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Artist/Naturalist Pages

Artist/Naturalist

Marsha Tudor

Marsha Tudor is in the vanguard of the recent art phenomenon variously called scanography, scanner photography, or simply, scanner art. In this medium for art-making, the flatbed document scanner is used as a macro camera with extremely high resolution but shallow depth of field. Subjects are most-often organic productions of nature, be they flowers, pods, or vegetables from the Farmers' Market. Marsha Tudor pushes the boundaries of the medium with her use of transparency options and her superb layering. As mystery and enigma are aspects of every life form, Tudor's work celebrates what is hinted but cannot be known.

Excerpts from: Marsha Tudor - Scanner as Camera
Reprinted with permission from Claremont McKenna College

Marsha Tudor doesn’t sleep much. She wakes at 4 a.m., working in her studio in the cool quiet of the morning to create dramatic, carefully considered, and meticulously rendered images of the natural world....Once Tudor has picked a subject – a single flower, perhaps, or a group of leaves and seed pods––she brings the objects into her studio and places them directly on the glass of a flatbed scanner. “They have to be perfect and clean,” says Tudor, “because every bit of dirt and sand is magnified, even if they’re not visible to the eye.”

There is substantial rearranging as Tudor takes successive pictures; a leaf is moved slightly akimbo, for example, or a native grass is made just a bit more angular. For each rearrangement, more dust is exposed, and Tudor must carefully clean the glass...

A second generation Southern Californian, Marsha lives with her family in Claremont where she is inspired by a rich local plant palette. With a background in fine arts, in the last few years Marsha has migrated to exclusively digital work. Even in earlier work Marsha’s interests were in natural subject matter and a somewhat representational style, many times using a series of the same subject to push the exploration deeper.

Marsha's professional background includes a degree in Studio Art, with a concentration in drawing. She has also studied horticulture, botany, landscape architecture, photography, drafting, AutoCAD & computer graphics. Work has included: floral designer, freelance landscape design & freelance illustration.

Below, you will find Marsha speaking In Her Own Words,
and Marsha Tudor's Basic Scanner Photography, created especially for this page.

But first, a sampling of her work.

A Gallery of Marsha Tudor
click to enlarge


Nerium Explosion


Cercis Branch

Golden Abundance

Koelteuteria Pods

Lavender Crinoline

Maidenhair on White

Fall Bounty

Burnt Alstroemaria

Crystal Columbine

January Jewels

Golden Lace

Salsa

Asian Brown Pears

Evergreen Pear

Black Bougainvillia

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In Her Own Words

Elves and Fairies dance in the meadow under a moonlit sky, flowers tower overhead, and dragonflies provide transportation and fireflies radiate illumination; magic is everywhere. My childhood world was filled with such images, through books, acted out in the real fields and yards where idle hours were spent among the weeds and wildflowers, peeling the pods to see them curl on the ground suddenly let loose of their unripe restraints, or making daisy chains, or plucking petals, eager to learn their inner secrets. When someone in the neighborhood found a chrysalis hanging from a leaf stalk, it was a bonanza. These treasures were carefully tended so that the miracle of metamorphosis could be experienced by all who were young enough to appreciate its majesty.

Even before these days of freewheeling wandering, there was Aunt Ann’s house, shrouded in history and mystery. Aunt Ann was the grand dame, our own southern belle who still hung her confederate flag in a house that was more of a museum than a home. She was no relation at all, but a very dear and very eccentric friend of my mother’s family. Upstairs, if you could get permission to climb the back stairs, were rooms once used to house families displaced by WWII. The furnishings dated back to the Civil War. Downstairs, the furnishings displayed elegance of days long gone and created a world of fantasy and visual delight.

Eccentricity was the greatest of understatements, Aunt Ann’s world was frozen, captured by the past; she wondered out loud how could our family possibly support that Kennedy person for president? And how possibly could my father raise two young children without a mother? In those days it was unthinkable, but people died even then. So our visits changed, but still there were lazy summer days on that on the porch that spanned the entire width of the house, back and forth, the rhythm of the squeaky chain-held wooden swing which had already soothed generations of visitors, children and lovers. And then there was the back yard!

