THE TIES THAT BIND
I've always been a “wanna-be-artist”. In my minds eye are beautiful paintings of mountain villages and country people hard at the days task, but my imagination and ability don't seem to connect. My great grandfather, Gustav Bebensee was trained in Germany to be a mural painter and my grandfather, also named Gustav was likewise. A talent I have found through my genealogy research has been gifted to many of my family members.
After my grandpa Bebensee emigrated to the United States he settled in Nebraska and became a farmer, raised six children and lived a wonderful life with my grandma. He drew pencil drawings, a few oil paintings and sometimes he painted with left over house paint. His paintings were done for the joy of it and most were given as gifts to friends and relatives. Only a few remain in our family and of course are highly valued by all members.
Over the years I've done a variety of crafty type projects always loving to create something, but never getting over my “wanna-be-artist” feelings. My Mom always says “you know, where there's a will - there's a way” something I always have to remind myself of when I feel overwhelmed by things I want to accomplish. In the late 1980's she and I decided to fulfill the “wanna-be” in both of us and took up tole painting sometimes referred to as folk painting. Using a pattern that you transfer to an object you paint similar to coloring, but with a brush. The trick to making it actually look like more than blobs of paint is in the shading – and can be a challenge unto itself. With practice, patience and that never give up attitude, you can actually create something that is very nice. I soon discovered that by combining patterns that I could create my own designs and painted my own version of a wall mural in one of my rooms. I can hear my grandpa say “auchter de lieber – was ist das?” (oh dear, what is this?).
From early on in my life I loved making little booklets. I'd spend hours searching through magazines or old photographs of scenery and then taped them to a piece of construction paper. Writing little poems or special thoughts below them. Oh what I would give if computers had been invented 30 years ago. When I became involved in researching my family history a new passion arose and I became addicted to the “hunt.” That is when realized I could combine all of my talents into writing family history books and restoring photographs.
In 2006 I wrote my first self published book using, of all things, Borderbund's Print Shop 16. It was a learning experience for sure. Adapting a card making program to write a book – what was I thinking? I did it though, and now 50 people in my family, along with the Franklin Museum in Franklin, Nebraska, and the Adams County Genealogical Society in Hasting, Nebraska all have copies. I wanted to make sure that the sacrifice and the life of my Uncle be remembered. He was shot down in his P38 Lightening fighter plane over New Guinea on November 2, 1943. He was listed as missing in action until 1989 when an unexpected phone call from the Army came announcing that his plane had been found by a plantation surveyor. F/O Willis F. Evers was finally returned home some 47 years after his death. So with old photographs and 40 hand written letters from him I began my search for information. It was an exciting adventure for me and one that inspired me to do more of the same. However, going forward I was determined to find a better way to accomplish this work.
I always find it amazing how the little things that happen in a persons life culminate into something else. In March of last year I had asked a neighbor to take a few photo's of my family, which she gladly did. What I didn't expect was that she would spend time doctoring the photo's so that we all looked our best. Whenever you get a large group of people there's bound to be someone with closed eyes or just not smiling. I was so enthralled by the process that I just had to learn how to do that. So when I was asked what I wanted for my upcoming birthday I knew exactly what I wanted – Adobe Photoshop Elements 6&7.
With the click of my mouse the world was at my fingertips. I sought out good writing programs along with photo software and began my next project with a quality self publishing company. My project began as a little 30 page book with a photograph collection of my ancestors that my mother had. I felt a great way to share these photographs with other family members would be to do a digital book of the pictures along with that individuals genealogy information. The book grew along with my curiosity of who these people were. So back to my research through the world wide web. I was lucky and found other distant cousins who were researching family also. In the process I not only learned about my family and obtained more photographs but found that the values of my ancestors have been passed on through all these families.
