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A meaning made of trees

eclipse, oil on linen, 12″ x 18″

One of the first shows I visited when I was in New York City last week was a meaning made of trees, a collection of new work form Ron Milewicz. It’s outstanding. Milewicz continues to explore the pictorial possibilities of his new location in the Hudson Valley. I had an illuminating conversation with him about the work.

1. The little catalog available at the show, first of all, how was it done? I’ve tried that for solo shows in the past and have not been happy with the results, but your images were accurate and well printed. Who did these for you? Second, the catalog was from your previous show? If so, there’s a real consistency in quality and approach between those paintings and the ones on view now. You have found a groove and are working it, and you have clearly defined personal “rules” you follow in these Arcadian views. Did this style come to you all at once, full blown, or in stages? 

The catalogue is from my Axis Mundi show in 2020. It was printed by an online company called Uprinting. I had the paintings photographed professionally. I designed the catalog myself on my Mac using Pages, and then a graphic designer familiar with Uprinting design programs made the layout that was sent to the printer.

That was two shows ago—I had another show since at Pamela Salisbury Gallery in Hudson, New York, in 2021.

I do not have “rules” but I do have a consistent approach to the landscapes that has developed over the past several years. For a period of about two years, I was only making on site graphite drawings. These tonal works are very much a direct response to the experience of the landscape I am working from—its atmosphere, light, spaces, and forms as well as its stillness and calm. The drawings were a very intuitive reaction to the environment, and they came relatively quickly. I then started to make oil paintings in the studio from the drawings. It took a longer time to understand how the drawings might be reinterpreted as paintings, in terms of materials, touch, color and scale.

2. Your career is interesting: you’ve gone from excellent urban landscapes to these visionary woodland scenes, both periods just as well done, but with a completely different sense of purpose, at least for the viewer. The urban landscapes fit within a much broader practice for contemporary artists; many more people are working in that vein these days. What you are doing with the trees reminds me of Burchfield and Nick Blosser, a Tennessee artist who has almost disappeared from view on the Web. Do you see these as two distinct phases or is there a continuity between the city and the country work for you? 

They are two phases as they are derived from distinct locales and from the very different circumstances of my life outside of the studio, which inevitably changed my priorities in the studio. There is continuity in the sense that I am painting the world around me in both instances, although the conditions of those worlds are very different from each other. There’s also consistency in my concern for light, stillness and formal rigor.

3. I think of Burchfield in particular: the disjunction between his dark, almost monochrome American Scene pictures and the nearly psychedelic visions of his last period where he seemed to be attempting to convey the totality of nature in each painting. The divide between those two periods was radical, more radical than the shift in your work, but there’s no way for me to see how you get from the urban landscapes to the woodland visions, step by step. The move to Hudson Valley obviously triggered something, but the question is: what internally changed in how you see and paint as a result of this move? Did you grow up immersed in nature and then left it behind for years working in New York? 

I have lived in New York City my entire life. The move to the Hudson Valley was motivated by a yearning for silence, both an external silence and a corresponding internal silence. In that sense there already was a change happening before I moved upstate that anticipated the transformation of my work by my new surroundings. It was a transformation I actively sought even though I did not know the exact character the transformation would take. Immersing myself in nature fulfilled my desire for solitude, and I think it was this fulfillment, along with the influence of a new physical environment itself, of course, that changed the work.

4. My favorites are Eclipse, Pink Pond, Afternoon, At the Edge of the Woods, and Snow Squall, but all of the paintings are impressive. Eclipse is superb. That little black dot just where it belongs. You are obviously focused on trying to convey the nature of trees, but trees in these paintings offer a framework, a skeleton for the entire image which seems to me just as much about how light inhabits space, how it seems to use objects to reveal itself as much as it discloses visible objects. The way you capture a certain quality of light is masterful. Does that come easily or take time? How much are you focused on conveying ambient light in each painting? (One surprise in the Walton Ford show at Gagosian was how much he is concerned with light and the way it colors the animals he’s painting: it’s partly what makes his best work so striking. Everything in the image reveals the light source.)

