2021-04-12

Organizing the Photo Archive

This is the first of two posts on working with photos and slides.  In this first post, I cover how I organize our large archive of family photos dating back to the late 1800s up to the present day.  In the next post, I will cover how I scan slides, as well as a little bit about scanning photos and how I organize those digital files and back everything up.   


These steps are what have worked well for my sister and I as we work our way through thousands (and thousands!) of photos.  I’m sure there are other methods, but this is how we have done it. 

 

First Step, start a calendar of important family dates. 

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I did not start with a calendar, but as I progressed, I realized I needed to keep track of ‘what happened when’ and having it all in one place that I could refer to without having to open box after box was very helpful.  Mine is created in Microsoft Word.  If there is interest, I will add a post later about how I created this.  

 

The calendar includes important dates such as births, deaths, marriages, and divorces.  I also added the dates of holidays, house moves, trips, and other events to the calendar when I could.  To find dates for the calendar,  I used the dates found on photos and slides, in saved calendars (I had a few years of my Mom's calendars as well as several years of my own) and Christmas letters, etc.  My Mom kept most of the photos in dated albums, which at least got us to the correct year most of the time! As we went, we transferred those occasions to the calendar.  Now it is all in one place and I refer to this calendar all the time while sorting photos, as it is very helpful in dealing with unlabeled photos.  

 

Step Two is sorting the photos. 

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I sort the photos three times: first by decade, then I sort each decade by year, then each year by month.  I write the (decade/year/or month) on a piece of copy paper and lay it out on the table or the floor depending on how large the pile of photos is.  Then I place photos on the papers according to the photo labels (hopefully!) and if not labeled, using my best guess.  


Once I have finished the first sort by decade, I put each decade in a box or large envelope.  I deal with one decade at a time.  Otherwise, I find it gets too overwhelming.  Then I sort each decade into years in the same fashion. Then each year gets put into a photo box marked with the year.  

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If more than one year is in a box, I add a ¼ page of copy paper labeled with the year that I can easily see.  This paper tab is a good spot to write down the known large events such as trips, ages of children, what year they are in school, etc. This is how I kept track of things until I started the calendar.   While it might seem repetitive, I found it helpful to have both. Here is a diagram of how I quarter the sheet of paper. 


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Once the decade is sorted, I work on one year at a time.  I do my best to sort chronologically into months.  While this may not be a necessary step if you have few photos, for the large number that I am dealing with, I find it very helpful.  

 

Step Three is labeling photos.  

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My sister and I have discarded many photos because we had no idea who the people in the photos were. An unlabeled photo is worthless if you don’t know who it is.   

 

As I put the sorted photos into the final boxes, I do my best to label them.  Here is my formula for labeling. 


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-    Use a photo safe archival pen, such as a Pigma Micron Pen.  Pencil fades quickly, ball point and  most other types of pen bleeds through and then fades or smears, and many modern inks are damaging to photos.  I’ve tried the photo pencils, but they don’t write cleanly enough to be easily readable years from now and I found that they smudge, making it hard to read. 

-    Date the photo with year, month, and day if known

-   I use this format, which I also use when scanning and saving photo files on the computer: 2021.02.13 (Year.Month.Day) This allows the photos to easily be sorted chronologically on the computer. 

-    Names, both first and last.  

-    Location

-    Occasion 

A photo label might look like this:

19xx.xx.xx Lillian (Suzi) Fernandez, Princeton, NJ, High School Graduation


When we sorted large groups of photos with the same subject, we sometimes labeled just a couple of photos and then clipped or banded the photos together.  This saved time during the initial sort and downsize but still allows for accurate labeling in the future when there is more time. 

 

Some additional tips and suggestions.

-       In going through 100s upon 100s of photos, it didn’t take long to figure out that we didn’t care about the photos of scenery, flowers, wildlife, etc.  What we loved were the photos of people we knew and especially photos of them in their home, their yard/garden/farm/job, etc.  We didn’t care about photos of their friends unless it included family members or the people we all knew.  And truthfully, will your grandkids want that photo of your friend cluttering up their closet 50 years from now if you aren’t in it?  We found we didn’t even care for photos of just their pets. Those photos are for the people who took them generally.  We wanted to see the people.  So, we discarded close to 2/3rds of the photos.  