Many of these photographs were damaged, faded or just plain deteriorating. Father time was certainly taking his revenge on too many. So armed with my new program and my “artist-wanna-be” training I set out to restore over 200 photographs for my book. Some took a matter of a few hours and some much more. I worked on one photograph from 1874 for over 40 hours trying to restore faces that just weren't there.
As many of you, reading this article, I have never had any art school or special training. I just possess a desire to “wanna-be” an artist and decided to take on the challenge to teach myself to accomplish it. If you possess the same desire I suggest you buy a good photo program, there a many available in a variety of price ranges. I happened to choose Adobe because when researching it appeared to do what I wanted to accomplish. (When I win power-ball I plan to purchase the super-duper Adobe program that costs around $650.00.) I believe you can accomplish anything you desire with a little patients and a will to learn. With all software take time to go through the tutorials, learn what each of the tools do and practice, practice, practice. Don't let fear overtake you – that's what they made the “undo” and “delete” key for.
After reading on footnoteMaven's blog site her description of the girl in glasses I just couldn't help but want to restore and colorize this beautiful photograph to match the visual that I had been given. Fortunately the photograph was in amazing condition and required very little restoration before I began the coloring process. The description read as follows:
Judging by the oval shaped ring around the girl it appears this photograph was kept in a frame for many years. One thing I've learned about restoring and colorizing photographs is it is like a painting, always start the repair with what is furthest behind. Just like in a painting, you would not start with the subject and then later try to add the background. So I began a process called cloning to remove the ring. Where the ring appears on the dress, I chose to bring the clone to the area closest to the area needing repair. You will also notice that the background of the photograph appears to have some deterioration – you can repair that several ways. One is what I call smearing the clone, (that is not a term you will find in the instructions of the program) I choose an area of the photograph that has the least amount of damage and then clone it to the area that is damaged and continue the process until I feel the damage is repaired.
"Her beautiful blouse sports the mutton sleeves that were the fashion around 1894. She has a locket pin attached to a velvet color with a lace dickey and diamond stud earrings. I wish I knew the color of this unique outfit. I'd like to think it was pale lavender with a dark blue velvet collar."
Once I've completed repairing the photograph I usually crop off the photographers markings. You may choose to leave it as part of the record or not that is individual choice. Since I am recreating the photograph I normally choose to crop it.
I've created my own personal color chart that I refer to when colorizing the photograph. It took me hours to find a combination to create flesh tones that were not too pink or too peach. With the antique photographs, once I've completed the restoration process I use the sepia conversion which is under “Effects” in the program. Although many of the photographs already appear to be in a sepia tone I still convert them because my color chart is designed to coordinate with those properties.
Now that the photograph is fully prepared to accept the process of digitally painting I again begin in layers working from what is underneath to what is on top. I normally begin with the face, the eyes and hair. Moving down to the dress, lace and jewelry. Just like in school - “stay in the lines” or you won't be happy with your results, especially if you plan to print a large 8x10 photograph. The best way to do this is to zoom in on the area you are colorizing.
I rarely color the background if it is plain and contains nothing of interest I find that the sepia tone usually will make the subject of the picture pop. The next step that will add dimension to your photograph is shading. This sounds difficult but really is the easiest step of all – just don't get carried away. Adobe provides a tool called a “burn tool”. You can set this tool for shadows, highlights or midtones. Areas where there are folds in the dress I will usually “burn” with a shadow burn – it provides depth to your photograph and makes for an outstanding affect. I also shadow burn around the eye's to add depth and in the hair which brings out the highlights so that the hair does not appear as just one color.
Just like the old home movies with no sound they are not always that interesting to the new generation – but add a little sound and they come to life. So it is with the old photographs when you add a little color the girl with the glasses comes to life. And can bring a great deal of satisfaction to the “artist-wanna-be” in all of us. Then take it a step further and create a family history book with your work's of art, add her story and ta-da you've made this person real and not just a name, and statistical data. If you're not up to the challenge yourself there are many who are that can assist you in creating a book about the life and times of your ancestors.
Copyright © 2009