Light is very much a primary concern in these paintings. I would say that the light comes more easily in the drawings than in the paintings, both because I am in nature when I draw and because of the complications introduced by color into the paintings. The light I am after is a light that simultaneously belongs to this world and doesn’t. The dialogue between the trees and other forms depicted in the image and the light is critical, as I see the material and the immaterial as interdependent.

 5. I’m especially interested in your handling of paint. It’s almost as if you are rubbing the paint on in thin layers, always keeping the tooth of the canvas visible in the marks. The paint looks dry, almost like charcoal or pastel. The edges are never clearly distinct and sometimes are impossible to locate up close. How do you work toward a final image? Are you constantly moving back to look at the image from a distance to see if it comes together and the forms are clearly visible despite the way you eschew tight detail? 

I build the images very slowly with thin layers of paint. I apply the paint without adding any medium so it does almost become as if dry pigment has been rubbed into the surface. I want the light to come up from the white of the ground and for color to be the consequence of the optical mixing of these layers—a kind of dry glazing. I would like for there to be a mutability of color so it seems to change as you look, making it almost impossible to say what single color you are seeing or where one color ends and another begins. I would like to reduce the presence of the mark so it might feel as if the paintings had painted themselves. I am concerned with the big rhythmic movements of mass and light and want detail to find an essential place in the development of these rhythms. I do look at the painting from varying distances as I work and enjoy the abstraction up close and its cohesion into form and space from further back. I am not as worried about the forms being clearly visible as much as them being too visible and not holding their proper place.

6. With quotes from Northrup Frye and Max Picard in the catalog, you are clearly concerned with more than descriptive realism. Was this quasi-spiritual approach to the natural world, the visible world, implicit somehow in the work you did before the tree paintings? Am I correct that you are trying to convey what isn’t visible, a kind of numinous life inherent in the natural world, Emersonian or Buddhist, for that matter, that becomes obscured by the daily grind of individual survival? Thoreau would have spent time appreciating your paintings, I think: is it your intent to awaken that kind of “transcendentalist” appreciation in the viewer? Burchfield had that same quality: the sense that you both try to convey the inner life of the natural world where it connects with something timeless and more mysterious than familiar natural phenomena.

Mere descriptive realism is one of my greatest fears in life. Unless you have that magnificent and rare ability to go through the visible world and past it, such as in a still life by Juan Sanchez Cotan, an overly wrought painting can easily become deadening.  

In all my work I have tried to convey, though not in any self-conscious way, what is invisible in the world through what is visible. Perhaps that possibility is more easily identified in nature. It is hard to spend a sustained time in the natural world without having the sense that there is more present than what we can only see.  Without becoming didactic, I do hope that a viewer of my paintings has an awareness at some level of the unseen forces at work in nature, either as respite or as menace, or as both simultaneously. I can see that there might be connections here to certain aspects of Buddhist or Transcendentalist thought and I am gratified that they struck you as such.

7. My apologies for such long questions. What is your life like in the Hudson Valley? Are you part of a community of artists or do you work mostly on your own? It’s been a trend for a number of years now: artists moving away from the economics of New York City toward a location both affordable and more beautiful. 

My life upstate is mostly solitary which I feel is necessary for the work. Though I pretty much work on my own, there is a strong community of artists in the area with whom I do have regular contact.

8. How long do you typically work on a canvas? Do you work on only one at a time or alternate among several?

I typically work on a canvas on and off for months, sometimes for years, putting it aside at times until it becomes clear to me what needs to be done. I will occasionally work directly from an isolated weather event such as a snow storm, in which case the painting may be completed in one or two sessions. I work on several canvases at a time, but which “several” is constantly changing.

9. Are your sketches done in situ and then used as sources back in the studio? Do you ever take photographs to assist in the work?

The drawings are always completed on site. I do not think of them as sketches or as preparatory works even though they may consciously be intended to be the basis for future paintings. The paintings are typically made from the drawings. I do not use photographs, as the paintings rely on the memory of an actual experience of nature.

10. Many of the woodland paintings are dominated by one tone, sometimes two: rose, blue, gray, yellow, yellow and blue, orange, green. Does that take discipline or is it just intuitive? I’m constantly fighting the desire to use more color than I need to, and always finding that the more that color is withheld a bit, the easier it is to unify a more powerful image. The one or two dominant colors in your scenes offer the key to the mood and the “world” you convey. 

