Thursday, February 27, 2014

The importance of tools . . .

Not sure where my art is going right now. I'm making stupid mistakes because of a new system and using too much time to research how to do things and to figure out why things aren't working.

I'm in the midst of changing from a PC to a Mac, and today hit a low point.

All I want to do is MAKE something. The problem is that I'm currently unfamiliar with my tools, and the result is that when I try to make something, someone's put my tools in a different location, and when I do find them, they're slightly different, forcing me to stop, read the "tool manual," and then carry on.

In the meantime my inspiration and my enthusiasm for what I've been making has left the building.

I've spent hours trying to create and nothing is running smoothly.

I know this will pass. I know things will be fine. But right now? I just want to make something without having to bug friends, read manuals, Google various forums (where people are all too soon referred to as idiots who don't want to read manuals!), try to locate license keys and old passwords, make educated (but often wrong) guesses, wait for things to load, reload, and update only to not be able to find them once done.

This new computer (and its attendant programs) are the tools of my "trade" (such as it is). I just wish I was more familiar with its quirks, more adept at using it, and more confident with the new skill set that's now required.

And until then? Well, it's rather tense around the Leigh/Smith household these days!

©Carol Leigh, who took way too much time just to locate the above photo of old wrenches!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

It's a good day to . . .

. . . not get caught red-handed!

An industrial bit from Portland. ©Carol Leigh

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Portland. Keeping it Weird.

You never know when a memorable moment is about to occur. You just have to be open, be ready, and go with the flow.

Chris and I spent the weekend in Portland, and one of the things I wanted to do on Sunday was revisit an industrial area that Linda H. showed us a few years ago.

But before shooting on Sunday, we had dinner with Linda and Hugh on Saturday night, and Linda told us about a building that had burned, leaving just the walls and a lot of charred beams.

Chris and I found the place the next morning. It was all fenced in, alas, but aha! We found an opening in the fence, and that’s when the madness began.

Oh, my. It was incredible. The roof was gone, the walls were braced to prevent them from falling in, and colorful graffiti covered everything. Here and there were very large puddles of water, perfect for reflections.

What immediately caught my eye was an old TV set, staring out from the middle of a huge puddle. The sight was startling, incongruous, and totally absurd. Sitting in the water next to the TV was a bright red fire extinguisher. Ridiculous. I took a few shots.

And then a couple of guys on motorcycles arrived. They saw the TV, the puddle, and immediately placed one bike next to the TV. They took a few photos with a little point-and-shoot camera. Then they brought in the second bike. Then they found part of a radio and leaned it against the TV. They embellished the scene with a black high-heeled shoe they fished out of the water. For reasons known only to them, they left the fire extinguisher in place throughout. Never touched it. 

Voila! Instant art, They took a few more photos and then were on their way. 

But while the biker guys were still assembling their art, Chris and I began talking to a man who was shooting, just as enthralled as we were with all this graffiti.

Turns out he’s been shooting at this spot for a long time, even at night with moonlight reflecting off the water. He recognized a lot of the graffiti art, told us who made it, gave us a lot of the backstory.

His occupation? He works for the graffiti abatement department in Portland! Ha! What a fascinating and fun guy to talk to.

But that’s not all.

While biker guys were still working, and while graffiti abatement guy was still talking to us, some people dressed as “Clockwork Orange” characters were conducting their own photography tableaus. So now and then we’d spot a woman brandishing a club, a guy posing moodily in a doorway, and another woman dressed in black wearing a clear plastic mask.

This was one of the strangest, most surreal events I’ve experienced in a long time. It was weird, interesting, bizarre, absurd, and so much fun!

I’ve not had time to really do any processing (it takes 3.5 hours for us to drive home from Portland), but wanted to get something quickly posted while the day remained fresh in my mind.

Portland. Classically weird. And proud of it!

©Carol Leigh

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Celebrating the unplanned

This piece was created yesterday, apparently with circles (see previous post) still on my mind.

