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For the past several-to-many years I’ve dreamed of displaying my art in a booth at Comic Con. Imagine! Over 100,000 people bustling past, taking in my photos and seeing my videos. Each year I dutifully submit my application and wait for the inevitable notification that the convention floor is full, but I’m in the queue for next year — and the next, and the next, and the next. If there is one thing Comic Con vets can relate to it is lines. Really, really long lines. Lines to enter the building, lines to get autographs, lines to buy overpriced concessions (the line at Starbucks inside the convention center is legendary), and seemingly endless lines of people hoping against their better judgement to ever set foot in Hall H. So to be on a waiting list for booth space is more or less to be expected. And that’s exactly where I’ve been for the past four or five years.

Well, guess what?

ArtExpo Map

Where is ArtExpoSD? Here!

Nooooo… I don’t have a booth at this year’s Comic Con, but I do have the next best thing: I’ll have a space at ArtExpo SD — a first-of-its-kind event coinciding with the first three days of Comic Con and taking place just a few short strides from the convention center at the historic Wonder Bread Factory:

Wonder Bread Factory
121 14th Street
San Diego, California

Yep, right over the footbridge and across the big parking lot next to Petco Park. In fact, you may actually find your car closer to the wonders of ArtExpo than to the actual convention center!

Oh yeah, and did I mention that admission to ArtExpo SD is… free? Oh yes! I just did!

And what will you find at ArtExpo?

ArtExpo SD — The Art Show

The first floor of ArtExpo SD will feature a curated exhibition of work from emerging artists around the world, including an impressive lineup of names you know, and names you are soon to know. The exhibition continues a long tradition of world class art events that have popped up in San Diego to coincide with Comic Con — each an extension of this annual celebration of the creative arts. Past events have included an impressive collection of amazing art, and — if sneak peek are to be believed (and they usually are!) — the launch of ArtExpo SD should prove to be no different!

ArtExpo SD — The Exhibition Hall

On the second floor of the Wonder Bread Factory, Art Expo SD will play host to dozens of artists and DIY denizens showing off their creative spark. Expect an art fair-ish atmosphere of exhibitors and booths — minus the greasy food and guys trying to sell you terry cloth rags. Think of it was a intimate collection of all your favorite stuff: painting, photography, handmade marvels galore, all in one convenient place.

Tell me more!

Where can you get more information? Social media, of course! Drop by the ArtExpoSD Facebook page for more information, including the scoop on how to get into the opening night VIP party!

Shameless Self-promoting Sneak Peek

Yep, I’m going to taking place in the event, with a brand spanking new photo on exhibit in the first floor gallery, and a booth of creative wonders located on the second. Expect videos, vinyl records, and a few entertaining surprises, so come on by and say hello!

And while I have your attention, here’s my own quick sneak peek at what I’ll have on display.

March already? Far too much time has passed between posts, but I’ve been hard at work on a new photograph and video to share.

Cha Cha Cha Cha Cha Cha — Pedro Garcia, 1958

Cha Cha Cha Cha Cha Cha — Pedro Garcia, 1958

Way back in 2012 I made an attempt at creating a photo built around a super cool album cover that featured a slinky masked dancer cavorting about beneath a cascade of streamers and balloons (seen to the right). After staging and shooting the photo, the images lingered in my computer, and as I prepped for my 2013 summer show at the Pannikin in La Jolla, I simply abandoned what I’d shot. Oh, sure, I could show you the unfinished work here and now, but the OCD in me would probably try to make a diamond from a pigs ear and I’d spend weeks and weeks trying to at least make the failed composition look presentable. Instead, let’s jump right to the brand new photo — which I like!

Madame Paparazzi's wicked danse of seductive transformation

Madame Paparazzi’s wicked danse of seductive transformation

I actually took over 30 shots of this staging, then constructed the final image from the 7 best images, layering portions of each photo one atop the next to achieve deep focus throughout the final piece.

