Creating Art: It’s Damn Hard

I love taking photos. Every time I go out with the camera, it’s in the hope of capturing something new, something better, and when I get it–when there’s one special picture in a slew of garbage–it’s a thrill.

It still is, but lately I’ve been feeling the need to challenge myself, hence the sudden descent into macro photography with a new lens. I’m going to have a lot of fun trying to improve my technique. A long lens, handheld, is tough enough, but slap another lens on it, and you have a hard time remaining steady. It’s recommended you use a tripod, but insects generally don’t stay still long enough for you to get set up, so people generally shoot a lot and hope to get one or two keepers. More on that in future posts, along with pictures.

And then there’s art.

Some would argue, rightfully so, a well-composed, beautiful photograph is art. Plenty of people have made money selling their photos. A few of mine are framed and hanging on the wall.

But I’ve always wanted to be an artist in the sense of creating something new. Unfortunately, my brain doesn’t work that way. While I can clearly see images in my head, the link between them and my hand is broken. I cannot make something out of nothing, to my everlasting disappointment.

I can mimic like crazy, though. I can draw/paint what I see, no problem, and that’s certainly an avenue I’ve explored in the past. I’ve done only two digital paintings (so far). This one is of R’s dog, Star. I did it as a Christmas gift. I painted it in Photoshop, and I do mean painted. I didn’t brush over the original or turn that into a painting, but started with a sketch and did it one piece at a time using the original photo as reference. It took me three weeks. He never hung it. He couldn’t grasp that someone could “paint” in a program without cheating somehow. That hurt. 

Emboldened, I then painted a picture of my mother when she was a child. Again, all done from scratch. She was proud of it. Put it on the wall immediately. Teddy’s fur was a bitch. I’m particularly proud of her hair, that bear, and the ribbon.

I’d like to return to this form of painting; it’s affordable (unlike when you invest in canvas, paint, and brushes) and still allows the artist complete creativity and control. With time, I bet I could get pretty good. But it would always be a copy of a photo.

Another artistic expression is photo manipulation. This is a different kind of art, where you combine different existing elements in one picture. I’ve done quite a lot of it over the years, to greater or lesser success. Out of bounds (OOB) pics were my favorite for a while. All the photos were taken by me (pasture, ocean, horse) and put together in an interesting way. I did this so long ago, I wasn’t using my symbol yet, but I was Fen even then. 🙂 

I wanted to make a new avi for social media, so I gathered pics together to see what I could make of them. I used three elements: a free background downloaded from dA (Deviant Art, if you aren’t familiar) in a tremendous size, something like 6000×4000, a very small b&w picture I spotted online somewhere (truly small, like 500×300, though after I cropped out the words, it was smaller still), and a picture of a hawk I took last year ( background already removed).

“What can you make of this?” you ask. Three pics, three different sizes and resolution….

This is the first version, prior to adding the owl and grunging it up. That’s the cool thing about working in Photoshop: you can add and subtract layers at will. Also, smart object is one of Adobe’s greatest inventions. It lets me take a small photo and enlarge it to a much bigger size without losing resolution or introducing noise. I colorized it in PS, too. 

I did like this version, but I wanted something more intense, more visceral. Something that reflected my mood these last several weeks.

With episodes of Queer as Folk running on Netflix in the background (the tense episodes leading up to the attack on Justin in the parking garage), I set to work.

And came up with this. 

The second iteration more accurately reflects what I was and have been feeling since Agent Orange took office, so it’s my favorite.

I discussed this with Jaycee/Janet (she gave me permission to use her name in this post). She prefers the first version. She says it’s more powerful. “It’s very still and quiet. The grunged version is louder.” Her perception was the hawk was protecting the figure. I saw it a completely different way: it was attacking him, and he had no choice but to accept it. Like I said, this piece reflects my desperate, depressed, almost resigned mood of late.

She suggested putting the hawk in the opposite corner, to make it clear it was attacking the figure, but I’d tried it, and the feet didn’t work. They were not outstretched with claws extended, but pointing down, as it was standing on a rock, holding a snail and eating the meat.

I could have gone to Google images and stolen something, but I really wanted one thing in this picture to be mine. And that’s why the hawk is behind him. Minor things make all the difference. 🙂

The other reason why the hawk is in that corner is because that’s where the light is (mostly) coming from. That’s an important consideration when you’re doing photo manips. All the elements have to look like they belong together. Always consider your light source.

Janet thought it worked better without the hawk. That first version would make a good book cover, but I like the hawk and the grunge, because it adds more color and intensity.

Here’s the third version, without hawk but with grunge. I like this one, too. 

I’m interested in hearing your opinion. Which one do you like better and why?

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About Fenraven

Fenraven happily lives in south Florida, where it is really hot most of the year. Find him on Twitter, Google +, and Facebook by searching on 'fenraven'.
This entry was posted in photography, publishing, RL and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Creating Art: It’s Damn Hard

  1. Helena Stone says:

    For what it’s worth, I’m afraid I agree with J… be it for a different reason. I find the hawk distracting. The figure on his own shouts pure despair at me, once the hawk is in the background it’s no longer despair, more as if he’s hiding. But, I do mean, for what it’s worth; I’m not a very visual person, so probably the last one you should take advice from. 🙂

  2. Jaycee Edward says:

    I just didn’t see the hawk the way you did. I saw it as protecting you when you were in a vulnerable state. Fun how everyone sees things differently when it comes to art and how changing one small thing makes it have a total different feel. Very powerful image though. I like it!

    • Fenraven says:

      Thanks. I still like all three version for different reasons, but my new favorite is the grunged version without the hawk. In fact, I made it my avi. 🙂

  3. diannegray says:

    I like the grunge version the best. And your other art is fantastic, particularity the picture of your mother xxx

  4. Lindsaysf says:

    Hmm. Each has a very different feeling. For conveying a mood, I like the first. The second for me starts a story, one in which the hawk has the same emotional weight at the figure. The third to me shows a figure swept up in a metaphysical storm. I love your horse-pasture-ocean picture! OOB’s, you call them? I think I have several of yours I saved.

    • Fenraven says:

      I haven’t done OOBs in a while, but sometimes I’m tempted. They are time-intensive but so much fun. More photo manips are always on deck. They present a challenge in themselves, in assembling the right elements and making sure they all fit together. Also time-intensive, and that’s something I’m often short of.

  5. Mira says:

    I do like the hawk in the picture but it’s a bit overwhelming with the man sitting, wondering if you made it more transparent along with softer edges to convey the pain of the struggle of the man, versus that image being literal (does that make sense?). That way the man is front and center in your piece. A quick add on – the background is fantastic and really flows! I think the original picture is nice, but it’s the words in my opinion that draw that piece in. From a visual perspective, the new pieces are more visually stunning. I love photoshop, it’s a great tool for artists!

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