Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Wood, organza, encaustic, medical source book ad

Here's a piece I finished yesterday:

This time I stippled the encaustic onto the image printed on the organza. It's mounted on a wood panel. I don't know what I think yet. I like the subtlety of the piece, but I feel it may be too vague. I like the color of this piece, yet at times it looks a little pukey to me.

I'm in one of those phases where nothing looks that good to me. I'm struggling with a illustration too. It's for an ad in the medical illustrators source book. Here are two variations:

There are some anatomical issues that I have to work on. I've been agonizing on the pose of the woman for a few days now. I have gone through reams of paper making test prints. I want her to be alive, fleshy, sensual. Getting her to be alive, fleshy and sensual in digital 3D is a challenge. Her pose has gone through many variations, and this morning I started from scratch. I'm now basing her on Titian's Danaƫ. It's excruciating looking at Titian's masterpiece and then looking at my piece. He mocks me.

I'm almost ready to post one of the new videos I'm working on. Part of me wants to keep it secret for some reason. I want it to be right. And just looking at it on-line, not in a environment tailored specifically for the piece is something I am a bit concerned about. You can expect to see it within a couple of days.

Monday, January 30, 2012

On our mission statement

I thought I'd go into some more depth on the mission statement I posted the other day. The first sentence of the mission is, "To create the most clear, elegant, beautiful graphics and illustration."

Our successful graphics are clear. There's a intentionality of purpose. When we are commissioned to make something look "cool" I feel lost.

Apple's dictionaries definition of clarity is, "the quality of coherence and intelligibility." If our work isn't clear, if a coherent and intelligible message isn't apparent, it isn't successful. It's the clarity of the idea coming across that can make a piece beautiful or not.

Let's look at one of my favorite information graphics, the Johanes Itten color wheel:

It organizes the mystery of color into a linear, circular comprehensible whole. I have this wheel tacked up to the wall of my studio and I refer to it often.

Information and clarity don't necessarily go hand in hand. We're surrounded by so much information in our culture. As information graphic artists our job is to make sense of the information that is inundating us. I love what Nigel Holmes calls his studio, "Explanation Graphics." Explaining something is making sense out of information. In the end we are visual editors. We decide what to leave out in order to make a strong compelling point.

Let's look at elegance. The second definition in Apple's dictionary is, "(of a scientific theory or solution to a problem) pleasingly ingenious and simple." From one perspective, our studio solves problems. The problems we tackle are how to make sense of something visually. I respond to simplicity and minimalism. You've probably noticed that our color palate tends to be minimal. This has to do with the fact that in information graphics color is meaning. And my favorite information graphics are ones that make one or two points strongly. So this translates into the use of one or two colors.

I believe that clarity leads to beauty. What does this mean? I believe that there has to be a clear, intelligible message that is delivered in order for us to experience beauty. This holds true in art, illustration and information graphics. When something is beautiful, I want to look at it and make sense of it. Beauty is a core value for me. And I am not just talking about physical beauty. I believe almost anything can be beautiful. Thelonious Monk was getting at this point when he titled one of his songs "Ugly Beauty."

There's the "why," "how" and "what." What we do as a studio is clear- we make information graphics and illustrations. How we do this is what I addressed in this post. Why do we do this? This goes back to the vision statement I posted the other day:
Our work brings about a understanding and visceral experience of the beauty, wonder and majesty of the world in all of its connectedness. Through this experience we bring peace, understanding and compassion to the world.
In the end I would love for people who come in contact with our work to feel energized and elevated after looking at it.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Vision and mission statements

I've been working on a vision and mission statement for the studio. The vision statement relates to my highest hopes for what we can do. The mission statement is more practical. It speaks to what we believe, and how and what we do.

