Sleep, my sweet, my lovely one,
From dusk until the rising sun
Paints morning roses blushed with dew;
Let comfort bless the night, and you,
Awaking, bless with joy the ray
Our Own Heroics
Our history is riddled with the tangled lines of man and myth,
Lines blurred by our conception of ourselves and powers that are with
All spirits, in our being; juxtaposed with this our creeping sense
That makes each want to change the balance, name himself the paladin,
The master, royalty, creator of all good in this our sphere,
So we can worship our fine selves in glorious beauty without fear–
That we wish inside, mere humans, that what’s fancied and what’s known
Were no grander than our smallness, so we’ve always tried to make
Ourselves the gods, the overmasters, even if it’s clearly fake–
We’ll try anything we think can make us kings of heaven, hell,
Or earthly realm–but here’s the problem: it looks great, but just a touch
Too great–it turns out we’re grand, but not for long, and not so much.
Of course I’m vain. I would love to be thought of as a great beauty. Not that many people on earth could probably say with full honesty that they wouldn’t like to be thought attractive and compelling and engaging in the slick social way, no matter how sincerely they live the principles of much deeper character. But, that confession aside, I can also say that I am not so exclusively vain that I mind having others be indifferent to, or even dislike, me. Let’s just be realistic enough to say that that would be beyond impossible.
So I really can’t have too many qualms about making fun of myself and exaggerating my own failings and shortcomings and even pasting on ones I don’t think I actually own, if it buys me any artistic pleasure. After all, there’s a bunch of fun to be had in clowning and playing characters and being someone or something new and weird and ridiculous. There are reasons we still have art and theatre and fiction all around us. It’s amusing to make the stuff and amusing to see what others have made.
I guess that makes me a cheap sort of witch or magician, maybe, when I’m making up my fictions in visual and verbal imagery. Kind of a fun vocation, when I get to play at it. Abracadabra, here I am for your amusement. Poof! Now it’s your turn.
One of the great challenges of leaving behind my personal Stone Age is finding a useful balance between who I am by nature and what I am trying to achieve by effort. Given my formidable inner desire for inertia (a.k.a. Laziness), the main trick is to find entertaining enough ways to achieve any wanted result that I’m willing to actually get up off my leaden posterior and Do Stuff.
One of the greatly intimidating challenges, for me, is learning anything that smacks of the technological. Whatever my reasons and/or excuses, I’m timid about those things that require elemental knowledge let alone mastery of anything with Parts, anything requiring Processes. Machines. Electronics. A bicycle, for heaven’s sake. So it’s hardly surprising that I should be nervous about figuring out how to use techno-tools for art, along with any other Luddite fears I may harbor in my dimly-lit soul.
Having three sisters who are all skilled at using numerous sorts of computer equipages and their various companion software programs, I should feel, at least, the camaraderie of the struggle, if not the surrounding angels of educators. But of course, besides the little problem of living thousands of miles from each other there is the larger problem that even on those rare occasions when I know how to describe what I’m trying to do, posing the question to the Three Graces of computer wizardry is still impracticable, because they–unlike me–are using their computers to do useful, practical and normal things like handling spreadsheets and communications. Me, I am trying to make the computer my pencil, pen, paintbrush, eraser, scissors, glue, welding torch, carving chisel, and serendipitous doer-of-things-unexpectedly-artistic. Not their sort of problem, you see.
My solution: mess around and see what happens. I do realize that there are classes, really fine and useful classes and innumerable tutorials, available both in person and online for this sort of thing any time I should step up and behave like an intelligent adult. But, while I am in the interminable queue that wends its way toward maturity, I remain stubbornly ill motivated to learn things via proper channels and techniques, and instead spend my time poking at the keyboard and zigging and zagging my fingers around on my trackpad at irregular speeds and intervals and just seeing what happens as I go. What does happen is just often enough entertaining enough that I continue my willfully aimless art-making in this mode and sometimes hit upon something that seems recognizable as a picture.
Who knows, this might be my own version of the correct method after all.
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.
As November approaches and the always-tedious white noise of political ravings grows ever louder in the US atmosphere, I find myself musing once again that so little is what we think it to be. Clearly, if you read my post the other day, I am seldom content to accept the appearance as the reality, but it is never more significantly the case than around the time of elections. For all that Americans love to crow about being the truest democracy in the world and having the power to determine our own destinies and that of our nation (never mind our meddling globally), what’s most notable around voting time is how little anyone really does his or her research and how thoroughly gullible, petty and narrow-minded most of us are on our best days. It’s really kind of miraculous that, young as America is in the way of being a nation, it still exists as one. We’re all on our own paths, wavelengths, and possibly planets around here.
And those who rise to power in our country are no less prone to manipulating that sort of foolishness than those we claim to abhor elsewhere. We give things whatever ‘spin’ we prefer and, by golly, hordes of similarly spun fellow denizens jump right into the vortex with us, leaving reason and, ultimately, hope far behind. One might think that the current age of electronic wizardry would make us more aware, if not more cautious, of all sorts of trickery and monkey business, but alas, we cling to our ignorance and wilfulness with just as much dimwitted fervor as always. Knowing that the camera sees only what the photographer aimed it at and the recorder hears only what the engineer had it turned on to hear–and that the results of both operations can be almost endlessly manipulated after the fact so as to be something entirely new and different from the initial truth, however truncated that might have been, we still choose to stand with facing our own chosen suns while right behind us, out of frame, utterly different realities are carrying right on with their appointed happenings.
