Saturday, October 27, 2012

Painting from Photographs

Emporium Window   Imaage size 12x18” .Acrylic on Masonite Panel ©by Ruth Zachary.

An old photograph taken in the 1980s looked interesting. A photography class I was in at the time drove to a historic village fifty miles from home. I chose to walk down an alley. Through a window (the back of a store) I was intrigued by two figures in an animated conversation, silhouetted against another storefront window on the main street.

Also a challenge were the ambiguous reflections in the window which nearly hid the figures, unless just the right angle was found. I didn’t want to have a picture of myself, but  to capture the figures.

 Out of two or three shots, I picked this one to be the subject of a painting. Since I have not painted in a realistic style for many years, I expected this to be quite a challenge, especially since it was in black and white.

I began with a tracing of the photograph to get the relationships of some landmark features and to establish perspective. I transferred the tracing to the panel coated with gesso. The camera lines led to the angling of the window at the top. I wanted to balance the various interest points and the dark tones in the window in the format of my drawing, and decided to place a plant on a bench to the right of the window. I added a photo of one of my plants to the copy of the original photograph, still in black and white.

I began with the expectation that the finished image would be in color, and decided on pale greige  as an undercoat, dappled with beige, pale gold and white. I had no memory of the color of the window framing, or of the brick tones, and picked green window framing, red brick, and cement gray for the stucco that had been repeatedly applied to the back wall to keep it from crumbling. It had also been painted white, as many bricks were visible, but were no longer all of the same size or color, as far as I could tell.

After laying in many of the colors, and rearranging bricks and stucco patches and textures
I saw that I needed a color reference before continuing. I found another photo of a cottage with red and orange brick, whitewashed surfaces, to use as a guide.

After the plant and other shapes were established, a glazing of more gold seemed like a possibility. I scanned the image in as a Photoshop file, and added a gold tone to the sunlit areas only. I did not like the change as well as the more whitewashed look, and left the actual painting as it was.

One technique I used in the shadows and reflections areas was to add a glaze of black, gradually until some areas were darkened to the correct amount.

Another technique I tried was painting the window reflections as if they were a black and white watercolor with a tiny brush. I didn’t think to scan in at that stage, but then I added colors, greens, browns and opaque blue sky areas on top of the blacks and grays. Even some of the reflections were thin gray, or opaque gray overlays on the deeper blacks of the reflections. I left the reflection of the car (actually in the alley behind me) in the window, but washed it in green tones as well. I left it lighter than the original, so it could be identified. The plant  details were painted last.

The goal was to use a photograph as reference, but not to recreate another photograph just like the original. The challenge was to learn something about reflections, but to be free enough to invent the details that would enhance the composition. I did not use a magnification lens. I think if I paint another window scene, I might use a larger format, as the tiny details were quite difficult. The paint was applied to a white gessoed panel, and finished with a flat varnish. It took four days, longer than I would normally spend.

I apologize for being away for such a long time. I have had multiple computer problems,
and they are not resolved yet. I have no idea how these images appear because my internet computer is so badly calibrated.

Images and text are the copyright © of Ruth Zachary.

Monday, February 21, 2011


Chinoiserie, Mixed Media Collage,  By Ruth Zachary. © 2011

Hello Readers, I am back.

I am still very busy. I have been involved in creating an art exhibit and art events program, Chalice Arts, on first Fridays of each month at my church. It is part of the Art Tour in Greeley, CO.  If you are interested, see the blog about the group on This doesn’t begin to explain how much work there is to arrange publicity, mailings, contacting artists, and speakers and all that goes with such an organization. The past two months my own work was on display, as the program began in October of 2010, and there had not yet been time to arrange for featuring anyone else.

After having a number of montages up on the walls, I began to long for the days of creating hand made montages and collages. I had stopped working that way, except for photo montage, and abstract collage, because I bellieved my drawing had become stiff, and I needed to do something else, to loosen up and become more free in my approach. I am now hopeful that I can return to hand made montages again. I have several themes planned. They will include works that are smaller than some of the collages I have done, and can be used as illustrations as well. I am not yet planning to work with etching as I did in the 1990s, although that could come in the future.

I finished my book of poetry, The Woman Who Named Herself, in the fall, mentioned in my post of  9-14-2010. It is available at and

I am now working on another book of poetry which will be about family, and I believe it will include experiences that many people may relate to in their own lives.

