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What do you to with your staged creations after you’ve shot your photos?

That’s probably the number one question I’m asked when people see my work in galleries. I’m asked if I ever sell the finished construction as a three dimensional sculpture, or if I have boxes of glassed dioramas littering my attic.

No, I take them apart and reuse all the figures and objects in future photos.

However, as many familiar with my work or YouTube channel know, I frequently take apart my constructions in very deliberate fashion, one component at a time, using this opportunity to shoot frames for animation — either stop motion or a “pan’n’zoom” technique I’ve developed that creates the illusion of a camera slowly moving throughout the composition as objects magically materialize into place. Creating animations is a lot of fun and provides insight into the three dimensional nature of my artistic process. And, as you would expect, the animation work has a process of its own, that (very loosely) looks something like this:

  • Develop a storyboard, in reverse, since I always start with the final image and work my way back to the start.
  • Capture all the frames, again, in reverse, as objects are removed from the scene.
  • Take all the captured frames, load them into my computer, and reverse them so that the animation will now run forward, from the beginning to the final image.
  • Add music and synchronize the action to the music I’ve selected. The end.

It’s that last step that is often the most difficult, as I attempt to choose music that fits the spirit of the final photo, has a complimentary tempo, and coincides with the loose running time of the captured animation frames. Even better if the lyrics or musical queues fit key transitions within the animation. It’s really not at all easy, as the animation is not created for the song, and the song is not created for the animation. When things work, it’s really all a matter of coincidence, a little bit of visual manipulation, and a whole bunch of luck.

tumblr_mocks5lODQ1sv2n9bo1_500

You’re going to Hell if you use our music

A not-so-quick note about copyright
It’s about here that I should note that — apart from one instance where permission was secured (thank you, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult) — I don’t have the rights to use any of the music included in my videos. Nope, it is totally illegal, though I shake a fist of Fair Use defiance at those who would suppress my creatively crafted mashup of audio and video. Still, technically, I don’t have the right to use Norman Greenbaum‘s Spirt In The Sky or my own slightly embellished extended remix version of The Globe by Big Audio Dynamite II to accompany my crazy animations. So each time YouTube flags the audio content of a video on behalf of Warner Brothers (bastards!) or Sony (cretins!) or Universal Music (despots!), I file a dispute to the claimed copyright infringement citing “fair use.” In most cases, the legal rights holders meet my dispute with some degree of kindness and allow the song and video to remain, albeit with the addition of a revenue generating ad. No big deal, the ad can be easily clicked away and viewers can still enjoy my creation. Other times, the legal claimants refuse my case for fair use, and the entire YouTube video is “blocked worldwide”, as was recently the case when I used the AC/DC song “It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll).” Thanks for that, Warner Music!

Sybil leaves nothing to Chance, as she prepares for a romantic evening at 21

Sybil leaves nothing to Chance, as she prepares for a romantic evening at 21

As I set about producing the animation for the photo above (and discussed in Part Three of this update), I was able to quickly develop a visual storyboard that would run from an empty stage to the final shot focusing on a plastic heart lying in a pool of water. Part one of the process done, check! Likewise, shooting the necessary frames was a breeze. This was going to be one of my pan’n’zoom animations where objects are removed from the scene one at a time, with a single photo taken at each step. Where a full scale stop motion animation often requires thousands of individual frames, pan’n’zoom is much lighter weight in the frame capture department. For this project I needed around 120 frames, which I shot, loaded into my iMac, processed, reversed, and — voila! — I now had several minutes of silent video animation.

Now, to pick the music…

And there, I hit an audio roadblock. I wanted the theme to be fortune telling, with elements of palmistry, tarot card reading, and predicting the future. I scoured through my music collection in iTunes, where a massive library of 68,000 songs failed to satisfy (and, yes, I tried using Fortune Teller in all its various versions, but it really didn’t fit). I then went to my stacks of vintage vinyl, sampling dozens of LPs in search of something that could help bring some life to my soundless animation. Again, no luck.

Ah! But then, the proverbial clouds parted and I found the perfect piece of music to accompany my video. All I had to do was add it to the animation track, synchronize things here and there, and… Judge for yourself!