The truth is that few of our “family” photos are spectacular.  They are snapshots.  They meant something to the people who took the photo.  Years down the road when the stories that go with the photos are lost to time, the photos will have lost their meaning. 

Once in a great while, we kept a special scenery photo, but truthfully, not very often!  Having said that, my Dad especially, was a pretty good photographer.  He was able to tell a story through his photos.  But he wasn’t professional and most of them do not really have “artistic” merit that would inspire his children, grandchildren, or even great grandchildren to print one of these photos to hang on their wall.    For example; My Dad worked as a weather scientist for many years and became very interested in clouds.  Throughout his life he took hundreds of photos of clouds.  They had meaning to him and we did keep a few to share this bit about him, but how many photos of clouds did we need to keep to demonstrate his love of clouds?    

In the same way, my folks were avid birders and traveled all over the country and the world in search of birds.  They took thousands of photos of birds – adequate enough to identify the bird and say, “I saw this bird and here’s proof”, but again, like the cloud photos, not good enough to say, “Wow!  That’s an amazing bird photo that I want to hang on my wall!” Same for flowers.  I’ve kept a handful from each category to illustrate their memoirs, but I didn’t need a thousand photos of ducks to show their love of birds.  We chose the best of the best.

I also keep a box for undated photos that I cannot figure out.  Most of the time, as I work through other photos, I find similar photos that help me determine a rough date, which is good enough for me.  

 

Photo Storage

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I use photo boxes about the size of a shoebox to keep the photos in.  They take up far less space than photo albums and it’s easier to sort and reorganize.  The ones I currently like best are from Hobby Lobby (You'll find them near the scrapbooking materials).  They have a nice finish inside, a metal label holder and a well-fitting lid.  In the past I preferred the Michael’s boxes, but lately the quality has gone down significantly, and I returned the last batch I purchased and went to Hobby Lobby instead.  I’ve found that most of the cardboard inserts provided in photo storage boxes are not high enough to be seen above the photos and too many of them are out of cheap cardboard that warps excessively making them worthless.  I just recycle them.   Instead, as noted above, I quarter a piece of copy paper, writing the year in bold on the upper left. Below it, I write any known events that year including the ages of people who are likely to be in those photos as it helps me date things and is very helpful if I don’t have the calendar list on the computer at hand. 

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Once I have the photos in the box with dividers in place, I lay any larger photos on top.  If there are photos larger than 5"x7", I place them in 12"x13" oversize boxes like those below.  

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These are also handy for keeping larger documents like college diplomas, marriage licenses, etc.  There aren't a lot of these large photos in my family, so I have one box dedicated to my Dad, one for my Mom, and one of general oversize photos for my kids and I.  Then there is one empty box left in case I need it for something else.  

When we did our big sort, going through 18 moving boxes of photo albums; we worked one box at a time, one album at a time.  One of us would focus on the calendar and labeling while the other removed photos.  We threw nothing out until both of us had gone through to make sure there was nothing else to keep.  Generally, we left the photos we were discarding in the album and only pulled out the ones we wanted to keep.  Many of the albums had labels written on the album itself and when that happened, one read the label off while the other wrote it on the back of the photo.  We managed to get through all 18 boxes in a week of steady work!  I had also gone through 3 or 4 boxes of loose photos prior to this, so we incorporated all of those photos into this organization as well.  

What a relief to have all those photos downsized to something more manageable.  I'm looking at moving in a couple of months and I hope to fit all those photos into only 4 moving boxes now!  

Next comes the task of completing the scanning of slides.  Most of the photos my parents took from about 1960 to the late 1980s were in slide form.  I'm pretty certain that we lost a box of slide carousels along the way somewhere as there are photos I remember having seen that we have not been able to find.  I'm over halfway on scanning slides, but details of slide and photo scanning will wait for the next photo archive related post! 



