Christmas Blessings
Images Modified For Christmas E-cards
Created by K. R. Overholt Critchfield © 2004-2017
Published December 16, 2017


Christmas Blessings 2017; Image Modified & E-card Created by K. R. Overholt Critchfield © 2017


Welcome to our Christmas Blessings Web Page!

For many years now, it has been my habit to create Christmas Blessings e-cards that I have sent to members of my family, friends and Internet friends, even to those who get regular Christmas cards from me and my son, Matthew. Every year, I search the Internet for a picture that interests me, something that might be turned into an expression of my deep and abiding love for Christmas and the Christmas story, but also could be acceptable to those who celebrated other holy days.

After a few years of trial and error, my choices gravitated toward artwork that had no modern copyright problems, usually paintings from a century or more ago, because the pictures always seemed to look better with a little modification here and there. My efforts began when I barely knew how to manipulate the details of photographs, first using a modest (i.e., old) computer program called PhotoStudio, and then using a Adobe Photoshop program that is now outdated, but still useful. Most of the time, both programs were used in tandem to get the proper effect.

Christmas Blessings 2017 is my best effort for this year, and I hope it will be welcomed by all my visitors. I want to continue this work for Karen's Branches, because it is good to keep Christmas in our hearts all year long.

Karen's Note

The picture above is a portion of 16th century Italian painter Pompeo Batoni's The Sacred Family. No date was given for the painting, but my research found Batoni was a painter in Luca and Rome, whose work was with paint and transparent watercolors, and he also worked as a draughtsman. His work period was circa 1793 to circa 1787. When you see a full length version of this painting, you will see that it is very nice, but somebody clipped a tight shot of the Madonna and Child, and that is the picture I saw first. After finding a picture of the full length painting, it seemed to me that the tight shot told the whole story of the love, trust and interdependency of a mother and child. That is where my heart was, so it became my Christmas story for 2017.

My work with the photograph was in modifying colors and textures. Special attention was given to the skin tone of the mother and child, adding a healthy glow. Once the picture looked right, I tried several different kinds of backgrounds and frames, but they usually diminished the beautiful picture. In the end, I created a frame from the border of a carpet, from a picture found online, and it worked just fine. Then I took the red color from the upper lip of the child to finish the full effect.



Christmas Blessings 2016; Image Modified & E-card Created by K. R. Overholt Critchfield © 2016


Karen's Note

Above is my version of The Light of the World (1749 or 1750), by French painter François Boucher (1703-1770). In French, it is called La lumière du Monde. As shown, I found two different dates for Boucher's original creation. It is a lovely expression of the First Noel. The modifications were in accenting the colors, lighting and the background. Also, I brought the circle of people out of the shadows and brightened up the cow. The frame was inspired by the border of a carpet, taken from a photograph found on the Internet. I managed to match the colors and make the frame look like a wood carving. It seemed to fit.

This picture was chosen for my 2016 e-card precisely because of the familial gathering, which reminded me of several members of my immediate family who recently passed away, two of them died in 2016. For me, the figures in the background represented my mother Rose, who died in April 2010, my adoptive father Lee, who died in February 2016, and my brother Duane, who died in October 2016. Working on this photograph was a blessing to me.



Christmas Blessings 2015; Image Modified & E-card Created by K. R. Overholt Critchfield © 2015


Karen's Note

In 2015, my inspiration came from Innocence (1892), a painting by a prolific French painter from La Rochelle, France, William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905). This was the second picture of a Bouguereau painting that I used from his vast collection (see Christmas Blessings 2013 below). In his lifetime, he produced 822 known finished paintings, and many of them can be found on the Internet. The photo above is the top portion of a soft iconic painting that features a Madonna and Child, plus a baby lamb. Both the baby and the lamb are beautiful. Depicting babies in paintings appears to be a difficult task for most artists, but here, Bouguereau has created something quite lovely.

As an icon, this picture is wholly an expression of the love and protection of a mother for her precious child, but it also includes a melancholy foreshadowing of the future appellation for Jesus, The Lamb of God. It seemed to me that the figures should look more human, so my goal was to reduce some of the otherworldliness of the original, and increase the perception of reality. My work shows up in the skin tones, the colors of the clothing and the background, along with a few extra details to the left and right. It took a long time to decide on a surrounding frame, but a photo of a linen panel with pastel stripes gave the best look.