And there you go! A finished and complete video with music from… the… Vinyl Nightmare Orchestra? Ummm… yeah, who are they, again?

Actually… me. Just me. Yep, that weirdly hypnotic tune (good or bad) was completely created by me, on my iMac, to specifically accompany the action of the video. After flailing away so badly in search of the perfect prerecorded song, I was struck by a thought…

Really, how tough can it be to write a song?

The musical center of my brain

The musical center of my brain

Probably, pretty hard, as I’d never written a song, and I can’t even recall ever having aimlessly dreamed up a whistling, humming, toe-tapping original melody. Sure, my head is always filled with music, but it’s always music I’ve heard, either on the radio, in my music collection, in commercial jingles, or riding on an elevator. As far as I knew, the Musical Hall in my brain contains a very large and lonely jukebox, but there is no well of original beats, chords and lyrics. Would that stop me? No way!

So I started up GarageBand, an application I remember opening once before and thinking, “This is stupid; I don’t know what to do.” It still looked kind of useless. I guessed it could be used with a keyboard or a guitar (neither of which I own or know how to play) and I’d heard it could be used to record voices for podcasts using a microphone. Big deal, that wouldn’t help me write a song for my video.

My brain... now with Audio Production!

My brain… now with Audio Production!

Then I discovered… loops — and a long dormant second center of my brain suddenly sprang back to life! Back in college I spent unholy hours working in the production room of the campus radio station, KCPR 91.3 FM, cutting up and splicing together pieces of quarter inch reel-to-reel audio tape for special programs, commercials, and general on-the-air mayhem. It was incredibly fun, and to this day it remains the best “job” I ever had.

With GarageBand’s loops I could essentially do the same thing I used to do in the KCPR production room — though, now multiplied by a factor of about a million. I could lay down tracks of audio, string together tempo-independent beats, pan left, pan right, adjust volume, and add effects. Want some drums? There. Drums. Layer a tambourine on top of the bass? Shake, shake, shake; I have a tambourine. Congas? Sure! Guitar? Why not? Oh my… GOD! THIS IS EASY!!! (It is about here that I am tempted to go into a lengthy diatribe about the ease with which much of today’s chart topping music is made… but I won’t)

Yay! Music! But what about words?

Since most songs include lyrics, I figured mine should as well. Hmmm… I didn’t really want to write lyrics. And, besides, who would sing once these mind blowing lyrics were written? Me? No thanks — even with the help of Auto-Tune (which GarageBand can more or less mimic through pitch correction). Instead I thought it would be fun to chop up a bunch of existing audio sources and basically drop those samples into the instrumental track to “lyrically narrate” the animation.

The Strangest Secret — Earl Nightingale, 1956

I spent some time collecting sources and identifying samples that would fit the theme of the original photo, then constructed the song as a sequence of instrumental passages that could be synchronized to the animation — dropping in vocal samples as needed to punctuate visual transitions and drive forth a narrative. Basically, I was “scoring the film” and writing dialog all at the same time. The record you see on the right, The Strangest Secret, was produced by Earl Nightingale in 1956 as a motivational tool for salesmen (yes, men, the record is VERY misogynistic in its gender roles) in the midwest. It is Earl’s booming baritone voice you hear calling out to “Build! Work! Dream! Create!” throughout the track, and it is audio from this record that provides the bulk of the vocal samples used to construct the song.

Complete list of samples

Because I really, really like to put together lists, here is the full chronological list of samples (apart from those plucked from The Strangest Secret) used in Build, Work, Dream, Create — the first ever recording from the Vinyl Nightmare Orchestra (and, no, I don’t have the rights to use any of these clips, but when has that stopped me from making art?):

