Tag Archives: photoshop

The Altar of Experience

Steal your own life.

Steal your own life.

This is my little motivational poster from yesterday when experience kicked me in the head. The really sad part is that the knowledge I took away was something I’ve always known and only periodically forget, which is to save your work, you fool. In my defense, that’s what I was trying to do when everything crashed. This version is pretty cool, but the initial D in the original was so much more elegant. That lettering took about 90 minutes, which seems excessive. Why don’t I improve at calligraphy, something I’ve practiced all my life.

Constructing the altar of experience was a lot of fun. That little artist’s model really isn’t good for much; his legs are different lengths and his his joints don’t move very far and he’s actually not capable of assuming many natural poses. However, he does have magnets in the little wedges that serve as his hands and feet, which has possibilities. I considered a few items he could be holding in a 3D comic before I gave him the book and let him hang upside down. He could hold, for example, a tiny metal sword and shield. The idea for the text came after the visual concept, which never happens with comics, but sometimes does for bulletin boards.

Still have a couple comic ideas kicking around, but this stiff-limbed little wooden fellow has some possibilities. Got a few things in the works.

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::gentle weeping::

Even thought I started today’s post earlier than usual, I experienced greater than usual adversity, including a weird glitch in Photoshop that erased all the vertical images. I spent a long time repairing the database and rebuilding the thumbnails, which resulted in the return of a bunch of photos that disappeared last October, but did not fix my original issue uploading portrait oriented imaged. I settled for a landscape picture and tinkered with hand written text for a while before my everything crashed and I lost all my work. Meanwhile, my Internet is finking out so hard; pages are taking minutes to load and everything seems fubared and hopeless. So I give up for tonight, at least on this project.

Instead, please enjoy this recently returned image of the Colorado River along with some much appreciated words of wisdom.

Shot from the Navajo Bridge. We also saw 2 California condors at this site.

Shot from the Navajo Bridge. We also saw 2 California condors at this site.

This is really useful advice right about now.

This is really useful advice right about now.

ETA: my Internet is so wrecked that it took 20 minutes to upload these photos. I really hope you enjoy them.

The Stories of Our Lives

That's so cool! I was actually thinking about getting into smashing the patriarchy myself. Is there, like, some kind of newsletter I could subscribe to?

That’s so cool! I was actually thinking about getting into smashing the patriarchy myself. Is there, like, some kind of newsletter I could subscribe to?

I’m getting excited about writing again. As a few people know, I have written 10 novels. Two of them are bouncing around the Internet, 2 of them have been nudged and prodded by a couple agents and a publisher before whimpering off with their tails between their legs, and most of them just sort of exist. They have plans, but no executions. After completing my last novel, I massive undertaking, I sort of walked away from 25 years of constant novel writing to think about visual art; you can go back to page 1 of this blog and read it in order to get the entire story. It takes a while to tell it.

But I did send the ms for this last novel, an 800 page behemoth, out to the Desert Rats: Rabbit, Fox, and Owl. And I’m just starting to get some feedback on it, and the feedback seems good. The revision actually seems possible. I’m rereading it myself–it’s been about 2 years, I guess–and liking what I have, seeing where it could be tightened, noticing problems that didn’t get fixed in my last pass.

Plus, I’ve been working on a short story in comic form. Short stories are not my forte. I’ve only ever written a couple I was completely happy with. I can do novel, and I can do flash, but short stories elude me. But working in comic form might be liberating. I know the entire story, suddenly. It started out as a 16 panel gag, a short of blunt, deadpan, New Yorker style punchline at the end, but it took 20 panels to get to the end, and by the time I got to the joke it was more poignant than funny I was too invested in the characters to let their troubles be a joke and immediately I started to see the solutions to their problems. Now it’s 56 storyboarded panels, and if I can get out the rest of the dialog and thumbnails and actually find a style and draw the entire thing, I will feel much more confident about my graphic novel project, which is only one chapter from being completely scripted (although I stopped storyboarding before that, when I realize my thumbnails were completely useless and that you can’t put 12 panels on every comic book page if you want the images to actually express something.

As for this photo comic, it’s, as The Man has taught me to think of it, Kaufmanesque, in that I know it’s bizarre and I really couldn’t care less whether or not you think it’s funny. I think it’s funny.

