FutuRetro

One of the things I so love about travel and touring is getting a much more powerful sense of history; standing in and on the places where events and lives long past have happened, whether grand or insignificant, utterly changes my understanding of those people and occurrences. My first trip overseas, that Grand Tour I was so privileged to take in college with my older sister, was an awakening I never expected. I hoped the trip would be a cure for my sophomore blues, and indeed it was, beyond anything I could have planned or dreamt before, but more than that I was startled by how connected I felt to history.

The drizzly and cold autumn day when we visited Canterbury Cathedral was atmospheric enough in its way, but I remember standing on stone steps worn into a soft bowl by the thousands of footsteps that had passed over them in the centuries of its existence, looking up into a palely gold ray from a lamp, seeing the motes of dust whirling in it, and feeling that time itself was floating down around me in delicate pieces, that the spirit of every person who had ever set foot on that same smooth hollow in the stone was present there with me in that very moment. It was almost as though I could hear their voices and see the scenes of the past play out in the faint gloom around me, all overlapping and yet perfectly present. I felt my own place in the whole of the human timeline in an entirely different way than I ever expected, tinier than ever, yet surprisingly more concrete and tangible.

This was reinforced later in the same journey many times, as we passed through or visited (not necessarily in this order) England, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland and stood in the very footprints of many a person, going down the winding passages and cobbled side-streets that had seen multitudes of significant moments long since fled. As this was the first time I visited Norway, the rooting ground of my ancestors from every branch of my family tree, it is no surprise in retrospect that many of those potent realizations came to me in that place—but as usual, hindsight is ever so much clearer than was my youthful wisdom in those days. It was moving, more meaningful than I can express, to get to know the relatives in Norway with whom my family had maintained contact: my maternal grandfather’s sisters and brother-in-law, nieces and nephew. These were days before cheap telephonic long distance, let alone email and internet communiqués, so we had only briefly even met most of these people when they visited America once in my younger years, yet they not only took us in as visitors, Tante Anna and Onkel Alf kept my sister and me with them for a full month and took us to see the family’s two longtime farms, the graves where many of our ancestors were sleeping underfoot. This was incredibly touching, a genealogical history lesson, but the more so because it was taught by the eldest of our remaining family there.

What moved me the most, in fact, was when on arriving in Oslo at our mother’s cousin’s home before we even came down south to be with his parents, we explored the great city a little on our own during the days, while he was at work and his wife and children off having their own day of adventures. It was all so humbling and so magical to feel for the first time that I understood a tiny bit more of my own family lineage and how our people fit into the larger world. We did visit many of the obligatory and famous tourist sites, knowing that there was no direct link to our ancestors, only cultural ones. So I was quite stunned when we visited the Viking Ship Museum and, standing before these ancient vessels, I was absolutely electrified with a sense of shared history coursing through my veins. My forebears were undoubtedly humble subsistence farmers, not the bold and violent and adventurous Viking strain we know through film and television, never mind through the great Sagas—but I felt for the first time something connecting me to those long-gone people all the same.
Photo: Enter the Time Machine

By now I have traveled a fair amount more. I have been on this planet more than twice as long, and I think I might even be a little bit wiser through my experiences in that life than I was back then. But I approach every narrow stone passageway, every weathered door, every window with its rippling antique panes presenting everything that’s beyond them like a warped post-impressionist fiction of itself, I expect to learn something not only about what is there in front of me and around me, but what is inside me. And I know that I will learn something, too, about how I fit into that larger, and ever so mysterious, world if I am wise and patient and alert enough to notice it. So much has gone by. So much remains ahead, yet unknown.

