Hand-tinting is the process of adding color to either small parts of a picture or an entire photograph by adding either ink or paint by hand. While hand-tinting was once the only way to add color to photographs, the invention of color film, digital photography and computer editing software has pretty much killed off a once popular art form. Though hand-tinting certainly isn’t necessary, it still remains one of my favorite artistic techniques and I love incorporating it into my mixed media paintings. I have also found hand-tinting to be a quick and easy way to create some pretty awesome wall art for my home. These tips will help teach you how to hand-tint your own black and white photographs by painting on top of them. Using these tricks and techniques, you can easily make a one-of-a-kind work of art you will love showing off.
Use Matte Paper
While hand-tinting photos printed on gloss paper isn’t impossible, it is far easier to do on a matte finish. Matte paper is also more porous and will better absorb and hold the paint for a seamless finish, whereas painting on gloss paper will obviously show the paint on top of the picture.
I often find antique photographs at antique malls and flea markets, and these are some of the greatest photos for hand-tinting with paint. However, these photos are irreplaceable if ruined, so I never paint on the original. I recommend scanning film pictures and printing copies or printing out multiple copies of digital photographs when hand-tinting. This way you can experiment with coloring different areas or using different colors without damaging or destroying the original picture.
Understand Your Paints
I recommend using either acrylic or watercolor paint when hand-tinting. Both have completely different looks when dry. Watercolor paint will dry more seamless and transparent, whereas acrylic will dry completely opaque. The photo at the top of this article was tinted using both; the paint over the mouth and hair was done with acrylic, whereas the paint on the bodice of the top was done with watercolor. See the difference? If you want to keep small details of the original photograph visible; watercolor is best. If you want to add new shapes or details; acrylic is a better fit.
Don’t try to tackle a huge detail on the photo first if you have never tried hand-tinting before, as it’s likely you will mess up. Instead, practice tinting small details with the paint as you get used to working in this medium. For example, if the photo is of a woman in a field of flowers, try painting the flowers first rather than the woman’s hair.