It was filled with glorious flowers, perfect stepping stones and vines of blue Plumbago that climbed clear to the top of the second story. Hidden here and there were beautiful iridescent abalone shells which declared many tasty meals. But most important of all was the living room, complete with 12’ ceiling and full length mirror to match, there was a real horsehair couch, (ask permission first before sitting) and then the carpet. It had a commanding black background, decorated elaborately with flowers so that walking on it was like floating across some sort of spatial illusion apparent only to an 8 year old. Perhaps this aesthetic was a reflection of the times since one of my only possessions that comes from that period is a set of paintings done by Grandmother, one is of roses the other tulips, both are set on strikingly black backgrounds.

Magic could be glimpsed more rarely as I grew up, but there was still Christmas with the glowing lights on the fragrant tree branches. If one lay on the ground and looked up, the whole world became aglow with lights and reflections from the curved surfaces of the glitter covered glass ornaments until dawn chased away the illusion.

Not long after high school, employment as a florist was a natural way to work my way through college. My understanding of plant material was always intuitive. After majoring in art and doing all the required figure work, I immediately settled in to the only imagery that mattered – plants – water color, pastels, Prismacolor pencils, block prints, it didn’t matter, anything to pull out what I wished to communicate. My vision was being shaped by artists, Tiffany, Monet, Redon, deChirico, Caravaggio, and Seurat. I remember the day I first saw the “Black Iris” by Georgia O’Keefe, “That’s it” I nearly shouted. From her work I learned about process, and pushing through many iterations often times arriving at imagery with abstract qualities.

My many years as what appeared to some as a career being a student, included the study of horticulture, landscape design, drafting and botany. Enter the computer in 1995. At that time, I had barely touched a computer but my desire to pursue landscape architecture sent me back to school again. By then, while board drafting was still expected, CAD was clearly essential. Embarrassed that I seriously didn’t know how to turn the thing on, I sat with all the 18 year olds who were no doubt amused by the old lady who wrote notes furiously and lived in the computer lab until finally it began to make sense. By the end of the semester they were grateful for my help. During my 2nd and 3rd semester of AutoCAD, jobs began to find their way to me doing design and illustration.

A whole new world had opened up to me. Several years later I took a class in Macromedia Freehand, followed shortly by Adobe Illustrator and InDesign. Ironically, Photoshop, where I live now, I taught myself. There was no going back, I pretended to still draw, but it really wasn’t happening.

A parallel interest in mathematical patterns all but begged to be part of this process. I had been making hand drawn tessellations (of plant material, of course) for several years. Thinking of how they might be adapted to my computer work was absolutely irresistible. I played with arrays and such in AutoCAD but at that point the vector world really didn’t like bitmaps so that was a dead end.

Finally, it was the internet that led me to scanning and the patterns that I make from my scans. While trying to avoid some “real” work that I should have been doing, I found the site “Human Flower Project”. They posted two articles that sealed the deal, Katinka Matson’s scans and David Bookbinder’s flower arrays.

After one scan I realized that this was an exciting process. It took approximately two years to gain some level of control and competence. That period was one of struggle equally with output. My 13 x 19 printer, while decent, really wasn’t consistent enough to create the final product. I sent images to various “giclee” print shops only to find out they are not all created equal. Once I found Nash Editions, I scratched that problem off my list. Framing was next. After spending a small fortune during my trial and error period, I saw some work done framed with a sealed acrylic sandwich. I had some of my pieces done this way, with no “frame” at all; this approach gives a rich elegant presentation without distraction at all from the imagery. Perfect.

When I first began scanning, I tried various backgrounds, paper or boxes lined with white paper, reflective surfaces; I tried hanging the plant material, I tried adding light both with lamps and flashlights, trying to get more visual depth. In the end, simpler was better. Many times I scan a single flower or leaf but also groups when I can snag good quality specimens. I generally use no support or other interventions, I just lay the items directly on the glass. Among the challenges is that the flowers sometimes wilt in a very short time especially after repeated scans, just the small amount of heat from the moving light source is enough to destroy some delicate petals. Working quickly is essential because repeated rearranging of groupings is sometimes necessary.

