Sunday, December 18, 2011

Intro to Sepia Tone!

A photo of Native American women taken by photographer Edward S. Curtis.
I used the editing program on my computer to change this photo of my dog Tamari into sepia tones.

I like to have my students learn about using a range of values from light, to medium to dark and then apply them to their work.  I would usually start with looking at black and white artwork, so that the values would be easy to identify.  I've been with my current students for over a quarter already, and I've also taught them last year in 7th grade. Because of their prior learning, I was confident that they were ready for a challenge.  I decided that they were ready to move on to learning about a different range of values, this time in the brown tones.
Sepia is a range of color from pale neutral cream, tan and amber all the way to deep browns some even with dark green undertones.
Sepia tones are used primarily by photographers. Many photographers opt to print their photos in sepia because of the warmer, almost old-fashioned look that sepia has.
My first step was to locate some examples of sepia photographs and it didn't take long for me to realize that one artist's work stood out from the rest.  Photographer Edward S. Curtis spent his whole life living with various groups of Native Americans in the early 1900's.  He took over 40,000 photos of the people and places he saw during this time.   His work is considered to be the most prolific collection of photographs of Native American culture.  And his work is printed in sepia tone!

Sioux Chiefs by Edward S. Curtis.  

Laguna Water Jug by Edward S. Curtis

These are just a few examples of Curtis' sepia photographs, but it is easy to see the range of lights and darks as well as the variety of textures.  My students were inspired by his work as they studied reproductions of his photos.  I was fortunate enough to borrow a book about his work from a Social Studies teacher in my building.  She had actually cut up her book and used the photos on her bulletin board!  I would never have dared to do that, but it was very helpful because each student got to chose their own image to look at up close.  
Oh, I forgot to explain that they would not be copying these photos!  Believe it or not, this lesson turned into a portrait lesson, and not one about people.  Check back soon to see our incredible close-up animal portraits, all done in mixed-media sepia tones! 

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