Vision statement:
Our work brings about a understanding and visceral experience of the beauty, wonder and majesty of the world in all of its connectedness. Through this experience we bring peace, understanding and compassion to the world.
Mission statement:
To create the most clear, beautiful, elegant graphics and illustration.
To only work on jobs that benefit humankind.
To create a energetic, positive work place that fosters room for creative expression and positive change.
To interpret the clients needs. This means always digging deeper, asking as many questions as possible.
To respect each job.
To fight hard against boredom and a feeling of just reproducing. To not rest on what we have accomplished and done in the past. To always be building on what we have done. Not for the sake of change, but for the sake of beauty and clarity.
I shared these statements with the team on Thursday. It got a good response. Joe Lertola said that skepticism was a important thing for him. In skepticism there is a inherent rigor that I respond to. So I want to see how we can incorporate skepticism into our statements.

After working on these I feel a little intimidated by them. Being true to them will be difficult at times. Especially the one that states, "to only work on jobs that benefit humankind." What is and isn't beneficial to humankind is usually up for debate. For instance, we just finished a job for a energy company that fracks. I've heard mostly bad things about fracking. Scientific American published an article about it recently that was a little more balanced. With technical innovation that benefits our quality of life there usually comes a down side. Genetically modifies food has saved millions of lives from what I understand. I've been a proponent for nuclear energy. But after what happened in Japan I'm not so sure.

So how will these statements tangibly effect how and what we do here at the studio? I don't know yet. But I'm trusting that they will have an effect. At the least I believe they will help keep the studio energetic and vibrant.

Friday, January 27, 2012

On being overwhelmed

I came into the studio this morning irritated. So I decided to clean up and organize the space. I took down everything I had tacked up and started going through the work, making a good and bad pile. Or rather a pile of work I want to pursue and work that I don't. Here's what the studio looks like so far. It aint pretty:

I'm feeling overwhelmed. To be honest with you, I have so much I'm working on that I don't know where to begin. Hopefully in writing about this I'll get some clarity on what it is I want to focus on.

Here are the series I'm engaged with

There are the paper prints mounted on panel with encaustic. Here are a couple of examples:

These pieces are, metaphorically speaking, fossilized records of our energy and spirit. They are documents in a way. I look at them as proof of our energy beyond the physical manifestation of this world.

Then there are the metal prints with varnish applied:

Honestly, I'm not sure what the hell the intent is behind these pieces other than trying to make the most beautiful object I can. Hold on. I do have a sense of what I want these to be. The varnish represents water. I look at these pieces as women submerged in some kind of liquid. They are trapped in my mind.

I have the transparent sculptures:

The inspiration behind these is cubism. They are also an outgrowth of my time series (see below.)

Then there are the pieces that I am printing on layers of organza and then binding together with encaustic:

I look at these as living things. The encaustic represents flesh and the image represents the movement of the spirit, soul and emotion.

I'm working on a couple of videos too. I don't want to post these yet.

There are the altarpieces:

These are influenced by early renaissance altars. Specifically the altars of Fra Angelico. I want these to be objects of worship directed at our physical and energetic makeup.

There's the time series:

These are about, well, time. Time and perception; how the two interrelate. I believe time is the bedrock of our existence. It can be measured mechanically yet our experience, or perception of it is so fluid.

I'm also working on digital drawings of water towers:

I wrote in a earlier post that I respond to the lack of industrial design they have. They are completely functional. Everything you see on the water tower serves a practical purpose and function.

And there are the architectural photos I am taking:

All that I listed is part of the fine art side of what I do. In addition to this I'm also working on commissions for magazines and pharmaceutical clients. Of these illustration projects, the one I'm most excited about is a project for National Geographic. I pitched the idea for a story to Bill Marr, the creative director, and they bit. I don't want to say more until it is on the newsstands. That should be May.

Phew. Now, for the fine art, I'll pick my favorites from these series and put them up on the wall. That is if my head doesn't explode first.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

New time woman

I started working on this piece yesterday:

It will be part of my time series. I'm happy with the color, especially in the middle panel. In fact, I may take the middle panel and blow it up and have it live in its own.