3D Dragon Comics #1!

You were probably expecting something with a little more depth, but that's just a matter of perception.

You were probably expecting something with a little more depth, but that’s just a matter of perception.

There’s a type of psychological intervention known as Sand Table Play Therapy, which basically involves arranging objects and figurines in a tray of sand. Sand is nice, but it also goes everywhere and I don’t really think it’s all that integral to the actual symbolic actions that comprise this treatment, which is basically about forcing rigid adult minds to become malleable enough to throw off the limitations of maturity engage in meaningful play. I’ve got a million of these little objects–I could easily have created dozens of different tableaux using stuff that’s already in my office–and it really is soothing to rearrange them sometimes. It’s also nice to justify owning all these tchotchkes.

I’d been thinking about doing this type of 3-dimensional photographic comic for a long time, even before I started this blog. Reading Dave McKean’s Pictures That Tick made it seem like time to try. For some reason, I thought this would be faster than actually drawing a comic, which was not in any way the case. It took twice as long as Dragon Comics usually take. But it was more fun, and got me away from my desk.

It would be really nice if there was some easy way to build a model that didn’t fully set: one whose features couldn’t be smushed, but whose arms and legs could be repositioned. And then I wish I had the equipment and knowledge to make stop motion animation films.

Anyway, I wasn’t really ready to do a comic about my demons, even though creating them yesterday also inspired me to do this. Maybe one day. I’m still puzzling over my comic about depression. It’s funny: seems like everyone gets depressed, and yet depression is a really personal and idiosyncratic experience. At least mine is.

The Living Reef

It's even better if you can imagine David Attenborough gleefully narrating the death throes of one sea creature as another organism devours it: "The speckled spitfish thrusts its meager stingers in all directions, but it is too late. The tentacled pseudoblob has already begun the digestion process."

It’s even better if you can imagine David Attenborough gleefully narrating the death throes of one sea creature as another organism devours it: “The speckled spitfish thrusts its meager stingers in all directions, but it is too late. The tentacled pseudoblob has already begun the digestion process.”

One of the first digital paintings I ever completed was Eilat, Coral Reef Nature Reserve, August 1999, which has its merits, all things considered, but looking back it’s almost funny. I was working off a photograph for that one, but I had not yet learned how to use layers, or basically any tool other than the brush and the color picker. I didn’t even know how to change brushes at that point, or opacity, or begun experimenting with brush modes. I never did feel 100% satisfied with that picture. I don’t mind things being deliberately rough, but in that case, I simply lacked the knowledge to take it where it needed to go.

That was 11 months ago.

This image does help me see how far I’ve come; it’s not even based on a photo. I didn’t use any reference images at all. The fish are all just bits of color that I played with until they took shape. The entire painting is basically bits of color smeared around. It’s one of my favorite things in Photoshop right now; the blur took can take the roughest image and make it look more real.

(Or, as in yesterday’s comic, it can take a more realistic image and make it look more fake.)

Some of it was probably also inspired by David Attenborough’s The Blue Planet, which is a really lovely thing to watch before bed as long as creatures eating other creatures doesn’t upset you.

The red fish is my absolute favorite. It looks perfect and I would look at it carefully before I drew another fish to see what made it work.

Another thing that’s happened since I got the Wacom tablet is that my brain has begun to dissect light everywhere. Understanding how light works when it falls on objects inspired a big leap for me in taking my work out of the purely flat realm and giving it greater dimensionality. I only tried to use realistic light and darkness in small doses here, but it really changes the character of the image.

Portentous Sky

I swear, storms are just bigger here.

I swear, storms are just bigger here.

Further thoughts on Photoshop: I wear polarized lenses pretty much any time I’m outside during the day, and sometimes inside or at night. I’m rather attached to my prescription sunglasses for a variety of reasons. Of course, polarized lenses change the way the world looks: everything is crisper. Colors are more intense, details are more defined, outlines are sharper, and shading offers more definite contrast. Basically, the world looks better. In general.

Of course, if you’re wearing polarized lenses and you use them to look through another polarized piece of glass, you get another effect. Sharper, still, in a sense, but overwhelmed with colors that simply aren’t there if you remove one of the pieces of glasses. It’s not the face of reality, and yet it’s what you see, if, for example, you wear polarized sunglasses in a car.

