Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Photo of the Week #2

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This week I played around a bit with capturing the motion of dropping ice cubes into a glass of water. Good fun! A small miracle my camera didn't get wet...

Sunday, 24 February 2013

The Power of Flight

Say hello to my Winged Creatures! I'm not entirely sure how to describe this series. There's no real meaning behind the overall concept - it's just something I drew for fun.

I drew the first of them (Winged Creatures #1, below) in an after school art class in 2005. I had no particular aim - I was just combining a few visual elements that I like - a flower, leaves, wings, a crown, a sword, blood, soft colours, it all just fell together. Unlike much of my drawings since, I didn't create a solid black pen outline prior to filling in with colour. Thus the edges and image as a whole are much softer. At the time, I had little experience using coloured pencils in this way - creating multiple layers blending into one another to form textures with depth and dimension. I also had a much more limited selection of colours compared with today (and I think it shows).

Since I don't have much to say about it, I'm just going to share some of them. Unfortunately, I had to cover a few with fairly meaningless writing as part of my school art curriculum.

Winged Creatures #1

Winged Creatures #2

Winged Creatures #4

Winged Creatures #5

Winged Creatures #6

Winged Creatures #14

Winged Creatures #15

Winged Creatures #16

Winged Creatures #19

A couple of years later, I felt the urge to revisit the concept. I often find my artistic feelings move in cycles. The 'winged creature' motif is a simple, reproducible element that I could easily combine with many other ideas and styles.


Love is Blind

Winged Creatures #23

Winged Creatures #24

"The true work of art is born from the Artist: a mysterious, enigmatic, and mystical creation. It detaches itself from him, it acquires an autonomous life, becomes a personality, an independent subject, animated with a spiritual breath, the living subject of a real existence of being."

Wassily Kandinsky

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Photo of the Week #1

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I took a few shots under a bridge near my house yesterday and this one turned out the best. Most didn't come out too well, perhaps because I was in darkness looking out at the intense light? I like the juxtaposition of dazzling bright light and pitch black darkness though. I also got a few strange looks crouching in a mostly-dry creek bed under a bridge apparently photographing nothing...

I'm looking to improve so please let me know what you think!

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Point and Click

These days, the world of photography is open to everyone. The availability and ease of use of digital SLR cameras and photo editing software allow anyone to create high quality images. Easy and cheap trans- and intercontinental travel open up myriad previously inaccessible environments. We can all see lions and pandas, visit the Taj Mahal and the Grand Canyon, and capture the beauty of the Northern Lights or the chaos of a thunderstorm. We also have unlimited advice and support available through blogs, forums, and websites, providing us knowledge that once required years of learning and practice. Photography is no longer a pursuit only for the well-connected or dedicated enthusiast.

The popularity of photography has soared over the past decade. Digital cameras have removed much of the mystery and challenge surrounding capturing good photographs, opening doors once closed to the general public. There was a time when photographers needed to have a steady hand, an artistic eye, and be able to handle complicated equipment to capture good photos. These days, the vast array of technical features (auto-focus, depth-of-field preview, sensor crop, image stabilisation, burst rate, digital filtering, etc.) render such technical skill and effort unnecessary. With the advent of smartphones, most of us have a camera with us at all times. We can also now share photos via the internet minutes after capturing them, providing a sense of instant gratification. We are essentially living in a golden age for amateur photography.

However, that's not to say that skill no longer plays a significant role in taking good photographs. It's usually pretty easy to pick the difference between images from a talented professional photographer and those from an amateur 'point and click' photographer. You won't confuse the images in National Geographic for someone's holiday happy snaps.

Cracks in the Earth

At the moment, I definitely fall in the amateur photographer camp. I guess whether or not that ever changes is entirely up to me. While I don't plan on becoming a professional photographer, I could certainly stand to learn a thing or two and I'm sure it will be great fun trying. There is always room for improvement, and I currently have nothing but room in that regard. I think the need for practice to achieve mastery is captured well by Henri Cartier-Bresson's quote:

“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”

The Grass Isn't Always Greener

Rainbow Falls

Berri Leaves

Night Flowers #9

I know I say this about a lot of things, but I definitely will work more on my photography skills. In fact, this time I'm making myself accountable to the commitment on this blog. I will upload one new photo every week. I won't upload old photos - it will always be taken in the preceding week. Where possible, I'll try a new technique, effect, or equipment each time. If you're interested, check back every Wednesday to see how it goes. I always welcome comments and feedback!

Pencils Standing #4

“A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.” 

Ansel Adams

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Lay of the Land

Throughout my teens and early twenties I read a lot of fantasy. The likes of JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, and David Eddings still fill my shelves. The epic stories of heroes, quests, war, and political intrigue provided an escape from the reality of day to day life. If you've ever gotten stuck into a good story you couldn't put down for hours, you know what I mean. One of my favourite aspects of the fantasy genre are the complex, huge, carefully crafted worlds in which the stories are set. Not only the physical worlds and characters but societies, cultures, traditions, languages, songs, religions, histories, and folklore. The depth of creation and creativity is astounding. Unlike fantasy TV shows and movies, though, so much is still left to the reader's imagination.

Most of the fantasy books I've read featured a map in their first few pages. These maps serve not only to help orient you when places are mentioned in the story, but also add a sense of depth and realism to the fantasy world. Often they include places outside the direct scope of the story, adding a touch of mystery and expanse to the setting. To be honest, I'm always a bit disappointed when there isn't a map to refer to.