One, but not the only reason, that I paint from drawings rather than directly is to free myself both from literal color and from the ubiquity of green in the summer landscape of upstate New York. I am not much interested in discerning unending nuances of green in a plein-air painting. The color is restrained to privilege other pictorial issues and to achieve the sense of the calm that draws me to the landscape. This is more important to me than accurately documenting factual color. There is an intuitive response to the experienced color and mood of the landscape I am depicting. I hope an authenticity remains despite the liberties I take with perceived color in the interests of creating a coherent image. The further development of color relationships is one that moves forward both by disciplined analysis and by occasional intuitive decisions. This is one of the reasons it is sometimes important for me to put a painting aside for a while – to allow time for the necessary color to reveal itself.

11. Have you always worked on such a small scale? Have you tried much larger versions for this series and if so, what were the results? If not, do you think you may try larger scenes in the future? 

I have worked much larger at times in the past—some of the earlier cityscapes are as big as twelve feet across and some of my still lifes are six or seven feet in dimension. I have not tried much larger versions of the rural landscapes other than a recent horizontal painting that was six feet wide but only a foot high. The landscapes seem to be getting smaller rather than larger and I do not anticipate that they will get any larger in the foreseeable future. I like containing a limitless space in a very intimate and modestly sized rectangle.

12. Are you working on anything or thinking about anything beyond the trees? 

I have recently started working on some still lifes. I am curious to see where they will go or how they may ultimately come to influence the landscapes.

Ron’s show at Elizabeth Harris will be on view until May 28.

Oh, the Places We Go!

Ten springs ago, I walked the hills of Wales. I was in the middle of making a choice, and this little pedestrian path sign seemed like the perfect metaphor for choices. 

It also reminds me of these lines from the Dr. Seuss classic, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

You have brains in your head.

You have feet in your shoes.

You can steer yourself

any direction you choose. 

That day on the path, didn’t know that I’d make a really bad decision later that year. Nor that I’d make a really good one not long after.

Interestingly, all those Welsh paths eventually led back to the same trailhead. 


Interestingly, all of our choices—bad and good—lead us right where we need to be. Even if we feel lost in some landscapes and seasons.


I guess this post is a kind of blessing on our choices—a reminder of the great gift choice is.   


Happy trails, happy choosing,





Painting “Cappuccino For Two” At Emerald Art Center (May)

Greetings!  I am happy to say that my painting “Cappuccino for Two” was accepted into the Emerald Art Center‘s 16th Annual Emerald Spring Exhibition.  To elaborate, this is a national juried painting exhibition held in Springfield, Oregon.  And, I would like to extend my thanks to Juror Mr. Jim Daly for selecting my painting. Exhibition …

Painting “Cappuccino For Two” At Emerald Art Center (May) Read More »

The post Painting “Cappuccino For Two” At Emerald Art Center (May) appeared first on Margaret Stermer-Cox.

The humming air

It’s There in The Humming Air, Bill Santelli, acrylic on canvas

On a quick visit to Bill Santelli’s studio last week, I saw a recent painting that knocked me out. In my Instagram post about it, I touched on some of the things that really work and give it a sense of natural depth, as if I’m seeing an actual scene in nature, with a slightly altered mind, as it were. There’s a shape that reminds me of a sunflower and the tendrils of paint reminding me of sprouts—I called them fractal rivulets in the post. The presence of white space, and the shape it assumes throughout the image, has a very kinetic unity and tension. I love the relief of white space in any abstract—and the shape the total white space assumes, sort of rearing up in the center of the painting—the way it sets off highly saturated color and offers a respite, a bit of emptiness that plays off the intensity of what’s going on around it. It really works here. The diagonal lines, in sets of three, on a bias, rather than a balanced grid, also contribute to the sense of energy and movement and surprise.

Bill: It’s called It’s There In the Humming Air. I think I did talk to you about this. I was going to do this other painting, and it’s the first time I’ve painted over something. Underneath it was a painting of the bones of a church I took a picture of in Washington DC. It was like a Jehovah’s Witness or something, not a cathedral, a glow coming out of the windows as we drove by. It was a blurred shot I took as we drove by. The painting never got going. Then you and Bill and I were at Bill’s house and we were talking about painting over stuff and I said I had this painting and I was going to paint over it. There was an outline of the church, so that’s why there’s the slant.