We went to see our friends in Bisbee over the holiday weekend, which coincided with the actual start of the monsoon–that is, the first big storm. The clouds were still hanging heavily in the sky, and distant showers dotted the horizon, as we headed back to Tucson.

Even the best pictures often fail to capture the majesty of something like this: the sun streaming down through breaks in the clouds, illuminating the lines of rain sweeping diagonally across the desert. I start with a nice image, and tinker with it, trying to light up the most stunning parts so that the flat image matches the glory of memory. I haven’t quite hit it yet.

When I was little I liked to imagine that the beams of light piercing the clouds had something to do with the proximity of heaven to the earth, even though I knew it was just sunlight. There’s something special about the big sky, about towering cumulonimbi, about light that takes on, for a short time, in an illusory capacity, the quality of a solid object. When you block out part of it, maybe, you can see a greater part of the reality of that which remains.

I fully intended to publish a comic, or at least a drawing tonight, but The Man sometimes gets really excited about particular movies or shows. Right now it’s the Netflix original series Sens8, which is pretty good, but I don’t know if it’s worth him staying up 90 minutes past his bedtime every night. I didn’t even get to work until almost midnight tonight. At least we’ve only got maybe 2 more nights’ worth of this season, so hopefully both of us will be better equipped to work by the end of the week.

Further Thoughts on Color Correction in Photoshop

The more I play around with the “Enhance” feature in Adobe Photoshop, the more I question the nature of reality. If a photograph isn’t a perfect visual representation of a moment in time, how can we trust something as subjective as memory?

Sun sets over the cove at Long Gulch on the north side of Lake Roosevelt

Sun sets over the cove at Long Gulch on the north side of Lake Roosevelt

The Man and I watched this sunset, and I’m certain that every moment was dazzling, and that the stones on the lakeshore truly did glow in the golden light of the setting sun. And yet, the original photograph was flatter than memory. Then I messed with the levels in Photoshop; now the stones glow. Still, did they glow to that degree? The sky probably wasn’t quite so blue, and of course the sun was sharper.

Complicating matters, I have long since stopped trusting my own eyes. My vision gets worse every year; I wear prism lenses to correct some of the problem, further distorting my view of reality, even though my brain corrects back to true, most of the time. In addition, I don’t do anything in natural light without polarized lenses, which sharpen everything and amplify colors. The world looks much crisper, and more beautiful, in polarized lenses.

A verdant piece of desert

A verdant piece of desert

This one, obviously, can’t be right. It reminds me of a picture postcard from the ’50s, when, I guess color photography was a novelty and all the colors were boosted into glorious technicolor. The sky is even bluer than in the previous image. This was a fast fix; results would probably be better had I worked on different parts of the image separately: the sky, the saguaros, the rest of the plants, the rocks, the water. At heart, I see with the eyes of a child, and the brighter colors delight me. I’ll take paintbox primaries over reality any day, I guess.

The flower of the saguaro cactus

The flower of the saguaro cactus

This is the most confusing one. I still don’t have a zoom lens for the Canon EOS, and if you know anything about saguaros, you know that getting close to their flowers can be tricky. Most of the flower are on the top of the plant, and a mature saguaro can grow as high as 50 feet, while I myself stand only a touch over 5. We spent days looking for a cactus that was either growing below the ridge, or else had a frostbite damaged arm that hung in my line of sight. No such luck on this trip, and the saguaro only blooms for a short while. I had to resort to the Powershot, which has a great zoom feature, even though the picture quality is of course not as details as with the DSLR.

But here’s the thing: the zoom feature is much better than my eyesight, so good that I have often used it in place of binoculars. It allows me to see things in sharp focus that would otherwise appear as distant blurs. So I couldn’t even tell you what these flowers really looked like because I never really got a good look at them myself. I couldn’t even really see the display since the sun was shining directly on it AND I was wearing polarized lenses. This photo pretty much involved just waving the camera in the general direction of the thing I wanted to shoot and hoping for something to line up.

So, what does the world look like? It’s not exactly what I see with my eyes, even with corrective lenses, and it’s not precisely what the camera returns to me, and it’s definitely not what photos look like after hue and saturation and balance. Every image is filtered these days; everything is Photoshopped. We can’t trust the visual world.