Monday, January 31, 2011


I have been planning to use abstract backgrounds to suggest detailed realistic drawings. After making the drawings, I plan to use the layering technique in Photoshop to integrate them into the background that stimulated them.
The reason for changing from total abstraction to semi-realism is that I plan to make a series of drawings to illustrate some poetry books I am compiling. Above, are butterfly shapes found in
the abstraction, and accentuated. This is only an example, and not really an illustration for a book. Illustrations need to be smaller and closer to the final page size in the book to avoid too much reduction of the image and to not lose too much detail.
The emphasis on putting the books together has caused a shift, so that I may not be blogging as often as I was from January through June 1, 2010.
Since I wrote this,  in June of 2010, I learned that I can not keep up with as many blogs as I had before. I am entering posts from another blog to this one. At that time, I was working both on abstractions and on realism for different projects, reflected on two blogs. There was also a post on this blog, titled Gosh Darn It, where I was having trouble with a particular problem. 

Joe Willy, a follower on this blog, suggested I use a black drawing layer over the color, which was a great idea! Since I am now interested in returning to more recognizable imagery again, this may prove to be very helpful.
I  have since finished my first book of poems, The Woman Who Named Herself, described on another blog,, and hope to have more time for visual art again.
Writing and Images are the © Copyright of Ruth Zachary.

Geometric Abstraction


Geometric/ Patterned Composition

This composition was created on the computer, by cutting out shapes from various brightly colored patterned fields. Each shape was placed in a separate layer over a background field. The shapes were manipulated by rotating them manually and placing them in relation to the other shapes, until a pleasing arrangement was found.
Using Collage: The patterned fields are printed out, and approximate shapes and patterns are arranged to be similar to the study. The finished Collage is usually different than the original study, more or less.
This is my first post since last fall, because I have been busy with several projects. I have finished my first book of poetry,
The Woman Who Named Herself published by Xlibris. A longer description may be found on my rzwritestuff

Another project I have been involved with has been helping to set up a creative group where many art forms will find expression in the UU church and in the community of Greeley, Colorado. To learn about this, check out

All Images and Writing are the Copyright © of Ruth Zachary.


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Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Recently, I assembled a book of Poetry, which is about women who seek to define themselves within the culture at large, and have chosen new names which they feel help define this new identity. The cover, to be in color, was a colored pencil drawing on collaged papers and is shown above.
I decided to include 10 illustrations, black and white images of the etchings originally in color. The illustrations do not directly illustrate any particular poem. But the relationship of metaphoric imagery to metaphoric poetry reveals both to be part of a similar process. When and if the book is published, I will announce it on this blog and on my rzwritestuff blog, as well.
Because I am so busy arranging the poems, proofreading and polishing them, I have fallen behind on my intended schedule for blogging on four different sites. I have not included many Etchings on this blog in the past. .I thought using the etchings as images would be appropriate at this time and might help me keep up with this blog. Many of the etchings are montages of more than one element. I will include the color versions here in the coming series of posts. They are still available as giclee prints, but most etching editions were sold out. 
The image above used collaged papers which were created by cleaning off printmaking rollers after printing color etchings, and sometimes viscosity etchings. After the background was assembled, colored pencils were used to draw the wolf, the landscape and wolf pack elements, and the woman. I tried to make the woman look like a wolf, with almost golden eyes.

Images and text are the exclusive copyright © of Ruth Zachary.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Alabama Patchwork ii Collage by Ruth Zachary 
The first image shows how the figure looked after layering it over the blue background, in the luminosity mode. Note that very little color change occured in the gray scale drawing of the figure. The color in the figure drawing was achieved with acrylic paints used as watercolors matching hues in the background. Some distortion occurred in the second version because the varnish deepened the color. The image was photographed. The camera also distorts the straight borders at edges.

In the previous post a figure was layered over an abstract black and white background, with the clothed model contrasted in grayscale tones.

I keep trying these experiments with color as well as black and white, because my original vision was to integrate realistic imagery into abstract shapes and textures.The blue-toned abstraction from the “Where Visions Gather,” series was chosen to be the background for the same fashion figure used in the previous post, inspired by Natalie Chanin, an Alabama clothing designer.