2021-04-10

Challenge Completed! 5 Days of Painting!

Note: this post contains affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase,
I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. 
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Today's painting is of a scene in Rocky Mountain National Park in the Kawuneechee Valley.  It's the headwaters of the Colorado River.  One of my favorite places in the park.  It's changed a lot since I took this picture sometime about 10-15 years ago.  First the pine beetles came in and ravaged the trees, and then this past summer, this area was burned in the huge fires here.  One day it will regrow, but it won't look like this again in my lifetime.  Loved painting this beautiful memory! 

Like the other studies this week, I hope to do a much larger painting in the future of this scene.  

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I did a value sketch, but I think I actually captured the values better in the painting for once! 

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This was at 20 minutes.  I needed less than 10 minutes more to get the finished result I showed above.  

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Here is the completed study with the reference photo (Modified as usual to simplify things and make it easier for me to paint and not get caught up in details).  

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In all, I was able to complete 6 paintings this week!  All are 7"x5".  The top three are on old canvas boards I had.  I'm glad to say I've used all of them up that I had in this size - finally!  The bottom three are on my favorite surface, Ampersand Gessoboard.  I used Winsor & Newton Artisan Water Mixable oils on these.  They took a bit of getting used to, but I love not having to use solvents or oils in the painting process.  For brushes, I order mine from Rosemary & Co Brushes in England.  I used Rosemary Shiraz in short flat #6 and a #2 filbert.  

At the end of this coming week, I'm participating in "Plein Air Live".  I did it last year and learned so much!  Hoping this year is just as good!  

#ArtWorkLifeChallenge

2021-04-09

Painting Challenge Day 4

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I chose another Colorado scene for today's challenge study.  This is a spot on a walking path fairly close to home.  Last summer, the girls (daughter and daughter in laws) went on a weekly walk together mid-pandemic.  It was a wonderful chance to spend time together, masked and outdoors, after not having seen anyone for months.  Along one area, the vista opened up to the south with a view through the trees of fields .  I loved this spot and often stopped and took a photo.  

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I started off with a value sketch.  Which I promptly ignored as I started painting. 

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At 20 minutes into the painting, everything was looking somewhat flat and "not right".  So I revisited the value sketch and painted for another 10 minutes, resulting in the painting at the top.  Much better!  

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Here's a look at the finished study along with the photo reference I painted from.  I do see a few things that I could improve upon, but I'm pretty happy with this one and think I'll try to paint a larger version in the future.  

Lessons learned today:  1 - trust your value sketch and stick to it!  2 - premixing paint really speeds things up! (I did some but not enough today and it slowed me down) 3 - Forget the clock and just have fun! Be surprised when the timer goes off!

#ArtWorkLivingChallenge

2021-04-08

Day 3 Painting Challenge

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No painting yesterday as I had other obligations.  Made a point of painting this morning.  This scene was from a photo I took on a hike with my oldest son a number of years ago.  It's a view of Long Lake with Niwot Ridge in the background in the mountains west of Boulder & Longmont.  It's probably my favorite area in Colorado and sits just to the south of my other favorite area, Rocky Mountain National Park.  

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I spent 20 - 30 minutes on this - I lost track of the time as "the cat" upended my glass of water in the middle! In the past, I would have called this a "block in" and continued on. What I'm learning with these quick studies, is that the colors are more vivid, the essence more heartfelt if I stop at this point. This is a groundbreaking revelation for me, as in the past I would have continued on and the colors would have become duller and the scene less emotional. (see the end of this post for an example) Now if I could just figure out how to bring this expressiveness into a larger studio piece!

As for other things I want to work on, I'd like to get better with those far distant colors so they recede into the background better.  I may make that the focus of my next challenge.  That will need to wait until later in the month as next week is turning out to be super busy and will finish with "Plein Air Live", an online intensive 3 day painting workshop.  I loved doing it last year and learned so much! 

