Color Notes

Accurate reference photos are a necessity for any serious fish carver. There are many places to find quality pictures. The best however are those taken by you, from live fish. Take along a 35-mm camera on your fishing trips, and start taking pictures of detailed areas not normally shown in profile shots from books and magazines. Take several close up pictures of the skin to capture scale patterns and underlying color values. Detail shots of the head and fins provide valuable information during the carving process.

Take notes on how you would paint the colors you see, and what order would you apply the paint. This is the most important piece of information you will ever use during the painting process. These notes will contain information you will never see in a picture. Film often does not capture the iridescence, pearls, and transparent colors found on a live fish.

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Carry a notebook of blank fish silhouettes in your tackle box of several species, as pictured above. This allows you to make color and carving notes quickly to use later. Simply take a drawing like the one shown to a copy center and have several copies made into a spiral bound booklet. With a live fish in hand, detail your observations to the notebook. Use one page to detail color information and another to take carving notes.

Look deep into the fish skin for the base color and begin noting every color layer seen. Try to describe every color you see in your notes and their level of transparency, and opacity. List the various pearls and iridescence seen and where they appear in the layers. Describe what details are best painted with an airbrush and which ones are best done with a paint brush.

If you have a paint sample chart from a paint supplier compare the colors to the samples and write a paint schedule on the spot. Break down what you see into a step by step painting process using your imagination to apply color.

Try to include something in the background with a known pure color. A white towel works well for this. The reason for the white color is to check the final color print for tints. Often color prints come back with a strong blue, green or yellow tint in the picture. If this is the case, you would never want to use such a picture as paint reference. A white object allows you to spot this fault easily.

A quick way to add a white reference spot to your pictures is to paint a white spot on your thumbnail. This gives you an easy-to-use color checker while shooting pictures of fish in hand. This only works if you paint the thumb nail of the hand holding the fish, not the hand holding the camera ;-).  If you mention the white spot in each picture in a note to your film developer they will often take a minute or two to calibrate the computer to the white spot for a cleaner color match on your prints.  If you use another color supply them a sample of the color on a scrap piece of paper so they have something to work with.  Most good photo labs will do this service for you happily.  I always send in a sample of the  background paper or material used in photographing my carvings for them to match the color. 

If possible always reference your notes to the pictures taken of the study fish. If the picture contains a unique object in the background note that in your notes. This will allow you to match your notes to the proper picture later. Masking tape or colored dot stickers with a number written in marker work best. Simply write a number on a small piece of tape and stick it to your hand or an object in the picture. Then reference this number in your color notes and you can’t go wrong.

If shooting a fish on a white towel, a few coins can ID the picture, ex. 35 cents in the lower right corner. This will eliminate trying to figure out what notes go to what pictures after the prints come back from the developer. Nothing is more confusing than comparing notes from one fish while looking at a picture of another during the carving or painting process. Then simply drop the notes and associated pictures into an envelope or scrap book for future reference.

Building a library of these photos and notes is necessary if you plan to do commissioned work in the future. Seldom does a request for a commissioned piece come in with a packet of reference photos of any detail. The customer generally has a species request, with at best, a stream side photo of the trophy they released. Now, where would you turn without a collection of reference photos and color notes? With a comprehensive photo / note collection you only need to match the supplied photo to your reference. Pull the packet of detailed pictures and notes and you are in up and running.

Color notes may seem like allot of trouble at first, but once you carve and paint your first fish with them you will see it was time well spent. This information will help produce outstanding results that someday will separate a first from second place ribbon.






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