  • “Read my future” — Orson Welles, Touch Of Evil
  • “13” — Jo Morrow, 13 Ghosts
  • “13 what?” — Martin Milner, 13 Ghosts
  • “Ghosts” — Jo Morrow, 13 Ghosts
  • “21” — Grace Kelly, Rear Window
  • “It doesn’t matter if it can foretell the future” — Patricia Breslin, Twilight Zone
  • “You’ve been reading the cards, haven’t you?” — Orson Welles, Touch Of Evil
  • “Captain Howdy, do you think my mom is pretty” — Linda Blair, The Exorcist
  • “Will I ever be married?” — Patricia Breslin, Twilight Zone
  • “Captain Howdy, that isn’t very nice!” — Linda Blair, The Exorcist
  • “What it must be like to be able to look into tomorrow” — William Hansen, Night Gallery
  • “Tomorrow” — Clint Howard, Night Gallery
  • “The sun will be different” — Clint Howard, Night Gallery
  • Sequence Dies Irae — The Nuns of Avignon
  • “I don’t want to know what’s going to happen” — Patricia Breslin, Twilight Zone
  • “You may never know! Do you risk finding out!” — William Shatner, Twilight Zone
  • “If we all concentrate on it, and the Ouija will answer it!” — Donald Woods, 13 Ghosts
  • “Oh!” — Grace Kelly, Rear Window
  • “It will! It’s magic!” — Donald Woods, 13 Ghosts
  • “Magic!” — Donald Woods, 13 Ghosts
  • “Dinner at 21″ — Grace Kelly, Rear Window
  • “The more things I know about, the more things I can predict” — Clint Howard, Night Gallery
  • “Concentrate now; no cheating!” — Donald Woods, 13 Ghosts
  • “This is the same genuine, magic, authentic crystal, used by the priests of Isis and Osiris in the days of the pharaohs of Egypt” — Frank Morgan, The Wizard Of Oz
  • “You really don’t think that that gizmo can foretell the future, do you?” — Patricia Breslin, Twilight Zone
  • “Okay, now somebody ask a question” — Donald Woods, 13 Ghosts
  • “What’s going to happen tomorrow?” — Ellen Weston, Night Gallery
  • “Captain Howdy!” — Linda Blair, The Exorcist
  • “It all depends upon your point of view” — William Shatner, Twilight Zone
  • “It’s not possible to foretell the future, is it?” — Patricia Breslin, Twilight Zone
  • “Your future is all used up” — Marlene Dietrich, Touch Of Evil
  • “This machine is predicting out future!” — William Shatner, Twilight Zone
  • “What do you think?” — William Shatner, Twilight Zone

And there you have it! Give the video another listen (and view!) and see how many you can pick out!

Ready for Part Three of my delinquent 2015 update? Great! To quickly recap Parts One and Two, the first part of the year was spent overhauling my studio with better organization, new lighting and updated camera equipment. Very specifically, I upped the ante in the megapixel race, going from a 10 mp consumer model (Canon XTi) to the “prosumer” 20 mp Canon 70D. So many more pixels! So much more I would be able to capture! More color! More detail! More… dust?

The perils of 20 megapixel still life photography!

Yes, more dust. Bad, evil, OCD triggering dust. Try shooting the surface of vinyl records without capturing a whole lotta dust. In the past, this was only a minor issue for two simple reasons:

  • One, as my scenes had previously been constructed inside a light tent, the tent basically protected the scene from accumulating too much dust. Even if I worked on the composition over several weeks, I could always zip up the light tent and keep everything inside relatively free from an invasion of dust. Not so with the scene constructed on top of a table in the — gasp! — open air.
  • Two, from a distance even the Sahara desert looks like merely a solid patch of earth, but up close… wow, that’s a lot of sand! The same hold true by doubling the number of pixels you capture with your camera.

Yep, where in the past, the vinyl surfaces you see in my photos required only minor retouching for dust and other blemishes, everything was now much more greatly magnified, and what had previously been beyond notice now (in my paranoid eyes) jumped off the screen like a blizzard of distraction! Take a look at this example of a very small portion of my most recent photo, Sybil leaves nothing to Chance, as she prepares for a romantic evening at 21.

Before and after removing 826 specks of dust

Before and after removing 826 specks of dust

At the top is the image before I began removing dust and retouching various other distractions that needed repair. 826 spot repairs later (yes, 826, for an area no larger than, well, a record label) and I was able to mostly sweep the dust out of the scene.

Note
In the “after” image you still notice a little dust present; mostly in the lower left corner and just above the card on the right hand side. Because I create my images from several layered photos, the dust you see here is actually removed in a different photo that overlays those regions present in this example.

