Today I read this wonderful interview of Pamela Wilson, a truly gifted and fascinating artist I admire greatly. In the article, she is asked to recount her favorite art memory from childhood. Click on the link to read her answer. As for me, a memory jumped to mind when I read the question, and has been in my thoughts all day. So I thought I would share it here.
I was artistic as a kid, always drawing. And my parents supported and nurtured that the best they knew how. They paid for and drove me to classes, where I underachieved, much as I did in school. I enjoyed it, but at some level I didn’t ‘get’ it. I didn’t see the point. I worked on specific things, how to draw with pen and ink, with charcoal and chalk, graphite. I worked on how to draw from photographs, from objects or places in front of me or from imagery in my head. But, big picture-wise, I don’t ever remember thinking about being creative, or what that meant.
One day, a Saturday, my Dad headed into his office at the Department of Interior in Washington, DC. He asked me to come along, and I jumped at the chance. Never mind that he never asked me to go to his office before, and never mind that he never went into work on a Saturday. Any moment with my Dad was relished back then, no questions asked, and though he died long ago — far closer to that day than to this one — all those moments are cherished still.
The Department of Interior in, say, 1974, was grey. Inside and out. Floor to ceiling. We walked down long corridors under bands of yellow, flickering fluorescent light. The first office building I was ever in. I wondered why my Dad spoke to some people, ignored others. We passed door after door and saw empty offices with grey filing cabinets and grey metal desks. Then we stopped at an open door and my Father spoke. “Bob? I want you to meet Eddie.”
I caught up and peered in the door as a man turned around to greet us. Not from a metal desk, but from an easel. The fluorescent bulbs in his office had been removed, and he had warm, bright floor lamps in their place. Covering the cold linoleum was an ornate area rug. He listened to music.
As I shook hands with wildlife artist Bob Hines, my Dad said he’d be back in a bit and continued down the hall. I was shy, not to mention confused. But it didn’t take long for my attention to turn from the empty doorway back to Bob and the easel.
I will never forget the painting he was working on. I didn’t know at the time what a bighorn sheep was, but he had several photos of them clipped to the side of the easel. His painting showed a mature bighorn not in any of the positions depicted in the photos. I was confused for the severalth time since breakfast. His words broke my dumbfounded trance. “Your Dad tells me you’re an artist too.” I remember being embarrassed, for some reason.
We talked, and I got more comfortable, and started looking around and soaking it all in. “You don’t have a desk.” He laughed, and threw a nod toward the easel. “It’s just different than everyone else’s.” As slowly as those flickering tubes of gas in the cold hallway first thing in the morning, I started to figure it out. “You do art as your JOB?” Another laugh.
Bob Hines, artist for the Bureau of Sports Fisheries and Wildlife at the time of our meeting, produced a huge volume of work. From conservation stamps to illustrations for dozens of books and pamphlets. It took me a while to figure out that the meeting was of course set up in advance. Why my Dad chose to play it off as a chance encounter I never asked, it’s just kind of how he did things. I continued to draw, and to some extent to underachieve, and I certainly never became a renowned wildlife artist. But until today I’ve never thought back to that day in enough detail to write about it, which is noteworthy in a couple ways. First, it points to the value of writing, I had no idea I remembered it in as much detail as I do. And second, maybe I didn’t follow down Bob’s path. Maybe instead of an easel in my office I have a desk. Maybe I never could study photos of animals and construct and illustrate a pose from that knowledge. But you know what? I’m a graphic designer. I do art as my job. And how many people get to say that?
I’ve been working with ceramic artist and instructor Amy Manson on translating some of my carved blocks into ceramic tiles. And even though I’m just starting to experiment, and working with clay is totally new to me so my results are pretty rough, I thought I’d share what I’m doing. And since I started a new project from scratch just as sort of a test, I’ll walk you through the whole process…
I started with a 4″x5″ linoleum block, and even though I personally get much better results if I take more time at this phase, I didn’t. A rough sketch of my image, reversed, from an old photo I have of Winnie as a puppy jumping off the ground toward the camera.
Then, as Amy showed me in her studio and made it look easy, I covered a board with canvas as a non-stick work surface, got two slats and a dowel, rolling the dowel over the clay until it spreads to the thickness of the slats. I mentioned Amy made it look easy. I found the clay stuck to the dowel and I couldn’t get a nice even slab. So I basically got stuck on Step One.
But I had gone this far, so what the hell. I pressed the block into the clay and tried to apply even pressure. But the variation in thickness showed in some areas that didn’t imprint. Also, the sticky clay didn’t cleanly separate from the block, so there’s an area that’s just kind of a mess. I’m going to buy some different clay.
I also don’t remember what tool Amy showed me to use to cut the slab when I’m done. Did I mention I’m not a very good student? So anyway, this was done sloppily too, with the wrong tool. But there you have it, a clay tile.
At Amy’s studio, we made a few tiles from existing blocks, and then tried some different glaze combinations. This is my favorite, might be hard to see but the image is me shielding a puppy from the rain with an umbrella.