The figure, in grayscale tones when tried in various modes, applied as a top layer over the blue background resulted in a primarily grayscale image in many modes, with a few areas where the colors from underneath came through the figure. (luminosity mode)

The solution for this piece was to print the figure out in gray tones and then to paint areas which were in the color palette of the blues in the abstraction. Acrylic paint was used in thinned watercolor technique. Once dry, the whole composition – background and figure could be collaged to the Masonite panel with acrylic medium. Some compositional changes were made to the background before it was complete.

The figure was thus subdued to blend with the motifs of the underlying composition.This is much different than the figure used over the bold black and white patterns of the previous illustration. Both have merits, and the artist must choose the effect wanted.

The Masonite panel was prepared with a coat of water-based Kilz on both sides, and a second coat of gesso to the smooth surface side. Usually papers are collaged to the smooth side. The paper used was Epson matte Professional paper in a medium weight. Epson inks are colorfast, but some mediums and varnishes will dissolve and deepen the colors when applied to the surface. Test the products used together to be sure how they will work.

Small areas of the design elements were briefly soaked in water and the medium was applied to the panel, carefully placing the paper on the surface. One or two coats of matte medium were applied to the finished surface of the collage.

Note to my Readers:
I have been elected as secretary of the board of my church, and have less discretionary time than I had prior to taking on that duty. I still try to produce art, to write and create or manage other projects, including yard maintenance, but I will not be able to attend my blog as often as before.

Writing and Art Images are the sole © Copyright of Ruth Zachary

Tuesday, July 20, 2010



I have been experimenting with creating abstract black and white drawings. For this I have been using the computer. Several related pieces of the series started with the same basic shapes, including lettering in some shapes, and rearranging them in different configurations.

Drawing has been done on the computer with various techniques. These include, erasing through a dark layer to a white layer beneath, or through a light layer to a dark layer beneath, directly with the paint or pencil tool in black or white on a contrasting shape, or cloning from another area of established texture to put bits of it somewhere else. Some shapes were cut out, copied and rotated to complete the design. Lines and directions were accented to make the composition dynamic and balanced. Cutting a shape creates an additional different set of shapes. Often I use the “invert” command under image, to create dark where there was light, and vice versa. This too creates different shapes.

I was inspired by a fashion design I saw in Vogue, recently, and wanted to capture the rich textures of the different fabrics, using ink and pencil.  I used my own model for the face. I changed the fashion design slightly from the one created by Natalie Chanin, from Alabama, in my drawing. I included her name as a tribute to this woman’s work, because she is both an innovative artist and a person who values recycling.

 Notice how she collages different patterns and textures into one design, and then sculpts the figure with the volume and depth of fabrics and cording in the clothing and headdress. As an artist who works in collage, and has also worked in fabric collage, how could I be anything but inspired by her designs?

The drawing was rather light or high keyed in value next to the stark darks and lights of the background behind the figure. I increased the contrast of the drawing so it didn’t get lost, but left it in a grayscale to contrast with the background. The background creates the impression of a patchwork quilt. I think the blacks, whites and grayscale tones are very effective. You almost get a sense of color where there isn’t any.

Writing and Art work by Ruth Zachary © Rights reserved.

Monday, July 12, 2010




Playing with Letters, unfinished study 

for black and white abstraction © by Ruth Zachary. 

The Shape Shifting Approach to Composition

Moving varied shapes around the picture plane is my first step in starting a composition.
When using color, the shapes are best when they are varied by hue, value, and size. I prefer organic, irregular shapes in uneven numbers. I prefer to work in related hues, or family colors on the color wheel. The values of the shapes might range from dark to light, unless they are to be placed against a background, which should contrast with the shapes.
Some of the same principles apply when arranging shapes in a realistic composition. A variety of blacks, grays and light tones are effective when limited to black and white, as I have been showing  in planning this series of illustrations.
In collage the first step is to put the shapes, either 3, 5, or 7 into a pleasing arrangement. When working on the computer, I create a set of irregular shapes, and try the same shapes in several different configurations. Diagonals are more dynamic, and often suggest depth.  The more rectangular the shapes are, the more the composition appears to be on one plane.
In black and white I do not use layers in different modes. I use layers one over the previous layer to arrange shapes. I began with the letters on the bottom or background layer, gathered from an assortment of sources to vary the texture from the first studies in the series. Over this I arranged the shapes in different relationships to each other. There will be several versions of this same beginning, with different textures, drawn lines, etc. 
One way to change relationships within the picture plane is to divide it into thirds and reposition . This often changes the number of shapes as well as the relationships, offering surprises and challenges.
The last step is usually to move some of the shapes within the picture plane to a new position, to rotate them, extend some of the lines to carry the eye, repeat some shapes or accent colors, and to balance the dark areas, by deepening or lightening the values, moving them, (or changing the hue when working in color.) To compare this process to working in color, see my post on

