Le Cloitre des Récollets – La Maison des Vins de Bergerac
photo – adam cope

corrected photo by Dominique Lieppe


when photography meets blogging meets photoshop

One of the interesting things that occasionally happens when photography meets blogging meets photoshop is that photos get retouched according to the particular taste of individual photographers. A bit like the surrealist game of ‘Beautiful corpses’ where several artists draw on the same figure, with the paper folded over. One is no longer restricted to the simple click of the camera.

I was lucky enough to have this happen when I was whinging away in the ether about underexposing the white of page when photographing pencil drawings. Hey presto out of the blue, by way of kindness, Niels at My Camera World came along & fixed the problem. Thanks!

Then recently Dominique came along & did some work on the above photo. Interestingly, photography as ‘plastic’ & maleable as paint, as fictive & not truth?


Je suis le visiteur qui n’aime pas trop le bleu dans la toile des maisons troglodytes.
Sur la photo du blog, j’ai retouché la perspective, retiré du vert, désaturé un peu et retiré le morceau de personne en bas à gauche.
Vous trouverez ci-joint le nouveau fichier.
Je vous en souhaite bonne réception.


Heightened Colour in Photography

heightened colour vs. ‘accurate’ colour

The same question of heightened colour vs. ‘accurate’ colour (what ever that means) applies to photography. Just as it does in painting.. How much do you ‘bump’ the saturation up? The loss is a smooth gradient, of how one colour runs into another. We live in colour sataurated world & taste are for the more”Next comes the fact that the most accurate photos may not be the most pleasing photos to many people.

In reality, many consumer grade cameras offer a simple color shaping matrix that is designed to return pleasing color that results in few complaints from consumers. Most consumers, for example, prefer a little extra sharpness and pop (contrast) in photos. They also like green grass to look really green even when in reality it might be a little yellow/brown. As you begin to move up to high end or dSLR cameras, we see more of a shift toward color accuracy and less of that extra “pop”, but there is often still a balance between accuracy and that “wow” factor of a photo that really leaps off the paper.”
Steve’s Digicams – Tech Corner – June 2006

Un Pigeonnier Troglodyte en Périgord


‘Bicorne 2 bis
Large Size Oil approx 33 x 24 inches
© adam cope

Un Pigeonnier Troglodyte en Périgord

I’ve been working on a large oil painting of the cliffs. As I’m not certain about the entire painting, I’m not going to blog it for the instant. But here is a crop of it. If you read my long posts about ‘how to draw rocks’ & the prehistory here in the Dordogne, you will know that I’m fascinated about certain elements in this non-humanised landscape.

Chaos I guess, that does something to the imagination.

I’m groping towards a way of painting this. The academic way of painting the light & shade on rocks seems to me to risk diminishing this chaotic aspect. Exactly that which I like.

Well… I say non-humanised landscape lightly, as here in this particular spot, there’s a house built into the rock-face, hence the amusing address ‘Biicorne 2 bis’ – the bis being French for ‘a’ such as in 13 a Duke Street.Right in the middle of this crop, you can see a ‘pigeonnier’ or a dovecot. A troglodyte’s dovecot!

photography in painting

Observe also how I’m using photoshop to crop a detail & zoom in on the postive elements in the actual painting. This will help me identify the next step. This is another example of how photography inter-reacts with the painting process. A direct example of my previous suggestion that photography can be used to help make visible, to suggest, to dream & imagine using digital images on the computer. Read more about photography in painting in this blog’s category.


More on Sketching & Photography

‘Telly Fans 1’
A5 sketchbook double-spread
© the artist

‘Telly Fans 2’
A5 sketchbook double-spread
© the artist

sketching & photography

An ex-student wrote to me recently, with these kind & interesting comments :

“….I really loved –and was inspired by–seeing the drawings you’ve been doing of your children (and the musicians too). Bravo! There’s nothing like drawings for putting the hand of the artist into the work (I say that because I’ve been so into photography lately, so when I return to looking at art I re-learn how beautiful a handmade line can be). I know that I’d better off to put the camera down and take up pad and pencils instead. No question cameras are great but I see that artists’ indiscrimminate reliance on them as substitute for constant sketching and visual memory building results in a huge degradation of key skills ….. “


‘Sechoir à Tabac 3 – Crépuscule’ (Tobacco Drying Barn 3 – Twilight)
Oil on Canvas
38 x 46cm (approx 15 x 19 inches).
© The Artist.
Available – email me

Some photos of this huge, magnificent tobacco drying barn.

