Detail of Kewpies & Geishas at Dawn

Kewpies and Geishas at Dawn

A still life made with childhood toys

My recollection of childhood isn’t all that sweet or pretty—though sometimes marvelous—but is always full of an odd assortment of strange toys—some of which I thought were wonderful, some of which seemed a bit creepy even then. It didn’t matter what they were. I wanted them all. Early childhood greed, however, was less about ownership than curiosity. As children, we struggled to understand the chaotic world through the outlandish toys we were given. Figurines that bore little relationship to the real world sat on the shelf beside plastic cars that were authentically replicated down to the last detail.  Balls kept us moving, while the best card and board games encouraged us to think and develop strategy while entertaining us.

I grew up in a semi-rural area where there were hardly any kids. It was before video games and computers, so I had few opportunities to learn strategy, which is a skill I lack to this day. However, I did learn to look long and hard at the toys, books, and look-ats my sisters and I were given. Most of those toys are gone now, but some were put away, mostly forgotten until I had to clear out my parents’ home. Now a few, like the other relics from my past, are being photographed with the intention of creating some kind of digital art that includes them.

For this image, I wanted the time to be early morning, before the chaos of the unfocused play of very young children. It’s not that I was going for realism. I just wanted it to feel quiet, with light just starting to wake up the room. After adding textures and a Color fill layer at fairly low opacities to help unify everything, I used Lighting Effects on a merged duplicate (Cmd-Opt-Shift-E/Ctrl-Alt-Shift-E) to make the room both darker, and with more focused light coming from the window. Then I masked an adjustment layer without any settings, but set to Multiply mode at a lowered opacity, so the back wall with the poster on it would be even darker.

Layers with textures and Lighting Effects
Textures from Photomorphis and Photoshop’s Lighting Effects filter helped unify this vintage recreation of early childhood memories.

Of course it was now all too dark and flat. I’ve found that trying to locate the Goldilocks zone when creating images often means backing and filling many times before I get there.  Using empty layers in either Color Dodge or Color Burn mode, I selected colors from the objects themselves and painted splashes of glowing highlights, along with a touch of improved modeling with darker shadows. Most of these layers, too, were used at a very reduced opacity.  An adjustment layer or two more, heavily masked, and I thought I was just about done.

Kewpie doll detail before/after painting with Color Dodge
Painting on an empty layer in Color Dodge mode put intensified light and color where I wanted it. Reducing the opacity of the layer kept it reasonably subtle.
Detail from before/after painting in Color Burn mode.
In a few places, adding light had flattened the objects. Painting on empty layers in Color Burn mode restored some of their dimensionality.

But it was still too flat. I’d gotten caught up in trying to be too realistic, and the overall color was too sweet for my childhood memories. So once again, to safely preserve everything I’d done so far, I created a merged duplicate layer and took it through Nik Color Efex Pro. A stack of filters, including Color Stylizer and Vintage Film, brought me to the less sweet version I preferred. I added the totally unrealistic light rays and liked it, but now the whole thing was too warm. So once again I cooled the temperature slightly, this time with a simple Photo Filter adjustment layer. I think I’m done—with this one at least. I’ve worked non-destructively if I ever choose to revisit it, but for now it’s time to move on to another expression of times long past.

Image after dodging and burning.
After modifying the light, the image was still flat and trying too hard to be realistic.
The final image framed.
A stack of Google Nik Color Efex Pro filters enhanced contrast and toned down any sugary sweetness, while light rays added dimension to this make-believe world. Credits too numerous to mention all: Mischief Circus’ “Misfit Dollhouse” Collaboration; Valentina; Lorie Davison; Doudou-Paprika; Vero, and more.

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