I tend to be easily distracted while working on my creative pursuits, so rather than snap the photos, sort through the candidate images, and plow through with all the necessary image adjustments, I ended up creating a video for the photo before I actually completed the photo (and, yes, that is possible in the world of Wind-up Dreams & Vinyl Nightmares). The frames for the animation were taken while I was deconstructing the stage set, and then reassembled into a free flowing pan’n’scan video using a whole bunch of software: Aperture, GraphicConverter, iDraw, and a new (to me) slideshow package called FotoMagico that allowed me to create deeper zooms than I’d used in previous animations. Nice piece of software worth checking out!

In an ideal world making one of these videos would be really simple: I’d come up with an idea, I’d choose some music, I’d shoot all the frames, and — voila! — there I’d have a finished video! Remember, though, that I begin with the finished photo, and, therefore, the last frame in the animation. The trick, then, is to conceive of the story in reverse, and begin taking things away from the scene in an order that will make some logical narrative sense once everything is reordered to run from start to finish. Oh, and without a sense of the audio that will be used.

This is… tricky.

Ah! But luckily, not impossible, and even when mistakes are made (for instance, removing objects out of order or completely reconsidering the storyboard during post production) software makes nearly anything possible.

Let’s take a look!

You may recall a post from back in 2012 where I totally lusted over an amazing product I saw displayed behind glass at Comic-Con — a working replica of a Mystic Seer fortune telling machine made famous in a 1960 episode of the Twilight Zone starring William Shatner. The price of the Mystic Seer was exorbitant, so I sadly left the convention center  vowing to someday own a Mystic Seer of my very own.

The memory of the Mystic Seer haunted me with no end. Questions loomed! Thoughts of mysteries revealed swirled in my mind! How could I possibly continue to live KNOWING that a Mystic Seer could be guiding my every decision? Finally, I broke down, scouring the internet for the Mystic Seer I had spotted at the Con. Amazon, of course, had an outrageously priced after-market version, but not actually having a Mystic Seer to which I could pose the question “is this a good deal?” I had no choice but to pass. Then, I spotted the Mystic Seer at Entertainment Earth for the same price that had tempted me at Comic-Con. I placed my order in July and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Each month, it seemed, I would receive an email from Entertainment Earth updating me on the stays of my order: estimated release date is September 2013… estimated release date is October 2013… estimated release date is November 2013…. Without fail, release was always perpetually just one month away, until one day I received an email that said “your item has shipped.”

How exciting! And, yes, the happy day has finally come! I have a Mystic Seer of my very own!

Ask me a YES or NO question

Ask me a YES or NO question

Now that I have a Mystic Seer (which, by the way, only takes pennies, but what a bargain!) I feel as though I have the weight of the entire universe pressing upon my shoulders, as the prophetic powers of the Mystic Seer cannot be taken lightly! Oh, sure, I could be asking the Mystic Seer some of the trite questions posed on the instructions to the right:

  • Does she love me? (doubtful)
  • Will I become rich? (well, I can afford a Mystic Seer)
  • Is my future bright? (of course!)

But I believe it is my sworn duty to be asking the Mystic Seer questions that will reveal futures that will benefit all of humankind. My pledge to you, the regular readers of my blog, is to regularly ask the Mystic Seer important questions to guide our collective pop culture lives and actions. Who knows, the Mystic Seer may eventually have his own prognostication web site!

The first question posed to the Mystic Seer (which actually took place yesterday morning): Who will win the Super Bowl? 

There you have it! The Mystic Seer CORRECTLY picked the winner of the 2014 Super Bowl!! If this is not proof positive to the Mystic Seer’s window into the future of the unknown, I don’t know what is!!

The Mystic Seer!

The Mystic Seer!

Surreal Salon Six

I’m very happy to announce that my short film, Lola and Lexi Ditch Biology, and Never Return to the Eleanor Roosevelt School for Wayward Girls, has been selected for exhibition in Surreal Salon Six at the Baton Rouge Center for Contemporary Art!

