Archive for the ‘Imaginarius Updates’ Category

A Creative Dilemma

December 6, 2019

CREATIVE-DILEMMA-JUGGLER-RGB

ligature-o-rgb-4NE of the more common tropes in the creative process is ‘block’, usually prefaced by the words ‘writers’ or artists’. This ‘condition’, so to speak, and its ‘remedies’ have been documented so copiously that one would think it is a disease. So, considering the ‘disease’ metaphor, perhaps we can associate indecision as one of its major side effects.                  

The statement, “I have no idea.” is a common complaint, so often voiced that it has become a cliché,  is somewhat nonsensical. The problem is not that we have no ideas or that we have exhausted our store of them; the ‘block’ is empowered when we convince ourselves that we are incapable of CHOOSING which idea among myriads to develop.
 
Imagine that you’ve gone fishing in a well-stocked pond but the pond’s owner has set a daily limited time to fish and a maximum catch of only one per day. A school of potentially tasty fish approaches; how do you choose which one will make the best meal within your allotted fishing time? Mulling your choices, you eventually decide based on your experience and instincts, gifts that we sometimes tend to ignore.
 
Yet, I often think of indecision as a deep mistrust of those gifts in the belief that whatever we create will not meet the high standards we have set for ourselves or that we imagine others expect of us.
 
Combined with fear and loathing of blank surfaces, whether it is paper, canvas, a chunk of wood or marble, we may feel some combination of excitement and dread before our ideas are ready to manifest. Unpleasant and unsettling as this state may be, I suspect that its real purpose is as a device, an engine, if you will, to kickstart our creative flow. Indecision can also be a process akin to an appetizer before a meal, giving us a taste of the creative adventures that lie ahead.
 
 
As an illustrator, even when an assignment calls for very specific imagery, the ‘block’ may ‘materialize’ when trying to decide how to design that image for a specific audience, market, predetermined format or illustration style with which to present it in final art form.
 
A further complication is the challenge and pressure of externally set deadlines. Regarding an assignment whose subject matter is less than engaging, I have often felt the urge to rush a ‘quick and dirty’ solution to a project quickly off my physical or virtual drawing board merely to meet a deadline. But experience has taught me that the decision to do so usually comes back to bite me in the form of frustrating multiple revisions that rarely end well.
 
Even when I set out to create a personal work of art where no external pressures are present, I am assailed by a similar set of ‘symptoms of anxiety and indecision at least until I have laid a basic framework for this new venture.
 
To be fair, everyone suffers from indecision at various times in life. Still, I do know that those of us in the throes of indecision as we embark on creative journeys morph into a strange species of human to an observer. Watch us; we may be out and about in our neighborhoods getting coffee or doing mundane daily errands but rest assured we are out there mentally gathering and sorting images and ideas with which to dislodge our creative ‘blocks’. Our minds are virtually everywhere else, solving the problem of what to do with those blank surfaces we’ve temporarily abandoned in our workspaces.
 
And that’s ok, because among all creatures, we most certainly are human anomalies with a unique life task; to create mirrors and perhaps palliatives through our work that may help others see themselves more clearly; perhaps even understand and appreciate our collective role as stewards of our planet.

A Cure For Pessimism?

August 14, 2019

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Amidst the daily deluge of corrupt politics, death and disaster in the mainstream and social media feeds, I sometimes imagine being a passenger in the boat steered by the mythical Charon whose eternal task was to guide newly deceased souls across the dark River Styx* to their destination in the Underworld. These journeys were long and fraught with terrors, but these were a mere preview of what lay ahead in the Land of the Dead.

Medieval Woodcut Print from Johannes Grüninger's 1502 Edition of the Aeneid 

Photo Credit: danielgoodantiquarianbooks

Of course I’m being a bit melodramatic, yet keeping our heads above those fearful waters is a challenge we have faced for millennia as we watch and often suffer as world leaders cycle their countries through endlessly alternating phases of constructive good and deconstructive evil. As I suggested in my previous essay, The Nature Of Evil, (https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2019/05/06/on-the-nature-of-evil/), we are now firmly embroiled in the toxic immorality that informs evil, courtesy of numerous would-be dictators, their sycophants and their noisy ‘populist’ governments. I am not a scholar of history or politics, so I can only write as an aging observer regarding the inevitable phenomena of life and death that occur in tandem with both.

Armchair philosophers often post sentimental images and feel-good bon-mots at online venues in contrast to proponents of subcultures that revel in the certainties and vagaries of death proudly displaying memento mori as death’s head tattoos, arcane body modifications, clothing and jewelry. Ironically, I find this demographic interesting because I suspect that life is actually being celebrated here with such dark symbolism acting as an apotropaic ward against death.

Much is made of Death and the idea of it in the collective imagination whether it arrives via age, disease, accident, murder, ‘acts of god’ and nature or war and punishment for criminal acts. We variously honor it, celebrate it, welcome it or mourn for those who succumb to it via any of those vectors.