Another challenge is keeping debris to a minimum on the glass or plant material. Everything on or near the glass will be magnified so must be edited out later in Photoshop. The exposure time can be several minutes; even in that small amount of time atmospheric dust may settle on the glass. I often edit out the entire black background and replace it with a new black layer to make sure that the image is flawless. When I do that transitioning the edges becomes important to make sure it doesn’t look like a cut out.

Editing time for each image is generally from 10 to 40 hours each prior to manipulating. My editing times are increasing as I scan at higher and higher resolutions because there is so much data. I magnify at 300- 400% for my initial clean up which means I can only see a very small part of the image at a time. It is necessary to remove any speck of dirt or sand on the leaves and petals as well as correct any flaws such a bruising or tears because when the images are printed these imperfections will become visible even if they weren’t at full size on the monitor. Anyone else would think the editing I do is tedious and boring, for me it is relaxing and meditative in sharp contrast to my “day job” day which is hectic and high pressure.

After the clean up is done, then I begin the creative part of the process. Manipulations are done either in Photoshop and/or Kaleider. I work with layers, transparency, filters, tiling, color modifications etc. Some source images have been used for very different final imagery

A critical issue for me is having my images express sculptural qualities.

I love that the extremely shallow depth of field constrains while the incredibly high resolution gives such extraordinary clarity. These two apparently oppositional forces actually create a narrow window of vision that is further defined by the shallow penetration of the moving light source. It is the balance of the various factors that is the challenge and the reward.

 

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From the first day someone accidentally photocopied her hand while trying to copy a document it became inevitable that people would start using copiers and other equipment intended for flat surfaces to reproduce various body parts and other 3-dimensional objects. The web is flooded with such images that harken back to a 5 year-old's antics. Happily, along with the random body part images are some serious artistic efforts that make use of technology unavailable even just a few years ago. These are exciting times.

Scanners offer much more sophistication than photo-copiers, but the idea is the same... a flat surface gets digitized. As photographers know well, generally that flat surface is a slide or negative. Film photographers moving from analog to the digital world willingly or reluctantly scan their images to be able to manipulate and reproduce.

My background is fine art, not photography so I approach the medium a bit differently than photographers who explore scanner photography, but even with a fairly free-wheeling artsy approach, some technical stuff is useful. I use an Epson 4990 with a native resolution of 4800 pixels per inch. Scanners typically have much higher resolution than cameras because they are expressly made for enlarging small slides or film. This happenstance allows them to be used to capture images directly with great clarity that can then be enlarged to sizes much bigger than traditional photographs without loss of detail.

It is thrilling to have such amazing resolution available, but sadly it comes also with an extremely shallow depth of field. The fixed focal point is aimed just above the glass and the light beam which illuminates the image does not penetrate much beyond the glass. So along with diminished focus, there is a drop-off of light almost immediately above the glass. It is the tension among these extremes that makes scanner photography challenging, and of course that is half the fun. Like so many other digital processes, entry is easy, but mastery remains only for the dedicated. Success on the very first scan hopefully encourages one to stick around and discover what a moving light source might reveal. With the transparency lid, light can even penetrate translucent objects - really too cool for words (and not addressed in this introductory discussion).

Though scanners generally come with software that helps with the scanning process,
I prefer to use the Epson interface with Photoshop directly using the “import” command.This saves me steps later, since my image is created directly as a .psd rather than a .tiff or .jpg.

I recommend that you avoid saving your images as .jpgs. Each time an image is changed and then saved as a .jpg it is compressed. Compressing means pixels are tossed. Repeated compression destroys image quality – fast and forever.

Getting Started:

When scanning 3-D objects, open or remove the lid of the scanner, depending on your scanner and/or preferences, either way is fine.

Next:

Open whichever scanning software you are using and select “import” from pull down menu, select your scanner from the list. (All of my descriptions derive from Epson/Photoshop--other scanning/editing software will vary somewhat, but generally have same functions).

 

 

 

 

 

Once you have selected your scanner from the import screen,
adjust scanning options.

1) Mode


a. Mode defines the amount of control you wish from entirely “automatic” to “professional” which gives you the greatest flexibility, but requires some knowledge to use effectively.

b. You may explore automatic on your own, my discussion assumes “professional” is selecte
d.

