The Creative Process
An Analysis of content and Medium
6. A Digital New World: How Photoshop Changed and Expanded My Work
In 2001, when I joined the faculty of the Fine Arts Department at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in Manhattan, I was hired to introduce photo techniques combined with printmaking. Around that time, I purchased my first digital camera, curious about how I might use a computer to manipulate my images. Up until then I had done all the transformations and multiple exposures in a darkroom by sandwiching negatives in slide holders. I was not satisfied with my skills as a darkroom printer, however, and I got tired of all the toxic chemicals. I had begun work on the “Laura/Eros, Laura/Sleep” series, interested in using colors in photography. I needed a new approach.
The Photoshop Revelation
FIT has an enormous computer graphics department. I took one class to learn Photoshop, though it was not really what I was looking for, since these classes are designed to prepare students for commercial applications in the publishing world. But it got me started, and over the next few years, I taught myself the rest, following my own vision.
Photoshop, I soon discovered, was a gold mine, like a magical toolbox. I had some textbooks, but generally relied on my instincts, just as I do when I cook. Experimentation and trial and error work for me. Not long after, I got some pretty interesting results.
In 2003 I had a show, The Artist as Voyeur, at a chashama pop-up gallery in Times Square, which featured large color and black and white digital prints and digital solarizations of photolithographs. For the latter, I used Photoshop and my digital photographs to produce an image that I printed on a transparency. A light sensitive photolithographic plate was then exposed to this transparency, developed, and finally manually printed with ink on an etching press.
View the slideshow below.
The Color Revolution
The possibilities of transformation and color with Photoshop are infinite. In the beginning one has a tendency to overdo it with the saturation and such. I gradually learned to use these tools and effects differently, depending on my subject. My discovery of the “Sabattier” effect or digital solarization, for example, was a turning point for me when I worked on the “Nudes” series. Up until then, my black and white work seemed to me a little dull and flat. But with this manipulation, I could transform these nudes into powerful images.
The color series “Nudes with Trees” was the result of discovering the layering and blending tools in Photoshop. I created layers, changed their order, adjusted their blending mode, and played until I liked what I saw. Sometimes I record what effects I apply to an image to remember it; other times I let it go, so I can approach the next image afresh. Once the images were completed on the computer, I produced color-separated transparencies—cyan, magenta, yellow, black—and exposed four litho plates per image. The plates were developed then inked accordingly and printed manually on my etching press.
A Digital Darkroom Without Chemicals
I also like toning my prints. In the darkroom I use a chemical called Selenium, in combination with other pretty toxic agents. Now, with Photoshop, I am able to turn a digital black and white print to sepia and give it an antique look without chemicals. The series “She-River” and “She-Mountain” were first printed in four color-separated litho plates. Then I discovered split toning, a Photoshop effect where a digital image is turned into a two-toned image, a warm sepia and a cool dark blue, for example. Then the two tones are split and blended into a balanced and dramatic duotone. I have applied that technique to a lot of my work.
I can change the color balance of an image, add a little warmth, a little contrast, deepen the shadows, augment or diminish the highlights, fiddle with the midtones. There is no greater satisfaction than turning an imperfect shot into the feel of perfection.
Reclaiming the Past with New Technology
At last, I have these tools at hand to improve everything I do with my camera. At another chashama pop-up gallery in Times Square, I produced Full Exposure in April 2006, which included the above-mentioned work in addition to images of me taken when I was modeling in Paris during the late 1970s. I worked from old proof sheets, but with Photoshop, I enlarged, cleaned, and printed them as perfect giant duotones. I re-appropriated my past, and it felt glorious to look so young again, for eternity.I love to change reality, sometimes just for the challenge.
I know we cannot do better than nature itself, but we as artists want to interpret it, celebrate it, personalize it, or just express it.
Searching for new concepts, I went back to the West with my late husband, Shan, in 2004, and after that we went back three more times, with visits to Colorado, Utah, northern California, and finally, Wyoming in 2007. From these trips I brought back thousand of images that have sustained me as an artist since Shan’s passing.
Digital Dimensions: It can be so Large!
