an annual equinox celebration. Lovely! I’m sure some of those socks needed burning for other reasons.

 12. Long time coming.

So, you think spring took a little too long getting here this year? It could be worse. The planet Saturn has an equinox only once every 15 years.  However, as the Cassini spacecraft demonstrated, the Saturn equinox does make for some very dramatic photos.

13. Ironies Abound.

Famed physicist and mathematician, Sir Issac Newton, died on this day, March 20, 1727, in London at age 84. Ironically, Newton made a number of significant discoveries and calculations that govern our knowledge of orbits and precession of the equinoxes (changes in position over time). Interesting that he should die on an equinox date. Even stranger, Newton never published or expanded these findings until urged to do so by Edmund Halley, the Halley’s Comet namesake.  One of the early historical sightings of the comet was in 1066, the year of the Battle of Hastings. It has been calculated that the Perihelion (point nearest the sun) of Halley’s Comet during that year was March 20. Halley’s comet was thought by those in 1066 to be an omen for good or ill…oooh! Cue Twilight Zone theme music….


By The Time I Get to Phoenix, I’ll have Aerials

I don’t fly often, but when I do, clear skies, a window seat and fascinating terrain are a plus. On a visit to Phoenix, AZ to visit relatives, our flight encountered particularly crystal clear January skies and lovely views of the ground. This is a collection of pics taken from the window seat at roughly 34k feet over parts of New Mexico and Eastern Arizona. You can even see snow dusting some of the mountain tops in a few of the pics. It was a visual treat and quite different from the ground views of the east. As good as any art gallery to me. The graphic compositions and expressive designs that emerged in the shots were a delight.

Simple Social Sharing Plugin for WordPress

Just a quick post to share my delight with the LoginRadius Simple Social Sharing plugin for WordPress.

Other than CSS and some HTML, I’m not really a coder. After hours of fiddling with AddThis to try and get the URL shortener to work for Twitter (it involves placing code and tying in the plug in with your login and API key, yada, yada. I could never get it to work despite following their instructions). I finally gave up and started exploring other plugins. Imagine my delight when Simple Social Sharing worked right away with automatic URL shortening built in. I was further delighted to find all the easy to use configuration settings for getting the icons set in the exact order and placed exactly where I wanted. Very nice!

Install Simple Social Sharing as a test, make a comparison to your current sharing platform and see what you think. By the way, I don’t work for LoginRadius nor do they sponsor my site in any way. Call me crazy but I just like solutions that work, intuitively, right away with little or no fuss.

Buh, bye AddThis. Been nice knowing you.


The Muster

Inspiration from Walnut Grove Plantation

One of my favorite re-enactment events in the Upstate, SC area is Festifall at Walnut Grove Plantation. To see more of this event I have a post with pictures here.

Many of the photos I take at these events eventually become reference for paintings. Here is one of my latest watercolor paintings entitled “The Muster” using reference from the Walnut Grove event. Enjoy.

The Muster

What’s the Color of Your Photo Search?

Royalty free, stock photos have become a staple these days due to the huge proliferation of suppliers and relatively low cost. Searching the huge databases has never been easier or more effective. Almost all stock sites offer search engines with advanced filtering capabilities that can get you to the photos or art you are looking for.

A Search is a Search is a Search, unless…

Specific subject searches are by far the easiest and often nothing else will suffice. If you need a picture of an eagle or a cell phone (or whatever) thats what you search for and you are presented with clear choices. No sweat! But what if your content is conceptual in nature and not centered around a definable visual subject. Using conceptual search terms are often productive. Terms like “hot”, “focused”, “professional”, or “skilled” for example. Or, when illustrating those concepts, you may throw in a little more metaphorical free association to widen the search: “hot” = fire or coals; “focused” = lens or optical instruments; “professional” = confident expression or executive; “skilled” = hand crafted or artisan; and so forth.

Why Not Try a Color

Conceptual search terms can work just fine, but if you’re still coming up short try a color.

 : Blue butterfly on white background : blue diamond : comfortable blue sea, sky and white cloud : A bunch of blue party balloons over white background : A blue ribbon is a symbol for success and first prize. Stock Photo : Businesswoman holding a blue umbrella. Vector : Beautiful fireworks on the black sky background : Funny 3D blue Robot on white background : water splash isolated on white background

All photos were obtained from

color filter

Granted this doesn’t always apply, but if the gist of your content is conceptual ask yourself if it can be associated with a color. Or, if you are looking for a creative theme as a jumping off point, color could be the search you need to jar your brain. There are three ways I can think of to do this right off the top of my head. You may think of more:

1) Filter by color – If you already have a current selection of images before you, but you want to narrow it down, most stock site search engines allow you to filter your current search by a color and thus narrow your subjects for additional thematic impact, or simply to match a graphic color theme.