Christmas Blessings 2014; Image Modified & E-card Created by K. R. Overholt Critchfield © 2014


Karen's Note

For this e-card, the center of attention is The Madonna of the Rose, by the Italian painter, Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio (1467-1516). Another source gives a different title, Virgin And Child With A Flower Vase, but no date was given. Also, his surname has another spelling -- Beltraffio. When I decided to work on this picture, I did not know that Boltraffio was one of the "strongest artistic personalities" to emerge from the studio of Leonardo da Vinci, who happens to be one of my all-time favorite artistic geniuses. Recent research gave me that bit of news.

For me, this picture came alive while manipulating the lights and darks, the skin tones, and the flowers. Then a whole lot of time was spent creating the frame from scratch, using a photo of green fabric. Not yet mentioned is the additional task of finding the proper font for an e-card. Every picture needs a font that fits the visual story, so I try all kinds of fonts, with and without shadows, before picking the one that looks the best. Because of the pattern in the green frame, it was hard to find a font that both suited the overall experience and stood out as a message.

Back in 2014, when my sister saw my finished product, she commented, "Of course you would choose a picture that looks like you and Matthew," which surprised me, but a second glance proved she was right. The faces on this High Renaissance painting looked a bit like me and my son, Matthew, when I was younger and he was a baby. That is, except for the red hair. Certainly, the artist's depiction of the mother holding onto her busy child reminded me how I had to keep an eye on my own son, who was always on the move, especially when he learned to walk.



Christmas Blessings 2013; Image Modified & E-card Created by K. R. Overholt Critchfield © 2013


Karen's Note

Regretably, this e-card was sent out without identifiying the original painting or the painter, and that was probably because I could not locate any data back then. If my memory serves, I found the full-length picture online somewhere, and it did not include any details. Maybe a year later, while looking for another Christmas subject, I discovered the name of the artist, along with pictures of a whole lot of his other works. The 19th century French painter, William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905), was the creator of the original work, Song of the Angels (1881), or The Virgin of the Angels (1881).

In the original, Bouguereau presented the angels as very real three-dimensional figures, which must have been astonishing to those who saw it for the first time. Basically, I believe he was saying, "Angels are real," and I appreciate that viewpoint. My modification of the photograph made the angels look ephemeral, because that is my own philosophical point of view. I believe in angels, but believe they are . . . well, other. In my imagination, angels exist both inside and outside our world of three dimensions, simultaneously. This was my first time using the special effects that are offered in the Adobe Photoshop program. It took quite a lot of experimentation to produce the effect that appealed to me. I also worked on the colors, the highlights and the shadows of the dozing mother and sleeping child, and brought out the colors in the background.



Christmas Blessings 2012; Image Modified & E-card Created by K. R. Overholt Critchfield © 2012


Karen's Note

At the time I was working on this appropriately named Christmas Blessings e-card, using a small photograph clipped from the Internet, the name of the artist escaped me. All I knew was that this was a lovely modern iconic picture. Especially lovely was the depiction of the baby, and I appreciated the subtle, foreshadowing arcs of thorns. In religious terms, the Madonna's red clothing and golden breastplate remind us she is a highborn woman. Essentially, she is a queen without a crown, and her baby is a future king. To me, this was a political statement, softly but truthfully spoken.

Because the picture was small, I needed to search the Internet for a background that would echo the designs used by the original artist, and found something with a sky of stars and hearts that seemed to fit. I spent a lot of time melding the picture with the sparkling background, especially at the top of Madonna's halo, because the halo on the picture I was using had been cut off. Three years later, I discovered a web page that featured an even better photograph than the one I had worked to modify, and was pleased to see the Madonna had a full halo.

More, I learned that this work of art may have been the best known such painting during the Victorian-Edwardian era, a lovely Madonna and Child, painted by Marianne Stokes. Additional research gave me her full name, Marianne Preindlsberger Stokes (1855–1927). She was an Austrian painter, who settled in England when she married a landscape painter. Stokes was one of the leading artists of Queen Victoria's England. Madonna and Child was one of three paintings she created on the same subject, each one very different from the other.



Christmas Blessings 2011; Image Modified & E-card Created by K. R. Overholt Critchfield © 2011


Karen's Note

At the center of this 2011 e-card is a photo of the Nativity Window at St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Brentwood, PA, where I was a parishioner for many years, a member of the choir for most of those years, and at the end, the cantor. My son Matthew had taken photographs of all the stained-glass windows at St. Peter's, so I expected the Nativity Window to be a fairly easy project. However, that window was not photographed well, for the light behind it had faded, late that afternoon. It was necessary to spend a whole lot of time bringing out the colors and the shadow details, because in these windows, the shadows tell more of the story.

