I've had a number of people ask me about my use of textured backgrounds in my inkjet prints. The natural question is am I printing on textured paper? As much as that would be a seductive idea, I can't imagine that an inkjet printer could succeed very well if the paper was extremely textured, primarily because of the simple physical problems of both coaching the paper and spray of those tiny inkjet droplet.
Instead, I simply create an image that is the textured background. In my recent work, the Living Landscape exhibition for China, I used some textures that I made some 10 years ago. I started by scanning Japanese paper cut designs as high-resolution black-and-white line drawings. In Photoshop, I then converted them to grayscale images and used a level control adjustment to turn them into medium-gray-and-white images. Once that was complete, I was ready to create the texture — the part of the process is where things get really interesting.
In the spirit of true confession, this is the one and only practical use I've ever found for the software I originally purchased as Fractal Painter. (I think it's now owned by Corel and is simply known as Painter.) It's a fascinating and seductive piece of software. I just never found a use for it in my photography other than its ability to create these wonderful textures. When I purchased it years ago, it included dozens of paper textures that can be applied to any image. Most importantly, the paper texture can be controlled as to size, depth of texture, strength of lighting, direction of lighting, and a half-dozen other characteristics that allow you to create, essentially, any texturized paper/image you can imagine.
After considerable experimenting, I found the right combination of paper texture and depth that I thought would make wonderful backdrops for photographs. At the time, I never did find a photographic project that I could use this technique with, so they've languished on my hard drive now for some 10 years. From time to time I resurrect them to see if they'll work with some project I'm currently working on. This new exhibition that combines my fan shaped images with classical Chinese poetry was the perfect project to employ these old paper texture images. I was able to resurrect half a dozen of these and finally find a use for them that fit the project perfectly.
Each piece in the new exhibition is constructed of half a dozen components. First, the paper texture image creates the background. On top of that, I placed a simple box with a fill color. By changing the fill color and its opacity, I was able to create just the right density and hue for the backdrop that complemented the image without overwhelming it.
Next I imported the photographic image and modified its container shape so that the photograph becomes this fan-shaped presentation. (This is the same idea I used in the Uchiwa-e series, although I modified the shape for this project.) To this fan-shaped InDesign object I apply a subtle drop shadow.
Next I bring in the Chinese poem into its own text box and apply a paragraph style to determine its typeface characteristics. This text box also has an object style that employees rounded corners and a white fill that is throttled back to about 40% opacity. This gives the text that lighter backdrop that helps its readability and makes it a distinct item on the page. By using an opacity setting, the paper texture is still visible behind the text box and makes it almost appear that the text is on a tissue sheet. Finally, the text and graphic on the bottom of the page round out the design. These latter elements are actually included on an InDesign master page so their positioning is uniform throughout the project.
This kind of project is a lot more intense in terms of its design elements than the standard photographic project of my youth. We used to simply slap the image in a beveled window-cut, white mat board. The kind of design work I've included in this project would have been unheard of back them, but I find it a much more interesting creative pursuit to add these design elements where they are appropriate for the project. It expands my role beyond "photographer" and deep into the realm of designer. For me, this is exciting, particularly because I know that I have a safety net — I can always employ a professional graphic designer in any project in which I feel I'm in over my head.