Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Copying a Water Colour Painting

Several years ago, a friend of mine asked me whether it was possible to copy her water colour paintings so they could be sold as prints.  I've done this on half a dozen occasions now, and I took some pictures of the process last month to show what is involved.

Stage 1 involves taping the painting to a large piece of mount board in order to keep it flat.  Water colour paper buckles quite badly, and this painting (larger than A3+ in size) was probably the worst I've had to deal with in this respect.

Stage 2 involves positioning the painting upright in a location where it can be photographed.  In this case, because the painting was so large, it's propped up on the back of our sofa.

Stage 3 is setting up the equipment.  There is a camera on a tripod with two matched flashguns at 45 degrees to the painting being copied.  The positioning of the flashguns is fine-tuned using a hand-held flash meter in order to guarantee that the lighting across the painting is absolutely consistent.

In this case, the painting was photographed using an 85mm prime lens, but for smaller paintings I would normally use a 100mm macro.  Both lenses are extremely sharp and - importantly - show very small amounts of spherical distortion.  The close-up shows the camera being aligned with the painting using Live View, and with the flash remote control unit on top.  There's also a remote cable release plugged in, and this - combined with Live View's inherent Mirror Lock - results in absolutely zero camera shake.

Stage 4 is measuring the exposure using a hand-held flash meter and taking a reference image using a Colour Checker Passport.  Not only does this allow the white balance to be set accurately, but also allows me to make a custom camera profile which compensates for any oddities in the lighting conditions.

Stage 5 is importing the photographed painting into the computer and matching the photograph to the original.  The painting is illuminated by two daylight-balanced lamps, and positioned at 90 degrees to a fully calibrated computer screen for reference.  With correct exposure, white balance and a custom colour profile, the resulting image is usually pretty close to the finished article.  There are always areas which need to be cloned, either to remove fingerprints or marks on the painting's surface, or - on one occasion - actually "finishing" a painting which wasn't quite ready!  Usually there are also issues related to an off-white paper colour which need to be dealt with, plus slight variations in colour rendition.  This is the most time-consuming stage, as all the changes need to be done by eye using experience gained many years ago working in a colour darkroom.

Stage 6 is the making of small proof prints, which are then compared under daylight conditions to the original.  Again, small tweaks are inevitable - usually to compensate for the colour of the paper on which the print is being made.  In this case, three proof prints were enough to get everything "close enough for Government work".

Stage 7 is to make the final prints, which can now be done at any size from A2 downwards on my Epson 3880.  I use Permajet's "Papyrus" for this process, as it is the closest I've found to the original water colour paper, and always gives exceptional results.  It's expensive, but worth every penny.