Durer Explained

I suppose this might be my first tribute piece done digitally. I love Durer’s work. He is widely known as the Master Engraver. Generally, he cut copper plates with a burin, then printed a limited edition, then destroyed the plate by etching a huge “X” in the middle. Some artists still do this, only now they sell the “x”ed copper plate as a rare edition.

The German knight litho is one of my favorites, but it is rather busy with the Knight, his armor, the horse, and his dog. Add a couple of demons or three that he meets on the road, well… it gets hard to know where to look.

Traditionally the artist can use color to direct the viewer. Durer only had black ink, the same for everybody. You can also use a fine etch to grey an area towards the rear. Durer did that for the background and that helped, but all the characters had the same weight.

Now, there is an unwritten rule about colorizing fine art lithographs. You don’t do it. Tempting as it is to have a ready-made coloring book from the masters, you simply must avoid the temptation.

Naturally, because I’m weak, I went full on ahead. Coloring within the lines might help a little, but my plan was to color the lines as well.

I made a high resolution scan and placed it in a high res file in PhotoShop. Then, for the next three or four days, working at the highest magnification, I basically cut the image apart, creating about sixty different pieces of the image.

Some selections couldn’t be made with standard selection, so I had to use “vector selection”. Since I was already in vector mode it made sense to redraw some of the selections. Most of the horse leather ended up being redrawn.

With sixty different pieces I had to create sixty different layers, then arrange them like a jigsaw puzzle in order to put them back together. I tried for several days, but eventually I would get a layer off and a white line would show because of missed register.

I solved that problem by going back and drawing in the missing bits, that way the layers could drop down on a solid object. That only took another week. I learned lot about armor and horse bridles.

Finally with everything in layers I could address the color and tone for each object. The entire back got an addition screen, it almost has a fog effect. The demons got some screen to place them behind the knight but a good deal in front of the background.

The horse got a huge color hit, with subtle color and shading changes. The knight got several shades of steel blue. The dog was last, and with little effort I made him a yellow dog.

Okay, I was blasphemous, I colorized a Master. But like most blasphemous acts, I really enjoyed myself. Mostly it was done for myself, but I have posted this on this website before. I just never explained it.

Oh, the two round circles below, is the umlaut to Durer’s name. I didn’t want to cut the horse’s hooves off to edit the image.

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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3 Responses to Durer Explained

  1. Anonymous says:

    Love this too and all you have to say about the technique. Excellent. I really enjoy seeing all you are working on. Inspiring.

  2. Philip Horowitz says:

    John, I’m happy to see you posting. I have been meaning to get in touch for years – I’m doing well but have not been back to the Bay Area. I’m fine with colouring Durer but, as a pedant, do people really describe Durer as a Lithographer? Lithography was not invented until long after his time.

    • johndiestler says:

      Hey Philip, great to hear from you. There has been some stone work, but generally in the way we normally use the term, I was incorrect. I should have said Master Engraver, but the general public still could be confused. Engraving is something that goes on bowling trophies. Oh well, it’s best to be correct.

      We have not traveled much ourselves. Heath issues have screwed up at least two summers. This summer we are planning to go to Jerusalem, ha! God willing!

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