In a small space that doubles as his home and his workshop, painter and photographer Tony Blue sits before a large computer monitor that dominates the main room. He spends considerable time there, working a bit of magic with his vivid imagination and the help of modern technology.
"It's amazing what you can do with this," he said of his computer. "What used to take me days to do in a darkroom takes me only minutes now."
Using Photoshop in lieu of his former darkroom, Blue lets what he calls "artistic license" take over. He picks and chooses the details he wants from a variety of photos he has amassed, and combines them into one composition.
Blue has developed and refined a distinctive art form he calls "Blutography." Once his photos are transferred to his computer, he can do pretty much whatever he wants to create the composition he envisions in his mind's eye.
"You develop your own style," he said. "On the computer you can eliminate the extra details that clutter a composition."
In a photo where he wants to emphasize an approaching storm, for example, he can focus on the sky and electronically eliminate elements of the scene that distract the eye of the viewer.
The 63-year-old artist was raised in Pinellas County and prefers the simple ways of the Florida of his youth. His bestselling work, a 12-by-40-inch composition called Paradise Lost, is based on that feeling of nostalgia.
"Back in the old days, there were trailers along the coastline before there were condos," Blue said. "I call this piece Paradise Lost because it reflects a part of Florida that has been lost."
The composition features a combination of elements from different photos: a vacant lot in Sand Key, two trailers, a sun, an egret, three girls in bathing suits walking along a dusty road and a telephone pole.
The pole was an element Blue wanted to use — but it wasn't in any of his photos. No problem. Using his mouse as a brush, in a matter of minutes he had "painted" the telephone pole and transferred it to his new composition.
Someone viewing Blue's photographic work might notice an absence of color.
"I focus on earth tones," he said. "Unless it's a tropical scene, I like to take the bright colors out."
Little Trailer Boy has been selling well also. Focusing on a trailer he saw in Safety Harbor, Blue added a dramatic sky from one photo and a small boy from another.
"I have a thing for clotheslines and television antennas," he said of items rarely seen anymore, so he added those to the picture as well. All of the elements came together in a panoramic work that has appealed to viewers.
Blue is not scheduled to exhibit in any shows this coming year, but sells his work from his website or in local galleries and shops, including Clay and Paper in Dunedin, the Crystal Gardens Gallery in Redington Shores, and the Hoffman Porges Gallery in Ybor City.
He generally makes 150 limited editions of each photographic composition, which can be purchased by size, ranging in price from $25 to $700 a work. Original paintings range from $500 to $4,500, depending on size and detail.
Many of Blue's photo compositions feature objects that have seen finer days — such as a dented and rusted old truck.
"I'm drawn to what people did in their lifetimes," he said. "That beat-up old truck did productive things at one time."
Blue is a painter as much as a photographer. His paintings, mostly in acrylics on either board or canvas, tend to be abstract and colorful — or muted, but containing a social message. One of the latter, called Lost Americans, features two Indians in a blizzard at Wounded Knee. That work recently received a "Best in Show" award at the Gugliotta Gallery in Pass-a-Grille. A mixed media painting called Built on Sweat and Blood features the elements of hard work, including barbed wire, nails and a pair of old work gloves. An American flag provides the backdrop.
Panoramic shots are particularly popular with Blue's clients, but his own wishes in composing a particular scene always take precedence.
"I have to please myself first with a picture," he said. "My art is what makes me happy."
Correspondent Elaine Markowitz can be reached at [email protected]