And here is a tile made from the Rose River Brown block I recently made prints from. I like some aspects of this, particularly the texture and that amber color. The rest of the background needs something more, but like I said, I’m just getting started with this experiment. I hope to have something cool to report soon about it, so please keep in touch!
She will stop her chores to watch with fascination the comings and goings of a cicada wasp in the barn. Or a frog in the yard. Or a family of deer. And her excitement over these miracles, these brushes with nature that most people never take the time to notice, is infectious. I look forward to sharing things with her. An eagle sighting. A hummingbird nest found in the woods. A beautiful moth. An odd insect. A storm cloud.
She loves dogs. And those who are lucky enough to win the lottery that is being her dogs are blessed with a profound, unending outpouring of affection that begins the moment they meet, and does not end. Ever. The spirits of dogs past are still and forever bathed in the warmth of her love for them.
She has a way with horses. Once, in the middle of the night, we awoke to the sound of our horses in distress. We went out to find that five horses from the property a few lots over had gotten loose, and were rummaging through the woods adjacent to our paddocks. The sound of five confused horses snapping limbs, snorting and crying out was of course quite disturbing to our horses, who responded by freaking the hell out. What happened next was truly remarkable. In the dark, surrounded by nine very agitated beasts and one very nervous husband, she orchestrated a horse/space/time management plan. Our horses were carefully but quickly calmed and gathered and put in the barn in a sequence that would cause the least anxiety to those who remained out. Then, in the woods, the mare who she presumed the others would follow was corralled and led through dense woods around to a gate. The others frightfully followed. All the while she gave me things to do and told me where to stand to be safe. Everyone got in and separated safely, and it was one of the most impressive displays of natural horsemanship I’ve ever seen.
Long ago I read somewhere that you know you’re with the right person when you each want the others’ dreams for them more than you want yours for yourself. When I see her riding, or grooming or preparing for a show, or when I hear her enthusiastically talking to a friend about some riding problem she had worked out, or when I see the horses come in from the front field to meet her at the barn in the morning, I know it’s true.
As for me, these days I think a lot about my life and who I am. Maybe it’s the recent reconnecting with people from my past, maybe it’s just age, but I look back. I don’t dwell, or try not to anyway, but I look back. And when I do, the most amazing thing comes into focus: the only time I have ever really been comfortable, confident, truly happy with who I am, is the time I’ve been with her.
She didn’t change who I am. But she loves the best of me, and I like to think she brings it out. My parents made me who I am, but she is the one who made it possible to find myself. I’m lucky to have found her. I love you.
Watercolor artist Carole Pivarnik is working on a book called “Doggitude,” which will feature 45 paintings of dogs, each accompanied by “light-hearted haiku from the dog’s point of view, and charming anecdotes shared by each dog’s owner.” I don’t know what charming anecdotes she has in mind, but I am really excited that Carole chose Winnie to be included, and I couldn’t be happier with her painting! So, well done, Carole! And YAY WINNIE!
My boy Finn turned four years old last week! Though he was almost three when he came to us, it seems like he’s been a part of the family forever. This photo on the left was taken at the end of our first day together. Stopped at a hotel on the long drive back from Illinois and walked down the block to get a pizza. When I came back to the room, worried that he’d be barking or scratching or otherwise stressed, he was here, just like this. We ate bad pizza and watched bad TV and looked forward to continuing our journey together the next day. He’s been a wonderful addition to the household from day one. Happy birthday, buddy!
I only use one lens. Let’s ignore the fact that the reason for this is that I only own one lens, and just agree that my Canon EFS 15-85 is a serviceable all-purpose lens. Portraits, landscapes, sports, it does okay at just about everything. If lenses were inexpensive, I would own two more tomorrow: a low light wide angle, and a decent zoom lens. But since they aren’t, and I won’t, and in less than a week I will be shooting an event for a story and could really use a zoom, I borrowed a 18-200 lens from a friend.
So today I went for a walk with the dogs down to the river to find something to practice on. And since the great blue herons, eagles, hawks and deer decided to stay in and watch the Ravens game, I trained the camera on my usual subjects, my Hungarian Wirehaired Vizslas.
I definitely need more practice with the lens. I need to figure out what it can do well, what it can’t, and how I can get the most out of it. I probably won’t figure these things out by Saturday when I need it, but what I figured out already is pretty valuable.
I think the greatest thing about a zoom lens is you can take many pictures quickly before the subject even knows you’re looking at it. This is particularly helpful with dogs and wildlife. When I’m close to my dogs, I can sometimes get nice portraits, but it’s virtually impossible to get anything candid because they’re focused on me. But from twenty yards away or more, I found I got many more candid photo opportunities.
They all seem a little grainy to me, and I was using ISO400, aperture wide open. It was very shady, and I know a telephoto lens is going to be a bit of a light hog, but I’m confused a little about the grain. Maybe someone smarter than me can comment with an answer here.
Still, the angles I was able to get as Winnie and Finn ran up or down the hill far ahead of me made for some interesting shots unlike those I typically get, and I look forward to continued experimentation.
