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Amateurs Borrow, Artists Steal. With Thanks to Emily Carr.

Updated: Mar 28, 2021

It's an old phrase—with more than a kernel of truth. An aspiring artist (yours truly) stole inspiration from an exhibit of Emily Carr's work at a Vancouver art museum and engaged in some local photography play.


One of Emily Carr's well-known forest paintings of a western red cedar with a dramatic green swirl of a canopy.



Emily Carr is a renowned Canadian painter. Born in British Columbia in 1871, she painted aboriginal people and landscapes—especially forest scenes—of the Pacific Northwest. Her style changed after a period studying in Paris, becoming more fluid and abstract.


I saw the painting above during a visit to Vancouver last summer. I loved the bold dynamic colors and the playful skirt-like swirl of the green canopy that seemed to express a love for these majestic trees.


I carried the memory of the painting with me on the short ride home. Perhaps, I thought, I'd try something similar in a photograph and see whether it communicates a different feeling about trees.


There were red cedars in this campground, but I settled on these two trees because they were in the open and had color in the background. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes



I experimented with some red cedar trees in a local campground, but they were surrounded by dark foliage which did not create the desired effect. After a bit of trial and error, I settled on the two trees above.


I played with different shutter speeds as I moved my camera during the exposure. Moving the camera up and down—as opposed to horizontal movement or a twisting motion—seemed to work best. About a 1/4 - 1/2 second exposure gave the best results for this scene and the way I moved the camera.



An early result from my experimentation. I would have been happier with more vertical streaking of the blurred background. In addition, the scene was missing the dynamic green canopy. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes



One or two out of ten images had a satisfactory blur and pattern, and the effect was very hard for me to reproduce. but I enjoyed having the element of chance in making the photograph.


Once I got something I liked, I increased contrast and saturation for effect and experimented with brushes and color and "painted" a green canopy onto the trees. I like the resulting image, but I'm not sure where it should be displayed, and to whom. Meanwhile, I think I'll continue to experiment and learn.


My thanks to Emily!



The "final" result. Quite a departure from reality. I like it, but I am not sure where and whether it will be displayed (other than to you, dear reader). Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

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