Surreal Salon six will feature 75 works of surrealism madness to challenge the mind and test the senses from artists all across the country. The exhibition opens January 2 and runs through January 31, including a costumed soiree on Saturday, January 25th for an evening of live music and what will surely be a bizarre program of surreal party games. Fun galore! And stick around the following day for a presentation on pop surrealism and lowbrow art from exhibition juror Greg Escalante — co-founder of Juxtapoz, owner of Copro Gallery, and art collector extraordinaire.

New print release!

Isn’t it about time I release a new print? Maybe one of the landscape images from Tales from the Vinyl Dimension? Of course it is! Well then, just in time for the frantic madness of the holiday shopping season…

She who creates Good Fortune, one of the most popular images from my summer show, is now available in a fine art edition of 40 prints, on high quality, heavyweight, Hahnemuhle photo rag paper! Each 19×13″ print (the image itself is 12×9″) comes signed and numbered, along with a certificate of authenticity and a limited edition exhibition card. If you’re nice I may also throw in one my extremely limited Frankenstein stickers (as supplies last, of course).

This may be my best print release yet, and the images look great!

More info about the print can be found in my Etsy store, and if you’re interested in the process behind the creation of the photo, here’s a link to my behind-the-scenes blog post.

Spirit PrintShe who creates Good Fortune — $125 available now!

But wait! There’s more!
The little elves in the Wind-up Dreams workshop have been very hard at work creating an incredible array of gifts designed around the portrait panels that were on display in Tales from the Vinyl Dimension including mugs, buttons, watches, mouse pads, coasters, iPhone cases, and a bazillion other things. Yes, they are exhausted little overworked elves, but as long as we continue to feed them candy corn and marshmallow peeps they seem to remain happy and productive. You can see the full lineup of gifts in the Portrait store on Zazzle.

But wait, there’s still more!
Finally, I’d be completely remiss were I not to remind you that original 12×12″ portrait panels from Tales from the Vinyl Dimension remain available, along with a wide range of limited edition prints, album editions, and postcards.

It’s been quite a while since I last wrote a post on how I go about photographing and creating some of the images you’ll find on my web site, and with the release of a brand new limited edition print imminent I thought I’d chime in on some of the behind the scene shenanigans that went into the creation of that image — She who creates Good Fortune.

Preliminary Stuff

The concept behind this photo would be the coming into being of an entity that was responsible for bringing Fate to the world through the creation of tarot cards. I envisioned an artist standing at an easel painting cards one at a time, with a stack of blank cards on one side and finished cards on the other. Surrounding the figures would be elements representing other celestial and mystical realms, while in the background an even higher mystical figure would look on.

Brush CloseupPlaying the role of “artist” at the center of the new composition would be a figure I frequently refer to as “Marilyn”, solely because she is blonde and has a billowy dress. She was produced by the Marx Toy Company in a set of scantily clad figures known as “Louis’s Beauties”. Her pose, with one hand stretching forward and the other curved inward, would be perfect — so long as I could place a tiny paintbrush in her hand and set a “canvas” before her on an easel. And that’s what you see to the right. I fashioned an easel from wooden coffee stirrers (propped up by undetected Legos), while the paintbrush was made from the end of a toothpick and a skinny strip of aluminum foil wrapped around the snipped ends of an actual paintbrush.

The Photo Shoot

Over the past couple of years my process has become increasingly complex, with elaborate stage sets, and images that are sandwiched together from multiple focus layers (see a past post on the subject of creating focus stacks). Seriously, some of my photos take a month or more to produce. So, in preparing work for my 2013 summer show I decided to go “back to basics” for a set of simple landscape image: one record cover, one stack of 45’s, a primary figure, and maybe a couple of additional figures in the background. Deep focus? Forget it; I wanted the focus to only be on a single character emerging from the center of a record, and the rest of the image could be blurry — like real professional photography!

For these photos I put away my DSLR and my nice L-series lens, and instead chose to use my “walking around” camera — a compact little Canon SD-1000 Elf with a built-in digital macro setting that would be perfect for getting up close and personal with the characters I wanted to highlight. I shot brides and grooms, belly dancers, religious icons, and all sorts of figures — all from a few inches away with a very shallow depth of field (focal length 5.8mm, aperture f/2.8). I was able to take each of these photos fairly quickly, spending not much more than a day or so shooting and adjusting the finished image, while retaining the conceptual and symbolic elements of my more elaborate images.

