Schonau Sketchbook

Inspired by the ideas and examples in The Art of Vintage Journaling and Collage, I’ve started work on a digital sketchbook to document the time my husband and I spent in Germany in the late 1980s. Right after we got married, the Army assigned him to a signal (communications) battalion located just outside the city of Mannheim, Germany. For most of the next 30 months we were the only Americans living in the village of Schonau, a suburb of Mannheim.

Once we got settled and I landed a job, my first paycheck bought the mid-range equivalent of an Instamatic camera. Although my photography skills left a lot to be desired, I had a lot of fun with that camera. This was back in the days of film when you had no idea what your photograph looked like until it came back from the processor. I do have a good number of “lucky shots” but most of the photos I took are marginal at best. They are still quite precious because they’re all I’ve got.

Thanks to today’s photo-editing applications, these shots can get cleaned up to some degree. For those less than stellar shots that captured some very precious moments, we can now turn them into paintings or sketches that transform a marginal photo into a treasured keepsake. And, not only are these apps affordable, they are quite easy to use!

Schonau Garden

Here’s what the garden of our little house looked like in the summer. The photo used to create this sketch was poorly exposed. You can see it in the sketch as the washed out foliage at the top center. It’s much more pronounced in the photo. You’ll also notice the bottom right corner is clipped off. Yes, I could have cropped it, but I wanted to keep that little bit of fern in the picture.


The early morning sun washed out most of the detail at the bottom of the church. Even the sketch doesn’t show the trees down near the water very well, but since it’s a sketch you think it was done intentionally. Artist’s license or whatever.

These sketches were both created with a delightful app called Sketcher [Mac & Win – $14.99].

Sketcher Workspace

When you first open the app, you’ll be a bit disappointed. Is this all there is? Yes, but you’ll be amazed what “this” can do. Here I’m working on a photo that was taken on a very gray day. The photo itself was just flat. First, I chose the type of sketch I wanted to create – watercolor was used in each of these examples. The thumbnail displayed just above the slider controls show you what your settings will look like as you adjust them. Click on the Process button and the main image will be updated with your selections. You just keep sliding and processing until you’ve got what you want. Once you’ve reached that point, save the image and you’re all set.

My only recommendations are to clean up your photo as best you can before you open it in Sketcher. The windmill in the foreground had a white line right down the middle which would have been picked up in the sketch if I hadn’t fixed it first. And, because I scan my photos at such a high resolution, I create a copy resized to whatever purpose I have planned for the resulting sketch. This will keep the image processing from overloading my computer. Since my sketchbook project is going to be built in Keynote, I’ve resized it to fit a 1024 x 768 slide at 160 ppi.

In addition to watercolor, you can create oil, pencil, pastel and something called a water mix using the different filters. Although there are just the few settings, the resulting combinations are almost limitless. And it’s fun!

For those treasured pics of disappointing quality, it’s quite possible that Sketcher can give them new life in a matter of minutes.

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