My Reference Photos of ‘Sechoir à Tabac’


Wish there was a person by the door so as to give you an idea of the size. He wouldn’t even come half way up the red door! Amazing effort on behalf of this agricultor & co. Humbles me.


The sheer length of it makes me think of the long wooden huts of Saxon culture in the Dark Ages.

The shutters for the air current to dry the leaves of tobacco hence the east-west orientation of tobacco barns.

This barn is particuarly dilapidated, partly I suspect the farmer cut his criosote with red iron oxide aka haemitate aka the red earth. Partly because it is situated in the Lot & Garonne, & not the chic Perigord Noir near Sarlat where property prices are about thirty percent more. There it would be converted into a gite, tourist accommodation or maybe even a painter’s barn. Jackson Pollock had a simular barn as a studio. Soulages would be in sympathy as well.

A huge white barn owl flew out – ‘La Dame Blanche’ . That would have made a superb photo! But I wouldn’t disturb the sleep of an owl knowingly, not for a meer photo.


1. Reference Photos for Plein-Air Painters

NB. I paint mostly outside ‘en plein air’ so please don’t go thinking that I paint from photos inside the studio. I often take my camera out in the field with me however. I’ve got about 3 000 photos of places in the SW France. Not many as I throw out most of what isn’t of use to me as a painter. The process of binnning is helpful & critical to getting towards the good. I think only about 20 are any good as photos, independant of my painter’s interests. The other 2 980 are still useful to me as a painter.


2. Gerard Richter – ‘Atlas’

Do youknow Gerard Richter’s Atlas ?

“The comprehensive Atlas collection – the newspaper clippings, photos and sketches which are the source material for much of Richter’s work.”

Part of his ‘Atlas’ amounts to being a project to catalogue his world. His painter’s world. The world of his interests. Many hundreds – and I mean hundreds – of his reference photos are published up at his web site. Image after image presented in contact sheets. It seems to me that the ‘art element’ is carefully deconstructed in a deadpan way. Post-modern hoovering irony. I like it but it does disturb me. Challenges my classical roots, my debt to one of masters: Claude Lorrian. Most postcard views to this day are still constructed according to Claudian composition. Maybe the time has come for me to shake of Claude? Funny but when Richter turns to painting (probably inside a studio, using photos as reference), the composing habit frequently returns. Look through his Atlas & his paintings & you will see him returning to the classical idiom then rejecting it (for which he first became famous).

Gerhard Richter
Landschaft (Landscape)
100 cm X 140 cm
Oil on canvas
Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, USA

Here’s the reference photos for the above painting from his Atlas. Would you know the above painting was of Venice? In fact, looking at it on internet would even know it was a painting & not a photograph? It doesn’t have the typical ‘Richterian’ painterly look. Curiously, it’s the photographs that have the painterly feel. Look at the size of it as well. It must be fabulous painting in the real.

Gerhard Richter
Venedig, Gran Canaria
Venice, Gran Canaria
Atlas Sheet: 360

“For me there is no difference between a landscape and an abstract painting . . . I refuse to limit myself to a single option, to an exterior resemblance, to a unity of style which can’t exist. A color chart differs only externally from a small green landscape. Both reflect the same basic attitude. It is this attitude which is significant.” – Gerard RICHTER

Fascinating as, in fact, Richter’s ‘Atlas’ also dismantles the idea of photography as ‘truth’ by way of ‘if all these are true, where then lies the unique & absolute truth?’ There’s no effort to make one unique photograph that sums up that particular subject. They aren’t framed in the standard way.

Gerhard Richter
Atlas Sheet: 765

Look at this page of photos of a wood. As if he were just walking about taking photos, any photo except the one that conforms to the classic view that you expect to find on a postcard.

