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Hare Today, Hare Tomorrow: The Enduring Appeal Of Beatrix Potter

November 8, 2011

When it comes to children’s books, it’s hard to think of a more enduring influence than Beatrix Potter (1866-1943). We had a copy of The Tale Of Peter Rabbit when I was growing up, and Peter’s, uh, hare’s-breadth escape from Mr. McGregor gave me some of my earliest heart palpitations.

However, it was only after seeing Miss Potter (thumbs up), a somewhat romanticized biopic starring Renée Zellweger, that I read a biography of Beatrix Potter. I became an instant fan. As a child growing up in Victorian England, she spent hours drawing detailed watercolors of fungi. Talk about a work ethic.

And I was amazed to learn that it was only after she had arranged for a private printing
of Peter Rabbit (1901), that it attracted the interest of publisher Frederick Warne. She made and patented a Peter Rabbit Doll and approved other spin-off merchandise, making her an early pioneer in both self-publishing and licensing. She also said:

“Most people, after one success, are so cringingly afraid of doing less well that they rub all the edge off their subsequent work.”

Not the kind of tough talk you’d expect from someone associated with cute little bunnies and chamomile tea. It’s advice that all artists should take to heart.

To that end, I decided to pay tribute to Beatrix Potter by learning something new: a way
to colorize B&W photos in Photoshop. I got a bit more than I bargained for.

The obvious choice for the B&W photo: Beatrix Potter herself. I found the following six images, all of them poor and grainy. For reasons I can’t explain, I liked the top middle photo the best.

6 photographs of famous children's book author and illustrator Beatrix Potter who wrote stories about Peter Rabbit, Squirrel Nutkin, and Jemima Puddle-Duck

I suddenly realized I wouldn’t have the luxury of simply learning how to colorize a B&W image. I’d also have to figure out how to clean it up first, and solve the vexing problem of extracting hair. (Mr. McGregor’s problem was extracting hare.)

I shall skip over the blood, sweat and tears, and go directly to the before and after images. I cheated a little on some of the hair, but I like to think I got the hard part at the back of the neck.   Old dark blemished B&W photo of children's author and illustrator Beatrix Potter before and after it was cleaned up, corrected, colorized, and pasted onto new background after hair extraction

Was there a way to take the tribute a step further? I had an inspiration. I found a JPEG of a framed Peter Rabbit print. I pasted in my colorized photo, and used Photoshop masks and layer adjustments to alter the colors of the matte and frame. Why the light green color scheme? Scroll down.Colorized photo of children's author and illustrator Beatrix Potter inserted into photo frame with matte

I thought it might cheer the poor kid up after his narrow escape from Mr. McGregor’s garden.Colorized framed photo of children's author and illustrator Beatrix Potter inserted into an original illustration from her first book, The Tale Of Peter Rabbit

How accurate is my color portrait? According to her biographer, Beatrix Potter had brown hair and blue eyes. I ad-libbed from there. As always, I learned a lot by stepping outside the old comfort zone. I shall try to explain some of the techniques I
used in future posts.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

What do you think? Are you a Beatrix Potter fan? Have you done any photo restoration or coloring? Ever make the mistake of going into Mr. McGregor’s garden? Hope you’ll leave a comment.

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. November 8, 2011 5:16 PM

    As a child I loved watching the animations and reading the books of Beatrix Potter. I have never really seen the film though. Anyways, I think I understand why you chose that photo. Out of all of them it is the most striking portrait of her and brings out a lot of strength. Also, it sort of reminds me of those old brooches you get which has a bold background with a white profile portrait of a woman. Unfortunately I can’t remember the name of them right now.