I never know what's going to happen when I put these photomontages together. I usually begin (these days) with a blank canvas and then start adding photographs. Part of what you see here are to-go coffee insulators (corrugated cardboard) and round bits of metal.

What I like about the result is how I've got all those straight, linear lines in repeating patterns, on the diagonal, that contrast with the round forms of the disks.

Also appealing to me is the monochromatic palette, the contrast of dark and light, the way the diagonal lines top and bottom point your eye to the peek of the "planets" going past in the middle. I made the center "moon" with a bit of red in it to create more interest and to add more of a sense of mystery.

There's no way I could have envisioned something like this ahead of time. So when you read articles about how to make composite photographs, and they tell you to "collect the photos you want to use ahead of time," fuhgeddaboudit.

Put something down on a blank canvas. Add something else. Add something else. And eventually you'll be in your own weird little world, experimenting with this and that.

Talk to a collage artist (one who works with physical papers and glue and paint) and she'll tell you the same thing. Talk to a painter. She'll say the same. Start gluing stuff down. Start making marks on paper. Remove parts of some papers. Cover others with paint. Use some graphite on top of the paint. Smear it.

Something less than wonderful may result. That's okay. You're learning, you're playing, and nothing you do is wasted. It all builds over time.

But every once in awhile, something cool emerges. Those are the times you savor, you relish, and that make you especially happy. And that encourage you to keep on keeping on. Not only are you building your portfolio, but you're building your confidence.

Play + experimentation + confidence = a delightful and ever-changing body of work, whether your "work" is cooking, photography, watercolors, fashion, etc.

Have a creative weekend!

©Carol Leigh

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Looking for themes: Circles

The way I collect "fodder" for this blog is that whenever I prep a photo, if I think it's something I might use later in the blog, I put it in a folder along with all its other unpublished buddies until I see a theme or I see something worth showing or talking about.

These pictures have been languishing in the fodder file for a long time and it's time to get them out, discussed, and then put away.

You create themes in your work by 1) actively seeking out photo possibilities and/or by 2) rummaging around in your files and just seeing what you have.

I ran a photo motivation project for awhile, giving people weekly assignments. I've also conducted online photo classes where students are out there looking for complementary colors for a couple of weeks, diagonal lines for a few weeks, etc. They were actively pursuing photographic ideas.

Once you've been out there looking for subjects, you might be surprised by how many photos you've already taken of those subjects.

Like these five photos. What they have in common is that the subject matter is circles, or circular things.

The sun photo, taken in a friend's back yard, is an obvious choice to depict the concept of circles.

And a silver button, threaded and then tied around a rock I found on the beach, is another "in your face" picture of a circle.

Coiled ropes on a dock form very tidy circles, filling the frame with not only their circularity, but there's a big diagonal line that forms a dark triangle in the lower left of the frame. This makes me, a trianglephile, very happy.

Sometimes circles aren't quite so obvious. I look for letters whenever I'm out and about, so the letter "O" spray painted on the side of a railroad car caught my eye. Sure, an "O" is a circle, but I was going for a letter, and "circle" didn't enter my mind, until right now.

And finally the center of this opium poppy screams "circle," but I didn't hear that scream until I began rummaging through the blog photo file discovering circular subjects. I was seeing "flower." I didn't know at first I was also seeing "circle."

What's my point? I'm not sure. . . I think my point is that recognizing themes in our work is important. Why? Because it forces us to pay attention to what we are seeing and what we have created. The key words being PAY ATTENTION.

We are photographers. We see. We notice. Not just at the time we press the shutter, but later, maybe years later, as we examine our body of work.

What are your themes? Rust? Agave spikes? Weathered barns? Boats?

A friend of mine is working on the concept of "edges." With that in mind, she can go back through her entire portfolio and see her photos with new eyes. Maybe she's got some "edges" she never knew she had. And now she's got the motivation to shoot more, to perhaps make a cohesive package of "edge" photos. Perhaps a book.

Where's YOUR book? What are YOUR themes? Take a look. Either pick a subject and go out and photograph it. Or begin riffling through your images, seeing what you have. You may surprise yourself. And all it takes is paying just a little bit of attention . . .

