Coloring materials and options = infinite… or close to it.

Once again, Freestyle is the place to go:

There are many options/variations.

Dick Blick is another longstanding artist supply store:

Here’s something new… that I am not gonna buy:

‘SpotPen’s unique formula penetrates the emulsion layer on all photographic surfaces and leaves no residue. Work on any photographic surface, glossy or matte…’

The colors baffle me, i learned traditional colors: cadmiums, umbers, viridian, cerulean, ultramarine.

“Butterscotch, Lime, Peach,…” – what the hell are these??

Anyway, there are tons of other coloring options out there, anything is fair game.

My kit?

It’s time tested (sort of), it’s in the banner above.

Water colors:

I was given a set of basic primary colors by a photog. who was giving up analog some years ago. 

His loss? My gain!

“basic black, primary blue, primary red, basic flesh,  primary yellow,  basic brown,  basic blue, basic green” 

You can’t get much much more *basic*, or ‘down’ than that, can you?

Oil colors:

This page says it is a search result for Marshall’s, but shows something else, called Arista oil colors:

I bought a simpler set of basic oil colors, in tubes.

French ultramarine, burnt umber, yellow ochre, Viridian,  Cadmium red,  cadmium yellow, titanium white.

Learn some color theory, you can mix anything from this.

Plus the usual:

Cotton balls, Q tips, and some linseed oil, which can prime the surface, make it easier to blend and ‘work with it’ a while, but can also make maximum saturation harder.

Keep some Kleenex/toilet tissue around for immediate use, as necessary.

And perhaps you might want to get some Marlene, which will erase any oils. But you’ll have to re-prime with linseed oil, if you are using it.

And yes, for both the above, have a mixing dish or pallete to work with.

For oil colors? I have an 8×10 photo paper box, i just put a sheet of letter size paper in it, use it it to mix most anything up.

I also have a fistful of Marshall oil pencils, Since they are 30 years old, they’ve hardened and don’t work very well. They only worked on the toothiest papers to begin with anyway.

Here’s something recently done that’s a combination of watercolor and oils, which I’ve just started doing in the last few years.


Next time round, techniques is the topic.

Here’s a couple of interesting links for the month’s history fix:

12 Forgotten Hand-Colored Images of Life in the 1800s

Hand coloured photographs of 19th-century Japan



‘Thanks for noticing’ :-)

 I am so glad that this blog was so immediately noticed! Thank you!

I hope to remain interesting for a long time. Let’s see how it goes.

For this post, let’s examine two topics:

#1 – Your choice of paper. Easily the most important decision.

#2 – ‘when to handcolor, and when to leave it TF alone’

IMHO, go matte. Glossy just doesn’t take anything oil, and as for watercolors?… depends on the paper, it may take watercolor…. too quickly to do any ‘work’ on it. It may sink in, and be irreversible. NOT good. Too unforgiving.

Before you work on any print, do tests on scraps. What’s the old saying? “measure twice, cut once’. A way of saying ‘don’t fuck it up’. 

I do montage work, i only have a few copies of any print, i don’t want to mess up any of them. They are all ‘one of a kind’.

Matte surface is my choice, hands down, because it allows working time to blend and mix, or delete color. You might want to try an application of linseed oil first. It will extend that working time, but also give a slightly yellow cast to the image, especially over time/after drying and aging.

There is still plenty available out there, my shopping choice is:

Ilford is still alive and well – they are making a ‘textured’ matte.

Oriental is still around:

1997 – After transfer of goodwill from Oriental Photo Industrial Company, which is in need of reorganization, established new Oriental Photo Industrial Company.

My two current choices are: Ilford matte ( a completely matte paper, no surface texture, only available as fiber based. And something made by Foma, in eastern Europe, which i just tried recently. It’s not quite the same matte as Ilford, but i made an interesting discovery in working with it: I can use water colors, and ‘work’ with them, washing the paper first w/ some water (w/ a bit(a few drops per 200 ml H20) of ‘photo-flow’. 

Then do oils, and add extra richness/saturation. More on that one later/future posts. A two step technique.

Hey, what’s the lyric to that Eagles song? “Take it to the limit, one mo’ time”.


One important note: Once you’ve done the oil coloring, it’ll need to dry out, right?

Best choice, put it face down on some tracing paper to keep dust from landing and drying on the surface. It could easily show up in the scan.

There is a second consideration here: Now that digital has arrived, you’ll want to scan the work to reprint it. So check out the particular quirks of whatever scanner you will be using. Many years ago, i had easy access to an Agfa scanner ( RIP Agfa! I loved you well!!). 

It showed no surface texture. Lately, I have easy access to an Epson scanner ( a 4000-something, years old no longer made), 12×17+” bed.

It shows surface texture, big time, it almost side lights what ever you scan. Not good, at least for me.

Glossy would scan OK, matte too. But any paper with texture? it’ll show, and that will probably not be what you want.

Kodak (RIP!) made a great matte fine art paper, and excellent ‘tooth’ to it. But it would probably not scan well in my currently available scanner. Nonetheless, it was really good stuff.

(P.S. – 7/9/15 – If you are photographing your work, the above may not apply. But I must add that making truly good digital files is not for amateurs. I work for a digital studio and printing place in San Rafael, Ca. and we see alotta people walk in the door wanting to make large prints from their files made on low end/consumer level cameras – they all suck.)

#2 – ‘When to handcolor, and when to leave it TF alone’.

I mentioned before, i do montage in an old fashioned nasty chemical darkroom ( I LOVE it!)

And i can always ask myself the same question: ‘a candidate for coloring?… or ‘leave it TF alone?’

I can’t imagine Ansel A. coloring anything, can you?

So here’s one that definitely benefits, gets a big boost from color:



Here’s one that would not work as color.


At the bottom you’ve logically got earth tones, at the top it’s blue sky. Coloring would separate the two, and the whole idea is that the tree becomes transformed into the sky, where does one end and the other begin?

Best left B&W, me thinks.

Next post, I’ll talk about coloring materials/options.


hand coloring black and white photos