So in honor of this form of deception, whether imposed upon us or self-inflicted, I give you my image of the Grand Canyon. Or, as it was before a little Photoshopping hocus-pocus, a dirt pile under the freeway overpass, whose ‘magnificent agaves’ are small tufts of grass, whose brilliant coloring is all hand-applied, and whose vast open sky is a digital blanket pulled down to cover the abandoned storefronts looming behind the little hillock. What you see is what I get, my friends. Keep it in mind on the way to the voting booth, won’t you?
Today, another little glimpse of artful goofing to re-imagine an existing piece of my work. I almost never tire of reworking/revisiting my old artworks from time to time. In part, it’s a way to critique and edit my stuff and see how I can grow and change over time. Mostly, it’s just good technical practice–a little bit of re-training my eye and hand and, when I get lucky, learning a new skill or two. In this instance, I took another of my pipeshade designs done in 2007 in preparation for Martin Pasi’s carving the wooden screen panels for his Winnetka instrument and I did some Photoshop playing with it to turn a pair of the panel designs into a merged single image and then ‘hand coloring’ it digitally to redefine it as a wholly new looking picture.
The whole Winnetka project was based on the church’s part of the collaborative team’s desire to have their organ artwork reflect local character. Since Congregational churches don’t tend to wish to fill their worship spaces with traditional religious iconography but rather prefer a more generally meditative space, so it made sense to aim for a design more simply nature-based and reflective of regional beauty. I decided to incorporate some of the Illinois state symbols into the design. This pair of panels featured the state bird, Cardinalis cardinalis–the Northern Cardinal. Is a cardinal too religious a symbol? Oh, that’s right: not a Roman Catholic church. Okay, cut me some slack.
Not really necessary to elaborate, is it. I just decided to show you the Before and the After versions today, and dispense with the intermediate steps–they’re not entirely thrilling to see, being a series of steps mainly devoted to converting the graphite drawing to a crisp black ink-outline appearance (only moderately laborious with the help of Photoshop) and then using my digital ‘coloring crayons’ to fill in the blanks to create a full-color version. This time, I opted for something much more cleanly graphic than yesterday’s reworked image. Who knows what happens next time? That, in fact, is the fun of both making art in the first place and then, in having the option of revising it, maybe even more than once. Can you say, mercurial? Nahhh, we know that I’m still just a big kid with a short attention span. No need to dress it up. I’ll just spend the dress-up energy on the art, if you don’t mind too much.
[In a Really Creepy & Inappropriate Way]
Thought I was your stalker, violent,
Sneaking on you, ninja-silent,
Pervert peering in your casement,
Clear from attic to the basement,
With my satellite trained on you
All the way from where you’ve gone to
From my distant lair? I’ve got you
Hid from trouble while I watch you–
Baby, you’re not scared now, are you?
I’m just trying to watch out for you;
If I didn’t, who could keep you
Safe and sane, awake, asleep–Who?
I’m your hero, watching closely
So you won’t become morosely
Sad and spooked at all; to
Keep you safe and sound; I call you
In the morning and way later
Just to keep away the hater
That might try to nab your collar,
Take your keys, your watch, your dollar,
Keep you sleepless, full of sorrow–
Sleep tight, Babe! See you tomorrow.
When I post drawings, they almost always require a digital tweak or ten to be clean and sharp enough for putting up on view. Most of the time, it’s merely the need for getting rid of visible dust and scratches or evening out the tone across the piece to more accurately reflect the appearance of the original, stuff like that. Even a direct high-definition scan doesn’t eliminate all of the little oddities.
No doubt there are endless ways to do what I do to the images much more simply and cleverly and efficiently. But having as little technological skill and wisdom as I have, I must content myself with doing in a hundred steps what others can do in ten. At least until I have the time, the money and the gumption to get the necessary education, anyway.
Still, slow and ambling and rambling as I am, I get the occasional urge to mess around with the existing drawing and manipulate it further digitally. Silly, yes, given that it takes me eons to do the first drawing part and a multitude more ages to do anything further via the digital medium. But you know how these things are: inspiration or perspiration, it’s all a command one has to obey once the Muse prods me in that direction. Here’s last night’s drawing (above), followed by the series of phases I put it through today. That is all. For now.
There’s nothing more scintillating than having a bout of true inspiration. But it’s so ridiculously rare in real life! That’s what good work habits and persistence are for. Me, I am decidedly against hard work and persevering in general–but I have at least learned that not only are those the only ways by which I can summon the muse if I don’t happen to have a boatload of inspiration dumped on me at random. Further, I’ve discovered that the actual process, the journey, can be a pleasant one if I let go of the assumption that labor is inherently nasty and only the end product makes it worthwhile. After all, if that’s the case, and the product turns out to be a disappointing flop, then I really feel like I’ve wasted my time in Sisyphean grinding. So I’m learning to find my fun in smaller increments and take all possible pleasure from the everyday parts of being who and what I am. It’s my amygdala, and I’ll spoil it as much as I please.
Out of the process-as-entertainment approach sprang a new medium and form for this artist in the last year: learning to play with my digital images as collage elements [thank you, Photoshop]. The image here is from a series of such experiments and represents a little of both my artistic and my mental processes, appropriately enough. I didn’t throw any pencils into the mix, but you can see that I’ve not entirely shaken old habits by learning new ones.