©Carol Leigh

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Number 5 Flotation Device

A lot of my work is done using muted colors of sepia, brown, black, grey, etc. During this rainy Oregon winter, I decided to shake things up a bit and put some color into my life. So here is this big number 5, seemingly floating in a sea of yellow and red and orange.

Created on a (yes) Mac . . .

©Carol Leigh

Monday, February 17, 2014

Constant change . . . PC to Mac

As you might imagine, converting from the PC to the Mac means I'm rummaging through a lot of files, discovering photos, figuring out where to put them, etc.

I came upon these three images that I shot in Alaska last year and they reminded me of a most delightful trip where we encountered vivid colors (top photo, closeup of a painted carving on a door), the lack of color (unpainted carved section of a totem pole), and overall weathered-ness (bottom photo of oars mounted above a door on a metal building).

Time will pass and the red owl face will fade. Maybe someone will paint the raw wood on the totem carving. And the blue building will continue to weather beautifully.

When you travel to Alaska, you might see these same things, but you'll see them differently. The light will be different. You'll be seeing them with your own unique vision and from your unique vantage point. Some of you will paint, some of you will sketch, others will photograph. And maybe you won't notice these three subjects at all.

Each of us brings to the table all past experiences, memories, proclivities. The result is that you and I (artists, painters, photographers, makers of things), see and create in such different ways. We change. Our vantage points change. Our tools, colors, and styles all change.

So changing from a PC to a Mac is resulting in me seeing my pictures with new eyes (always a good thing) and encouraging me to use old tools in a different way.

Equally important this morning is realizing that the computer switch, although excruciatingly frustrating, maddening, and exasperating, is probably a good thing.

If I live through it.

©Carol Leigh

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Latest work: "Moonset"

Kathleen A. sent me a packet o' papers last week (a WONDERFUL surprise) that included some of her own handmade papers. I used one of them to create this photomontage, which (to me) is quite kimono-esque. Thank you, madam, for your thoughtfulness.

©Carol Leigh

Friday, February 14, 2014

Latest work: "City Sidewalks"

It's been killing me to have new equipment and yet not be able to actually MAKE anything.

I'm not going to go through the litany of all the little speed bumps (the latest being that my signature font ain't in the Mac), but I won't.

Instead, I cobbled this photomontage together using whatever I could find. I chose a photograph of cement, added photos of ink on paper, paint on paper, paint on metal, and more to come up with this, which I'm pretty proud of.

I like the combination of vertical and horizontal elements as well as how all the straight lines are softened by a bit of curvy things in the background. I uploaded it this morning to my art website at Fine Art America. We shall see.

Little steps . . . that's what I'm taking in this transition. What slows me down is that things come up, I have to research them online, figure out where to find them in the Mac, as well as remember where I PUT things in the Mac. I can now write to the Drobo, however, which required new software, but it actually works! Novel concept . . .

Again, happy Valentine's Day to you all.

©Carol Leigh (the copyright symbol in the Mac is OPTION>G, so much easier than the PC version of ALT-0169)

Streethearts . . .

Happy Valentine's Day! Love the one you're with...

©Carol Leigh

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Moving on . . .

A neighbor/friend passed away yesterday morning. He was funny, curmudgeonly, irascible, entertaining, had good stories to tell, and he once lived in San Pedro, California, one of my old stomping grounds. His wife and little dog were by his side when he moved on.

Death is such a mystery. Now Phil has the answers to all the questions. And, knowing him, he shan't be sharing those answers until we, too, move on. Rest in peace, my friend. You are missed. ©Carol Leigh

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

PC to Mac conversion . . .

Not going very well. Things not working properly. Things not compatible. Discomfort with not knowing how to find/fix things.  And an 8-hour power failure due to strong winds did not help things this morning.

This, too, shall pass. But today? Not such a happy little computer operator.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

I'm a PC, er, a Mac...

Due to ongoing various PC problems, I've gone to the dark side and got a Mac. It's at the shop right now as various items are being moved from the PC onto the new computer.