The Gaming Of Life & Death: from AIRPLAY: A Catch Of Jugglers (Imaginarius Editions, 2018)

 

The fear of death has been anthropomorphized to enhance or accompany the human dread of its occurrence. Legends and myths (like the illustration here that visualizes an ancient Egyptian concept of cosmic judgment) have been formulated to explain and assuage fear of it as though it were something that was subject to human influence or control. When it isn’t exploited for political gain, religion, too, helps us cope while encouraging us to live and live well.  

Even those who choose death over life when life becomes too challenging to endure overestimate their own importance as though their own death will matter beyond someone’s casual perusal of a printed obituary or a silent pause in subsequent conversation. Why? Because Death is indifferent; to wealth, fame, brilliance, youth or age. It merely has a job to do. And that job is to fill a blip in time, to punctuate the continuum, the vast, incomprehensible cosmic thread that serves as the referee between order and chaos. 

But lest you think my observations are meant to be discouraging or depressing,  I should note that any discussion of death must include the rationale of those who believe in the concept of a life after life, a ‘ world to come’ so to speak. Having read several ‘testimonial’ accounts (from an array of writers, including a well-respected neurosurgeon), that offer rational-sounding evidence of such a realm, I can only say that I am comforted to imagine that death is not the end of us and that the unknown is not necessarily to be feared. 

So, while many notable religious sages have put forth the idea that each day is a new chance to correct our errors and enhance our legacies, these words alone will not cure the world’s pessimism. In each of our actions, we have the ability to choose between positive and negative thoughts and enact behaviors that characterize either of these if we make ourselves aware of the consequences. 

I am only one person and have no medicine or cure for what currently ails the world, but I do know this: our existence will have merit if we can compartmentalize the world’s ills and choose to live, laugh, let live and be kind to all who aren’t or who don’t seem to want it.

If I can manage to make those sentiments complement the creative work to which I’ve devoted my life, well, so much the better. 

*https://mythology.net/greek/greek-concepts/river-styx/

On The Nature Of Evil…

May 6, 2019

When news broke of the long-anticipated release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s 448 page report on aberrations in the presidency of Donald Trump, I indulged in a bit of schadenfreude, imagining how its evidence of the president’s lies and myriad misdeeds under the aegis of his craven administration might justify the suspicions that have become a noxious atmospheric miasma over us since the 2016 presidential elections.

Even as that report comes closer to the light of public scrutiny, we are still in the dark as to its true content because Attorney General William Barr testified before the Senate regarding only his redacted version of it. His four-page version and verbal interpretation appeared manipulated to exonerate the president of treasonous activities. By doing so in classic stonewall mode, he revealed his true role as President Trump’s tool and de facto private attorney. This was made abundantly clear when he then refused to testify before the House of Representatives who had originally requested his cooperation.

While we wait to see whether Robert Mueller will be permitted to present his teams’ original version of their report to Congress and the issue of impeachment is tossed around by both governing bodies like a hot potato, many of us can agree that the reality we’ve always taken for granted is undergoing a paradigm shift.

As we are bombarded daily in mainstream and social media by frightening and often incredible developments in both domestic and international spheres, we are finding it more difficult to maintain our equilibrium and react rationally.

Though I risk sounding melodramatic, some days it feels as though life is coming to resemble a dystopian nightmare right out of those speculative science fiction novels in which the tropes of good and evil are woven into characters to reflect the cycling mores and mercurial nature of human history.

This impression assailed me earlier this week. I was out for a walk when I encountered a neighbor whose character has always been a bit dodgy. After exchanging a few pleasantries, he sniffed the air, then prosaically announced, “the devil is walking among us. Can’t you feel it?” What does one say to that? I just nodded, smiled politely and kept walking, marveling silently at the fragile line between reality and fantasy.

Still, that conversation and others shared with acquaintances in person and online these past couple of years have made me curious; have we been gradually spiraling back to a Dark Age mentality despite our technological advances, or perhaps by virtue of them?

With no offense intended towards those whose deep faith admits only God’s Goodness, I can’t help wondering: is what we know as Evil a sociopathic manifestation of the shadowy face of a God inextricably bound to, yet struggling with its own duality of Good and Evil?

Are our inclinations towards evil (Hebrew: ‘yetzer ha-ra’) and our inclinations towards good (Hebrew: ‘yetzer ha-tov’ (inclination towards good) actually two sides of that same ‘face’? Since we are capable of surrendering to both of these aspects with equal passion, we must recognize that we have two tasks to address. Our first task throughout our lives is to choose how we will behave and accept the consequences of our choices. Our second task is to understand how our actions affect that balance and work to heal the damaged before it is beyond repair.

Accordingly, the scale shown above is suspended by a ‘yad’ or Torah pointer whose black and white wings symbolize the duality of good and evil. Its pans support two Hebrew letters that represent the spiritual energies of Strength (Gevurah) and Lovingkindness (Chesed). The former is dragging down the latter indicating that these two energies have come out of balance negatively affecting world events.

