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Black + white in color.

The art of coloring photographs by hand began almost with the invention of photography itself. The camera could reproduce an exact mirrored image, but the public, used to seeing itself flattered by the painter's brush, complained that without color the images were lifeless.

Photographers began to hand color their photographs to compete with miniature portrait painters. As the popularity of owning a photographic portrait increased, miniature portrait painters found themselves without jobs and went to work for photographers, using their skills to color the print surface and bring images to life.

In the early days of photography, coloring a photograph was a difficult process. Surfaces were unstable and one false move might destroy the image. As photographic surfaces improved, methods of tinting changed. Oil paints were used on non-absorbent surfaces, concealing much of the image underneath; other surfaces were absorbent and could be delicately tinted with transparent colors.

The desire for hand-tinted photographs faded with the development of color film. It continued to be used as a means for coloring mass-produced postcards. Artistically it was used to created an old-fashioned look reminiscent of the Victoria era.

Hand tinting has recently experienced a revival and a transformation. Today's photographic surfaces are easier to work. Most of the products used for hand tinting can be found in art supply stores.

Any black-and-white photograph can be hand tinted. Remember, when selecting a photograph, the darker the print, the denser the application of paint. A dark print cannot be tinted, but can be used very successfully as a background for freehand application of paint. Prints with good tonal values and very few solid dark areas are good for subtle tinting.

Once the photograph is chosen, its surface is prepared by rubbing it with linseed oil dabbed onto a cotton ball. This provides a smooth workable surface giving more control when applying and blending color.

The easiest media for the beginner are oil paints and pencils. The paint can be applied with cotton swabs, an inexpensive alternative to brushes. Paints in dotted on in the area to be colored. Using a clean swab in a circular motion, the paint is blended in. By continuing to blend with a clean swab, the color will blend out, leaving a transparent tint. Detail is emphasized with color oil pencils. By dipping the pencil into linseed oil or oil paint extender, color can be applied and blended smoothly onto small areas.

In learning to hand tint photographs students examine two different art forms: photography and painting. When all the students in the classroom are given the same photograph to tint, the individual student is motivated to create something which is personal and truly unique. Students come away from the experience with the knowledge that they have expressed themselves individually.

Alexandra Thompson is a photographer and writer from Moorpark, California. Photographs by N. Hernandez.
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Title Annotation:coloring black-and-white photographs
Author:Thompson, Alexandra
Publication:School Arts
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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