2) Simply use a color in your search term – Couple a color with another concept term or use the color term by itself. If you’re writing about the next “hot” trend in some field, search not only by “hot” and “fire” but also try “red” or “orange” or “blue”. What other associations can you make? Will “chartreuse” give you an image that illustrates being outlandish, eccentric, loud, or unique? Sometimes the results can be totally unrelated but sometimes they can surprise you and send you in a new direction you hadn’t thought of.

3) Let color suggest a content theme in advance – In other words, do your photo search before any writing and use a particular color term to present you with theme ideas. The series of photos above show the variety that can come from one simple color search – “blue”. I expected to find the blue sky and the water splash but the rest were surprises. What sort of conceptual theme can be incorporated into your writing around the idea of a butterfly or balloons or a blue ribbon. Interesting … see? Now you’re brainstorming and thinking conceptually.  Your content will be more interesting and “colorful” as a result.

Finding stock photos or art to illustrate a concept or a theme can be a blast, so be colorful and have fun with it.

A Portrait of Two Leaders

Roosevelt and Churchill watercolor

A recent watercolor I did. This reflects several elements I wanted to play around with. First of all, I love to illustrate historical subjects and historical figures. My reference was a black and white photo taken of Roosevelt and Churchill at a summit meeting near the end of World War II. In this case I wasn’t fussy about likenesses. I focused more on technique and style. I wanted to reinterpret the scene in color but with a very limited pallet. I really love this approach and will definitely do more work from a limited pallet.

Watercolor Board

This was also my first time using Arches watercolor board. I’ve always been a fan of their watercolor paper but I absolutely loved this board. It’s essentially board-mounted Arches hot press watercolor paper. Some watercolor boards I’ve used have been worthless in that workability was a problem after a bit of scrubbing, lifting or heavy washing rendered parts of the surface practically useless. I haven’t fully tested the limits of the board yet and it will probably not have the working durability of say 300lb. paper but nevertheless I am duly impressed. It will most likely be a staple for me in the future.

Light Your Way to a Better Studio

Full Spectrum LightingAsk any studio artist who works with physical media on a daily basis (such as painters and sculptors) and they will tell you the ideal art studio will have skylights or large, north-facing windows or both. Why? Light of course, and its by far the best quality light – clean, white, illuminating objects so they reflect their true, natural colors. Studio artists are not alone. Visual design industries such as interior design, printing and photography for example have long known the benefits of natural light for judging, proofing and illuminating color.

Good news! Great light for everyone!

Assuming big, north-facing windows aren’t a possibility, studios obviously have to employ artificial light to illuminate their desk or work space. Full spectrum or natural daylight bulbs have been around for some time but they were often expensive, specialized bulbs and fixtures not readily available at the average local home store. Such is not the case anymore. With the advent of compact fluorescent bulbs, lighting manufacturers have given us an interesting array of choices, not the least of which are full-spectrum light bulbs that can be put in just about any lamp or fixture, and the best part?… the cost is now about the same as any standard bulb of the same design. Coolness!

These days full-spectrum lighting is easier to find and cheaper to buy than ever before!

Full spectrum light example and comparison

The picture speaks for itself. Full spectrum lighting yields a clean, bright, light that lets you see color and visuals accurately. A must for any studio artist.

The science of  full-spectrum light and why you need it.

Without getting too overly nerdy about this, remember those elementary school experiments where sunlight from a window directed through a prism would project that little bar-like rainbow? Very simply put, all those color wavelengths are the components of full spectrum lighting. Full spectrum lighting is called such exactly because it includes such a wide array of light from the visible spectrum all combining to make it almost neutral in color. Light is characterized mainly by its color temperature  (expressed in Kelvin or the symbol K). This neutral, full-spectrum light falls around 5000-5500k on the Kelvin scale. Light below this level will be warm, like that trusty old soft-white incandescent bulb producing the yellowish light in your night stand lamp. It falls at about 2700k on the scale. The light of a daylight fluorescent bulb such as in a typical workshop or overhead garage fixture is above that neutral level falling at about 6500k on the scale and emits a colder light. If you’ve ever shot with a digital SLR camera and had to manually set the white balance you already know how different light temperature can be. The camera’s white balance must adjust to various light temperatures to render a pleasing, natural image. All that to say this. Studio lighting is at its best when its at a white-balanced light temperature of 5000-5500k, utilizing all of the visual spectrum to illuminate colors accurately… i.e. full-spectrum lighting. The benefits are clear, and these days its easier to find and cheaper to buy than ever before!

What we’re looking for in a studio lighting situation is a white-balanced light temperature of 5000-5500k, utilizing all of the visual spectrum to illuminate colors accurately… i.e. full-spectrum lighting.

The ultimate work light. Not just for artists.