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This is the value study I did for today's painting.  These little sketches don't take long, but they make such a huge difference in my painting.  

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Despite yesterday's obligations, I did make time to do a value sketch.  I may do this painting tomorrow.  Or I may stick to scenes from Colorado.  This scene was an old vacant home in rural southwest Iowa that I fell in love with.  I love the way the house is surrounded with bridal veil spirea bushes and the lilacs and trees in the yard.  In some ways, it represents a "dream" home for me.  I think I was too vested in the emotional reaction I have to this house to paint it yesterday, so I let those obligations be my excuse not to paint.  So for now, I think I need to stick to less emotionally charge pieces.  

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Here's an example of what I was talking about earlier.  This is a Plein air painting I did last summer in Rocky Mountain National Park.  This rough block in has vibrant colors and really captured the essence of what drew me to this scene in the first place.  

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I spent another hour working on it and this is the finished result.  I fell into a common trap with Plein air painting that we call "chasing the light".  This is where a quick value study can help as well.  This particular day got hazier as the sun rose higher in the sky and the light was less brilliant. As you can see, the painting got duller and the light that I had been drawn to changed.  While I'm still happy with it as a painting, I wish I had been able to keep the immediacy of the block in.  If I had it to do over again, I would have left the background untouched from the block in and worked harder at maintaining the foreground color. Lessons learned! 

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Despite it not turning out quite like I had hoped, I liked it well enough, that I did hang it on my wall along with two others I did last summer! 

 



2021-04-06

Painting Challenge, Day 2

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Started the day off with another "20 minute" painting for the 5 day challenge!  Feels so good to pick up paint brushes again!  I actually ended up doing two this morning as I wanted a second try to improve the color.  

The original photo was taken north of Fort Collins, Colorado on the way up into the foothills.  There is a line of sandstone bluffs that fronts the mountains and it was beautiful in the setting sun! A peaceful July evening! 

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I started off with a value sketch.  Even if I don't refer to it while painting, just having done it helps me get better values when I paint.  It's even better if I do refer to it while painting! 

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This is the first try at 20 minutes. On the way, but still needed some work 

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I gave it another 5 minutes and this was the result!  A good stopping point.  These aren't finished paintings, but rather little studies.  Looking for values, shapes, and colors.  Seeing if I can capture the feeling of the original scene in paint.  I was really happy with the foreground and line of sandstone bluffs in the distance.  

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When I took this photo with the reference photo, I could see how poorly I captured the color in the clouds.  Since it was one of the things that drew me to the scene, I decided to have another go at it.   

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Attempt #2.  This was the result after 20 minutes.  I did touch up just a couple of things, so total time was probably 22 minutes.  Much happier with the color in the sky, but I didn't take as much time laying out the foreground and horizon line, so I'm not nearly as happy with that part of the painting.  

I'd be interested to know which version you like better! 

It's fun doing these little studies and they certainly point out why the Masters of painting did so many studies before tackling a large painting.  They point out areas that need improvement and help one to "see" better.  I definitely had better color in the first one, even though I didn't quite capture the sunset glow I was looking for.  The second one has better cloud shadows and a touch more of that sunset glow, but the rest of the colors came out more muted.  Both have their pluses and minuses! 

I'd like to do a larger painting of this one as well. Someday!  Both studies are 7"x 5", Winsor Newton Artisan Oils on Canvas board.  

FYI, all these little studies are all for sale.  $75.00 plus shipping and handling.  Payment via PayPal.  Let me know if you are interested! 


 

2021-04-05

Easter & Getting Back to Painting

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I purchased this little pot of primroses at the beginning of February and it has bloomed non-stop since!  Such a joy to have blooms in the middle of winter that last into spring!  

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Mushu and I had a lovely Easter.  My youngest son and his girlfriend and her son came for Easter dinner.  We also had a lovely surprise visit from my daughter, SIL, and grandson!  

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Mushu has been a bit calmer the past few days!  Thankfully!  He's dearly loved but can be a real handful sometimes.  He liked this perch to watch me preparing Easter dinner from.  