2) Document Type:

a. “Reflective” is typically the setting used for scanner photography, it just means that the light will hit the object and reflect from it to create the image.

b. “Film”- there are several film settings designed for slides or film (worth trying but not addressed here)

3) Exposure Type: (changes depend on what you selected above)


a. Assume that “Reflective” was selected above, then select Exposure Type: “Photo” for greatest tone range.


4) Image Type


a. “24-bit Color” is best to start with; if you have “48-bit Color” you may wish to explore, but it will make files much larger, so not best for beginning.

b. Select “Gray Scale” for black and white final product. No color information will be captured, so only use this if you are certain.

5) Resolution:

a. This is the big one. The higher the resolution (pixels per inch) the bigger the final
image can be without loss of clarity.

b. Two cautions:

i. File sizes grow dramatically with high resolution settings, so unless you
have a monster machine, don’t get greedy.

1. Remember that the smaller the object being scanned the higher the resolution can be before file gets unmanageable.

2. Conversely, if you are scanning anything approaching letter size,
you’ll not be able to crank up the resolution far without exceeding
500 MB or even a GIG and more. Most computers have difficulty
with files that big.

ii. The other caution is that any setting beyond the native resolution of your
scanner is wasted effort because the scanner can’t capture more
information than that. In my case, the Epson 4990 can scan up to 4800 ppi.
It has settings offering 9600 ppi and more. The software will simply make up
the data through interpolation to get to that resolution. No additional clarity
is gained and likely an unmanageable file will be!

6) Document Size:


a. I recommend for the sake of simplicity that you start with the setting that says “original”. It will help in understanding other technical issues and you can always specify the final size of the document later.

b. For the same reason, I’d leave scale at “100%” - you can change it in your photo
editor if desired. Keep it simple at this point.

7) If you have Adjustments available to you:

a. Leave all the boxes unchecked. Do not use filters, descreening, color restoration or Digital Ice. You are basically trying to shoot “raw.” Leave manipulation until later.

b. The exceptions are the buttons which control “Histogram” and “Tone Correction”.

i. “Histogram” is the most important reason to use “Professional Mode”. This
setting is what will allow you to wage war with the depth of field

ii. “Histogram” will NOT make more depth of field, but it will help you light your subject in ways that may help it “look” as though it does.

1. First, scan once without any buttons used. This will be your baseline exposure.

2. Second, scan using the “Auto Exposure” button, this will show you an extreme. Chances are excellent that small areas of the light colors will be over-exposed, washed out with irretrievable loss of detail.

3. Third, scan using the “Histogram” sliders after the “Auto Exposure” to back off slightly. This step is trial and error, no way around it. With practice, balance can be achieved between over exposed highlights and an image that is too dark overall.

iii. An even more subtle adjustment is the “Tone Correction” button which offers an “Open Shadow” option. This will send light deeper into the object, but the loss of contrast is severe, so the “User Defined” option may work out better. Again, there is no way around trial and error until you are comfortable with these settings.

iv. A last comment about these adjustments is that you can “Preview” as you go along, so it is perfectly reasonable to play with the sliders until you like what you see. Try the “Zoom” option if you can, to get an even better preview
.

8) Use the Scan button to create your file.

Save file as RGB, this setting has the best color gamut (largest range of colors). Industry standard is Adobe 98 RGB, if you use this setting; it is easy to correlate to other software or color systems, like Pantone. More importantly, your images will look better. sRGB is a format commonly seen, but it has fewer colors so again, colors ultimately less vibrant, like .jpg images mentioned earlier, its best application is for web use not printing. CYMK conversions are necessary if the image is to be printed with traditional offset printing, but its color gamut is extremely limited, so your beautiful rich colors in RGB may look flat. Exercise care and do test prints if taking your images into a CYMK environment.

Sometimes, though, plant material is wonderful in other ways, but has been bruised or damaged before making it to the scanner. In a photo editing program much is possible, if “fixing” the flaws is important to you.


Raw scan:

After editing in Photoshop:

Frequent back and forth viewing helps guide the decision making.
Below is another partial view:

Then the edited image, all cleaned up, is ready to manipulate or use as final image:

See more examples at: http://www.MarshaTudor.com

 

Download the pdf. file of this tutorial.


You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader.

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Images on this page Copyright © Marsha Tudor

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