Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Mission to Mars

For the past week I have been working on a short video shot from the point of view of a robotic land rover inspired by the exploration vehicles that NASA uses to investigate the surface of planet Mars.  To get the view point I was after, I built a camera rig.  The rig situates the camera close to the ground but allows me to push the rig around while standing.

The most important function of the rig, however, is to carry the land rover chassis in a fixed position relative to the camera lens.  To make the chassis I used parts from various discarded electronic devices that I collected from a recycling center and my own recycling bin at home.  I used small metal pipes, screws, and a metal screen to greeble the surface of the chassis.   I also borrowed my wife's reading light to provide illumination.

Below are two photos taken from the video camera's position on the rig looking over the chassis.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Sentinel

The single-eyed creatures come in a variety of sizes.  One of them is five feet tall, standing at attention like a sentinel and looking down on me.  The taboret sits to the creature's right, holding the tools and materials used to piece together its body.

I'm sure the creature can see its flesh on the glass palette and that it watches me mixing and applying its skin.  Does it approve of my choices?  What would it do to me if I didn't meet its expectations?

As I work I often think of the story of Frankenstein's monster and I wonder what will happen when the last glob of paint is applied.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Eyes Have It

Creatures consisting of a single eye in a squat body are lurking in my studio.  They are on my drafting table . . . 

. . . and they are on my walls.  I don't think they can see me.  Not yet.  They are searching for something and I'm not sure if I want them to find what they seek.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Keep It Simple

Still from Chronogravitivity

At least as early as middle school, somewhen in the early 1990s, I began thinking about make science fiction movies.  I would make a viewfinder with my hands, holding the thumb and forefinger at a right angle to each other, creating an '"L" shape with each hand, and putting both hands together to form a rectangular frame through which to view a scene.  Running with one shoulder to a wall and looking through my fingers I could imagine I was filming a sequence showing a starship speeding past a planet.  

In 1997, when I was in tenth grade, my dad gave me an 8mm camcorder as a gift and I collaborated with friends to make short films.  Actually, there is definitely more tape occupied by "home videos" of my garage band, puppies, summers at the neighbor's pool, and random hijinks than finished films.  But my buddies and I focused our efforts enough to create a handful of movies, mostly comical, dealing with concepts such as the unintended consequences of wishes fulfilled,  temporal causality loops, the paradoxes inherent in time travel,  and scenarios like "What would happen if Klingons were displeased with Human news reporting?"

In 2005-ish, my wife gave me a miniDV camera as a Christmas gift.  Ah, digital at last!  Now I could edit my footage on a computer and, using an old version of Photoshop, I could finally rotoscope.  Naturally, the first movie I made with my new DV camera was of me cutting a cinnamon roll in half with a lightsaber.  At the time, I was teaching at a private school and some of some of my students who saw my movie asked me to join them in making a Star Wars spin-off entitled Attack of the Apprentices.  Using my camera, Photoshop 5, and Windows Movie Maker, we spent three months making a five-minute film about, well, the use of lightsabers at school.  My favorite part was incorporating such a large portion of the student body into the "plot".  

I have never had any formal training in making video so this semester I am taking a video class.  I just completed my second project entitled Chronogravitivity and it was critiqued on Wednesday, October the 13th.  In addition to developing skills and learning about the history and grammar of film, this class is teaching me how to refine my creative process.  The first video I made was a flop.  The feedback was that the video was confusing because there were too many elements and that those elements did not seem to fit together.  That made sense to me because in the process of making the film I could feel my mind in confusion about how to cram in the variety approaches I wanted to use.  So in the process of making the second video, whenever I had a new idea that I thought about adding, I forced myself to set it aside, planning to use it later in another project.   This restraint paid off when I showed the result in critique.  People said that the elements were well integrated.  I want to take this experience of self-editing and apply it to all of my creative areas.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Color Chart

I'm working on a wedding portrait.  When I am preparing to start a new painting, I choose a group of paints that I plan to use and spend some time mixing the pigments to see what mixtures are possible.  After I settle on the mixtures I want I usually make notes in my sketchbook about the proportions I used.  This helps me re-mix the colors if I need them again for future paintings.  

If I want to experiment with a wider range of pigments, as in this wedding portrait, then I make a color chart.  This is a more tedious process but it ensures that I try all possible combinations and  leaves me with an easy-to-read chart that I can refer to later.   

This chart took a couple of hours to complete.  Even though this chart is a means to an ends for me, it helps me understand how artists like Josef Albers could make a career out of exploring the interactions of color combinations.  There is something peaceful about seeing related colors organized on a grid.   

For my painting I need three groups of colors: reddish brown, yellowish brown, and gray.  I chose Cadmium Red + Raw Sienna for the reddish brown and Burnt Sienna + Cadmium Yellow Deep for the yellowish brown.  For gray I chose Sap Green + Venetian Red.  I want a warm gray and a cool gray so one mixture has more red and the other more green.   I mix lighter versions of each group so that I have a light to dark range within each group.  

To keep my mixtures from drying out, I scoop them onto plastic dinner plates and keep them in a freezer.  They will remain "wet" for months.  This lets me work on other paintings without fear my paints will go to waste. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Studio Space


The studio I currently use is one of five studios at George Mason University built especially for painters in the MFA program and it has served me well during my first two semesters of graduate study.  The way my work space is organized is an important part of my creative process.  Of course, the spatial dimensions are fixed at 18 feet by 11.5 feet with the ceiling 15 feet above.  The door at the front, at 8.5 feet tall, gives me plenty of room to get large paintings in and out of the space.  Natural light comes in through a small window facing southeast.  To maximize wall space, the faculty asked the architect to place the windows high on the walls in all the painting studios, so the bottom edge is 9.5 feet above the ground.


I have divided the studio space into areas with specific uses in my creative process.  The small drafting table at the front of the studio is used for planning and calculation.  It is in the mathematical area of the room where I work out perspective and scale issues and make use of my still-functioning dark blue TI-81 graphing calculator. This corner of the room is about the lines and measurements used to determine the framework for other drawings and paintings.  I also do reading and research at this desk.  The large, black drafting table is for drawings in pencil and pastel.  


Books about artists and ideas fill the black metal bookshelf near the door.  The bookshelf is placed as close to the door as possible so that I can maximize space on the longest wall.     


The floor space of the back two-thirds of the studio stays empty so that I can use as much of the walls as possible.  The longest wall and the back wall (the one with the window) are used for paintings.  I hang them directly on the wall rather than using an easel.  


The middle sized side wall on the northeast side is reserved for drawings too large to fit on the black drafting table.  These drawings are usually tapped and pinned directly to the wall.

In January I built a taboret and it has greatly improved my work flow and peace of mind.  It keeps all of my materials nearby, provides a generous working surface with glass on the right side for mixing paints, and moves easily on wheels to whichever painting or drawing needs my attention.

Dividing the studio into areas based on function allows me to work on several projects at once.  The drawings and paintings surround me and face each other as though they were people seated around a table for discussion.  I often think of my studio as model of my mind.  The variety of images and objects placed around the room represent my thoughts, interests, and inquiries.  Even though the images and objects may seem to have little connection, they still occupy the same space, much as disparate and random thoughts inhabit the brain.