This illustration is a detail from Leviticus: Parshat Shemini in my book, Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009). It has been adapted to serve this essay.

As an illustrator and writer, I primarily draw and write in metaphor. My readings in Holocaust literature where God is alternately blamed and absolved of responsibility for those monstrous events are what led me to these notions.

So I’ve imagined that Evil’s destructive energy seems to emerge periodically throughout time, wreaking terror and havoc among us. When it is quiet, for periods of years, decades or centuries, good, productive energies are free to flourish. Meanwhile, that Evil aspect does not sleep; it is infinitely creative, intricately plotting and setting its compromised players on the world stage in the manner of a chessboard where its next move will again guarantee its own terrible victory over good.

Just as astrologers look to the positions of the stars to explain the vagaries of world events, scholars of Jewish mysticism understand them in terms of the dynamic ten sefirot or universal spiritual energies that underlie all life.

In this post Cold War era, while we sustain horrific memories of World War 2 and the Holocaust, the wars in Korea and Vietnam, we remain entrenched in relentless Middle East wars and diplomatic brinksmanship.

Willfully ignorant, the noisome Trumpian doctrine has emerged, currying favor with dictators, stoking the fires of moral degradation, racism, isolationism and a ‘fake news’ agenda that is encouraging an alarming rise in hate-driven mass shootings, cruelty towards immigrants, and dismissal of the health/welfare concerns of most Americans. These are the rumblings and tremors of Evil preparing its next move; one that will undermine democracy in our generation and become our legacy to our children and grandchildren.

Just yesterday, an illustrator friend whose thoughtful, well-crafted work reflects her own perceptive view of our current new-world order,** suggested that we may be living in a 21st century version of the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah.

“Can we single out ten righteous men in our administration from the corrupt swamp that is our Republican Party ?” she asked.

She was referring to chapter 18:20-33 in the Book of Genesis where Abraham argues with God who had decided to destroy those ancient cities as punishment for their evil ways. The patriarch challenges God to withhold that destruction if he, Abraham, could prove the existence of at least 10 righteous men within them. Of course we know that the cities were destroyed, but a few individuals were warned to escape and so were spared.

Though her question was rhetorical, neither of us could think of even five people in the administration who fit that description, an idea that doesn’t bode well for our country from a biblical perspective.

The United States has long been a physical and psychological haven for immigrants and refugees fleeing their climate-ravaged and/or war-torn homes. Yet, despite our possession of updated papers and passports, given the machinations of our treacherous administration, where can or should we escape to? Who will offer us refuge?

In discussions with friends and relatives with differing opinions or of like mind, one dilemma seems clear; we cannot keep our heads in the sand and pretend that currently, life is but a nightmare from which we will eventually awaken.

If we reflexively act on our fears and prejudices, we risk our own safety and that of our loved ones. Rather, we must struggle not to remain quietly hopeless and helpless in the incomprehensible face of forces seemingly beyond our control to contain.

Moreover, if we surrender to those modalities, then destructive forces win by default. History will yet again be written by victors whose glorification of their deeds and questionable motives will leave our descendants to question its veracity and learn from our mistakes if they choose.

We will certainly vote with our consciences and/or our feet in the 2020 elections, even as we continue to struggle with the potentially corrupted results as we did in 2016 since there is talk of foreign governments again moving to interfere in our election process.

But this time we must truly understand that only through our unity and ability to question what we are told instead of grasping blindly to a limited ideology, do we hold the keys to repairing what we have allowed to break (Hebrew:’tikkun olam) and to overcoming Evil’s onslaught against our hard-won democracy.

**https://www.instagram.com/naomialiye/

*https://amzn.to/2VC70I7

Illustration: Between Choice & Consequence ©2019 Ilene Winn-Lederer

 

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The Mr. Roger’s Effect

August 29, 2018

In 1979, I was commissioned to illustrate the cover and main feature of Pittsburgh Magazine. The assignment was intriguing; it required concept images for an article by futurist Vance Packard that speculated what life might be like for the average person/family in the year 2001. 

Now, in 2018, it’s been many years since the publication of that article and Mr. Packard (who passed away in 1996) was more accurate in his prediction than he would live to know. Because our attention is so relentlessly engaged by the products of technology and marketing, we rarely stop to realize how deeply we are caught up in metaphorical perpetual motion machine.

Of course, that last statement probably makes me sound like a techno-phobe, yet I can assure you that my profession has required me to become way too familiar with digital devices in order to remain a viable creative. However, I have gained some of the perspective that age grants, which prompted this essay today.  

When that issue of the magazine was published, my children were very young and due to paradigm shifts in the advertising/ publishing industry, I was compelled to work out of my home studio as a freelance illustrator. Large blocks of time were often needed to prepare and/or complete an assignment.

Nevertheless, my husband and I did our best to insure that our children were not permitted an enormous amount of TV exposure because we felt that actual playtime was more important to their development than staring glassy-eyed at a television or at video game screens like the Super Mario Brothers.  Inevitably, such caution  has since surrendered to the digital eye/mind candy that has come to define our culture.