Gerhard Richter
Atlas Sheet: 300

It’s that exactly that effort to sum up a view or an idea about a view that will save you from blindly dumb copying. At a certain stage in a plein-air painter’s trajectory, a decision needs to be taken about what you paint. Edit out the rest. Discard it. Ignore it or just enjoy it, in the sense “well that’s nice but it doesn’t need to be painted. Not by me. That’s not my thing.”

Knowing what interests you can save a lot of wasted paint. Taking time to reflect on your reference photos when you are not actually painting will help guide you to this knowing.

3. My Reference Photos

I like to look at my reference photos on my computer late at night. Dreamy time. Sometimes I see things I didn’t see ‘in the flesh’, in the real 3-D world. Mallarmé was always talking about that, as was William James:

“Remembrance is like direct feeling; it’s object is suffused with a warmth & intimacy to which no object of mere conception ever attains.” – William James

Developing the Proustian element to plein-air gives that ‘warmth & intimacy’.

Sometimes reference photos give me an idea for another painting I didn’t see ‘on site’ the first time. Scouting for paintings, finding them in the world, is a skill that a plein-air painter must develop. Sometimes the mechanical eye of the lens distorts things into focus that would have otherwise remained unseen. Hiding behind a camera is a lot less of a shock than painting ‘en plein air’, which is more like a head-on meeting, an encounter between the painter & the world. Sometimes it feels more like a collison… self meets the the world.

Before we even mention all that painful business of trying to make a painting, of the feeling ‘I can’t do this’… self meets the world meets painting…

Of the struggle to realise a painting which may not have been properly concieved of in the first place. Reference photos can help you concieve of a painting before you even go out in the field. And it’s so easy now days with a digital camera with a view finder. But your attention! Sometimes you need to sleep before you dream. Sometimes you need to use your mind’s eye before you can see the painting.

It helps to have an idea of what you are trying to do.



Reference Photos for Plein-Air Painters 1 – Gerhard Richter’s Photo Atlas

Reference Photos for Plein-Air Painters 2

Reference Photos for Plein-Air Painters 3

Le Cingle de Tremolat 2003 – postcards & landscape painting


Sunset 31 Dec – after session in the field and two retouching sessions in the studio
30 x 40 cm – approx12 x 16 inches
oil on panel
Sunset 31 Dec – after first session in the field
30 x 40 cm – approx12 x 16 inches
oil on panel

Photographing Paintings

Look at the difference betweeen these two photos.
It’s dificult to know which one is the closest to the orginal painting if you don’t know the the orinal painting. However, to the eye with some experience in photographing paintings, IMO, I reckon that it’s possible to identify a photo that is poor. That’s to say :

  • badly exposed
  • has a wonky colour cast
  • that has been overly-distorted in photoshop etc
  • that a crazy discordance with the colour profile of your computer screen

I miss two photgraphic lamps (it’s a bit early in the year for letters to Santa Claus isn’t it 😉

Taking photos in daylight means taking photos in variable light, which is not always (rarely!) the optimum 55 K & thus gives wild colour casts… unless you wait for the right light. But then you can forget about real-time blogging.

Which one of the above paintings seems to you about right, given that you don’t know the original painting?

Retouching Plein-Air Paintings

Look at the above two paintings.

  • Can you see the retouching?
  • Has it improved the painting?
  • Which one seems the most ‘real’?
  • Which one has a unifying ‘illuminant’ (coherent set of ligh/colour conditions)?
  • Which one keeps closest to the artist’s to the orginal impression of the scene? Does it express the orginal seduction, the thing that me you want to paint the scene in the first place?
  • Which one works best as a picture?
  • Should a plein-air piece be finished on the spot or can it be developed at a later date in the studio & allowed to evolve into something different?
  • Need a plein-air piece have ‘finish’ or can it exist/be exhibited as a kind of sketch with ‘rough’ finish?

How much you retouch/develop plein-air paintings is a debate central to plein-airism.

I consider the above painting as ‘finished’, especially as it’s part of a recent series of sunsets – Five to date, three more to be blogged over the next few days. Stay tuned.