Staging for She who creates Good Fortune

Staging for She who creates Good Fortune

Above, you see the final staging for She who creates Good Fortune. Very simple. An album cover in the background, a stack of records in the foreground (actually balanced atop alphabet blocks in addition to the book you see), and a handful of objects used to tell the story. The whole scene, from back to front, is about 8 inches deep, with the dancer emerging from the stack of records about 4½ inches from the back. In front of everything is a crude tripod I built out of Legos to compose my shot and hold the camera steady.

IMG_0319As you can see in the photo on the left, the camera sits only a few inches from the action. Given the tight focal length and relatively large aperture, the depth of field is going to be very shallow — exactly what I was seeking to accomplish with this series of macro landscapes. Except…

For this particular photo that wasn’t what I wanted. Focusing on the artist in the center of the record brought her nicely into focus, but left the card she was painting — and even the paintbrush! — out of focus. Likewise, the card being laid down and the mouse were fuzzy, and I felt those elements of the image were just as important (symbolically) as the artist at the center.

So, it was back to my deep focus trick to mask out and combine the in-focus elements from multiple photos to construct a single image. Luckily, for this photo, I’d only have to worry about two images: one that held the foreground in focus and one that held the background in focus (or, actually, just the two farthest tarot cards — the album cover and Loteria blocks could remain out of focus). Easy, right?

Nope.

Take a look at the two photos below: one focused at the center of the artist’s back, the other focused on the tarot card she is painting. Apart from the shifting of focus from the area around the artist to the area just beyond the artist, notice anything slightly peculiar?

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My deep focus trick relies on overlaying portions of one photo on top of another — provided all the photos are taken from exactly the same vantage point, something my professional tripod does quite well. A tripod made of Legos… not so much. So what you see above is a slight shift in vantage point as I moved the camera to alter the focus. And that means this when the two photos are laid one atop the other:

Foreground and background overlay

Foreground and background overlay — click to view larger image

Well now, THAT doesn’t look very good, does it?

What should have been an easy task of masking out the in-focus elements of the foreground and layering them over the background in one convenient step became a lot more challenging. If you look carefully at the image above you’ll see that the “difference ” (for lack of a better word) between the two images is not merely a simple (x,y) shift of a few pixels. The perspective has actually changed from one image to the next, though not a lot. Want some proof? Take a look at an actual size closeup of the overlay on the left side of the record label:

Photo overlay — left side detail

Photo overlay — left side detail

Note the position of each character in the word “Productions” from one image to the other. The base of the “P” is off by a little, with the better focused image a little higher and shifted a bit to the right. By the time you get to the “n” and the “s”, what had been a little change is noticeably larger. And if you scan all the way over to the right side of the record label…

Photo overlay — right side detail

Photo overlay — right side detail

Yikes! the difference is now very, very noticeable! So much for my plan to simply place pieces of the foreground over the background.

The solution?

Forcing square pegs into round holes

Yep, that’s pretty much what I had to do. Upon closely examining the foreground image I identified nine areas that could be carefully masked out and placed on top of the background, as you can see in the animation below (you can read about how to create brushed masked layers using Apple’s Aperture software here):

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Note that most of the masked layers have been carefully shaped to completely encircle a given region (say, text on the label) with the perimeter of the “puzzle piece” falling on an area of uniform color and texture, such as the brownish-orange of the record label. By creating the layers in this way, and feathering the edges, it became much easier to blend the top layer into the image beneath. In some cases (such as with the Wheel Of Fortune region, below), this wasn’t possible, and the puzzle piece had to cut through a “solid” object. Even in these cases, however, you’ll notice that the edge remains — as much as possible — within uniform regions of the masked layer (as below, across the field of blue on the tarot card).