I like the connotation of Shape Shifting as a title, because it is a metaphor for adjustment within the self, the way an artist tries to put various design elements into good relationship with each other in a composition.
Writing and Images on this blogsite are the sole © Copyright of Ruth Zachary.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Grandmother Time, drawing in pen and ink and on the computer about 7x8”  by Ruth Zachary

Last week I planned to try more experiments to draw into abstract background compositions, and hopefully to produce a combination of abstract design and realistic imagery, so that they could serve as illustrations for poetry chapbooks.

My reason for wanting to do them in color was that even though black and white is more economical to publish, having a larger colored version would allow the work to serve double duty. A second black and white illustration of each piece would meet the second goal at the same time.

My color layering experiments did not work for two reasons. Black or white do not work in the layering process very well. Also realistic imagery does not work well either. The boundaries of realistic shapes would have to dominate but be compatible with the underlying layers.

I have since decided to work in a new way. I am making black and white background drawings, designed in a similar way as my approach with designing colored compositions.  The drawings are sometimes done using technical pens on white paper, and sometimes I also create a composition directly on the computer. I expect the optimum size of images will range from 9x12” down to 4x6”. In some cases I will use parts of drawings done in the past for card designs. I expect they will do double duty again as new designs for note cards.

I use three or four major tools for drawing in black and white on the computer. First I establish shapes, geometric or organic in solid black and whites with select tools. Next I place a layer under the first design attempt, and fill it with solid black. Using the eraser tool in a very fine size, I begin to draw by shading and scribbling with the eraser on the white areas of the design to create black textures. Sometimes I use a large uneven brush. This creates contrast and variety.

To reverse the look, I try using the pencil or paintbrush on the black shapes with white to create more textures. It is best not to have wet edges, as this will not create totally black and white sharp edges, best for reproduction. Also a sharp edged point on the pencil will have a jagged rather than natural look.

Another great tool is to select areas of the composition and go up to Image> adjust> and then go t o invert. This will reverse black to white, and white to black. It is easy to make a very complex drawing in a couple of hours using just these tools.

My plan now is to draw figures, people, faces, landscape elements and animals to be scanned into my computer, and cut them out, and place them carefully over the background I have made, and to continue to draw into the background to reconcile the appearance of the subject with that of the background. This process is much more simple than layering. The modes are not used. The top layer is merged with the background.

To have consistent drawing textures and qualities to tie the series together, I will take parts of the backgrounds previously created and include bits of them into new drawings.

Writing and Images are the© Copyright of Ruth Zachary.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Time Goes Flying By and I Am Running Out of Time.

Well, another week has gone by and I still have not made my concept work the way I envisioned. Above are two more attempts.

The first is a set of note cards first executed in black ink on white. Since I have already learned black and white do not work in layering experiments, I colored the blacks using the gradient tool. This offers a set of variations of gradients, of which I picked a rainbow colored option, applied diagonally to the images. These still retained the whites but darks were colored at 70%, in color mode and transparency also selected.

The second version shows the image with two layers of abstractions lain over it. The top layer was a magenta composition used in the “overlay” mode, and the second layer was a blue composition used in the “lighten” mode. As you can see, white does not allow the other colors to be seen. Affected colors are seen in the dark areas. This is closer to my original concept, but not satisfactory. Never the less, there are things to be learned from experiments which don’t work, and I do like the color better than pure black and white, where it did work. I like # 2, 4 and 5 the best.

My next approach may be to draw the illustrations using hand made methods without consideration of the abstract designs. I might try copies of layers over copies of these drawings, and experiment with erasing the portions of the overlays that don’t work. At least nothing is lost in these experiments!

Writing and Imagery is the Copyright of Ruth Zachary