Here are two experiments I made yesterday:

Both of these are composed of four layers of images printed on organza with encaustic applied between each layer. I want these to have depth and glow. But I want the glow to be subtle, I don't want to hit you over the head with it. I'm finding it a tricky balance. The orange one unfortunately reminds me of a radioactive kidney bean.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

On balance

I finished this early this morning.

It's part of a series that I haven't named yet. Here's a photo of three of the pieces together:

I've been on a creative tear the last few months. I haven't experienced such a long burst of creative output in years. Here's a photo of what the studio looks like now:

As you can see I have many irons in the fire. I've been wondering why I'm experiencing this sustained period of creativity. Balance comes to mind.

I have been experiencing balance in my personal life. I have my bad days. But what has been different over the last few months is that I'm able to look at the mood that comes over me as not being a direct correlation with reality. There is a grain of truth in the feelings, but they tend to be amplified considerably.

I've always been afraid that contentment and happiness would lead to less creative output for me. I was nervous that my creativity grew out of a general restlessness and unhappiness I have always experienced. But this period of balance is proving this a invalid hypothesis. It's difficult because there is such a ingrained romantic vision of the artist in our culture. Just look at the personal lives of Beethoven, Jackson Pollock, Kurt Cobain, Van Gogh, Amy Winehouse, Charlie Parker. Chuck Close' quote is my perfect antidote for for when my mind strays in this direction, "Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us get up everyday and get to work."

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

NYC through a 85mm lens

I took these photos today while taking my morning walk:

I've been using my 85mm lens as opposed to the 50mm I usually use. It's affecting the way I see things. With the 85mm I'm picking up on diagonals and playing with the relationship between foreground and background space more. The 50mm is close to how our eyes perceive the world. The 85 has a more zoomed, narrower view plane. So there is room for more abstraction when using it. That is if you define abstraction as being what's different than what the eyes perceive.

I'm also developing the pictures differently. I've been staying away from strong contrast and going for a more even tone. This is something that feels a little more like film. That said, I believe in being true to the medium. I am not interested in trying to fake the viewer out into thinking that these were taken with film. It's just that film looks so damn beautiful.

In April I'll be headed to Cuba for a weeklong photo workshop with Jay Seldin. Needless to say I'm very excited. I ordered a 50mm tilt shift lens that I can't wait to use. This lens should help capture the architecture in Cuba well. It will be hard shooting black and white surrounded by all that color.

Tall women

Here are two pieces I'm working on:

They remind me of Klimt. I wasn't intentionally going for this though. I tried this taller format after I saw a few early paintings of Bonnard's that are very tall and skinny.

The tall format may be a little too cute. I feel they look a little too illustrative for what I'm attempting to get at.

What is it I am trying to get at? Good question. I was asked what influences my work by a potential client recently. This is what I wrote:
I'm most interested in the relationship between our energetic bodies and physical bodies. I explore where they intersect, where they are different, and where they are the same. I'm most influenced by Renaissance art. Da Vinci and Michelangelo are my biggest influences. 
For me, art serves the same purpose as science and religion (or spirituality if you prefer); it has the potential uplift humankind and keep our eyes open to the wonder of the world. In the end, I would like my work to bring about an awareness of the viewers highest, deepest and truest self. All of my work is based on anatomically correct digital 3D models. I have been a scientific illustrator for 15 years and there has been a organic evolution from illustration to fine art in my work.
So far that's the clearest, most succinct summation of what inspires and what I am after me that I have come up with.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Overcast morning

I took these three shots this morning on my walk to the coffee shop:

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A new piece

Here's a piece I may be finished with:

It measures 44" x 22". A digital print mounted on panel with encaustic. I may go into it and add some more encaustic; part of me feels like it looks too clean. But I'll live with it for a while.

Some more NYC buildings

I took these yesterday. I'm using my 85 mm / 1.2 again. I love this lens. It's big and heavy and feels great in my hands.