But I still remember the restful ambience brought to our early afternoons by the now-legendary TV show, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. It was a dependable event that was usually followed by nap-time.

Fast-forward to a recent Tuesday, a regular babysitting day for our grandson. Noticing an ‘eye-rub’ and slowing physical coordination, I could see that he was reluctantly winding down from a morning of energetic play and would soon be ready for a nap. So I thought that a bit of light-hearted children’s programming might be the key to encourage it. However, when I turned to our local NPR station (always a reliable go-to for this), I realized that children’s programs had undergone a dramatic change in the last few decades.

From the quiet ambience of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, the ‘children’s programming’, we now witness is a dizzying variety of fast-moving colorful graphics, changing scenery and animated characters noisily leaping around the screen at frenetic speed. Their chirpy falsetto voices (adults pretending to be children) are accompanied by frenzied, drumming dance ‘music’ that pervades our living room with the rare punctuation by a few bars of quiet notes is often enough to trigger a migraine headache.

Sure, no one is forcing me to watch this insane chaos, but as a certified crabby old grandma, I was annoyed and disappointed at the lack of calm, soothing content that we all need in order to relax from the onslaught of the 24/7 marketing and info-tainment industry.

Yes, children must learn to understand the world to function within it, but in the face of such constant stimulation and noise, think-time is becoming a rarity in our days. The intrusive graphics of the movie ‘Minority Report’ come to mind here.

So how do we teach children to release their creativity and imagination when media persuades us to substitute and accept its own relentless content for it?

Given that our economy forces so many of us to work one or two jobs resulting in mental/physical exhaustion by day’s end, it’s understandably easy to depend on electronic babysitters. But to keep young minds and bodies healthy, we need more than that. We must increase our efforts to be present for them even in small doses; by telling them our stories, reading books, encouraging their questions, and providing thoughtful answers. Not by stashing them in front of the TV or play station or throwing myriad plastic toys at them, but letting them explore the world around them (safely, of course).

OK, this stuff probably sounds obvious to anyone who has read the requisite childcare manuals and maybe followed their pediatricians’ advice (which seems to change every ten years or so), but it is not meant to be patronizing. More to the point, I hope it will serve as a little reminder to consider that if the Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood show could be reduced to a handful of words, it might be these: Slow down, relax, think, love, wisdom and kindness. Despite the distractions of our society, these actions and values must be preserved if we are to develop our potential as human beings and as stewards of our planet.

Thanks for indulging my little rant. Now, I hope I can remember all of this next time babysitting becomes intense and all I want is an afternoon nap myself…

An Ephemeral Evolution

July 23, 2018

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One afternoon late in 2015, as I was listening to a discussion of creativity by a group of experts in computer science and related fields on NPRs’ Science Friday program, the pencil and watercolor drawing shown above, Still Life With Computer, came to mind. Since I’d made the drawing back in 1984, I’d been periodically thinking about the current and future capabilities of artificial intelligence in the wake of organic human creativity, which they were examining in depth.

Just the tenor of all the tech-speak reminded me that creativity is much more than a theoretical, mathematical, virtual process. It is a construct of our physical senses, experiences, emotions, memories, decisions and choices. Working in synch, these elements spark one or more images in our minds that we can decide to manifest through a visual medium such as drawing and/or writing.

Metaphorically, the creative process is akin to threading our way through a mental labyrinth. There, we might ultimately find the object of our journey, even if we had no clear picture of it going in. It is not always evident whether that object will turn out to be a monster, a brilliant idea or whether we will be able to retrace our steps so as to consider the bigger picture of our efforts. Of course, we can accomplish this latter goal by choosing to retain our notes and/or sketches for use in future or to create an entirely new project. For these reasons, I’ve always believed that each of us has this creative potential, yet if and how we decide to express it is what makes each of us uniquely human.

Although this mode of thinking and its products have nourished and documented our cultural progress and history, it was only a matter of time until we had no choice but to acknowledge the perceptual changes that the growing presence and influence of virtual art-making are exercising on our society.

So I wondered: If we were to code a computer with artificial intelligence that allows it to interpret an image and/or text such as the Mona Lisa or a manuscript page of Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (c. 1412-1416 and 1485-1489 CE), could it create an entirely new image or text based on the information we’ve provided? More importantly, could that image be taken for one that the original artist would make were he or she living today? Finally, would this technology be able to determine when its ‘mission’ is ‘complete’?

A few years ago, these ideas were in the realm of science fiction for me; they were intriguing but did not seem to be a real threat to the high value society accords to creators of original, manual artworks. Even when early virtual/mechanical developments showed promise, I still suspected that a computer’s artificial ability to create art intended to engender profound human emotion might only produce a visual experience as flat as the reproduction of a masterpiece in a book or magazine.