That has a lot to do with it: the asymmetry of the three lines and three here, so that it brings your eye up to the upper right corner. And it has a lot of white in it. This has a lot of white compared to what you usually do.

B: That’s a good remark, that’s what I was feeling. I got over here and there wasn’t much of the underpainting of that church and there’s still an outline here of a window and I was thinking this needs something different and didn’t want to keep going with the red and the yellow, so I went with white.

 It looks so much like enamel, not acrylic. Like the Alkyd paintings of the color field painters.

B: Some of these acrylics are glossier when they dry. We’ve had this conversation ongoing, the whole idea of hard-edged painting, getting rid of the personal connotation in the title. I was saying last time we talked I’ve been thinking of this other series of hard-edged painting with no subject, just color.

Just improvisation. And that’s what I do with the taffy. I’m not trying to say anything. I’m just getting it to work formally and by the time I’m done, this is a field with the sun over it or it has some other resonance. I don’t start out trying to express anything definite.

B: It’s so interesting, I’ve been watching videos of Bryce Marden, one is an interview at the Tate Gallery and another is a lecture he gave in conjunction with the show. He’s articulate. He was talking about numbers and the importance of the numbers, and rules, and how he approaches painting. I’ve been marveling at the surface of his work. He said it’s a process of mixing turpineol, the oil paint and beeswax. The paintings never really dry. He goes back over the surfaces to level them off with palette knives or whatever.

The Heart That Took Flight

Happy Book Birthday!

I was rummaging around in my old blogs looking for something this morning when I made a happy discovery: my first little book, The Heart Takes Flight, just turned 10, almost to the day!

This illustrated vignette was a labor of love. In fact, it was born out of what I thought was lost love. I had met my now-husband the summer before, but it hadn’t worked out at the time. Heartbroken, I decided to finally write a book. About hearts, of course.

I had no idea how prophetic this little book would become. It was the first of six published books (and counting!). It traveled the world with me in subsequent workshops. And it’s a continual reminder that when we feel like we can’t go any further as we are, we are being invited to grow a whole new way to move through this world. 

Here’s to heart-flight. 



Blessing of Endurance

Deep in the umpteenth revision of my book, I feel like toddler-me knew exactly how I feel.

I’m saving my writing juice for the Big Project, so this month’s post is a little encouragement to press on & press through. And maybe remember the determination we had once upon our little selves!

Plus something lovely from John O’Donohue’s poem “For the Interim Time:”

The more faithfully you can endure here,

The more refined your heart will become….

Blessings of endurance,

Anna, now & then


Passive transformation

A screenshot from the online tour of Manifest’s Painted exhibition.

While the Painted exhibition was still running at Manifest Gallery, in Cincinnati, late last year, I participated in a Zoom conference with around a dozen artists whose work was chosen for Painted and the gallery’s other concurrent exhibitions. It was fun and humbling, because some of the other artists were conversationally eloquent about their work and art in general, while I felt bashful and halting by comparison. After more than a decade of writing about visual art, you would think I’d have been an open spigot of confident opinions, but that isn’t how it felt. Adam Mysock, Education and Studio Program Manager at Manifest, moderated the conversation. Of course, some of it was inevitably about what the artists were trying to achieve in their work. What they intended for their work to do for a viewer. How the work was the outcome of purposeful intent and had designs on a viewer’s perceptions, ideas, emotions, and so on. Later in the online conference, Mysock asked a question that got crickets from the participants: “So is it possible to imagine an entirely passive way of painting?” I thought at the time it was a question worthy of the sort of strenuous meditation a Zen adept brings to a koan and was especially pertinent to anyone who works with photo-realistic methods as I usually do. I couldn’t think quickly enough on my feet, partly because it’s subtle and complicated and a little paradoxical. The question has continued to haunt me and only recently have I realized I should have at least said that whole issue is central to what I’ve always sought to do in representational work.

