Statue to Painting

A few people have asked about my faux wet plate collodion photos, so I’ve included more info about them below (please feel free to skip my rambling). Either way, the above is ‘Statue to Painting’ by Louis Saint-Gaudens (it flanks the St. Louis Art Museum’s main entrance along with Daniel Chester French’s ‘Statue to Sculpture’). Both were done in plaster for the 1904 World’s Fair and later reproduced in marble. Have a great weekend, everyone!

About this image: digital photograph heavily modified to replicate wet plate collodion (see below)

Nothing holds a candle to real wet plate collodion, but until I can bankroll the set-up and find a place to store chemistry I have to ‘fake it’.

In-camera tips: In my opinion, you’ve got two choices… replicate ‘period’, or create an obviously contemporary image. Anything in between feels suspect to me (like someone tried to go old and missed). If you want to replicate a period image be sure to remove any/all modern elements from your shot. For interior portraiture, try using a tripod, natural lighting, shallow depth of field and a long exposure. Period lenses required long exposure times, so I think some blur from accidental sitter movement adds to the feel.

The plate: I use clear acrylic sheets (like those used for framing/glazing). They’re relatively cheap, and thin ones are easy to cut/break, too. I get mine from Blick Art Materials.

The ‘collodin’: I use a water-based polyurethane (from a home store – you could experiment with a fairly fluid gel medium, glue, etc., too). Basically all I do is ‘flow’ polyurethane over an acrylic sheet, and then dry it. That simple. How it dries creates various effects. Letting the whole thing dry slowly/completely produces a fairly smooth, translucent ‘pool’. Allowing the edges to dry and then rinsing off the center produces a perimeter ‘ridge’ and flow-like streaks (the longer the plate dries the further that edge creeps in). Using a hot hairdryer creates wrinkles. Other tips include pressing a finger into the polyurethane while tacky to create a fingerprint, and/or scoring/breaking off a corner. I then throw the plate on a flatbed scanner (using a black backdrop) and pull it into Photoshop where I ‘layer’ it with a photograph using various blending modes, curves/levels/contrast adjustments, etc. If you find there are too many ‘artifacts’ in your plate or a few distract from your photo you can airbrush those out/back.

Editing tips: Find a good example of a real collodion image for a guide to curves/levels/contrast/tint adjustments, etc. Mask off the edges of your photo along the polyurethane ‘edge/ridge/perimeter’. Also, some early lenses had an interesting swirly bokeh (when shot wide open), which can be replicated (kind of) with a Radial Blur (masked/faded off from the center outward). And the original images are/were mirrored, so don’t forget to ‘flip’ your photo (especially if it includes text, etc.).

As always, if anyone has specific questions, I’m happy to help if I can!


84 thoughts on “Statue to Painting

  1. Wow, brilliant work! I’m gonna try this try this method out to. Thank you for the lesson. You have a great weekend too. πŸ™‚

    • Glad to hear you liked this one, N.M… thank you!
      Hahaha… I’m pretty sure it was the ‘explainer’ that caused the headache…
      (I sure wish I had your way with words!)

    • Thank you so much, S.E.!
      I guess it was one of those ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ moments…
      I really, really love this process, and since I don’t have the opportunity to work with it right now it seemed a little experimentation / fakery was in order…

      • Yeah, I mean, it may be too obvious to mention, but this is my favourite part about your work. The final result always impresses me, but you make it look effortless enough that I never have any idea what went into it, so seeing your methods is always shocking. I guess if I was observant, I’d realize there’s some crazy shit going on here, but I’m so visceral about art that it’s either “pretty picture!!!” or “meh” with me.

        This is pretty, for the record.

        • Never a dull moment, U.M…
          you should see it… there’s always crazy s**t going on around here! Seriously though, it’s all part of the fun (when it works)! I never mind spending a ridiculous amount of time working on a project or experimenting with a process in general. When I wind up with nothing to show for it, though… that’s a real kick in the pants. Happens a lot more than I’d care to admit.

  2. Well done ! Thanks for the information. Some of my plastic textures came about through something similar. My wife paints on wood slabs. They have been cut so that they have an oval shape with the bark still intact on the edges. After the painting she covers them in a coating mix similar to what you’ve described. I scanned the left over drippings for the texture layer.

