Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Two photographs I took early in the morning

Not being what you'd call a technical whizzkid, I need time to come to terms with the gadgets at my disposal, so I'm getting to grips slowly but surely with my Nikon, and with a hint of PhotoShop, because, well, why not. It's there.



This one is a view of the very early morning sky from the back of my house, and I think that you will appreciate it more if you click on it to enlarge it. They say 'red sky in the morning, shepherd's warning', and there's no red here, so it was possibly a good day weather-wise later on - for the life of me I can't remember. I could have cropped, but didn't want to.


This was taken a couple of weeks later, also in my back garden - the pole in the ditch is the same pole in both photos - and again slightly doctored. I loaded this up onto the TV3 weather photographs page but I haven't seen it up there yet. I love gossamer spider webs in the early morning, so pretty. Wrecked old bird table though. I should really replace it. Ah well.

The top one I might work into a painting, but the bottom one is the thing. You do need to know when to stop.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

Photography, PhotoShop and drawing

Now I know how I've gone on about how useful photography can be to an artist, as a tool to record stuff. And I've seen some wonderful artwork created through using - read 'doctoring' - a photograph using PhotoShop, by Ken Coleman to name just one artist.

But I think you need to be careful if you're going to use other people's photographs as visual references for your drawings. Why? Because if they have been photoshopped, they might have been photoshopped badly. I regularly see stuff up on Facebook about badly photoshopped images that elongate a model's body to outlandish proportions, make her legs look so skinny you couldn't imagine her standing on them without them breaking, and the classic one that has parents of teenage girls really worried, the woman of normal, natural proportions photoshopped into someone that looks like they died of starvation, or are very close to it.

It's easy to miss these things at first, especially if you don't really look closely at publications or websites in which such photos normally feature. The thing is, using PhotoShop is also something of an art form, and if you don't get it right, it can look so very wrong. Of course, you can have great fun with it and give a model an extra hand or finger, or have a crocodile leaping out of water onto a moving boat, but if you're picking photographs from magazines to work from for paintings, you'd want to take a very good look at them. Sometimes what seems 'odd' turns out to be very strange indeed.

There really is no substitute for live-drawing with a model, I think. Yes, people come in all shapes and sizes, and in different proportions, but you really appreciate it when you draw the same model several times in different poses. I suppose you could say there are 'believable parameters' when it comes to the proportions of the body, and indeed both PhotoShop and plastic surgery could challenge this, but if you want to base your drawing or painting on a real, and more to the point, believable body, then you need to work from a real and believable subject.

I suppose if you have spent many years studying the human figure in life-drawing sessions, or indeed studying anything that's based on 3-dimensional objects around you with a view to reproducing it in 2D, then you would be less likely to miss any PhotoShop-created physical anomalies and end up using your own skill in reworking the visual reference into something you're making. I think we are back to the eye, and one's own innate judgement in creating a composition that 'works'.

Taking badly photoshopped images might actually be an interesting exercise for an art project, if you're one of the people that likes to take things and turn them around and stand them on their heads - why not? One of the great things about art is that you can take something and transform it into something totally different. But that is another project, for another blog. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

New stuff to paint - The Great Unposed

So yesterday I was at the Limerick races in a roadie capacity and would have liked to have been to sketch some glamorous Ladies as it was Ladies' Day, but just got some photos of them instead. The plan is to look at the photos and see if there are any paintings in there somewhere. Maybe just one big one with all those fabulous hats and colours. There were some very stylish outfits there, and some seriously eye-catching hats. I hadn't been to any race meetings for years, I know my father brought us once, but I honestly can't even remember where that was. 

I'm after The Great Unposed. I personally HATE being in photos, I so rarely come out looking good, but I find that with posing for photos, you end up with something that looks a bit artificial, and ultimately repetitive. It doesn't really work for making paintings. I so much prefer getting people being themselves, just talking, fixing their hair, drinking or eating, on the phone ... even picking their noses, as an artist lady I met there yesterday pointed out. Not that I would ever use such a visual reference in my paintings, but photography and can does catch such unguarded moments, and can be singularly unflattering. Which I suppose is why so many people automatically try to pose and present their best/classiest/most elegant side - they are attempting to be seen in a particular way, attempting to control the visual recording. As part of The Great Unposed, I take that control away from then. 

I suppose I'm in a grey area. It's uncomfortable for people, sometimes. And then of course there are certain lines you cannot cross, in particular with regard to photographing children and their personal safety, which I totally understand and respect. But I LIKE getting the person glaring back at me, it doesn't happen all that often. I'm fast, and have the shutter speed on high ... so I'm not 'intruding' for more than half a second, often the people I photograph don't even realise. And then when I do go and use the visual information I get and work it into a painting, the person is usually not recognisable - though there are some exceptions in my work. 

I think the difficulty for many is that I sit on the fence between voyeurism and simple, unbiased observation. I'm not actually intruding, merely recording something and at the same time taking away the subject's control over how they look in the photo. I can't help wondering if this has to do with the fact that cameras are now so widely available to everyone, and everyone who is on Facebook and other social media posts up photographs of themselves ... often doctored with PhotoShop. And their memories of the event or situation in question. I suppose that overlaps onto the field of epistemology .... Hmmm. 

In any case, I feel that after the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Martin Parr and other great 'candid' photographers, I think there is a precedent. 

And an image, let's see ... THREE images!!!! None were actively posing.


Sleeping somewhere, drawing in purple ink


Gossiping in Estrella Park, Lisbon, from 2010, pencil and watercolour paint


Woman standing, Piazza Della Signoria, Florence, from 2008, pencil and watercolour paint

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Eigse Carlow 2012


Last spring I submitted some work to Eigse Carlow, not for the first time, but this time the work was accepted for the Art Festival around the town. There was a theme: Civilising the Wilderness. So I went off and thought about and came up with The Coming of Pan I and II. 





My idea was that wilderness cannot truly be civilised, but it can be interpreted, recorded and mapped. I took photos of the ditches on the road by my house, as these are teeming with wildlife all year round, and Pan's conversation with the young girl from James Stephens' novel The Crock of Gold  - a very enjoyable read - and put them together as below. The photographs I photoshopped for a stronger contrast, then attached to tracing paper so I could get the line with fine black pen. The effect is not unlike mapping something. Finally, I added the paper with the text to the bottom, and attached the whole lot to a firm backing (i.e. cardboard, which I have in abundance around my house) and sent it off. I them promptly forgot about it until they e-mailed me back and said they wanted to include among the works shown around the town. Nice.

I'll do something for next year also.