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I haven't done any oil painting in at least 6 months.  Maybe longer.  I joined a painting challenge to help be get back into it.  With all the upcoming changes, (packing, selling my home, finding a new home, and moving) I needed something to keep me from being overwhelmed.  And since painting is probably my favorite pastime - yes, even above stitching! - it made sense to make time for it. 

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In this challenge, we do a small painting every day for 5 days.  We start with a 30 minute time limit and the goal is to be down to 20 minutes by the end of the week.  These aren't finished paintings, but really the rough block in.  In a sketch like this, values, color, and shapes are established.  This sketch can be used later while working on a much larger painting of the same subject matter.  The hope is that these small sketches help one work out the problems.  This is my 5"x7" painting at 20 minutes.  

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Here we are at 30 minutes.  

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This is the painting at 30 minutes with the reference photo.  The photo is one that I took while at one of our local areas where I like to go and walk, paint, and photograph now and then - Walden Ponds in Boulder County, Colorado.  On this evening, I was there at dusk and the light was gorgeous.  Just a beautiful, still, peaceful evening.  I hoped to capture that essence in this little sketch.  

FYI, I often take a reference photo and manipulate it to simplify it before using it as a painting reference.  I find it helps to keep me from getting bogged down in too much detail.

Since I haven't really painted in months, I'm pretty happy with how this little sketch turned out, but I also see areas for improvement.  First, it would have been better on a longer canvas instead of squashed into a smaller one.  Second; I need to not be afraid of color.  Look at those vivid turquoise blues in the distant mountains and their reflections in the water.  Also the yellow in the sky on the left side.  Third: Normally, I do a value sketch first and it can be really helpful in establishing the large shapes and their value (light and dark). I didn't do that on this one and it shows. I lost track of it and though I tried to get it back, it's hard to bring back the darks once it has been painted too light.

I may try this one again tomorrow and aim for better color and value.  If I get one I like, then I think I'm going to paint this one large.  

Every place has it's own beauty, and I know that I'll find that wherever my new home ends up being.  But it's bittersweet knowing that I'll be leaving this area that has been my home region for the better part of my life.  I want to preserve some of these scenes and take them with me.   So many memories. 



 

2021-04-01

April Journal

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Violets are one of my top 3 favorite flowers!  When I lived in Iowa, I loved the abundance of them coming up in the grass and made so many bouquets of them.  I had to try my hand at some expressive watercolors and this is the result!  So happy with this theme for April! 

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The task list for the month is looking a bit different.  You'll notice that instead of working on some landscaping projects I had intended to start working towards in March, the focus has shifted.  Yes, it looks like I'm preparing to move once again.  I thought I was going to settle here, but the costs of lot rent have risen far faster than anticipated and my funds have depleted a bit faster than I had hoped.  The result is, that I am looking for a small home filled with light and character and a view towards nature and a place to garden, probably somewhere in the midwest.  Your prayers as I embark upon this change would be deeply appreciated.  

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The tracker is much the same and I'm still tracking Covid numbers.  

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I've added a new tracker page for expenses.  I hope to keep track of everything I spend this month.  Looking to make sure I'm not over spending in any particular area or to see where I need to make changes.  

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I actually did a bit of sewing this week.  Some new masks for the grandkids.  They'll be flying to see the other grandparents later this month and since the youngest is now 2, he needs to wear a mask.  My granddaughter also wanted a some new masks for wearing to school.  I made 9 altogether, which brings my total masks made to over 100.  

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Kitty Mushu has been active this week and spent more of the week in trouble than not.  He's taken to knocking plants off the windowsills and has chipped the kitchen sink, knocked lamps over, knocked water glasses over, gotten into the storage stuff and knocked down an enormous stack - it was quite the cascade and didn't make Mom-Cat very happy as you can imagine.  He always has to be daring!  

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But then he's all sweetness and innocence!  Both lovable to the extreme and yet exasperating to the max!