  3. Within the photographer and artist lies a writer/teacher. This is all kinds of good – the creation/photo/picture and the description/instruction. Me? I’m good at using back-slashes / forward-slashes \.

  4. I admire your skills to manipulate a photo…I know I can’t begin to do that. I haven’t even mastered photoshop yet…hmmmm, must be an age issue…lol πŸ™‚

    • Hahaha… not at all, Mary! It just takes some time to learn where the more common stuff is at. I think it’s the fact there is so much to Photoshop that scares some people off, but if you give it a chance you’ll learn the tools that typically work best for you. I only know/use enough to be mildly dangerous, but it is a lot of fun.

  5. From this very well detailed posting I can see that you are not only a wickedly fine artist, but an excellently fine teacher also, Indeed even I could try this technique with your wickedly stylish guide…

    Of course my offering would be a cross between a Tramps Breakfast and a Zombies Spattered ‘T’ Shirt, or vice versa 😦 lol Thank you for adding such a well presented post with a Genius twist πŸ™‚


    • That is terribly kind of you, sir!
      I wouldn’t mind being a teacher, but as you can see I really trip over my words… not a very pretty sight!
      Hahaha… sounds like a very creative idea to me, A.G. – which is half the battle! I’d love to see what you would come up with!

    • Hahaha…
      Sorry, G.G…
      I could sure use your literary skills!
      (So, was I supposed to edit the photo of you on the left-side of the ‘scenic pull-out’ or the one of you on the right of it?

  6. I really like the image, and I really like the explanation! That was very interesting. I imagine you could get some interesting effects by using solvent-based polyurethane or cleaners that would attack the plastic and etch it in different ways.

  7. It’s all a bit technical to me. I’ll just leave it all up to you & enjoy your end results.
    P.S. Any chance of throwing in the occasional Spilled Ink cartoon amongst the photos. You know I love them.

  8. Very informative Bob – I’ve always viewed your work as that of an artist who uses photographic media. thanks for an insight into one of your methods πŸ™‚

  9. Those are great tips! Thanks for sharing. It’s really interesting to read about your process. How long does it take you to complete one image?

    • It really depends the image…
      how long I let the plate dry, and how long I actually edit the photograph (both can vary quite a bit). I guess maybe an hour and up… maybe? Sorry I don’t have a better answer (I tend to completely lose track of time when I’m working on these things)!

  10. Beautiful artistry, SIG.
    I’m always eager to see the creative new art work you share. This method is really brilliant.
    I’ve got the simpliest equipment but I think I might try to do the mess around with this πŸ™‚

    • Thank you so much, S.F.!
      If it sounds interesting to you, I think you should definitely give it a try! I don’t really have the most elaborate equipment, either (that’s why I started doing this), but it’s a lot of fun, and it will usually provide some unusual / interesting results, too! πŸ™‚

  11. This looks like it would make the best shadow box subject, especially with different edging for each layer… I love collodions. I really like the smudges on this one.

  12. Love your work .
    But what i like more, is knowing how the magic works.
    Thank you so much for the written tutorial.

    I have so many question on your how-to’s LOL.

    Ever think of doing a PS like tutorial on here?!

    You stated:
    ” Find a good example of a real collodion image for a guide to curves/levels/contrast/tint adjustments, etc”

    What do you mean by that? Do you mean, scan the photo and do a histogram or curves chart to see how it is on that particular photo and replicate it?

    .What software are you using?

    Once again, fantastic job


    • Thank you so very much for the kind words! I sincerely appreciate that!!!
      I have considered doing a PS tutorial before… but I’m not sure if this would be the place I’d post it or not (I pretty much exclusively feature finished images here… still a very good idea, though… I might try it at some point)!
      Oh, no… I’m sorry… I didn’t mean anything as complicated as that. I just meant that sometimes finding examples help me make decisions about contrast / range of lights vs. darks /tonality etc. Unfortunately I don’t have a general histogram trick (although I suspect that would be difficult to do as many images start off with such a unique histogram).
      For these images I’ve used Photoshop (CS3)… I’m pretty sure you could get by with an older version, and newer versions would definitely do the trick!
      Thank you again, Delta! Very much!

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