I was looking through my pictures yesterday for something I can’t even remember now, and this one from last year caught my eye. I have many, many, many photos of Winnie. And sometimes, when a subject is, um, overphotographed, I get really picky about which photos I do anything with or even notice. But I wanted to write a little about this one because while it would have been extremely easy to ignore or even discard, with some creative cropping and a tiny little enhancement, it became one of my favorite shots of her.
I don’t like to crop very much. Probably one out of four or five images you see from me have been cropped, and most of those not by much. But this image, taken from the couch for no reason good enough to get up and move my fat ass closer, is extraordinary in its ordinariness. The composition and angle are uninteresting, the subject matter as I mentioned is already prolifically documented photographically, and on this day she is a total mess. But there were two things about her here that caused me to look again: her front legs, and her left eye.
So I could find interesting things about it, but couldn’t crop it tight enough horizontally to make any of it work.A vertical crop, however, did the trick. This took a lot of the resolution out of it, of course, but there’s still enough remaining for a modest sized print if I wanted. I liked it. But it needed one more thing. I wanted to brighten the eye just a bit.
I’m not a professional photographer. I don’t know how other people do this. But here’s how I did it. In PhotoShop, I duplicated the image layer. On the underneath layer, I brightened the entire image until the eye was the vivid color lightness I wanted. Then in the top layer, zoomed in all the way, I took the erase brush with a soft setting and light opacity (maybe 40%), and lightly erased the front layer on her eye, revealing the brighter layer underneath. It’s subtle, but to me it’s enough to make that golden arc of color the focal point of the image. And the crop enhances the sense that she is looking up without wanting to lift her head up (which is exactly what she was doing). It also minimizes her mess of a coat and makes the wispy flags on her legs add interest to the image rather than just show a dog who needs to be brushed.
I don’t expect anyone who reads this to all of a sudden painstakingly edit and crop and squeeze a compelling image out of every mediocre snapshot on your cell phone. But for those of you who take a lot of pictures like I do, try to resist the urge to glance at the 80 images you just uploaded in search of the 5 or 6 gems that jump out at you. Take your time and really look at each one, in full screen, and make sure you’re not missing something special.
As a graphic designer, I don’t often get an assignment that has me grabbing the keys and running out the door like a small town beat reporter responding to a fire down at the old mill. But I have loved and enjoyed both the original Leesburg, Virginia Wine Kitchen and their newest Frederick, Maryland location for as long as they’ve been open, and the brunch at the Frederick restaurant is among the very best meals I’ve ever had at Wine Kitchen. Or anywhere, for that matter. So when my friend and client asked me to return for brunch to take some promotional photographs, I jumped at the opportunity. Below are some highlights both culinarily and photographically. Enjoy!
I have not historically been fond of the Flying Dog beers, but this K9 Cruiser Winter Ale is right on the money. Loved it!
Our extremely pleasant server, Mary, beautifully displaying my new Wine Kitchen t-shirt design. Visit Mayfly Design for more, albeit less interestingly displayed, design samples.
The most noteworthy meteorological feature of this winter so far has been spectacular sunrises and sunsets. This week alone I have seen several of the most outrageously colored sunrises I have ever seen in my life. So this morning when I left the house I brought my camera, just in case.
I was treated to a spectacular color show, and stopped at a few spots to try my luck at capturing it. A graveyard, a church, cows in a pasture, all under the bright red blanket of morning. Truth is, though, when I got the images back home and put them on the computer, they all started looking the same. Except this one, taken as the color was waning, after I had given up and just decided to proceed to the office.
Some black vultures, the less common of the two common varieties in this area, gathered in a tree. Maybe roosting, maybe just waiting for me to pass to feast on yet another venison breakfast, I don’t know. But their silhouettes caught my eye and I backed up to take the picture with the nuclear sunrise still visible on the horizon. It was a throwaway shot, I never even got out of the car to shoot it, but it’s my favorite of the morning.
I like to take pictures, but I don’t always have or even want to have my camera with me. So it’s been really fun having my new iPhone 4S along to capture those special moments in between photo outings. Lately I’ve been particularly enjoying two special apps that make photography even more fun: Hipstamatic, and 360 Panorama. (I’ll write more about Hipstamatic in another post.) 360 Panorama from Occipital is easy to use. Once you take your 360-degree photo, you can upload and share it. If someone has the 360 app on their phone or iPad they can view it directly through the app, or you can share a browser based version. But for those who have the app, there is an amazing gyroscopic feature that allows you to hold up your phone or iPad and move it around freely and view the scene exactly as it was viewed and photographed. It’s magical.
This morning I had to pull over and catch this incredible sunrise. To scroll through the scene in 360 degrees, click on this link.
These panoramic views are not just cool for outdoor scenery. This one was taken at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, more conveniently known as the Smithsonian Air & Space museum at Dulles Airport. To view this one interactively, click on this link.
Have fun with your phone! It’s not just for texting anymore! And if you try your own 360 Panorama images, please share the link in a comment here.