Gotta say, I have a certain amount of trepidation over this move. My first computer with a hard drive was an IBM PC bought in 1991. The big question then was, did I want a 20MB or a 30MB hard drive in it? Sheesh. Now, every photo I take is almost 30 MB!

So converting to a Mac after all these years is kind of daunting, even though I know all will be well. I'm smart about computers, have a good support system, and have been assured there's chocolate involved ...

And the Mac I ordered is extreeeeeemly robust, so I'm expecting wonderful things, all done very, very fast.

 In the meantime, my office is dark, my desktop is empty, but as of noon today, all that will change. Wish me luck.

Friday, February 7, 2014

It's a good day to . . .

. . . just stay inside and wait for mail . . .

©Carol Leigh

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Shaking things up . . .

Speaking for myself only, I think that as artists we need to get out of our little ruts, shake things up, create things that are outside our comfort zone, and outside our viewers' comfort zones.

Glorious things are created daily. Hourly. But after awhile an artist (and his or her viewers) grow weary of seeing the same things done the same way.

So we try to shake things up. Make our work look different from the (albeit wonderful) things people have been seeing. Sometimes what we do works, sometimes not. But at least we're experimenting, trying different techniques, different colors, different media. Whether it works or not is inconsequential. What matters is that we're learning, changing, having fun, and shaking up our viewers from time to time.

Can you imagine how boring it would be to always have every technique work all the time? Where's the challenge? Where's the problem to be solved?

I've been playing around with using a variety of techniques and textures, trying out different looks, and lately this combination that you see here has been appealing to me. (It's so convoluted I had to create a little "recipe" to follow that keeps me on track.)

I've been tweaking and altering the technique, and it doesn't apply to all my photos, it's often hit or miss, but it's fun and I like the lighter, brighter look I'm getting on certain coastal images, such as these first two from Maine and the bottom one from here on the Oregon coast.

I hope you enjoy seeing them. Whether you like the effect or not is immaterial (sort of). The point is that I'm attempting to shake things up a bit, not create the same old thing day after day.

If all someone made every day was wonderful muffins, even that would become tiresome. Well, photos, paintings, quilts, stained glass windows, doodles, music, etc. can suffer from the same "ho hum, what else ya got?" affliction. What are you doing to shake up your little art world? Your little corner of creativity in this all-too-short lifetime?

©Carol Leigh, who is expecting snow on the Oregon coast today . . . see, even the weather needs to shake things up a bit every so often!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

What is the point of that question?

As I'm reading The Artist's Way, this question comes up: "What was your favorite childhood game?"

I didn't have a "favorite" game. Who has "favorite" anything? Favorite color, favorite flavor ice cream, favorite food, favorite car, favorite clothes . . . Having a favorite anything seems limiting. My favorite singer? Artist? School teacher? Hell, I didn't even have a favorite boyfriend! (Oops, except, of course, the two guys I eventually married! Especially the last one!)

Does not having "favorites" make me limitless and independent, or just wishy-washy?

What is the point of that question?

The Artist's Way is a "program to recover your creativity from a variety of blocks, including limiting beliefs, fear, self-sabotage, jealousy . . . replacing them with artistic confidence and productivity."

Well, right now I'm incredibly productive and (most of the time) artistically confident. I look at the body of work I've created and it is so gratifying.

Am I so full of myself that I think I'm at the height of my powers and there's no room for improvement? Of course not. And there are times when the ideas just sort of dry up. But those times don't last.

The key to creativity isn't asking myself what was my favorite game as a child, but to simply do the work, keep working, keep making, keep seeing designs, patterns, and potential compositions in everything I look at.

That's the key (for me): seeing and making. And unless my favorite game as a child was starting fires using a magnifying glass, I'm not going to give that particular question a lot of weight.

So am I dumping reading The Artist's Way? Nope. I'm going to continue with it for a time. Why? Because every morning now, writing my "morning pages," I am focusing on my art, thinking about it, coming up with ideas, writing out thoughts about new projects.