Balanced, color-free lighting has more benefit than to just studio artists and other visual design disciplines. It can now be easily and affordably integrated into any area of the home, benefitting anyone wanting a well-illuminated work space where accurate color and bright, clean, white light is a plus. Consider, for example, mixing the light in living areas where main reading lights are full spectrum, but leaving the warmer glow of the soft white bulbs in peripheral accent lighting. Try switching out fluorescent cool white bulbs in overhead work shop or utility room fixtures, with full spectrum bulbs, adding a more pleasing, livelier, less cold light to the work space. Other great uses in the home might include children’s desks, hobby and crafting areas, or cooking areas. With today’s affordability and accessibility, trying full spectrum lighting just about anywhere is simple.

Buying. What you need to know.

While full-spectrum lighting is now more plentiful, accessible and affordable, finding the correct bulb is not always as easy as just finding the “Full-Spectrum” section on the light bulb aisle. Trust me, it doesn’t exist. It takes a little hunting and verifying. The descriptions and labels of various manufacturers are often misleading too, not necessarily meaning what you might think. The GE Reveal® line of bulbs is a good example. The Reveal description describes a clean, beautiful light that accurately enhances the colors in your home, so one might immediately think Reveal is a “full-spectrum” bulb. Not true by a long shot. Its still produces a very warm yellow light rated at 2500k. Woah!

Start with bulbs labeled “natural”, “daylight” or even “sunlight. Some bulbs may actually include “full spectrum” in their label or description. Then verify it by scanning the fine print. Almost every bulb maker will print the color temperature rating somewhere. Verify that your bulb is in the 5000k – 5500k range. If you can’t, don’t buy it.  WARNING! – grow lights and aquarium lights are often full spectrum, but often include an extra ultraviolet component that makes the light look very bluish. Stay away from these bulbs unless you are indeed lighting an indoor garden or aquarium. Sometimes signage will help, for example, Lowe’s does a good job of including signage that aids the buyer with bulb choice. Regardless, get in the habit of double checking the light temperature rating on the package and you’ll be good to go.

The Poverty of Arrogance

child holding treasureWhy don’t people collect skills, knowledge and experience like rare artifacts? Why don’t they hunt for them like buried treasure? The smart ones do. I watched a sharpshooting competition on tv where two contestants were offered coaching by an expert before the final showdown. One contestant acted as though the instructor was an annoying child dabbling in things he didn’t understand. This particular competitor was a champion pistol shooter. Apparently he had gathered all the nuggets of wisdom and experience he wanted and was satisfied that he had found them all. This sort of arrogance amazes me!  I’ve learned things, important, valuable things, from people with half my years and experience. In the same way that one person searching a treasure site for a few minutes happens upon an incredible find where others searching for hours have found nothing. If a skill or certain knowledge is valuable, does it matter who or where it comes from?

What if, in our professional development, we acted more like collectors? What if, when we found a gem to add to our knowledge and experience, we became the wide-eyed child as we eagerly added it to our collection rather than grab at our wounded ego because we didn’t find it first. Arrogance can cost you plenty and you may not even realize what you’ve lost.

In your professional development, start collecting the skills you need like precious gems. Practice them. Add some more and practice those. Then find someone better than you and aim at their skill level, then do it all over again. Collect the knowledge needed to make that skill better, more polished, then add even more. Look for those little nuggets of knowledge everywhere, like priceless treasure. Never stop collecting, even from unlikely people and places. Gain confidence from your collection but not arrogance. The difference can be costly.


Photoshop Ghosts Recipe

For a bit of Halloween fun here is a repost from a few years ago.

Happy Halloween!

This is Seth (on the left), I met him a couple of years ago at Kennesaw Mt. National Battlefield, NW of Atlanta. Still dutifully manning his artillery postion after 140 years, he insisted on reading me a letter from home. He doesn’t know he’s a ghost and I didn’t have the heart to tell him that Atlanta was destined to fall into Union hands.

Seth reading me his letter from home

Seth reading me his letter from home

Now you may be thinking that this photo has been faked. Well, no comment, and I won’t deny that just about anything can be easily faked these days. If I had Photoshopped it, here’s one way I might have gone about it.

My Simple Photoshop Ghost Recipe

1) In Photoshop I would open a Civil War photo file, select the soldier and drag him into the photo file of me standing by the cannon. Doing this creates a new layer.

2) After sizing and positioning the soldier, I would add a layer mask and mask out parts of him by painting on the mask to make him fit behind the cannon barrel.

3) Next make a copy of the soldier layer and add a horizontal motion blur value of about 60 or so to the copy. Set the opacity of this blurred layer to about 70% and put it beneath the original in the layer order, offsetting the blurred layer by just a hair so that it wasn’t perfectly lined up with the original on top, giving it even more of an out-of-focus ethereal look.

4) The original soldier layer I would then set to an opacity of about 60% and then paint on the layer mask with a soft airbrush to fade out areas I wished to be even more transparent or vanish altogether.

5) To add a sepia tone to all the Photoshop layers simply add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer at the top, click the colorize check box and adjust the hue and saturation until you get the color you want.