Textures from Painting to Digital Images

by Rolf Coulanges BVK


Part 1: Introduction
The term texture comes from the Latin word textura and describes the inner structure and context of a tissue, today also that of a virtual structure. This structure is transmitted to the outside via the surface of the fabric, but only as an external expression of the inner coherence that characterizes the medium in its outer appearance.
The texture is therefore not to be confused with the content of the digital image, its colouring, its contrast, its luminosity.

vangoh1 Vincent van Gogh Midday rest 1890

vangoh2 Detail from Original

vangoh3 Detail modified: texture reduced

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The best comparison to explain the texture can be made with painting: the painter can create the texture of his
painting's surface out of the physical structure of the background used, or he can give his picture a texture with
the pasty nature of the paint substances and the way they are applied to the canvas. In it, light and color
develop their own dynamics on the multiple reflections of the uneven surface.

 

 

 

 

 

 Claude Monet The Cathedral of Rouen 1894

 

 

The texture can even lead to the fact that the effect of the picture and its colours only emerges completely in the eye of the observer. In 1857, the French painter Eugene Delacroix, whose ideas inspired the use of textures in painting, gave a vivid justification for the effect of a texture as a special way of painting: "The splash of colour on the brush only blends into the whole from a certain distance, but it gives the painting an accent that the mixture of colours cannot produce". Van Gogh, too, believed that the texture of colours applied individually to the canvas, seen from a distance, through their mixture in the eye of the viewer, achieves a much greater intensity of colour than the same colours mixed on the palette before application.

Waterloo Bridge, Effet Rosé 1904

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The heated discussion in the 19th century about the yes or no to the creation
of textures through the background of the painting, by the application of the
paint or the separation of singular colours in the picture, however, revolved
around a different point. It was not only about the greatest possible intensity
of colour, but generally about the way of turning away in painting from the full
illusion of the image towards an abstraction of what is seen, towards the
creation of a fundamentally new technique of depicting reality. Without a
constant reference to figurative reality, it should be able to develop a new
point of view, a new artistic expression.
Painting has passed this task on to cinematography today. At this point
painting and cinematography meet directly.

 A Haystack in the Evening Sun 1891

 

Abstraction, which made Impressionism its design principle,
led painting to another inner context: to light and colour as free
elements of design in dealing with physical reality. The texture
of the colour, the reflections of the light caused by it, and the
optical mixing of the different layers of colour in the
wholeness of the picture’s perception became the decisive step
out of the concreteness of the image. The textures created 
new visual spaces in painting, that is, in the perception of light 
and colours. These are also the pictorial spaces that digital
cinematography must open up.

 

 

 

Le Parlement, Coucher de Soleil 1904

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150 years after the revolution that Impressionism brought to painting,
we are also concerned with an important question: How can we free
ourselves from the program of the ever more sophisticated visual
illusion? How can we become independent of a concept of reality
that constantly explains everything? In other words, how do we
arrive at creative cinematographic elements that sharpen our view
of the new cinematic space and the great possibilities of its composition?
The intervention in the texture and its role in supporting our images,
as we have seen with the painters, can be one of these strong elements
of digital image creation, and I would like to illustrate this later with some
examples of film sequences that change their expression by modifying their
texture.

 

Vue de Bordighera 1884

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However, our possibilities are currently still very limited compared to those of painting: we can only create textures that can be generated from the data that the camera's sensor can record with its specific properties.
The very first and most important limitation is the raster structure of the sensor itself - the size of the details that can be captured must not be less than a certain value. Otherwise there will be a superposition, an interference between the recorded structures and the raster structure of the sensor. However, even very large, low-frequency image elements cannot be displayed as a total element by the sensor´s Bayer pattern, but must
be divided into the regular pixels of the digital image.

 

 

Vincent van Gogh Bedroom in Arles 1888

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 Bedroom in Arles: Texture details

A thick brushstroke in a painting by van Gogh, which through its physical presence enables the picture to "break out" as an abstraction from the style of painting oriented towards realism, can only be represented with the digital camera as a pattern composed of many individual partial image areas. The "violation" of the real image of the motif, which painting undertook with Impressionism in order to create the artistic freedom through abstraction that enabled a modified representation of the motif, is not provided for in the recording technology of our digital images. At present, the elements of a texture that determines and also changes the image in the background can only be extracted from the inherent elements of the rasterized image. Painting, on the other hand, with the invention of texture as a central element in the creation of its new view of the world, had just undertaken the farewell, the overcoming of the reproduction of detail; the destruction of the realistic image in favor of abstraction as a step into new image spaces and the expression of a new perception of the present.

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Claude Monet Vétheuil in the fog 1879

Texture, however, is not only an element of modern painting, but is also the underlying structure of every digital image. It is the recording apparatus itself that, through its construction and its particularity, bases image processing on a texture of the image. It cannot be described as image content and is therefore usually not explicitly perceived or discussed. In classical photography we admire prints on baryta paper or old pictures on glass plates, let ourselves be impressed by colour prints in art books or finally go to the art gallery to see
paintings in their colourfulness and with their actual haptic surface. It is always about the perception of textures that have entered into an inseparable connection with the depicted and that not only change the images, but also our sensation in perception.

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William Turner Rain, Steam, and Speed - The Great Western Railway 1844

The texture determines an image and can also change it - I would like to show you this with some scenic examples. The texture is not an effect, but an integral and sensitive element of the image design, and that's why you have to take a good look to notice the changes that might change the movie deeply.

 

followed by:
Part 2: Textures from Painting to Digital Images
13 short film sequences with differently created textures

Part 2: Movie file on Vimeo

rcvideo

© 2019 Rolf Coulanges

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