I actually thought that we would need years, even decades to clarify and quantify our own understanding of human objectivity, free will and the ‘soul’ for artificial intelligence to decode it. I also imagined this knowledge would have to manifest as a mechanical surrogate like the science-fictional positronic brain of Star Trek’s android character Mr. Data in order to accomplish this goal. 

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Ah, is ignorance bliss, or what? But fantasies do have their limit.

Ever since AI computers have been shown to perform well in strategic tasks like human-computer chess matches (where a series of traditional outcomes (moves leading to checkmate) has been predetermined, their high-speed, analytical abilities and performance have been increasing exponentially. 

Indeed, progress in this area has taken on a life of its own with finance professionals tweaking its light-speed fortune-making possibilities, medical researchers implementing and anticipating more sophisticated disease treatments, our world’s dependence on it to support our service and power infrastructure and of course, science fiction writers and filmmakers envisioning societies informed by this work.

Simultaneously, as scholars and scientists are employing artificial intelligence to explain creative people and the act of creativity itself, they are racing to democratize creativity and its decision-making component by reducing this process to dizzyingly complex algorithms.

Yet, wonderful as these developments are, instinct tells me that a complete accounting for a creative person’s true talent is missing a few numbers. Artistic talent is an ephemeral fusion of observations, memory and manual skills that include decision-making based on what he or she has seen, heard and experienced. So in my opinion, the inherent subtleties in human creativity have not yet been fully re-imagined.

That said, from my personal experience with digitally enhancing my traditional art, the perceived line between traditional art and art produced by artificial intelligence is becoming frighteningly thin.

Not only can we now make art with virtual tools on a virtual substrate, AI computers partnered with 3D printing technology can also digitally scan an Old Master painting and extrapolate techniques in order to create and produce a new physical image from it, as explained by this article from the online magazine, Marketing In Asia.

In addition, I was recently amazed and bit uneasy at Pittsburgh’s Wood Street Gallerys exhibit in which the entire Hebrew Torah and The St. James Bible were created on paper by a robotic arm. Not being a biblical scholar, I couldn’t attest to its accuracy, but somehow, the whole idea left me cold as I imagined medieval monks in a scriptorium laboring for years to produce their calligraphic and pictorial masterpieces.

So, this essay is meant to ask a few questions whose answers may already be obvious to some of you:

1. If current profit motives and economic prerogatives prevail, could or will AI developments in the arts eventually render human creatives obsolete?

2. Can we ever faithfully capture and mechanize the true essence of the human spirit, the driving force that makes us the wonderfully functioning creatures, receptive and responsive to physical and intellectual experience that we’ve become through biological evolution and the continuum of history?

3. Will we gradually lose our ability to identify and respond to the nuances of original, manual art as we normalize art produced by virtual means?

4. What consequences of such normalization can we expect in terms of intellectual property protection? Fasken, an international law firm has offered its own questions and answers to this concern.

5. Finally, will this new ‘normal’ become the tool of our own cultural immortality or the weapon of its destruction?

What say you?

State Of The Art-s-s-s: When Is ‘Perfect’ The Enemy Of Good Enough’?

July 1, 2018

 

This week, I attended a Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators business meeting on the techniques of digital illustration.The presenters were several of my fellow illustrators, each specializing in a different area of our industry; editorial, technical, and medical illustration. I couldn’t help but be impressed with their talent, tech savvy and sense of adventure as they demonstrated many of the new digital devices and techniques available to us illustrators. Still, the evening had awakened the old beast of doubt in me, turning up the volume on many issues, even considering my long freelance illustration career. 

I’ve been working ‘tra-digitally’ (a blend of traditional drawing/painting with digital enhancement) for a number of years but came to this approach slowly as I grew more familiar with design software and accepted its promise of production efficiency. What I couldn’t anticipate was the seductiveness of a process that, like coffee, has since become a daily necessity for me as I produce assignment work for clients and publish my own books.

In fact, my use of digital techniques seems to be overriding my love for the unpredictable results and sensual feel of pen, pencil and/or watercolor on paper. Moreover, for better or worse, it has changed the way I think about and ultimately set down an image before declaring it finished.

Though I’ve become accustomed to exercising the endless options of digital ‘tweak-ability’, I now understand that these very options have caused a breach in my self-confidence when I must revert to drawing an image on paper for purposes other than print reproduction such as commissioned portrait.

Where once I was easily satisfied by the look and feel of my early creative efforts, I now automatically examine my work for ‘irregularities or imperfections’ that can be ‘fixed’ with Photoshop instead of appreciating those expressions for what they are; manifestations of my imperfect human creativity. With that thought, the question in the title of this essay, (‘when is ‘perfect’ the enemy of good enough’?) comes into play. Because it is becoming increasingly difficult to decide when an image is finished, the simple answer is ‘always’.  

I’ve often wondered whether working this way causes me to overthink my work, questioning its ‘rightness’ even as I embellish it with seemingly relevant images and stylistic details to the point where its core story or idea is obscured.

