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The Art of Hand Coloring
By Margaret Brezden

Brief History of Hand-Coloring

Handcolored Photo HATCREEK HOMESTEAD by Margaret Brezden Prior to the invention of color film by George Eastman in the 1930ís, photographers added color to their black and white prints by selectively hand-coloring the images they produced. In the late thirties and throughout the forties, when color film became available to the public, hand-coloring became more of an art form. Collectors of fine art avoided color prints because the images were not permanent.

With the development of color film, the art of hand-coloring was out of vogue for a couple of decades, being used only occasionally in fashion shots during the sixties and seventies. For years, the glossy color image was a sign of quality, but the unique ability to impart an old-fashioned feel to many subjects could only be achieved by hand-coloring the print.

Hand-coloring is an art form that has been accepted around the world for many years by advertisers and has, more recently, been used in the film and music industries. Hand-coloring has evolved from an accessory to photography to becoming an art form in itself; the hand-colored photograph is now accepted by fine art collectors around the world.

Photo-Art Paper for Hand Coloring Hand-Coloring Supplies

The Print:

Fiber Base Matte Paper is the best choice when hand-coloring prints because it is of archival quality and it allows the oils to penetrate the emulsion and become part of the print. For best results underexpose your print by 10 to 15%.

If you use Resin Coated Paper it is best to use dyes because oils will wipe right off the print unless you use a Pre-Color spray or purchase a special resin coated paper called Kodak Pmax Art RC paper (this product has been discontinued but may be still available for purchase). I have tested this paper and it works well with oils and because it is a warm toned paper it is a good choice when doing portraits.

Color Mediums:

Marshalls Transparent Photo Oils Used for Hand Coloring Marshallís Transparent Photo Oils sells complete hand-coloring sets that include:
  - Oils (sets come in many different sizes)
  - Extender (which lightens the hue of the oil used),
  - Marlene Solution (cleaner to remove unwanted oil from the print)
  - PMS Solution (which thins out the oils for a lighter application)

Winsor & Newton Oils Used for Hand Coloring Winsor & Newton Oils I purchased a 10 tube set of these oils about 15 years ago and have only had to replace the tubes of black and white. Sometimes I use Liquin, a quick drying medium that improves the flow of the oils but have found that with the methods I use I rarely need it or any other product.

Photo Dyes are another medium that is often used on RC papers but are more difficult to use.

Hand Coloring assorted supplies Other Supplies Needed:
-  Cotton Q-tips
-  Toothpicks
-  100% Cotton to apply the oil to large areas and to wrap the tips of the Toothpicks for more detailed applications.
-  Plastic Palette to mix the oils.
-  Colored Artist Pencils to touch fine details after the oils on the print are dry.
Hand-Coloring Techniques

Hand-coloring is not difficult, but before you make the print ask yourself what you want your finished image to convey to the viewer. A high-contrast print with vibrant colors will produce a snappy image, while a low-contrast one with muted colors will have a subtle, nostalgic feel. When working with contrast, remember that it is the blacks and grays in your print that will produce the different shades of each color. Expose the print 10 to 15% less than you would for a normally exposed black and white print, but be careful not to underexpose too much or you will lose detail in the highlights. If necessary, burn in these areas.

Printing your Negative Print your image on fiber-based paper with a matte finish. Although some hand-colorists prefer resin-coated papers, there is still some question about their archival permanence; for this reason most purists stick to fiber-based papers. The brand you use is your own choice, but for portraits I recommend a warm-toned paper.

Before applying color to your print you must decide where to start. If you plan to color the entire print, color the background first and work toward the foreground. This works well for most scenics, but if your main subject fills the center of the photograph, works from the center out.

The most popular color medium for hand-coloring fiber based papers is photo oils (Marshallís) or transparent artist oils (Winsor & Newton). The oil is applied by rubbing it evenly into the print with cotton swabs or toothpicks wrapped with pure cotton (always use pure cotton products; synthetic cosmetic balls and Q-tips do not work well at all). Hold the print at an angle to the light and if you can see areas that glisten you have excess oil on the print that must be removed. Use a small brush and thinned oils for very fine details or let the print dry completely (for 3 days) and do the fine touch-ups with artist pencils.

Marshalls SUPER MERLENE As you apply the oils, donít be too concerned about overlapping the color you are working with into another area. This overlapped color can be removed by rubbing the area lightly with white or with the color needed in that area. The overlapped color will simply disappear, overcoming your concern and frustration. Marshallís also makes a product called Marlene, which you can use to remove unwanted oils from the print. Regardless of what method you use, be sure to clean up these overlapped areas before the oil begins to dry.

If you prefer to work with resin-coated papers I would advise you to use photographic dyes. With Dyes you have to build up the color. Dilute the dye with water so it is much lighter than what you want the finished print to be. Apply numerous coats wiping off the excess with a sponge after each application. Do this until you have attained the depth of color you want. If you donít do it this way the dye will block up and you will end up with a blotchy looking print.

Although it is possible to apply oils to these papers, they tend to stay on top of the paper as an additional layer. If you want the ease of use of an RC paper may I suggest you use Kodak P-Max Art RC paper which is specifically made for hand-coloring and works very well with oils.

Whatever method you choose to use, you will find that hand-coloring is a rewarding and relaxing experience that may take time and practice to perfect, but that will be one of the most creative tools you have to complement your photography.

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