A Faraway Look

Daydreaming is amazingly useful. No matter what teachers and bosses and impatient parents may have said over the years (never to me, of course, wink-wink), that pleasant fugue state of seemingly purposeless internal wandering is where a great deal of terrific, very purposeful invention and problem-solving happens. It takes us to inner regions where we are unencumbered by rules, editing, and logic, and can let the what-ifs of experiment and hope play together until, sometimes, they produce brilliant results that endless hours and years of study and labor might never have fostered. How can we expect to engender anything grand if we don’t aim for the seemingly impossible?Photo: Faraway

Consistent study and labor are, of course, quite necessary if we are to be able to even conceive of what exists and how we intend to alter it; to begin with no facts, no tools, no notions of probability or potential will inevitably leave us puzzling fruitlessly for ages before we ever approach a fantastic and outlandish idea, let alone a useful one. But once the seeds have been sown, we can’t assume that there would be no purpose in additional time and imagination spent on divining what to do when they begin to grow as well. The dreamers of the world have nurtured at least as much meaningful and helpful stuff as the mere scientists and scholars and brawny-brained geniuses have done, but with less hoopla, and it seems to me that we should be wary of working too hard to bring fantasists down to earth too soon.Photo: Fruition

Assume, when you see me in an apparently abstracted slide toward the comatose, that I am in fact inwardly journeying toward a dazzling insight or earthshaking invention or two, and leave me in peace. I shall emerge, in due time, bearing the harvest of this grand exploratory trip. Or at least I’ll have had a refreshing nap. I’ll happily leave it to you to determine the value of the difference, if any, between the two eventualities.

The Race Well Run

digital illustration from a graphite drawingAthletic prowess of any sort is a mystery and source of amazement to me. One doesn’t have to be an Olympian, by a long stretch, to appear nearly godlike to my unskilled and uninformed eye. While I have had moments of physical fitness in my life, they never amounted to anything notable beyond getting me from Here to There and back again.

I think my attention span tends to favor short bursts of intense action rather than sustained practice, just as my brain has always rebelled against both study and studio time over lengthy stretches. When I’m doing a renovation project, it reflects my past days of art gallery installation, which more often than not veered away from the sensible approach of using a full week for the job in favor of three 18 hour days in a row. When I’d end up at 2 a.m. leaning off the twelve-foot ladder to aim the last few lights properly at the artworks, it’s likely no wonder I avoided spending longer periods acting sensible and instead ended up doing everything in a crazy cram-course style.

I know perfectly well that this approach may be inappropriate for these pursuits and is definitely wrong for athletic pursuits, just as well as I know that attempting to draw only in 18-hour sessions for three days straight and then take a nice six-week holiday before coming back, literally, to the drawing board would be ridiculous. So, considering that I have such a direly miniscule attention span for anything but what I love the most, it’s no shock that something I’m truly lousy at and ill-equipped with the strength, speed or grace to perfect has rarely been (and is unlikely to become) a long-term pursuit of mine.

This–along with the few paltry attempts at athletic activities that I have made over the years–explains quite readily why I both admire great acts of physical prowess and art and find them completely alien, athlete and action alike. Yes, I have pressed a few weights, swum a lap or ten, leapt hurdles, rowed against the current, placekicked the pigskin, arm-wrestled, done pushups and pullups and situps, and run a fair number of miles in my time, among other things. But unless I have to do any of it again to save my life, I’d ever so much rather watch someone who genuinely loves being an Action Figure do all the work, and do it ever so much better than I ever could. After all, though I’m no athlete I am a very skilled and enthusiastic spectator, and all sorts of artists deserve a good audience. That way we all get a chance to rise to the level of our highest potential.

The Lens of Revelation

Discovery and learning don’t always have to come at the expense of laborious study and practice. Sometimes they are handed to us by the magician-teachers who simply tell us exactly what they have done, lifting the curtain and letting us see what’s behind it and in the works from beginning to end. That, at least, is how the learning starts for many of us. Certainly for me. I have been gifted, over the many years of my life, in which I was, am and will be a student forever, with a number of such generous teachers.

I can only return the favor as far as my skills and wit allow, but I hope I’m at least skilled and sharp-witted enough to make it worth a few other people’s while. Of course, the plain facts don’t complete the education by a long shot–the study and practice parts have to follow to make it stick and create anything useable out of it. What you do with the information, as they say, is what completes the equation. But isn’t it fun to share our little secrets, to let each other peek at what’s behind the facade of polish and confidence and see what we can make of it?

