Artist Feature | Carmel Pine Cone
by Dennis Taylor
PHOTOGRAPHY BEGAN as a way to unwind the mind for Michael Kent Lynberg, who was an author and full-time corporate writer when he began wandering off the beaten path to breathe fresher air, exercise his body and appreciate the local landscape.
“For me, it started as a way to get away from the meetings, the PowerPoint presentations, the writing, and have a quick, little adventure,” he said. “If you take your camera, you’re on a hunt, but it’s a hunt for beauty. I like to say that I’ve walked almost every square foot of this coast, including maybe some places where I shouldn’t have gone.”
Lynberg was writing internet articles for the software company Adobe about a dozen years ago when his path took a creative detour, thanks to a writing assignment that brought him into the firm’s PhotoShop labs, where he discovered some of the aesthetic secrets that power much of today’s movie industry.
“I got exposed to a lot of things that can be done with photography that most people don’t know about,” he said. “I had no idea until I started doing interviews with these movie industry people, and it really opened my eyes to the possibilities.”
What Lynberg discovered were digital techniques, using sophisticated computer software to transform a photograph into something that looks a whole lot like a painting — so much so, in fact, that his artwork often spawns disagreements between visitors to the gallery Lynberg and his wife opened in 2013 on San Carlos Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues.
“I’ll often overhear a couple standing in our entryway, debating whether they’re looking at a painting or a photograph,” said Elizabeth Lynberg, who runs Gallery-by-the-Sea Monday through Friday, with her husband taking charge on weekends. “That’s usually my opening to wander over, tell them they’re both right, and explain Mike’s technique to them.”
Lynberg uses innovative digital-art software to “paint” his photos, enhancing or adjusting color, contrast, lighting, shadows, and other nuances. The effect can be transformative.
“You and I could stand side by side and take very similar photos, but if we start using these tools on those images, we’re each going to come up with something completely different,” he said. “There are hundreds of brushes to choose from — different sizes, with different bristle strengths. You choose how much paint to put on the brush, how much the colors bleed, which direction to go with your brush strokes … and all of those parameters guarantee a different effect.”
The result are eye-popping landscapes, seascapes, sunsets and snowscapes.
Eighty percent of the art showcased at Gallery-by-the-Sea is the work of Lynberg, but the gallery also represents traditional photographers Bart Keagy, Evan Schiller, John Henebry and Stuart Readman, as well oil painter Shelley Cost.
All five, with Lynberg, are known for work depicting Pebble Beach — especially the famous golf course — and have been officially licensed by the Pebble Beach Co.
Those works — particularly art of the golf course — are alluring to visitors year-round (the wife of PGA legend Lanny Wadkins bought one of Lynberg’s photos for her husband’s Christmas present), but are expected to attract special interest this week, with tens of thousands of people descending upon the Peninsula for the U.S. Open.
“The opportunity to share the beauty of this area with visitors from all over the world was a big part of our inspiration for opening this gallery,” Elizabeth said. “People fall in love with the sights they see, and they want to take a piece home with them.
“We also feel like our price point is accessible to a larger audience,” she said.
Indeed, Lynberg’s large photo art is typically priced at $495. His portfolio also includes scenic photos from the San Mateo Coast, San Francisco, Yosemite, and Aspen.
Some of his more recent creations are abstract, a new frontier of creativity for Lynberg.
“They’re experimental right now — I’m not marketing them yet — but I’m using filters, special effects, and PhotoShop tools,” said Lynberg. “Some of my abstracts start with intentional camera movement while holding the shutter open for a half-second or so.”
Lynberg’s creative instincts were on a different trajectory through his school days, into his college years, and beyond. The Palo Alto native earned a degree in creative writing at UCLA. He wrote full time in Los Angeles from 1975-92, and spent two years in Spain teaching English as a second language. He headed to Boston after he was accepted into Harvard Divinity School, where he earned a master’s degree in theological studies.
Over the years, he authored multiple books, mostly nonfiction, on topics that included self-help, public health, and sports.
Boston is where he met Elizabeth, a New Jersey native, whom he married in 1997 and brought to the Monterey Peninsula for a visit in May 1999. They moved here that October.
A borrowed machine
Opening the gallery 14 years later was a leap of faith for the Lynbergs, whose two sons (now 20 and 17) were in high school and middle school at the time, but it was also a calculated move: Mike took on extra writing assignments until he had saved enough money to pay the rent on the business for a full year.
Encouragement that they had made the right move arrived immediately after they opened the doors on their first day of business in August 2013.
“We sold two pieces in the first half-hour,” Elizabeth remembered. “We had to use our neighbor’s credit card machine to ring up the sale because we didn’t have one yet, but I think that was when we started feeling like, ‘OK, we can do this!’”
This article appeared in the June 14-10, 2019 edition of The Carmel Pine Cone. Written by Dennis Taylor. Used with permission.