Of course everything I saw in the West was of such an enormous scale, the canyons, the land. It was humbling; yet it was invigorating to know I could, from all of it, make my own imagery.
In the fall of 2006 I produced Utah: Imagine a Land, a show of twelve-foot digital murals, which hung in the lobby of the Condé Nast building in Times Square. These images were my interpretation of Brice Canyon in Utah. They were shown the following year at another midtown building as The West Revisited, and included a collection of smaller digital transfer-inks on copper plates. I felt compelled, through the use of Photoshop, to multiply the depth, light, and infinity of these canyons.
As our dreams and realities constantly feed each other, I wanted to explore those places where heart and soul together make one envision a world in layers of true and imagined colors and dimensions.
During 2008 and 2009 I created a new body of digital works, Into the Sea, where I placed myself deep in the water, floating and swimming with ocean creatures. Digital photographs and Photoshop techniques were yet another way for me to transcend physical reality, dimensions and surfaces. I imagined and created myself in places underwater I wished to feel and see.
After experimenting with different sizes and on different surfaces (paper, silk, cotton), I printed these images digitally on large format canvases for a show at Middlebury College, Vermont, held in July 2010. This fall I am showing a series of photolithographs of Wyoming, Elegy, at the Lobby Gallery of 1155 Avenue of the Americas. This series contrasts with the strong colors of Imagine a Land, instead concentrating on the stillness of the positive and negative, black and white and black on gold. Digital solarization played a big part there.
From Discovering to Teaching Photoshop
Over time people who saw my work with Photoshop were puzzled and kept asking how I did this or that effect. I am hardly the only one out there using Photoshop, but my interest in writing a course was to teach students how to use Photoshop as an artist. My course is designed for those who want to learn how to print, paint, photograph, or collage digitally, and mix these techniques together. An artist always wants to discover new ways of creating.
In 2005 I gave my first Photoshop classes at the Art Center of Northern New Jersey in New Milford. My students there were professional artists who had been studying printmaking with me for at least ten years. I felt comfortable enough with them to try out my skills at teaching Photoshop, and they were eager to learn. We continue to challenge and dialogue with each other about art and life.
Focusing on Artistic Venues
While Photoshop has infinite possibilities, I have decided to focus on what we, as fine artists, are interested in. I begin with creative effects, light effects, and digital painting techniques. Next, we explore layering, brushes, filters, and balancing and changing colors. Then, we move on to watercolor painting and oil portraiture. Finally, we take on more complex effects: creating textures, mixing black and white with color, toning, making photomontages, and so on.
As time went by, I learned more and became driven to write Photoshop lessons that addressed my students’ work and aspirations. I sought out books and magazines and continued to experiment until I had enough materials. I still incorporated new material to keep up with the latest tools. In 2007 I started an ongoing “Photoshop for Artists” class at my studio in Times Square, while teaching Photoshop in a real estate office in Midtown for the next two years. I created “Photoshop for Artists” at the Art Students League, the first computer class ever offered.
The Reward of Learning
Though Photoshop is not easy, it can be very rewarding. My work has changed dramatically, and I know it will continue to evolve. I like the freedom of making an image and having many options of sizes and support materials. I like the infinite choices I have from the palettes and brushes, from the drawing, painting, layering and retouching tools. I like the challenge of learning a new language. It is like composing music, and little by little, I understand and love the song I write.
Through digital photography and continued explorations in Photoshop with printmaking, I search for a world where senses are exhilarated, where altered colors may still be true, where we are endless, and the air, the mountains, and underwater all are one.
Ms. Covey has written “Photoshop For Artists”published by Watson & Guptill, a division of Random House, ©2012.
I make a distinction between authenticity and value. I believe that the artistic process of creating a print or a photograph possesses all the criteria that make a work of art authentic. Making reproductions of the first print might affect its monetary value, but not its artistic value. Reproducing an image does not diminish its presence or its impact, although the choice of reproduction might affect its quality.
I also believe ardently in using these mediums, photography and printmaking, not merely as means of reproduction, but as means of making a specific kind of art where the content and the medium are truly inseparable and unique for that very reason. I use these mediums because they truly convey what I want to express.