Wheel of Fortune layer (detail)

Wheel of Fortune layer (detail)

Once all of the layers had been masked and output as transparent TIFFs, assembling the final image became an exercise of dropping puzzle pieces over the background and scooting them around until each was aligned (as closely as possible) with the background. The animation below illustrates how this was done for the text on the right side of the label, first moving it horizontally and vertically, then rotating the image ever so slightly to compensate for the change in perspective from one photo to the next (eyeballing the alignment, of course).

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Note:
I also had to slightly resize the layered image to match the height and width of the text in the underlying background. Because these photos were macro shots, the slightest difference in distance (and angle) of the lens to the objects from one photo to the next resulted in similar differences in what was captured by the camera. So, where the width of the phrase “IN THE SKY” might be w in the background photo, it might be w’ in the foreground photo requiring that the dimensions of layered “puzzle piece” be changed to match what it would be correcting. Optics! Cool! (Or not so cool…)

All told I created nine separate foreground layers to assemble the final image and achieve the look I had been seeking. To finish off the piece, I selectively erased some of the background yellow on the tarot card being “painted” to create the illusion of the artist adding the finishing touches on a new card of Good Fortune. Likewise, the surface of the card on the right was erased to give the appearance of a stack of blank cards waiting to be brought to life.

Yes, it was a lot more effort than I’d been anticipating, but I was more than happy with the results, and She who creates Good Fortune was one of the best received images in my summer solo show.

She who creates Good Fortune

She who creates Good Fortune

During the run of Tales from the Vinyl Dimension this past summer at the Pannikin, La Jolla, a VERY terrible thing happened…

One of my toys went missing!

IMG_6835

Wolfman taking a swipe at a kewpie car

And not just any toy, my vintage Wolfman flashlight figure purchased a few years ago from a dealer at Comic-Con. Wolfman has appeared in a handful of my photos, most notably terrorizing a kewpie car as it exited a funhouse tunnel in Financial Freewheeling and the futile pursuit of the American Dream (right).

As part of the gallery installation I’d placed toys in front of each of the 12 x 12″ portraits that rimmed the highest walls of the space. With the actual toy present, visitors to the gallery could better sense the true size of the faces that were looking down from the walls. Where these portraits were printed “life size”, the subjects were little tiny toys shot with the digital macro setting of my Canon Elf (using a tripod fabricated from Legos).

IMG_1621

Each toy standing below their portrait was pretty much on its own without much in the way of safety or security. The Wolfman was one exception, as his clawed feet did not balance will on the wooden ledge, so he was held in place by a small mountain of modeling putty.

One afternoon after strolling down the hill with my laptop I entered the Pannikin to discover that the Wolfman was gone — vanished into thin air! I searched the ledge where he had been standing; no luck. I inquired with the staff; nope, he had not been found and turned in. Not cool. Nope, not cool at all. This would require drastic measures. I headed home and created this:

Missing Poster

The Pannikin sees a LOT of traffic — regulars buying their morning coffee, students studying in the afternoons, plenty of moms and dads pushing strollers. Had Wolfman fallen from his perch I thought there was a good chance that he’d been picked up by one of the stroller kids, whose parents might find it odd that there precious toddler was shaking a hairy beast instead of his or her rattle.

I tacked up the poster next to Frankenstein, hoping that my stab at humor might motivate someone (like a stroller mom or dad) to recognize and return my beloved missing Wolfman.

A few days passed and, sure enough, the Wolfman was returned! If I am to believe the story that was related to me, one morning a homeless man stumbled through the door and without saying a word placed the Wolfman on the counter, then left. Wolfman was back! I pulled down my MISSING poster and in its place pinned up an replacement: FOUND!

Anyway, in the wake of this trauma I began to imagine a whole series of “missing” posters for each of the portraits I’d shot for the exhibit. Take a look!

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Horror ShirtSo, what do I plan on doing with all of these crazy posters? All kinds of things! The first is to make them available on shirts through my Zazzle store. I currently have 30 or so designs available featuring most of the toys and figures I had on display during my show. More still to come and I’m hoping to extend the line to include other products.

Stay tuned!

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