At such times, when I become obsessed with locating just the ‘right’ reference image or am impatient with the complexity of creating or digitally editing an illustration for print, those who have known me and my work for many years often remind me that I actually seemed more efficient when I produced my art traditionally from my imagination without the aid of digital software. They are probably right.  

With assignment work, I must consider my client’s requests concerning an illustration’s political and/or social ramifications. This often leads to extensive editing or discarding the image altogether. If I choose to retain the image, it sometimes has to be stripped down to its simplest form to satisfy the requirements of the assignment. This always precludes it from revealing the marks of my thinking/working process. Additionally, I am required to design and size my images so they may be set within a pre-determined space.

Certainly I’ve had to adapt to the tenets of graphic design which embraces the elegant expression of visual splash or memes as powerful as a Twitter ‘tweet’ for instant consumption as opposed to the detailed storytelling subtleties expected of traditional illustration. Is this a good thing? I’m not entirely sure. Yes, it forces the eye and mind to focus on the ‘message’ but perhaps something of its original concept’s character and intent has been lost in translation. 

I have to admit that I do enjoy a major benefit of digitally preparing my illustrations; it grants me more control over my finished printed product as opposed to the old mechanical methods where I had to depend on others for my desired outcome.

Although the new products are now able to simulate every known drawing and painting technique and have enabled me to become a ‘one-stop design shop, I still have questions. If I go totally digital with my art, will I be able to shed my prejudice against creating images on a glass surface that is less sensually direct than paper or canvas? And, should it matter anymore whether I no longer have a frame-able, completely ‘original’ work of art as ‘evidence’ of my efforts? 

One presenter at the meeting proudly proclaimed that he’d fully embraced digital illustration and had ‘gotten over’ his need for original tangible art products. Having appreciated the beauty and intense craftsmanship of his original works, I could, from a pragmatic standpoint, understand why he might have felt that way.

Corporate art collections have diminished over the last few decades while museums and most galleries rarely offer highly promoted exhibits to lesser known artists, preferring to host more profitable exhibits by either box office name artists or long-dead old masters.

In addition, many galleries have upped sales commissions to sometimes more than 50%. The internet has also become a formidable rival to brick and mortar exhibit spaces. It offers an enormous marketplace with affordable entry fees that is overwhelmingly democratic for all creators. So we don’t really depend on exposure through museums and galleries anymore for our livelihood. For this reason, I don’t even carry around a weighty portfolio when I can post my work to potential clients and collectors on social media.

Historically, the disciplines of illustration and graphic design have worked together for both print and digital media. Now, I suspect that the internet (beneficial to our business as it is) is also a great disrupter. With its endless cacophony of sensational news, information, music and images it has of necessity rendered graphic design the dominant force over illustration in order to accommodate our tragically dwindling attention span and capacity for remembering things. 

From this perspective, I suppose I should be discouraged from pursuing my craft in the manner I’ve been trained to do; creating illustrations that intrigue the eye and mind on multiple levels with traditional materials. Of course I can still make intricate images with digital assist but they will appear obscure beside the flashy visual memes that are our current brain candy.

It’s been said that great art reflects the era in which it was made, yet the artist in me refuses to cave. My illustrations and drawings will inevitably emerge as they must because of the question that nips at my conscience; will today’s visual flash preserve and continue to tell future generations the myriad complex stories of who and what we once were or will they require an entire field of scholarship to create a new Rosetta Stone? 

The Incredible Slowness of Patience

August 22, 2017

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As I worked to complete the final drawings and haiku for Codex Gastropoda: A Visual Meditation, I learned about Tim Pearce, Ph.D, the Assistant Curator of Molluscs at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, here in Pittsburgh. When I contacted this walking encyclopedia of snail facts and lore, I was pleasantly surprised at his accessibility and eagerness to talk about the intricacies and nature of his favorite subjects. When I told him of my book in progress, we made arrangements to meet at his department for a private tour of the museum’s vast holdings of snails, shells, and other obscure, mysterious forms of life beneath the seas.

Here is a photo of the Snail Man himself wearing his favorite hat!

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And what a collection! Giant conch shells once used as trumpets by ancient island tribes to gather their people for special events or war:

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many varieties of cone shells that had contained carnivorous snails who project a tiny dart from their bodies that are loaded with a compound containing 50+ different toxic chemicals! Their shells are very attractive but don’t get too close,  Mr. Pearce warned.

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We think of snails as carrying their own houses, but this chitons’ shell reminded me of a knight’s armor or shield!