Most people, including painters, think of style—the signature of the painter’s heart in every detail of the finished work—as the essence of the work’s originality and value. So the way in which an artist distorts, shapes, censors, simplifies, or translates what he or she sees into a unified image establishes the value of that particular painter’s work. This would appear to be an entirely active process: the outcome of complex, continuous choices as the picture is being painted. At some point, Fairfield Porter said something that probably wouldn’t be repeated by most painters now, but it’s a simple way to imagine what even photographically accurate painting actually does: to depict the world, just as it is, while making it a little more beautiful. It sounds like a recipe for the equivalent of sentimentality: trying to make the world more beautiful than nature did. But that isn’t what he meant. I think he was talking about how the process of transforming natural vision into a painted image mysteriously reveals the beauty that’s there but unrecognized in what a person looks at but doesn’t really see every day. How that transformation occurs is the essential mystery of the whole pursuit. Porter simplified what he saw, reducing a wealth of detail to one or two strokes of paint in some cases, made countless choices to eliminate aspects of what he saw and alter a color here or there, or everywhere, for that matter, to harmonize it with others on the canvas. He made active choices that had some conscious or subconscious end in mind, his goal or purpose, even if that purpose was merely to complete the work in a way that enabled every little part to be indispensable to the work’s visual unity. It would seem to be an intensely active, not passive, process.

But he was hoping that his work would do nothing more than capture “the light in the room” just as it was, the moment in time and place, even if much of what the light revealed to his observant eye gets lost in its resolution into paint. His painting of tennis players has that quality of being exactly how the court looked just as one of the players served the ball, the bright mid-day light intensifying the whites and flesh tones, deepening the darks of the shadows behind them, even though most detail was erased in the way he applied his paint. There’s no purpose here other than to convey the entire experience of that moment, and he succeeds in such a way that you can smell the air and feel the warmth of the sun on the backs of the players. In that sense, what he’s doing is utterly passive, honoring a simple, trivial moment in all its vitality and beauty and order. His paintings are an homage to this sort of mindfulness and humble appreciation of the mostly unregarded glory of ordinary life, from hour to hour—as were the paintings of Vermeer and Chardin and most of the Impressionists and the perceptual painters now. And most landscape painting in general. In other words, he worked as part of a long tradition very much still alive now.

For the record, over the past year, I’ve become interested in art that does just the opposite. Russian Orthodox icons, paintings in the Byzantine style, with forms flattened and abstracted, altering form and color and volume of what’s depicted to suit the needs of the painting itself and the stylistic strictures observed by an Eastern Orthodox painter. Superficially, but in a powerful way, many of these paintings look very 20th century, which says a lot about how modernism reached back into other cultural traditions and older practices. One Serbian painting of St. Gabriel called “The White Angel” is as geometric as Piero’s work, but even less three-dimensional. When I came across it, it brought to mind multiple paintings from the last century: Chagall’s images of himself and his wife, Modigliani’s figures, Cezanne’s portraits of his wife, and especially Gorky’s painting of himself and his mother. In all of these cases, there’s a similar flattening of perspective, abstracting natural forms into what might be dismissed as “decorative” patterns, and a concern to create a sense of altered reality by ignoring how things naturally look. But in the deepest sense, at least in the Serbian painting, there’s a passivity, an obedience—but not to appearances. The painter has an active purpose, but it actually represents a surrender to the truth the artist is attempting to depict. I think this devotion to making visible what would otherwise be invisible—without a painting to reveal it—rests at the heart of most modernist painting. It had this in common with devotional painting from centuries before: but with modernism the revelation was of something awaiting discovery and indeterminate, until it found itself crystallized as a painting. Braque’s mysterious gueridons seem to be a unique embodiment of something impossible to describe, but gravely, assiduously accurate in every detail, every color, every line and texture. Those still life tables weren’t painted to convey theories or beliefs or a faith in anything but the revelatory process of painting itself: so they were intensely active in almost every sense except for this aura of mystery. It found its own way into the work. Braque couldn’t develop a repeatable, reliable way to evoke it. In his notebooks, he called it “transformation.” It had to happen while he was intent on the mundane, technical rigors of applying paint to canvas. So the world of the finished work and what it does for the viewer remains, in a way, essentially passive: all of Braque’s active, creative choices were voluntary and conscious and purposeful, in the sense that craftsmanship is purposeful, but the outcome, the finished work has this magic that manifests itself through Braque’s effort, even though he was in a sense a passive channel for it. This is the paradox. He couldn’t guarantee he would arrive at that beautiful mystery in the finished piece, but that’s what he was struggling to achieve. He could actively control all the methods he used, but he couldn’t control whether they would summon that imaginative or spiritual recognition in the viewer.

