Evelyn Nesbit, 1902

Evelyn Nesbit, photographed by Otto Sarony, 1902.

There are a number of different techniques I deploy to colorize and restore images, depending on the scene, and the quality of the source materials. The most flexible approach requires isolating and masking every object and sub-object in the scene, and applying a color to each individual element. This allows for easy modifications after the fact, but the results can look stiff and reminiscent of a color-by-numbers drawing. It also tends to take insane amounts of time, and hundreds of Photoshop layers. Another common approach is applying all colors in one pass, in a single layer. The results of this tend to look more fluid and lifelike, but it requires a good eye for color and a fearless approach to the canvas. Another issue is that blending colors in Photoshop can be messy and unpredictable sometimes, depending on “flow” and “opacity” and “blend modes.”

I recently came up with a new technique which I’m calling the “pixel brush”—instead of using “flow” to visually blend colors, I’m using the pixelated effect from the “Dissolve” blend mode to create the illusion of blending colors. An added benefit of this is that the grain or noise this introduces to the image also helps sharpen it somewhat, and creates an almost “matte” effect when viewed from a distance. I’m still experimenting with this, and determining the best scenarios for this technique.

So here’s an attempt to colorize this photograph of Evelyn Nesbit in 1902, using this technique.

Evelyn Nesbit (born Florence Evelyn Nesbit; December 25, 1884 or 1885 – January 17, 1967) was an American artists’ model, chorus girl, and actress. She is best known for her career in New York City, as well as the obsessive and abusive fixation of her husband, railroad scion Harry Kendall Thaw on both Nesbit and architect Stanford White, which resulted in White’s murder by Thaw in 1906.

As a model, Nesbit was frequently photographed for mass circulation newspapers, magazine advertisements, souvenir items and calendars. When in her early teens, she had begun working as an artist’s model in Philadelphia. Nesbit continued after her family moved to New York, posing for artists including James Carroll Beckwith, Frederick S. Church and notably Charles Dana Gibson, who idealized her as a “Gibson Girl”. She began modeling when both fashion photography (as an advertising medium) and the pin-up (as an art genre) were beginning to expand.

Nesbit entered Broadway theatre, initially as a chorus line dancer before becoming a featured star. A variety of wealthy men vied for her company including Stanford White, 32 years her senior. In 1905, Nesbit married Thaw, a multi-millionaire about 14 years her senior with a history of mental instability and abusive behavior. The next year, on June 25, 1906, Thaw shot and killed White at the rooftop theatre of Madison Square Garden.

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