Cartography is the art of creating maps. Although originally referring to mapping reality, it's now often applied to creating maps of non-existent lands. When you create a fantasy world, though, it's very real to you. I went through a phase in which I really enjoyed making up and drawing maps. I've never planned one out - I always draw the coastline automatically and then place terrain by feel (it's probably unnecessary to say it's more of an art than a science). Once you get into the zone, they're easy to just churn out. I only have a couple shown on this post but dozens more are on the shelves.


Some of my favourite fantasy series were Raymond E Feist's The Riftwar Saga & The Empire Trilogy (co-authored with Janny Wurts); The Farseer Trilogy & The Tawny Man Trilogy by Robin Hobb; and the unfinished A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R R Martin (the basis for the TV adaptation Game of Thrones). My favourite standalone fantasy epic is probably The Redemption of Althalus by David and Leigh Eddings. Each of these books is set in its own huge, immersive, carefully crafted world. I highly recommend them all to anyone interested.

Below is a selection of some of my favourite fantasy maps from books I have read and games I have played. Each has inspired my own work.

When I first started drawing maps, I felt they had an intrinsic link with a story. They were nothing more than a useful reference to understand the book. Since I was introduced to fantasy maps through fantasy novels, I was naturally interested in creating them as part of a wider world creation to support an epic story. After my first few, though, I grew to enjoy drawing them for their own sake. I didn't feel they were just a way to visually represent a formed idea of a world but a worthwhile pursuit in their own right.

Thus far I haven't actually used my maps for anything practical. They're fun to draw, though, and perhaps one day I'll write my own epic fantasy series...

Lost Map

“It was a shack, somewhere out on the outskirts of the Plains town of Scrote. Scrote had a lot of outskirts, spread so widely-a busted cart here, a dead dog there-that often people went through it without even knowing it was there, and really it only appeared on the maps because cartographers get embarrassed about big empty spaces.” 

Terry Pratchett

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Paint Explosions

When you look at the following picture, what do you see?

Who Figures by Carmen Guedez

A prison cell? The floor plan of a house? A medley of conflicting emotions? Randomly arranged lines and colours? Whatever you say, nobody can tell you it's wrong.

I've always been fascinated by abstract art. I understand it isn't everyone's cup of tea - I know plenty of people who don't consider abstract pieces to be 'art' at all. To me, however, the separation of visual forms and colours from realistic representation allows endless freedom for interpretation. As impressive as the technical skill evident in some figurative art, I find it often stiff and limited compared to abstraction. Congratulations, you deftly recreated a landscape - but what does it mean? Why did you create it? Why didn't you just photograph the view? Perhaps I just need to hear more from the perspective of figurative artists but these questions often arise in my mind. On the other hand, experimentation with the basic elements of visual art allows such great imaginative freedom on behalf of the observer. You aren't being told what you're seeing.

It's said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it's true - aesthetics are subjective. Viewing and appreciating art is not a one-way process. Everything you experience is interpreted in light of your own history, beliefs, thoughts, and mood. What to me is a butterfly may to you be a bat, a moth, or an alien in desperate need of a hug. The same is true of all other experiences in life. The subjective nature of human observations is a critical limitation in science, giving rise to various forms of experimenter's bias. In psychiatry, the psychological baggage a patient brings to an interaction with their doctor is called transference (with the inverse being countertransference) and greatly influences the doctor-patient dynamic. Regarding photography, Ansel Adams expressed the same sentiment:

“You don't make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”

Inspired by the work of action painters like Sam Francis, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Wiener, I explored the use of semi-controlled splashes to produce simple bursts of paint on paper. I enjoy creating artwork over which I don't have full control - half the fun is seeing how it turns out. It allows careless abandon, and a certain degree of automatism. I never cease to be surprised by the results!


While at high school, I studied art every year. It was consistently one of my favourite subjects and I always looked forward to the classes and, dare I say, the homework. In my final two years of school, my Art/Design subject required I produce a selection of 12 formally assessed pieces backed up by a significant body of research, experimentation, and planning. Each of these was the culmination of weeks to months of work. While none from this series ever made it into my final dozen, they were some of the most fun to work on. There's something about throwing paint against paper that's quite satisfying - you should try it some time.

One of my school art workbooks

Aside from making a mess in my room (and creating a rather colourful computer), I think I also made quite an effective series. I find simplicity in art very appealing; the less one needs to include visually to convey a concept or feeling, the more powerfully it can hit. Just as more words don't make a story better and more lines of code don't make a program better, more brush strokes don't make a painting better. By keeping the portrayal concise, attention is captured and the underlying message is less prone to being lost. The catchiest headlines and book or movie titles are often the shortest.



A few months later I revisited the idea. I wanted to take it a step further, so I used a more vibrant colour range and continued until the entire page was covered in paint. As I was only working in A3, it didn't take long to finish but I really liked how it turned out. Despite not planning the piece in advance, I find the balance of colours and mix of hard and soft transitions quite appealing; it all just fits together so well. The piece feels happy, energetic, and full of life.

Circus of Life

I definitely see myself returning to this style again in future, perhaps upscaling to canvas, working in mixed media, or blending the techniques with other artistic styles I've explored. I know what I enjoy, and this is it.

"When I am in a painting, I'm not aware of what I'm doing. It is only after a sort of 'get acquainted' period that I see what I have been about. I have no fears about making changes, destroying the image, etc, because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well."

Jackson Pollock