All painting has this quality: it’s the outcome of active choices and purposes, but when it’s perfectly realized and works as a painting, what makes it unique and personal and individual is mostly the indirect outcome of an artist’s intent. You can’t consciously create your own style. It realizes itself through all the thousands of choices an artist instinctively makes as he or she learns to finish one painting after another, through trial and error. If a painting is a repeatable result of determinable techniques, it would be utterly impersonal. Conceptual art, during the brief interest it generated, was an attempt to turn art into a codified process: a set of instructions which anyone could follow to create it. In retrospect, it’s lifeless.

To a non-practitioner, photo-realism must seem like something close to this mechanical, repeatable process. With this genre, there’s an additional, even more humble attempt to efface the artist, eliminate self-assertion and stylization, as Susan Sontag would put it, in favor of surrendering completely to what’s being depicted. Yet, when I’m engaged in it, it actually becomes demandingly creative, uncertain, in the sense that nothing is easy, nothing is precisely repeatable, even in what might seem an almost mechanical process, and nothing in the act of painting could be codified into an utterly passive method where the artist just does what any other artist could do. Though I work from a photograph, I create a map of flat, interlocking areas of color and then work detail into them, in the way of traditional oil painting, but I’m using the photograph as a source, rather than painting directly from life. A lot of conscious, voluntary choices go into the lighting for the photograph—mostly a window in my kitchen—and the wrapping of the candy, which I sometimes retry a dozen times before the twists in the waxed paper result in a simple enough flare of curved surfaces on each side of the taffy. Yet all those choices are merely formal and have no motive other than to give the image unity and impact, where lines flow into other lines in a certain way, colors harmonize, light doesn’t get entirely lost in the shadows and so on. I have no “deeper” intent to express anything with a couple chunks of candy other than capture the way they look. The painting means nothing, in the sense that it’s not rationally designed to signify anything other than itself. It’s an entirely passive sense of purpose, with a lot of conscious, active little decisions in the weeks I spend working on the painting. In the end I have an image unified around three hazy globes of soft color, rising up from the bottom of the canvas, stacked like a snowman’s anatomy or a totem pole or a cairn. The patterns in the colored sweet remind me of color field painting from more than half a century ago, but that memory color field’s exuberant serenity of color and pattern is wrapped with waxed paper, held at arm’s length, in a sort of ironic way.

This passivity, though, the desire to just show exactly how a couple pieces of taffy look in a certain light, ends up—especially in the enlarged versions I paint of the images—reminding me of many other things, states of mind, landscapes, figures, stories, situations, none of which were at all part of my purpose in making the painting. So the painting doesn’t mean these things. It participates in them somehow, shares some kind of perceptual structure with the other experiences it evokes for me. I don’t alter the image in any significant way—other than maybe to eliminate a confusing bubble-like void here and there between the waxed paper and the surface of the candy. I try to convey the craggy bulk of this solidified lump of sugar, probably the least meaningful object one can imagine ever painting, in all its valleys and hills, just as it is, because of the way I can use it to put color at the heart of an image unified by the simplicity of its being nothing but two objects and their reflection beneath them. This kind of surrender to what I see unlocks for me all this resonance—the scale and the amount of time invested in the process transforming what was there for anyone to see, with the right kind of attention, when the candy was sitting next to my sink on the granite countertop under the kitchen window. I, for one, wouldn’t have though that two actual chunks of taffy looked like a sunny day over a green field, as they do in the painting I did of them a couple months ago. So, in a sense, yes, one can imagine an almost entirely passive kind of painting, but its paradoxically this state of mindful attention and submissive craft transforms the act of seeing into something unexpectedly resonant.

Why A Smartphone Can’t Reproduce Your Art

This post is presented courtesy Giclée Yoshimatsu at Giclée Yoshimatsu.