Herewith, another little set of iterations digitally made to convert a black and white graphite drawing into a full-color digital illustration.

graphite drawing

Once again, I begin with a plain graphite drawing, scanned and very lightly cleaned to remove dust specks and make the scan match the original. I wish I had made the ‘lens’ look more curved or somehow indicated its thickness better so that there was a more logical reason for the eye behind it being moved that far from its expected location, but then I remember that this is, after all, an utterly nonsensical and *not* logical creature-person. Next drawing, perhaps. For now, I’ll play with the cards I dealt myself.

graphite drawing + color test

To begin the digital part of the process, I just did my usual small test of whether injecting color into a black and white original might bring out some useful or interesting aspects of the character (both the humanoid one and the character of the drawing).

graphite drawing + digital color painting

Why not. What if I isolate a larger area and keep the illustration black and white but with the lens area being in full color? Hmmm. That could work. I ‘paint’ in the color, layering it bit by bit and erasing bits to add highlights or even out the application of the colors.

graphite drawing + digital color painting

Strangely, I find that having only the lens area colored flattens out the image a little more than I expected. I think this might be in part because the color has reduced the contrast and visible texture of the graphite strokes. Maybe I’ll just add a bit more color over the other parts of the drawing. No, not quite enough, I’d say. So I add a Photoshop filter of ink lines to emphasize the drawn textures and contrast more deeply with the coloring.

digital illustration from a graphite drawing

Well, here I go again. I can’t resist adding color to the whole image. I think it balances the image better. But I’m married to the idea of letting the part seen through the lens be the only richly ‘full color’ part–the True Self, if you will, seen through this lens. So I decided to keep what wasn’t part of the lens itself or seen through it mainly monochromatic; a sepia tone for the face seemed in keeping with the sort of Steampunk creature’s vintage-yet-otherworldly quality. And then, of course, the face was flattened a bit by the color too, so I added the inky filter to that as well. And here we are. A day of tweaking and monkeying around with the drawing that took me a few days to draw, and here we are. On to the next project, my friends. Hope you find something compelling to do, too, even if as with mine, your projects only lead to more projects. Because that’s what happens when we share our ideas: they proliferate. Granted, some of them grow up to be really weird characters all on their own, but they do proliferate. Revealing, as they do, further parts of *our* character through *their* lens.

Janus, for Good or Ill

digital artwork

In every one of us there may be a little reflection of the god Janus . . .

Humans are not the only animals that can look both forward and back. But we’re the ones that choose to recognize this trait with a certain reverence and, particularly, to think we ought to make some use of it. We’re undoubtedly the only ones that impute a moral value to one or the other, depending not only on whichever we personally prefer but on what we think can benefit us or others.

We can spend our time and energies on studying, learning from, or even dwelling in the past. We can devote our hopes and plans to the ideation of what lies ahead as scientists, fortune tellers, scam artists or futurists of any sort from literary to application development. And there are certainly those among us who for whatever their religious, philosophical or preferential reasons are dedicated to keeping attention focused on the present time.

All of these approaches have their uses, to be sure. But I like to think that there’s room for a balanced use of this knowledge, these skills. In any time, there is much for us to learn. The successes and failures of the past inform present action, but keeping eyes on present action demands enough concentration that the revisiting of historical notes had best be done while not in the very act of the performance. Likewise, learning to predict, extrapolate and imagine possible improvements and variant outcomes is often the richest trove of possible new successes, but again, dreaming of these accomplishments-yet-to-come is only useful if we aren’t so immersed in them that we can’t complete the steps of today necessary to position us for the future.

We may not be the only beasts able to remember or to aspire, and are clearly not the only ones able to be completely present in the moment. But if we’re the only ones that truly care about such capabilities, why then, let us expend what effort and wisdom we’re able and see how well we can integrate the three. Only then, I suspect, will any of us ever live the fullest lives for which our many possible directions can set our courses.digital artwork