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Their names are a mouthful to pronounce but these Xenophoridae or carrier shells are worth a closer look for their ability to disguise themselves in the deep seas against predators by secreting a sticky substance which they use to glue many abandoned shells to themselves as camouflage! Below is the Xenophoridae spread from Codex Gastropoda which I’ve envisioned as a gathering place for a summit of snails:

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Finally, I was introduced to Tony (i), a snail whose name Tim spells with both an ‘i’ and a ‘y’ because this tiny creature is an hermaphrodite; it hosts both male and female gender characteristics. If you can be patient for the three minutes it takes for this little video clip, you can see tiny Tony (i) emerging from his/her shell! Just click on this link to view the video:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/7spialg7hn0fj8b/TimPearceSnail-Trimmed.mov?dl=0

I have a small edition of Codex Gastropoda: A Visual Meditation (Imaginarius Editions, 2017) available for preview and purchase with credit card or Paypal for $30.00 at my Magic Eye Galleryhttp://bit.ly/2vzsSTM or at my Etsy shop: etsy.com/shop/Imaginarius

You may find that the images and haiku that comprise Codex Gastropoda: A Visual Meditation are a fine antidote to turbulent times like ours for they encourage us to patiently look, listen and THINK beyond the obvious…

 

Codex Gastropoda: A Visual Meditation

July 26, 2017

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You know the old adage, “Time passes quickly when you’re having fun” ? Well, this sentiment truly described the years between 2007 and the present when I began thinking about snails. Now, why on earth would anyone care about snails except as a purportedly (I say ‘purportedly’ because these creatures are among those forbidden to me by religious doctrine) tasty dish served with garlic butter?  Because I actually find them fascinating since I am able to look at them objectively for their natural beauty and metaphoric value without planning how to cook them.

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These musings slowly inspired a series of eighteen drawings on several species of snail (a.k.a mollusca/gastropoda). Some of them appeared along with my thoughts/poems about them over those years in several blog posts here.* Later, during this project’s development, a friend loaned me an eye-opening book that proved very inspiring and that I now recommend to you: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elizabeth Tova Bailey (2010). http://amzn.to/2w18Zpc

My drawings are not strictly scientific but an amalgam of fact and fancy. Each tells its own story, inviting questions and second glances. At first, not knowing whether these drawings should become a book or simply a portfolio collection, I put out a query on social media.  Though enthusiastic early feedback suggested a book, I still liked the idea of a portfolio collection and decided to publish a ‘bookfolio’ (a portfolio in book form) as a sort of compromise.

In this light, I considered writing more thought/poems like those in earlier posts. However, I soon determined that haiku (seventeen-syllable non-rhyming Japanese poems), with their economy of language would better complement the nature of my drawings.  Slyme-TextGrid-8x10.jpg

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Now, I am happy to announce the release of Codex Gastropoda: A Visual Meditation. This 44-page ‘bookfolio‘ includes an introduction and has just been released from Imaginarius Editions in an initial small press run.

You can preview and purchase it (US$30) at my online gallery: http://bit.ly/2vzsSTM

Codex Gastropoda will soon be available at Amazon but for now you can also find it at my Etsy Shop: etsy.com/shop/Imaginarius

Given the experiences that inspired it, my goal for Codex Gastropoda: A Visual Meditation became to raise awareness of the wondrous details that inform Creation and their consequences for our world. I hope this visual journey and spare prose will also inspire you to appreciate our complex existence and perhaps add your own words and ideas to the continuum of human creativity.  

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* https://wordpress.com/post/imaginarius13.wordpress.com/754 https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/the-snail-queens-soliloquy/  

*https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2010/12/30/postscript-for-the-new-year-a-divination-of-snails/ 

*https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2010/12/26/codex-gastropoda-4athe-time-snails/ 

*https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2010/10/21/codex-gastropoda-2-the-snails-song/ 

The Art Of Facts|Uncovering Pittsburgh Stories

July 18, 2017

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One of the high points in my long illustration career has been my involvement with the Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators since its inception in 1997. Beginning with a handful of us sharing drinks and professional experiences at neighborhood bars and restaurants, we have grown in membership and reputation to become the second largest illustration society in the U.S!

Now, in celebration of our 20th Anniversary, we are mounting a major exhibition, Art Of Facts|Uncovering Pittsburgh Stories at the Senator John Heinz History Center ( a Smithsonian affiliate) in Pittsburgh’s famed Strip District. The show features original artworks and prints by 40 of our illustrators that highlight little known facts and stories from the histories of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. It will also offer lectures and workshops to provide information about the works in the show and the profession of illustration. Opening July 22nd, 2017, Art Of Facts runs through January of 2018. 

Though we have received some financial assistance, the costs of mounting and maintaining an exhibit of this scope remain considerable. Accordingly, we have posted a Kickstarter campaign that will run through August 17th, 2017 to raise funds for producing a high-quality, full-color, 120 page catalog that will include reproductions of each work in the show along with bios and statements of each illustrator.  Please visit our campaign site to learn more, receive updates and help make this exhibit the exciting success it was meant to be! 

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1330347473/art-of-facts-uncovering-pittsburgh-stories 

Note: Kickstarter will NOT charge your credit card unless we meet our $5,000 goal, so ALL contributions are greatly appreciated! If the campaign is successful, you will receive some lovely rewards!

I look forward to your questions and comments here and at the our Kickstarter campaign page!

Above: Babalosha Temujin Ekunfeo, Pittsburgh African Storyteller (one of my three illustrations for Art Of Facts|Uncovering Pittsburgh Stories)

Practical Matters: Illustration As Product?