Friday, January 20, 2012

More buildings

I've been taking pictures of the sides of buildings. Here are four:

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Organza and wood

Over the last couple of days I've been working on this triptych:

I'm interested in the interplay of the woodgrain and the lines of the three images. I printed the digital drawings (that's what I'm calling the images for now) on organza and applied them to the wooden panels using encaustic. Each panel measures 30"x 15".

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Three buildings in New York City

I've started a new series of photographs. The subject is the sides of buildings. Here are three takes:

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A corporate building in Northern New Jersey

I took this shot last week:

This has got to be one of the ugliest buildings I have seen. I'm interested in how photography can make the ugliest things look engaging. I asked my teacher about this the other day. Why does the ugliest subject matter make a good photo sometimes? He said he thinks it has something to do with the fact that the image is being flattened out; a three dimensional scene is being being represented in two dimensions. A friend of mine said that photography removes all of the senses except vision. You obviously don't smell New Jersey in the photograph above. You don't feel the chill in the air. Because I'm using a wide-angle lens the eye could never see the building the way it is shown in the photo.

I tend to take a photo as a document of the real thing. But there is a lot going on that is removing the subject from reality.

Monday, January 16, 2012

At the Met on Saturday

I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art this Saturday. This is a Egyptian temple in the museum. It's not the museum itself.

I'd like to show you some of the pieces that stood out to me. The first piece is a little medieval painting of the Last Judgment:

I didn't note the artist who painted this. What really caught my attention were the figures in hell:

If you can get past the subject matter, it's quite beautiful. (I'm particularly fond of the poor guy in the lower left being torn in half.) I'm interested in the way the figures are all floating in space. This is something I try to achieve in my art: an absence of gravity. I noticed that I would rather not be in either of the scenarios depicted in this piece. Heaven looks boring, and hell looks rather, well, hellish.

Another painting that jumped out at me was a El Greco. Here's a detail.

I adore the wavy lines that form the figures. The figures also have a floating quality that I am drawn to. The color is insane, of course. Look at the pink shawl. I've been drawing more men lately. I want to start building a new male model so I can create renderings of a man. I love the attitude of the man on the right.

This Velasquez killed me:

From a distance it almost looked like a photograph. But as I got closer the paint became more and more abstract. It looks like it was painted extremely quickly, with a pretty heavily loaded brush. There's something here; the fact that our eyes and consciousness can make out a portrait made up of such loose paint is interesting. Up close the reality falls apart. There's a interplay between abstraction and physical concrete subject matter that I find exhilarating. It's a beautiful balancing act that Velasquez has attained. This balancing act is what I'm interested in with my own art. I like finding the abstraction in our physical reality.

Speaking of a balancing act between representation and abstraction, here's Ingres:

The more I looked at these the more I fell in love with them. They look so real on first sight, but the more I sit with them the more the abstraction of the forms is apparent. I traced the forms of the above paintings:

The lines remind me some of de Kooning's earlier work. Here's Pink Angels, painted in 1945:

I've been looking at Rodin. I've never been a big fan of his. His famous pieces have struck me as sentimental. The Thinker is as ubiquitous as Dali's melting watches. But recently I've begun to get an appreciation of his work. It started with seeing some old photographs taken of his work that are in a Phaidon book I have. I'm getting past the subject matter, and the jaw-dropping strength and beauty of his work is becoming apparent. Here are some of his sculptures at the Met I looked at this weekend:

I love the fluidity and solidity of his figures. I've been drawing his sculptures. I don't quite get them intellectually yet. But I like them more and more. This may be sacrilege, but I like looking at photographs of his work more than seeing the work in person. I'm not completely sure why this is. I think it may be because the line of his work is more apparent to me in a photograph.

I'd like to end with a cave painting I've been looking at, the Altamira Bison. It was painted sixteen thousand years ago.

De Kooning said that there is no progress in art. The sophisticated abstraction of form of the bison speaks to this. Progress is something many of us are obsessed with. I believe it is part of our human makeup. I find it comforting to be working in a form that I believe can't progress.