One of 36 layers

One of 36 layers

With my most recent photo consisting of 36 separate layers and dust present on a half dozen different vinyl surfaces, I had my work cut out for me. All told… I removed 9,446 specks of dust! Okay, actually, that’s an exaggeration… I made 9,446 retouching strokes, some of which were to repair scuff marks on the album cover or to paint on the plastic figures. I also removed two large reflections from the surface of the crystal ball, but take my word for it — most of this work was removing evil highly magnified specks of dust!

How sweet it is!

In my own self-deprecating way I frequently tell people that I really don’t know how to use my camera. To a large extent, this is true! A technically skilled photographer could probably look at my setup, measure the focal length, measure the light, turn a lot of knobs and flip a lot of switches, then press the shutter button once to capture the best possible photo. That’s not me. I have always set my camera upon the tripod, selected one of the auto-focus point, then click, click, clicked away at every aperture setting from f/9 to f/16. Then I’d move to the next AF point… click, click, click! And so on until I’d exhausted every combination of apertures and AF point (and if you think that’s crazy, I used to do the same thing for three different ISO settings until I finally settled on ISO 100). It was only after all the photos had been shot that I would then wade through this big bag of identical images and pick out those that were each individual object was the sharpest. From those multiple photos I could construct a single composite image with everything in the frame in sharp focus. And like that old cliche of a “doomed future” for those who do not learn from the past, so it was for me, as I would methodically repeat this combinatorial nightmare for every new project even though I knew in my head than every photos taken from f/10 through f/16 would not be quite as sharp as those taken at f/9. Did that stop me? Of course not!

Imagine my delight when I learned that every lens that supports multiple apertures has a “sweet spot” — the aperture setting that will theoretically result in the sharpest images. Hurray! Finally! The decision of which aperture is best had essentially been decided for me!

After doing a little research I discovered that the “sweet spot” for my lens (a Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM) is an aperture of f/8, which more or less confirmed the insanity of multiple apertures eventually whittled down to those shot at f/9. So, from now on, f/8 it would be!

One problem…

At magnification, the difference in clarity and depth of field between f/8 and f/9 turned out to be very significant. In the past, at various points in a scene, I could reliably observe a couple of inches of acceptable depth of field at f/9. At f/8 and with the greater level of detail captured with a 20mp camera, the depth of field from one focus point to the next dropped significantly. Often, it seemed (or maybe my eyes were just playing tricks) the discernible depth of field was remarkably shallow; often not more than an inch or so. Hence, I manually focused my way to 36 layers where — from one layer to the next — individual objects could be observed to be juuuuuuust a little sharper than that same object in an adjacent layer.

The result of all this change?

Working with new lighting, a new camera, an entirely new process, and the various challenges that would come with so many more pixels (which we’ll get to in a moment), I’d originally intended to create a “practice” photo so that I could make mistakes, learn, and just get used to all of the changes. Funny thing, though; I actually liked what I was creating, so I ended up spending two months working on the new photo — three weeks in the studio working with all my new equipment, and 5 weeks in post production where I discovered that…

…20 mega pixels is a LOT of information!

Yep! Apart from my aforementioned obsession with dust, 20 megapixel files introduced a variety of new challenges in how I deal with my images in post production.

And here is the final image!

Sybil leaves nothing to Chance, as she prepares for a romantic evening at 21

Sybil leaves nothing to Chance, as she prepares for a romantic evening at 21

Later this week, I’ll finish off this four part update on 2015 with news of the new video that accompanies this photo. Stay tuned!

In part one of this long overdue update on my creative exploits for 2015, I filled everyone in on the totally mundane effort of cleaning out and reorganizing my studio — a rite of well-meaning passage for pretty much every artist. One would think that a clean well-organized studio would immediately send creative bolts of electricity through an artist and see him or her instantly filled with motivation to create amazing new works of art. In my case, wrong. A clean studio was merely the first step in my 2015 Art Career reboot, and in Part Two of my three (or maybe four) part update on 2015 I’m going to talk about the next step.

If it ain’t broke… it probably is, so buy all new equipment!

