Back to the Beginning…

LoneTreeTransferimage transfer on stone paper

I thought I’d go back to the early stages of my interest in handmade printing. Since 1998 I had been printing exclusively with 100% digital output. As technology improved the prints became more and more refined and beautiful, but somehow I wasn’t satisfied. During a several year long period I actually gave up photography and became a painter – pastels, acrylics and mixed media. I enjoyed the tactile, hands-on quality of the work that I found missing with photography in the modern world.

For a variety of reasons I gave up painting and returned to being a photographer. But I never lost my love of working with my hands, making something unique, the textural possibilities of different mediums. So I began to seek that in photography. It was challenging as most photographic printing I knew about was very 2 dimensional and technology driven. How could I find a way to make the work uniquely mine?

I discovered a cool book called Digital Art Studio written by 3 women who were experimenting with combining digital printing with various traditional and mixed media techniques to create handmade one-of-a-kind prints. I became  very interested in image transfers and began to output some of my classical landscape shots in that way.

laguna-trasnfer-2image transfer on stone paper

The process involves printing your digital file on a special (transparent) transfer sheet on a pigment inkjet printer. The sheet has a special coating that, when mixed with some special chemistry, allows the ink to lift off and transfer almost completely to another surface. After coating the printed image (or the receptor paper) with the chemistry, I place the sheet with the image face down on the receptor, wait several minutes, and peel the transfer sheet away.

This is where the “magic” happens. Each transfer is different and usually has artifacts or flaws – which is what you want and what gives the unique character to the piece. The last thing you want is a perfect transfer! Not every transfer works – there is a high failure rate, especially while learning the process.

For this type of subject matter I liked using something called Stone Paper as the receptor for the image. It actually is not paper at all but a composite of limestone and resin. It’s quite heavy and completely non-absorbent. So the pigment ink sits completely on the surface resulting in very rich pure color and blacks. It also takes a long time to dry!

You can find out all about this process and the materials needed in the book Digital Alchemy.

This was my starting point to a much wider world of experimental and alternative process photography. I was hooked!

Next time I’ll talk about the next stage in my evolution down this path.

 

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Critical Thinking



waiting, photograph

“We all have our limitations, but when we listen to our critics, we also have theirs.”

Robert Brault

It is important  to remember that critics have limitations, just as artists do.  They come with their own histories and prejudices, which they mostly cannot help but have color their critiques of our work. Often we do not know what these are, so it’s hard to interpret what we hear appropriately.

The same is true for artists and their art – each of us has our own background and experiences that inspire and define what we create. Most of our viewers know little of this and, thus, can only interpret our work based on what they see combined with their own insights. And in some sense, that’s fine – it doesn’t matter that they don’t know why we did something.

And that is true for how an artist uses a critique – while it may be interesting to know why the critic says what they do, ultimately it’s up to us to take the words in and see what truth they have for us.In that way, we become a little less constrained by their limitations and are left to do battle with out own.


A Leap of Faith

ancient urban 3, photograph

“Its not that we need new ideas, but we need to stop having old ideas.”

Edwin Land

What is your relationship with your past? With work you’ve done before? With the work of others you’ve been inspired by?

For me it’s a most delicate balance. I can get too enamored of what has worked for me in the past and find myself unconsciously repeating it. Or I’ll find myself emulating work I see that I like from others. This can hold me back from exploring new ideas.

On the other hand, it’s important to understand what I like and don’t like, what has worked or not. So the past informs me, it provides important clues about what I should do next. The trick is to extract enough from it to be the seed of new thought and work, but not to retain so much that it constrains.

I try to use the past as a springboard, not a hitching post. And like the experience of having just sprung from the board,  the feeling of turning your back on ideas that have meant something to you in the past can be both exhilirating and terrifying.

A true leap of faith…

Letting Your Imagination Speak

rooftops, photograph

“Do not quench your inspiration and your imagination; do not become the slave of your model.’

Vincent van Gogh

As an artist I have a double-edged relationship with my subjects.

On the one hand, I look to them for inspiration. On the other hand, I make them yield to my imagination. This give and take exchange should permeate the entire creative process, from the moment a piece is started until the finishing touches are applied.

I pay special attention to van Gogh’s admonition to not become the slave of my model. As a photographer it is all too easy to find an interesting subject, capture it’s image and consider it done. Doing so tips the scales in favor of the subject (model) at the expense of the imagination.

A subject with no imagination is boring, imagination without a subject is too personal. A balance is needed. Sometimes a subject that is too impressive on it’s own can dominate the conversation – consider how many wonderful paintings have been made of very mundane subjects or how uninteresting cliched photographs of Yosemite have become.

Once I’ve captured an image, the give and take begins, the dialogue with the subject starts and the imagination must be given its voice. I try to make sure it is heard.

Torn Asunder

not quite myself, photograph

“Collage is the noble conquest of the irrational, the coupling of two realities, irreconcilable in appearance, upon a plane which apparently does not suit them.”

Max Ernst

Sometimes I like to experiment with “photocollage”, taking textures or multiple exposures and layering them to combine them in unique ways. Working with planes of content, manipulating them in ways to convey new meaning, breaking them down, reconstituting them. The dissonance that results from combining or breaking apart is stimulating.

The lines are blurring between photography and general mixed media fine art as photographers start incorporating new elements in their work and other artists begin to use photographic components in theirs. I like this ambiguity as it creates new space for both types of artists to explore and find new meaning.

Instead of relying on the subject alone to make the point, this approach allows me to layer additional information through how I add to it or change it. It’s very exciting to look at the photographs I take and hear them ask me, “And now what?”.

Anything that perpetuates the creative moment and inspires you to look for more to say is good.

Abstraction vs. Representation

transits 65, photograph

“Why not acknowledge that all representation is an act of abstraction and that all abstraction must be conveyed through the act of representation and be done with it?”

– Peter London, No More Secondhand Art

And with that London puts to rest one of the ongoing debates in the art world! And he’s right, of course.

The process of taking an actual object and depicting it as an art piece involves a complex act of abstraction. All sorts of decisions go into what to include or exclude and ultimately the art is not as “complete” as the real object. Which is what can make it more interesting to us because we are invited to react to the unique way the artist has decided to abstract the reality into his/her work.

Then there are many qualities which do not manifest in the world as any specific object: intimacy, longing, consummation, delicacy, rarity, etc. The artist has to invent images to portray these immaterial qualities. What is abstract, without reference to a specific object in time and place, must be given form through an act of representation.

So every work of art has elements of abstraction and representation in it. With this understanding, perhaps the artist will not feel compelled to identify with one camp or the other and needlessly limit their mode of expression.

In fact, your willingness to explore both sides of this coin will expand your ability to create your world and your place within it, and that’s what it’s all about!

The Perfect Trap

view from lombard, photograph

“The trap is perfection: unless your work continually generates new and unresolved issues, there’s no reason for your next work to be any different from the last.”

David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear

Phew! What a relief. I can now stop trying to achieve that pesky perfection in my art!

In reality, I am so often aware of dissatisfaction with my work. I can look at any individual piece and see how it lacks something and, on the rare occasions when I feel perhaps I had success with some image, I can look over the body of work of which it’s a part of and note the failure of the whole to rise to the level of it’s best part. Even with my best work, I find something new I wasn’t aware of before that I feel compelled to address somehow.

For which I am grateful. Can you imagine how boring being an artist would be if each piece were a triumph? We need the occasional success but it’s the overall insuffciency of what we do that propels us forward to try to do better. Few activities in life depend so completely on not realizing our aims to have a chance to someday achieve them.

Just one of those quirky qualities of the artistic landscape…