And who knows? Maybe something there just might initiate a huge breakthrough. You never know.

So yeah, the book bugs me. And yeah, I'm not real fond of doing the morning pages, but it's quietly moving me forward, and it can't hurt, so why not?

I'm on page 74. Just 222 pages more to go . . . Sigh.

©Carol Leigh

P.S. And the photograph? I clipped twigs from bushes in the back yard and just plopped them into old bottles, put them on what we call the "Holly Cabinet," and photographed them. I love the simple, almost Zen-like feel to the photo. And now? Weeks later? Little green shoots are popping out all over them! Who knew?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Latest work: "Number 320"

A window I photographed in Kingman, Arizona finds a new home in this architectural detail picture that's reminiscent of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. ©Carol Leigh

Monday, February 3, 2014

Latest work: "Highway 6"

I've traveled in California's eastern Sierra a lot, have led numerous photo workshops there, and never grow tired of the place. There's a stretch of road north of Bishop that leads you through arid land with green stripes and circles of irrigation here and there. The White Mountains loom on one side, flat volcanic table lands stretch out on the other. This piece contains the colors you often see: muted greens and rich terra-cotta. I painted a variety of papers, photographed them, and used them here as well as photographs of the striped pattern on the side of a fishing boat. ©Carol Leigh

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Wish you were here . . .

I found a photo I took in Florida what, three years ago? It's a grackle, I believe. I used a photo of torn black cardboard from a book cover for the branch. I added stars courtesy of NASA, and, when seeing the stars, I felt that the bird was gazing rather wistfully into space. So I added some faux planets (rusty metal circles) and then put in a subtle postcard background to finish everything off.

Now my feeling is that of a bird, or a being, wishing a loved one were with him, or wishing that a deceased relative weren't gone. Or a friend. Anyone. There's a certain pathos to the picture, I think.

Then you know the trite things we write on postcards? "Beautiful weather! Wish you were here!" (Or, as Jimmy Buffett might say, "The weather is here. I wish you were beautiful.") So I created a second version (for Fine Art America) with the words "Wish you were here" down at the bottom.

The second version officially makes me a crass commercial photographer . . .

©Carol Leigh

Saturday, February 1, 2014

February is National Bird Feeding Month

There are two schools of thought regarding feeding birds . . .

1) You're doing something humane and wonderful for charming little creatures who may have a tough go of it in winter...

or . . .

2) By putting out birdseed you're encouraging birds to flock in and become bait for hungry feline predators and/or various and sundry hawks.

There's also the potential for luring unwelcome rodents into your yard, but I'll say no more about that...

Lately we've had a sharp-shinned hawk lurking about, and based on seeing a couple piles of feathers, he's been randomly successful in snagging a meal. I've watched him a couple of times and (perhaps like lions) he misses way more often than he's successful.

And cats? Well, we've had a mountain lion walk through our yard at least twice this past year (I've not seen it -- my next-door neighbor has found prints), thus cats are not as numerous as they've been in the past.

So yes, we put out seed. Not only in feeders, but scattered on the ground, well within scurrying distance of protective cover.

How about you? Are you a bird feeder? Then February is a particularly opportune time to celebrate this activity, and how wonderful that it's a national celebration and people from coast to coast are feeding and admiring our feathery friends.

Oh, and the picture? I have a rubber stamp of a chickadee, so I made an impression and then hand-painted it, then photographed it. The background is a combination of a book cover and a piece of hand-painted paper. The Japanese stamps are Japanese stamps . . .

©Carol Leigh

If you're a birder and you care, birds we generally see in our yard are: Oregon juncos, Steller jays, chestnut-backed chickadees, red-shafted flickers, hermit thrushes, varied thrushes, robins, turtledoves, mourning doves, band-tailed pigeons, black-headed grosbeaks, evening grosbeaks, Anna's and rufous hummingbirds, spotted towhees, crows, occasional starlings, mountain quail, occasional cedar waxwings, and (grrr) occasional sharp-shinned hawks.