Artists! Please Don’t Do This…

I’ve had many calls from artists who want me to color correct, up-rez (increase details) and print their art from smartphone photos. It’s always a challenge to politely tell them that their smartphone photo isn’t good enough to print large images to be hung and sold in galleries. After my most recent request, I wrote this article to help explain the reasons. (Digital camera mavens can skip this because I take a lot of shortcuts in this article.)

The first reason is resolution: Resolution is the MP (megapixel) count of cameras. The higher the resolution, the greater the number of pixels and the finer the details. Most smartphone cameras don’t have enough resolution to faithfully reproduce prints that are sharp, clear and crisp. Even those cameras touted as having 50 to 100+ megapixels produce compromised results. It doesn’t take rocket science to understand that 100MP on a small sensor uses smaller photosites (light capturing buckets) than on a large sensor. Therefore, the smaller the light catching buckets, the less light is captured. Less light means less clarity just like your vision in low light. That’s why resolution is important but just part of the equation.

The second reason is size & compression: Most phone cameras capture small image sizes to save memory space. The smaller the image size, the fewer pixels (picture elements.) That means what may appear fine on a phone screen or even a computer monitor will pixelate (have jaggies) when enlarged. There’s no way around this. Too few pixels are filling too large an area. Next, even when capturing large images with many pixels, most phones save files in JPEG, a lossy compression format. Large swaths of similar pixels are lumped together causing loss of details and fine gradations.

A Short Diversion Into JPEG

JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) is an amazing technology that’s been around since 1992. It was originally designed for web and Internet use when bandwidth was precious and speeds were abysmal. As bandwidth and speeds improved, image sizes grew even bigger, ensuring the continued need for JPEG. Today, JPEG is ubiquitous and most phones automatically save images in JPEG format. The example image shows low compression (lots of data) on the right and high compression (minimal data) on the left. Notice how details are totally missing on the left side. Most phone cameras automatically use JPEG compression. Printing this file means interpolating (guessing) what details need to be added back, a near impossible task. Once a file is compressed in JPEG the results are baked in and can’t be recovered any more than a scrambled egg can be put back into the shell.

Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Programing

The third reason is that very few phone cameras offer RAW image capture. RAW is not an acronym but simply RAW data as captured by the sensor. In reality, even RAW data is “massaged” by the phone’s software to the manufacturer’s vision of an ideal photo. Sometimes, skin tones are too ruddy or foliage is too vibrant or water is too brilliant. The advantage of RAW is that these color interpretations can be corrected in RAW processing software. However, the biggest drawback to cellphone RAW is that most software is tuned to appeal to snapshooters who aren’t too picky about color fidelity. Combined with the tiny, noisy pixels created by cellphone cameras, the results are often sub-optimal.

Bottom line, cellphone cameras were not designed to capture images for large prints. Either get yourself a quality camera that has RAW capture or have a professional do the job.




The post Why A Smartphone Can’t Reproduce Your Art appeared first on Giclée Yoshimatsu.

Guiseppe Celi

Giuseppe Celi, Still Life and Things, 2005
oil on plywood, 32×32 cm

David Baird

Head with Fabric, David Baird, Birmingham, Alabama Oil on canvas, 2020

David Baird had three paintings in Manifest’s Painted exhibit to kick off their 18th season in Cincinatti. This one, Head with Fabric, has many of the fine qualities of his painting, Red Nude, that just took First Prize at the Salmagundi Club’s New York Figurative Show. His handling of paint in the way he renders a figure reminds me a bit of Degas, which is high praise: the soft glow and gradual transitions among tones without being obsessive about detail while conveying the living quality of flesh–his figures breath. You feel you can take their temperature. But what makes his paintings so astonishing is the variation in level of verisimilitude, moving from persuasive illusions to flat patterns and roughly unfinished portions of canvas without destroying the overall feel of space and depth. Diarmuid Kelley has been doing this, to a lesser degree, for a while now, but without creating as much interesting tension between the finished/unfinished, illusionistic/flat areas of his canvases. It’s something Baird has in common with other painters who have connections with the Jerusalem Studio School. Some of Baird’s still life objects work both as fuzzy abstract areas of tone and as soft but utterly convincing visions of objects in three-dimensional space. The color is usually a range of rich, gorgeous earth tones worthy of Braque. It’s hard to figure out precisely how he does it. That usually wins my highest respect, when the technique seems utterly impossible to reverse-engineer.