You will notice that some of the shadows are cut off at the top of the photograph, and that is because the windows are very tall. The lower sections can be pulled open during the spring and summer. Occasionally, it was my duty to close all those open panels after a service. For the e-card, I had to cleaned up the black lines that are part of the overall stained-glass structure, because the picture was taken at a slight angle. The red background, as I recall, came from a image that was downloadable on the Internet.

That holiday season, I felt good about my e-card, while sending it to my family and friends at St. Peter's. Then, a few years later, while I was singing in the Chancel Choir at Trinity Cathedral, downtown Pittsburgh, a Christmas card from St. Peter's showed up pinned to a hallway bulletin board, and lo! The folks at St. Peter's had created Christmas cards using a professional-looking photograph of their window. I was impressed.



Christmas Blessings 2010; Image Modified & E-card Created by K. R. Overholt Critchfield © 2010


Karen's Note

My 2010 e-card was prompted by my Internet search for angels. My mother had passed away in April 2010, so thoughts of heaven and angels were often on my mind. Despite all the angels I found in paintings, Nativity scenes and ornaments, nothing seemed to appeal to me as an e-card that was something definitive and original. Finally, I turned to a little project I put together for the children at St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Brentwood, PA. It was an 8 1/2 x 11-inch page using angel designs created by Rudolf Koch (1876-1934), whose work was on the Internet. Designed for the Christmas season, the page was intended to be handed out to children, along with some crayons, so they could spend their time coloring, during a couple long Christmas services.

Rudolf Koch was mainly known in Germany for his calligraphy and font styles, but he also created line drawings for church uses. For my part, I did some modest remodeling of his stylized angels in order to fit everything on a single page, but also made half-page versions of each angel, so the children could choose which individual or group of angels appealed to them most on a cold winter's day. Then I realized my design could also work as a Christmas e-card.



Christmas Blessings 2009; Image Modified & E-card Created by K. R. Overholt Critchfield © 2009


Karen's Note

When planning my first official Christmas e-card, something to send around to members of my family, friends, and Internet friends, my inspiration came from Nativity scenes, both paintings and three-dimensional creche figures. I came across a picture of these statuettes being sold on a web site, and believed I could create something special. With this picture, a pixel by pixel project took many days, because once the perfect color was chosen for the background, each figure had to be seamlessly melded into that color. It never entered my mind to make a note of the web page that offered this set for sale, or the company that produced them. I will keep looking for that data.



Christmas Blessings 2004; Image Modified & E-card Created by K. R. Overholt Critchfield © 2004


Karen's Note

When I was putting together the Christmas Blessings web page, I remembered that my first attempt at designing a Christmas e-card was for Karen's Branches in 2004. It was created for Christmas 2004, but then was published late, in my InterOverholt Memo of January 2005. A small picture found on the Internet, plus a photo of a red velvet bookcover came together for this e-card. The photo seemed historically old enough to allow me to make some modifications. Specifically, the fact that in the original, the Madonna looked somewhat bald at the top of her head bothered me, so I added some hair. The modified picture included my visual poem, One, which was arranged to look like a candle. It was a case of putting two thoughts into one, so to speak. I wanted the poem to be shaped like a candle, because of a song's refrain that I learned as a very young child: "If everyone lit just one little candle, what a bright world this would be!"

Recently, after hours of searching the Internet, I discovered the artist of the original work of art. Martin Schongauer (1450-1491) created Madonna and Child in a Rose Arbor (1473), a work of tempera on wood (201 x 112 cm), at Saint-Martin, Colmar. The painting is surrounded by an intricate wood carving. It is also known as Madonna in the Rose Garden (1472), and in Deutsch, the title is Maria im Rosenhag (1473). So there are three different titles and two different dates. One web site showed a really fine photograph of the actual three-dimensional work, a much better photo than the small one I found in 2004. My e-card version is a really poor expression of the original. A photo given at another web site was modified and too garish, and the birthdate given for the artist was c.1445, not 1450. Yet, another paragraph states, "Schongauer was born in about 1440 in Colmar, Alsace ...." He lived a long time ago, but his paintings and engravings are still treasured.



~ End of Page ~ Return to Karen's Branches


. . .