Sauvignon, Boisse

‘Sauvignon, Boisse’
28 x 38 cm. Quarter Imperial. Whatman 300gms.
© The Artist.
Last parcel of sauvignon yet to be harvested. Autumnal overcast sky, grapey mauve, the landscape mellow with misty stratus, a bluey shade of manganese mauve. Last brave yellow tops of vine leaves. Yellow ochre bottoms heavy with mauvey blue grapes. Trees thinning out already.

Photography of artwork : an imperfect tool.

Same old problem with photographing art work, that the shadows are always crushed up into black. Especially with the delicate fine tones of watercolour. In this artwork itself, I took great care not to let the dark tones go to black, but rather held them around ultramarine blue, a few notches up from black. Currently, have the feeling that ‘black holes’ do not accord with the misty mellow overcast light of autumn, here in the Dordogne, not far from the Atlantic ocean.


Notan Photograph – ‘The Wirly Gates’

‘The Wirly Gates’ 2004 © The Artist.
Notan can mean something/nothing as well as dark/light

Notan photography? Is the black emptiness?

Photography has difficult of reading things in shadows. It frequently makes pictures with black nothingness as shadows…

These digital cameras are great for ‘visual thinking’ … working things out in a visual way… kind of important to ‘think like a painter’ (ho hum), meaning to look at things visually … to take time to perceive their ‘abstract’ qualities. Black & white is already more ‘abstract’ than colour. Is that why black & white photography is granted ‘art status’ more readily than colour?

Here’s a little ditty I rhymed up …… don’t worry I don’t sing out loud whilst painting …the point is to think in way that helps you, personally & individually, to paint:

Notes on Notan

one tone
two tone
three tone
four tone

half tone
quarter tone

no tone

not quite a notan I know…


‘Le Cingle de Tremolat’ 2003

‘Le Cingle de Tremolat’
Huile sur Toile
© Adam Cope
Grand Format approx 150 x 100 cm

painting, photography & postcards/plein air.

Carrying on with this rambling musing about painting, photography & postcards/plein air….Describing something of the process by which I arrived at this (popular) oil painting might be of interest… or not (deafening silence on the internet ,thanks for your comments!). Personally I like to see ‘work in progress’ , especially that which follows something of a turning, twisting path, where the end is not forseen, where one feels one’s way, sometimes in the dark.

Yann Arthus-Bertrand & views from the sky

I painted this in the studio one wet, dark, long rainy winter. Not a plein air piece as it’s a view from the sky… couldn’t convince the microlite to stay still long enough! Yann Arthus-Bertrand fever had struck France; even my cheque book from ‘La Poste’ had his photographs of ariel views of landscapes. They frequently resemble ‘cadastres’ (territory maps of plots of land ) rather than pretty postcard views. I painted this from a postcard, an ariel view of this famous meander. But first I seriously ‘doctored’ it in Photoshop before painting it in this large format studio painting.

I’ve always had an uneasy relationship with these little images or ‘cliches’ called postcards, part fascination, part desire to deconstruct, part desire to find the same view in the real world… This wasn’t the first time, as I had already spent another winter painting postcards wayback in the early 1990’s with my ‘Postcards from Babylon’ series of 24 minature oil paintings, the size of tiny postcards 15 X 10 cm.

‘Postcards from Babylon’ 24 miniature-sized ‘postcards’ 10 x 15 cm (with accompanying animation VHS, with thanks to ‘Picture This’ animations, South West Arts Council award) . Oil on Panel. 1992 © adam cope

The colour scheme for ‘Tremolat’ has a night-time feel to it, or maybe a like a shaft of light breaking through in a storm or something – ‘Quand le Diable marit ses filles’ (when the Devil marries his daughters) as they say in these ‘ere parts, referring to a mix of sun, humidity & rain. I did this study from imagination & memory, and in fact even imagination & memory act in the the large painting as well. A sculptor friend of mine remarked on the exaggerated perspective in the river bends & the way the bottom bank of the river is ‘lost’. I did this consciously & deliberately to exaggerate the swelling … during this time my wife was pregnant. Art historians occasionally remark on how the personal & private (I like to keep it private though I do always seem to be making an exhibition of myself) lives of artists effect on their paintings, such as Constable & the death of his wife in his ‘Hadleigh Castle’ for instance.

‘Treamolat, Étude’ Huile sur Toile 33 x 41 cm. 2003. © adam cope