On the Surface

Photo: Leaded GlassAmong the many ways we find our way through the world, ways we make sense out of what we experience, and navigate through life, there’s what we can see and feel on the surface of things. It’s easy to speak disparagingly of these things that are shallow as inherently lacking in spiritual depth or value, too, but that’s an unfair assessment to attach automatically to everything.Photo: Follow the Glazed Brick Road

In practice, it takes but little tactile variation on surfaces to warn us, for example, not to grab nutmeg graters and 60-grit sandpaper hard in the soft palms of our hands, or expect to get a grip on a slippery fish without difficulty. Even the simplest human, once taught to recognize it, respects the distinctive visual patterns on a Diamondback rattlesnake from a safe distance. Conversely, we learn quickly enough the appeal of what we can recognize as soft, dense fur and sleek satin that invite our touch, and admire the enchanting graces brought to a garment by lace, to an elegant chair or door by skillful carving.Digital image from a photo: Embroidery

What we see and what we feel teach us how to interact with and respond to our environs. It’s not always a bad thing to need to rely on even snap judgements about things based on their surfaces. That, after all, is where an enormous amount of the beauty, utility and comfort that attracts us to them in the first place resides.Photo: A Bit of Paisley

And I must remind you that I like all of you, too. But don’t worry. I’ll keep my hands to myself.Photo: Dazzling Metal

Draw, Podnah!

I’m having some new kinds of fun, y’all. Several of you have inquired about my media and techniques in some of the more recent illustrations and images here, and it’s technology that’s getting me revved up these days. Who knew? I’m so dull-witted in electronic terms and yet here I am having a heyday with my new techie toys.

My dearest bought me a an iPad Air in January. I uploaded a handful of free drawing/art programs right away and have been playing with them all since. It’s fun to see what each offers in terms of virtual tools and media and techniques, how I can use them individually, what can be done by moving an image from one program to another in order to further manipulate it and alter its dependence on the potential of the first program in which it was developed. If that makes sense.

I am a newbie at this stuff. It’s kind of amazing to think that some of the early adopters have been at least beta testing this kind of thing for several decades already; me, I’m nearly always well behind the curve. But I’m having a great time drawing curves and any other thing I can think of at the moment as I get underway and strive to catch up a little.

Certainly one of the aspects of this techno-approach to drawing, painting or whatever one ought to call it is its wonderful malleability. I love that I can not only delete and erase marks without too much fuss and mess with my virtual erasers but also by removing entire layers. Even better is the ability to trade the order and placement of layers, so that I can begin with the top, outlined image and, like a kid with a coloring book, fill in the shapes and blanks with all sorts of color and texture, then move the layers around until I go from the upside-down or inside-out look of such operations to something that is closer to my original intent.

Best of all is that I am finding that digital media are just as serendipitous and cagey as concrete media: I’m just as unlikely to know from the beginning what the end result of my noodling and doodling is going to look like or what the final image(s) will be as I ever was when sitting down with pencil and paper. I don’t expect I’ll give up concrete media either, for that matter, because sometimes one just has to get grubby with silvery-grey graphite dust from elbow to fingertips in order to feel that Art is being made, but it sure does make it fun to gallop around this new frontier of mine with stylus in hand, too.digital illustration

Stained Glass & Malachite

Being beautiful is such an ephemeral thing, to be sure. Making art that is beautiful is possibly even more so–after all, the same piece that appeals to one might hardly appeal equally to all, any more than the attractions of any one person might strike any others in precisely the same way. And our own tastes and interests and circles of friendship and acquaintance change so much over time that it’s a miracle if we even maintain contact, let alone a closeness or deep appreciation of each other and our various works and features over any period of time.digital illustrationCase in point: my playful attempts to learn the use of some digital tools for artwork, combined with the way that I tend to recycle my sketches and drawings, has altered both my perception of what I would keep, revise and/or rethink my own pieces to a pretty radical extent in the last few years. I believe that my overall style or the signature character of my art has remained fairly steady and therefore recognizable since it began to emerge some years back, but the tools and techniques with which it’s expressed have mutated enough to bring out some entirely different aspects of texture, complexity and even subject matter. The eccentric character in today’s illustration, for example, started out as a rather typical (if not stereotypical) caricature of a semi-human man who differed little in form from the sort of goofy fantasy creatures and people I’ve drawn for years just to entertain myself, but suddenly when I was playing with the sketch, coloring it in digitally as though I were a little kid with a digital coloring-book, he started to become something entirely different and new, a creation slightly unlike all that have come before him.

Now, because I am both unscientific and forgetful when I am immersed in amusing myself with art, I will probably never be able to replicate precisely the process that led to his looking like a hybrid of a stone-inlay project and a leaded window made of art glass. And though I like the effect and hope I can do something similar again if I work hard enough–especially if I want to make what in my own estimation is a sufficiently prettier character to warrant such a highfalutin treatment–it will hardly be the end of the world if he ends up being my only-ever stained glass and malachite creation. Being unusual and a little bit strange is just something we’ll have in common.

In Dreamland

I live in my imagination. And I’m an artist. And further, I want to invite others into my imaginings, at least some of the time. I haven’t got endless resources when it comes to the skills and tools and knowledge it might require to make images that other people can indwell in the same way I experience them. When I ‘go to my happy place’, so to speak, I’d like to be able to take others along with me. It’s always so magical there that I want to share the delirious sweetness of the experience with anyone else who might like to try it.photoMuch to my surprise, I discovered recently that one of the characteristic things I do, and have done for as long as I can remember, is a technique that is now embodied in a photographic format so tremendously popular that it’s taken even to the point of software being developed to help accomplish the trick for you and dramatically called HDR (High Dynamic Range) imaging.  I am less dramatic myself, apparently, as I’ve always simply thought of my little tweak as good old-fashioned exaggeration. What this discovery (at this late date) says the most is that I’m slow to catch a clue. But it’s also somewhat heartening to me to think that despite my lingering ignorance of HDR–among innumerable things of which I am miraculously ignorant–I have actually been practicing techniques aimed at accomplishing what is newly center stage again in the visual art world.  Who knew. Me, being fashion-forward. Ha.photoI’ve long since striven to bring out the contrast and depth and the separation between different components of my visual compositions by intensifying various parts of the art a bit beyond plain statement of fact. I suspect that most of us at least feel that we see (never mind experience) the things we see with greater intensity than we could hope to fully convey to those around us. A little push might be required to help others to enter into our worlds fully. More saturated color. Wider contrast between the lights and darks. Sharper definition of edges, even to the degree of incorporating bits of ‘outline’ to imitate the separation our eyes naturally make in transitions between unlike values and textures and colors in the real world. And, in photography, since I can manipulate my pictures readily now that I’m a digital shooter, exaggerating those qualities in various parts of the photos by changing the pixels.photoThe joke’s on me, of course, because lacking either a camera that has HDR bracketing and stitching capabilities or the know-how or software to use any sophisticated quick-click methods to accomplish this look, I still plod through it by selecting the tones and textures, the areas of emphasis and low-contrast, and saturating or desaturating different parts of my pictures all by laborious hand-tooled means. My true artistry may be my unique ability to be both forward-thinking and backward-doing at one and the same time. But I’m okay with that, if it makes it easier for other people to find their way into my images. You’re all welcome in here too, you know.