These days we all have hundreds of pictures hidden in plain sight in our smart phones. Despite the ease with which we can take and store these photos, we are actually less likely to interact with them than in the past. This was one of the reasons I developed my in-person workshops Photo Op and Cutting Room Floor, as well as my ArtistsNetworkTV video, Photo Play. These all focus on using mixed-media altered photo techniques to bring our hidden photos to life.
The process is an easy one, and I’ll share one of several approaches you can take.
Choose a photo and either print it out on your home computer, or have it professionally developed on glossy photo paper. Both color and black and white photos work well. I chose to alter this particular landscape photo, as it has several distinct sections that can be transformed, each in different ways.
Tip: You can use altered photo techniques with vintage black and white photos, ending up with great images that have the look of a colorized photo.
Hand-altering photographs is a multi-step process involving a combination of both subtractive and additive techniques.
Using a spray mister, lightly spray the surface of the photo with water. You can also skip this step for a different look. Take a piece of sandpaper and rub off the surface emulsion of whichever portion you want to begin with. Start rubbing lightly and work your way to a using heavier hand, until you are happy with the outcome. Be sure to wipe away the bits that you have removed from the surface.
Tip: Experimenting with different grits of sandpaper will allow you to achieve different effects.
Once you have subtracted a section of the photo, many products can be added to the surface. One of my favorite ways to add color is to apply dye ink from an ink pad using a craft sponge. Use the spray mister to lightly wet the surface of the photo, and then begin to rub one color of ink into the sanded section. The water allows the dye ink to blend more easily. I started with green.
Tip: Sometimes a subtle effect is better, and this can easily be achieved by blotting the inked surface with a cloth.
Continue adding and blending additional colors of dye ink in the same area until you get the desired effect.
Tip: Building colors from light to dark will give you more color mixing options.
Many other subtractive and additive techniques can be used in this process, several of which are illustrated in Photo Play. In my altered photo above, for example, I used an awl to scratch a line on the left side of the photo, where the sky meets the sea, as a way to add depth. I also softly splattered watered-down gesso on the sea portion of the photo. I did this, rather than scratching out the surface, as a way to add more interest, but also to maintain the rich color from the original photo.
These altering techniques are quite simple, and most use art supplies that you likely already have. So pick and print some pics, and get ready for your photo op.
Seth Apter is a mixed-media artist, instructor, author, and designer from New York City. He is the voice behind The Pulse, a series of collaborative projects. Seth is the author of The Mixed-Media Artist and The Pulse of Mixed Media, both with North Light Books, as well as a series of mixed-media videos with ArtistsNetworkTV. Find all of Seth’s resources in the North Light Shop.