March 14, 2017

In July of 2010, well into the consequences of the 2008 economic collapse, I posted two consecutive essays* that explored illustration-related issues. One questioned the relevance of the illustration industry in the face of  those changes with many print and advertising venues giving way to online presences. Along with the ascendance of gallery and aggregate stock image/portfolio sites, my agent at the time decided to branch out into the product licensing marketplace with a plan to enhance her own fortunes with those of the illustrators in her stable. So the other essay** mused on whether such a ‘marriage’ could prevail.

In short, despite working intensely on many collections of designs for product applications and attempting to understand the mechanizations of the licensing industry, the enterprise was not entirely successful for me. However, the experience did force me to realize two things: my own naïvete in that area and the fact that individual artists stand little chance in the marketplace against corporate licensing giants like Disney, Mattel or Starbucks. To wit, I was told at an international trade show by a licensing agent that although he loved my work, he would not even consider doing business with me until my ‘brand’ had generated several hundred thousand dollars in revenue. Huh. What a classic chicken and egg situation!

Though my agent and I have since parted ways, I still believed in the integrity and originality of my work and thought that one day I might try again to generate life for my images beyond paper and print. I knew that for me, full retirement was not an option ( and that after a long freelance illustration career, I still had the drive to create new things. I also knew that age-wise, holding a full-time job was also not an option. Therefore, I had to find a way to generate income from my work. To that end, I embarked on a new venture: I decided to write, illustrate and publish my own books***. This is an ongoing activity that I think will always inform my work.

Today, in 2017, we are facing other issues regarding the ever-expanding online opportunities with their associated intellectual property concerns and the difficult challenge of attracting as many eyeballs as possible amidst the unbelievably vast competition out there. Much as I had held to the notion that licensing my images would compromise my artistic integrity by ‘selling out’ to commercial interests, I now see that to some extent, becoming business savvy is necessary to economic survival. It requires that we understand the strategies of these new corporate giants. They operate primarily by advertising revenue and tempting artists to post their images for ‘free’ with the future promise of a tiny percentage of market share if and when their images applied to products achieve any sales. Like any business adventure, it is risky, both to creators and site owners. But in my opinion, the greater risk is assumed by creators who opt for compromising their intellectual  properties and code of trust when dealing with a business partner simply because we are not directly privy to their accounting practices.

Still, the old adage of “nothing ventured, nothing gained,” often drives participation in new ventures. This is especially tantalizing in an era where the possibility of becoming internationally known for one’s work is but a few keystrokes and/or a credit card away.

However,  as the ‘Practical Matters’ portion of this essay’s title suggests, I have made every effort to copyright and /or trademark (as appropriate) any design I’ve released for commercial use. Though some expense may be involved, the urgency of these efforts cannot be overstated. Through my activities on the boards of the Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators and the American Society of Illustrators Partnerships I have become aware that under the current administration, the copyright environment in Washington DC is undergoing some far-reaching changes in favor of privatization of the copyright office. These changes will allow them to more broadly define the concept of public domain; a development that ultimately will not be friendly to creators. With the very dodgy security of the web, it’s now trivial to grab images from sites with impunity. It follows that using these images for profit comes with little consequence to the infringer. Protecting your intellectual property is essential as there have been cases where artists engaging in lawsuits against unethical corporations or individuals to reclaim their intellectual properties have taken considerable financial hits in the process. Though not an encouraging circumstance, it is a cautionary one.

Yet despite the potential pitfalls, the artistic spirit continues to be indomitable since most of us live on hope. In that light, with copyrights in place, I decided to reboot my licensing efforts when an illustrator colleague raised my awareness of a some potentially promising opportunities. I have since sold many designs for greeting cards at Greeting Card Universe ( http://bit.ly/2mWRXXI), have a t-shirt available at my Magic Eye Gallery (http://bit.ly/2mp1XW5and am now engaged at Society6 (https://society6.com/imaginarius13) with twenty unique collections of designs for an array of personal and home products. Whether this will all work out, I can’t know, but one thing is certain; if you understand the risks and throw enough effort at the wall, something’s bound to stick!

Here are a few selections from the Imaginarius Shop at Society6:

Alchymy Collection: Firebird Wall Tapestry                                                                                                                                              

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The  Cluckfosters’ Step Out Collection: Clock

Sea Swans Collection: Shower Curtain with Towels & Bathmat

Sushi AlaCarte Collection: Allover Print T-Shirt

Alchymy Collection: Elementals Duvet Cover & Comforter

Salisbury Tiles Collection: Throw Pillow & Leggings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tudor Vines Collection: Duvet Cover, Comforter, Throw Pillow, ToteBag, iPhoneCover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2010/07/12/practical-matters-is-illustration-still-relevant/

**https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2010/07/16/practical-matters-2-to-license-or-not-to-license/

***http://magiceyegallery.com/BookPage.aspx?id=8 (see all books under pull-down ‘Book’ menu)