    But you have have certainly done a spectacular job on changing the b&w photo into colour. It’s really beautiful and I think the light green frame suits it well and helps to finish it off. Also matches the bed frame of Peter’s bed! ^__^


    • November 8, 2011 8:09 PM

      A very astute analysis of my photo selection, Doctor! Yes, I see: striking, strong– clearly that particular photo was reminding me of myself… : P

      You grew up reading the BP books? Who knows– perhaps she influenced your decision to become an artist. I’m sure she’d be proud. Cheers, Sabine! : )


      • November 9, 2011 7:08 AM

        Oh definitely, since you are a fantastic person who clearly demonstrates such amazing techniques ^__^

        I did certainly grow up with them. I don’t think I read all of the books but we had a small collection. Not too sure what happened to it though… And she probably did have some sort of influence, along with other stuff =]


        • November 9, 2011 8:44 AM

          Really Doctor, you mustn’t flatter me so! Oh, go ahead, I can take it… : )

          I know someday you will join the pantheon of great British artists– perhaps as early as next week! : )


  2. November 8, 2011 10:49 PM

    WOW, what fun! I love the idea that Peter has her portrait above his bed!
    I have to watch Miss Potter, thanks for the recommendation. I had no idea she self published. I really love that quote, words to live by.



    • November 9, 2011 8:37 AM

      Thanks, Maria. What a lovely comment! I’m giving it 5 Carrots out of a possible five! : ) I think you’ll like the film. It’s absolutely first-rate, with some wonderfully affecting scenes.

      Beatrix Potter was clearly a woman of great persistence– and that’s perhaps the one quality an artist needs the most. Speaking of great artists, it’s lovely to have you stop by! : )


  3. November 9, 2011 6:04 PM

    You are just brilliant, no doubt! Great work, Mark. 🙂


    • November 9, 2011 10:08 PM

      No, no, no! Really now, I must protest, I– I– uh…

      On second thought, I must defer to your excellent taste and good judgement– you’re absolutely right!! : P

      Thanks, Inge!!


  4. Margie permalink
    November 11, 2011 4:22 PM

    Excellent choice of photos and you did a wonderful job! I’m looking forward to your description of how you did it.
    I was going through some old family photos the other day, and came across several that my mom hand colored, probably back in the late 40’s and early 50’s. I would imagine it was a very time consuming task!


    • November 11, 2011 5:17 PM

      Many thanks, Margie. That means a lot coming from a crackerjack photographer like you. It’ll be interesting to see if I can remember how I did it. I save a lot of work files as I go along, but even so, it’s hard to recollect every step– especially when you’re experimenting with different tools and settings… : (

      One thing about working with Photoshop and computers: it’s given me a near-reverence for anyone who produced beautiful visuals in pre-computer times. Hats off to your mom and everyone else who did it all by hand and couldn’t just hit “Undo”!! : )


  5. robpixaday permalink
    November 14, 2011 7:47 PM

    Wonderful wonderful wonderful!!!!
    I love how you brought her to us and also how you put her “in context” on the wall.

    As a kid I adored those illustrations and you’ve certainly made a lovely tribute.

    I’ve done one restoration (of a photo of my Great-Grandmother). It’s not easy!!!!!!! But truly rewarding. If I post it online again I’ll give you a link.


    • November 14, 2011 9:11 PM

      Many thanks! Such effusive praise is making my bunny whiskers twitch with pleasure… : )

      I shall look forward to seeing that restoration of your Great-Grammy. Thanks, as always, for your kind support! : )


  6. March 14, 2012 10:36 PM

    You’ve got a nice period feel to your colour version and it looks good over Peter’s bed, with the green frame going nicely with his bed.

    I am a fan of Peter Rabbit, yes. I still have a couple of the books, I think. I saw the film some time ago but found it a little bit too twee for my current tastes. I’ll have to look out for the biography of Beatrix Potter, I’d be interested to read that.

    I’ve a page in my blog about my photocolouring work if you want to look (I won’t give a link here). My sort of colouring is very different from this.

    A couple of tips (if you’d like them): when doing brown hair, make the hair the same colour as the skin then use the sponge tool on desaturate, with the brush on a low to medium opacity and, using brush strokes, gradually reduce the colour on the hair til you’ve got the tonalities you want. It makes it look textured.

    The other is: use adjustment modes to discover what lies in the darkest and lightest areas of the original photo, then work your tints in layers above that.

    Hope you don’t mind the suggestions. Chances are you’ll prefer your own way of working, whch is fine. 🙂


    • March 15, 2012 3:16 PM

      Mind the suggestions?? Man! Those are just the kind of tips I appreciate– thank you very much for taking the time to pass them along.

      I shall most definitely be paying a visit to your blog. Always interesting to see how other Photoshoppers do things.

      Many thanks for your kind and helpful comments, Val. : )


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