Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fall Reflections

Fall always brings on a sense of melancholy for me. The ending of summer and in Minnesota the beginning of a frozen landscape. Colorless for the most part and uninviting. I always thought that I might get into cross country skiing just to get outside and active during the winter months, but that never happened. In the past I spent all of my free time in my studio doing glass projects and enjoying the heat generated by the kilns and torch.

Not sure about this year. I don't have any major projects in mind and I've been so busy the last few months that I don't have an area of exploration in mind either. I quit my IT job over a year ago and recently got called back to do some consulting work. It is hard to say no to consulting wages so I accepted their invitation. And as a consequence I have been teaching in the evenings and working days as an Oracle database administrator. Thank god that 50% of my community education class have been canceling. Otherwise I would be working 16 hour days continuously.

All of that makes me long for my Vermilion vacation that was just a few weeks ago. It seems a long time ago already sitting on the sun drenched dock, enjoying my beer and taking the picture posted above. My IT work will only last a short time, and I can then go back to concentrating on my teaching and various artistic adventures.

I think this year I may start up my crucible kiln and make more spheres, but this time their destination will be to become paperweights, because I don't plan on creating another sculpture series for them to become a part of.

Other concerns however are causing many in my family to reflect on more important issues. Both my mother and mother-in-law have been seriously ill. Thoughts of moving to a small town, career changes, some of us thinking of retirement etc., are now intertwined with daily living. There is no definite plan for change as of yet, but change will come.

Teaching has been a wonderful experience, and had I been mature enough to realize it when attending Carnegie-Mellon's art program I would have made teaching a career option. Right now teaching at local art centers is the best I can do. It has been personally rewarding, but financially not so much. Going back for a masters  now and then hoping to land a good position would be a huge investment that I'm not prepared to make at my age and position in life.

Working with nonprofits which was the initial focus of this blog (Designs For Good) became secondary to  teaching which became a full time adventure. Moving forward I would like to rework that initial focus back into what I do... but there is that word 'moving'. When we relocate that will change everything.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Color & Texture On Vacation

When you've found which of the elements of design (color, form, shape, texture, line, pattern, etc) are central to you it may be confirmed just by looking at your past work. I'm always looking to make sure I'm on the right path and not just on some deviation or momentary tangent. Before I spend years studying something I want to be sure it is worth the effort and central to what I am innately sensitive to... what truly resonates with me.

In my Introduction To Glass Fusing class I go over the elements of design and ask the students to think about which of them they feel comfortable with and might enjoy exploring. I often use line as an example, because we can easily think of line alone as being boring. Who would spend years just studying line, is the type of question I often get. Then I mention engravers and their eyes perk up. There is a world (and a lifetime) of exploration in each of the elements of design. Being sure you are on the right path saves you from a lot of wasted effort.

This point came across to me this year with our yearly vacation up to the north county of Lake Vermilion Minnesota. What a wonder world of color and texture. Texture always abounds in the sticks, but in the fall the full glory of color is flaunted about like a peacock in heat.

I  can recall last year spending the week just studying texture during my photo sessions, and now that makes sense to me a year later, confirming by more recent commitment to color and texture. There does seem to be an ongoing sensitivity and preoccupation with those elements of design.

These digital art images can show some level of texture, but it is not until you see them at full size (16x24 or so) that you actually see the real texturing done via digital processing. Several post back I talked about this in my Psychedelic Jello post.

The colors were at their peak this year during our visit so I had both color and texture to work with in abundance. The reds where stunning in the maples. Yes, of course I always push the saturation in my work, but the reds you see are really not that far from natural. It was nearly a psychedelic landscape at times.

I also have begun using polarizing filters a lot. In the past I hated to use them because they make a slow lens even slower. Now that I'm doing strictly digital art and not photography there is no problem with setting the ISO to 800 and sometimes higher. The small amount of noise is lost or corrected during digital processing.

Levels of abstraction is also a consistent theme in my work. The more levels there are the more interesting it becomes to me. Choosing the point of view on the subject is the first level. I like to shoot at unusual angles and often lay on the ground with a 12 mm lens. The wide lens is the second level of abstraction since it is an unnatural point of view.

Next fall I may take a balloon ride in the MN bluff country and shoot from the top-down POV. That will yield some really interesting work, but it might also be really expensive. Not only for the ride, but I may also need a fast and long lens in the 200 to 400 mm range. Fast and long lenses are costly.

Good composition is always important no matter the type of shot. My cropping and layout is fairly typical using the rule of thirds, framing, leading lines and many other conventions.

Building the contrast of the image both in tone and hue is the next layer of abstraction. I like my images with a controlled amount of highlights and deep shadow, giving an image a greater sense of depth than it may have actually had. Contrasting hues in another technique for building a sense of depth. Split toning by hue is a contrast technique of making shadows colder than normal (blue or violet tinted) and highlights warmer (orange or yellow tinted), yielding a visual sense that might otherwise be much flatter.

Pushing the color saturation (plus or minus) is my next level of abstraction, and at the same time looking for increases to the natural level of recorded texture. Texture exists on multiple levels. Firstly, on the highest level there is purely a psychological sense of texture in the scene via its interpretative texture. We see leaves and water and know they are different textures.

On the next level there is a texture in how the image is constructed. Pointillism, impasto, and engraving are three totally different approaches to building an image. The digital process I use breaks an image into areas of patterns and lines on a very small scale. Optionally, there could be no lines or thicker lines which bound larger or smaller areas. The detail and type of abstraction of the original photo is very controllable and there are infinite aesthetic choices.

In the print world there is the substrate itself which adds yet another layer of texture.Today there are many optional output surfaces for digital art, including canvas. I'm currently in the process of deciding on my substrate for the next series, but it probably won't be canvas.

I'm not sure where I stand yet on the 'photo looking like art' discussions. I'm not a photographer, but I use a camera. I'm not a painter, but I like to abstract my images. I don't want my digital art to look like a painting or a photograph. The images above do tend towards looking photographic, that is, until you look closer and it becomes clear something else is going on, and much more interesting. On the other hand if I abstract them a lot, then they will look like a photo trying to be a painting.

I should probably just ignore the discussion and do just what I like doing.

More images in this series can be seen at this slide-show. More will be added in the next week or so. A few of those will then be candidates for the next stage of  abstractions consisting of: compositing, blurring, smudging, masking, adding painted areas, etc. Because it is time consuming, only a few will be chosen for the next stage. This will result in images where every square inch has been through the aesthetic mill and polished to my liking. My liking for the day of printing at least, because the path forward always makes past efforts... well, passe after all.