The studio process for creating my images has remained relatively unchanged for the past 7 years. I’ve used the same 10 megapixel Canon XTi purchased in 2007, shooting scenes setup inside a 30″ light tent surrounded by three 500 watt photo flood lights. The tent has always provided really great light, and it made a huge difference in my work when I began getting more serious about creating art in 2007. However, this magical little studio cube has a few shortcomings:

  1. The size of the tent limits the size of the pieces I’m able to create.
  2. The tent itself is very confining and it is very difficult to contort my hands, arms, and (quite often) the upper half of my body deep into the tent to make small stage adjustments without bumping the camera, tripod, or precariously balanced objects already in the scene. Disasters are routine. My work is fraught with the perils of alphabet avalanches, and album covers that topple over in an earthquake of pop culture destruction.

These problems are magnified by a factor of about a thousand when creating videos or stop motion animation. Once the tripod is nudged, or the camera is jostled, hours or even days can pass before I’m able to accurately get everything back where it was. Take a look at just a few short moments to shoot a single frame of stop motion animation. 

See? What a pain! So that was the old process. To make things a little easier on my back, my neck, and my patience, I wanted to make the task of building and animating my stage sets much less constrictive, but still have the benefits of enjoying 1500 watts of glorious light. Basically, I wanted 360 degree access to the stage set; if a little plastic Jesus decided to fall behind a stack of books, or a plastic sheep plummeted through the hole in a vinyl 45, I wanted at least a fair chance to retrieve the fallen character without having to rip apart large portions of the construction. So… no more light tent.

No more light tent?!?! But what about all that “glorious light” you’re always bragging about? How in the world are you going to replace that? Huh, Mr. Barely-knows-how-to-use-his-camera?

Patience, please! I didn’t say I was eliminating the light, I was just eliminating the tent. Eliminating the tent, however, meant I’d no longer have the lazy benefit of light bouncing all over the place off of the reflective white fabric. The tent made lighting super easy. Just place a floodlight on the left, another on the right, and hang one more over the top and let the laws of physics take care of everything else. Replacing the tent just meant that I’d have to be a lot more strategic about how my pieces would be lit.

No more light tent. Instead, a soft box!

No more light tent. Instead, a soft box!

The first step in replacing the light tent was  to provide a simple workplace that would give me access to the scene from any direction, so I just laid down a large piece of black posterboard where the tight tent would have normally sat, and erected a sheet of white foam core to act as a visual backdrop, as you see to the left during the initial stages of setting up the first new photo I created with my new equipment. Without the constraints of the light tent, I now had access to the scene construction from all around the table (which actually stands about a foot away from the wall).

Quick Note You see five light sources in the photo above: two photo flood lights, a brand new LED soft box, and a pair of desk lamps. The desk lamps are used to provide illumination to the scene during stage construction; they are turned off when I’m taking photos.

The soft box is now used as my primary light source, providing soft, even light from above. With the lamp mounted to a sturdy boom, I can easily adjust the height up or down to get the coverage a given scene might need. Best of all, the soft box can be moved away entirely so I can easily change the composition of a scene without risk of upsetting the whole cart of apples — something that was not possible within the light tent.

Soft box, flood lights, and translucent diffusers

Soft box, flood lights, and translucent diffusers

But wait! Just like Ginzu Knives… that’s not all!

To supplement the soft box I retained the original 500 watt photo flood lights, but front those with a couple of 20″ translucent diffusers to soften the otherwise harsh light produced by the floods, as seen on the right. Positioning the lights and diffusers is super easy, so I can get the same level of “coverage” formerly available in the light tent, while again having the luxury of moving all of the lighting out of the way to dig into the construction.

Wait! What about that really BIG diffuser you have hanging over the entire scene? It looks like you have even less space than you did with the light tent! And why even use a diffuser and the soft box IS a diffuser? How about that, smart guy!

Very observant, and, true! Suspending that large disc over the whole scene made it virtually impossible to make any more changes to the scene you see buried beneath all those discs and lights — which is why the stands, lights and reflectors come in after I’m completely happy with the scene I’ve constructed. As for why the big diffuser is there…

Oh look! Soft box times a million red beads!

Oh look! Soft box times a million red beads!

During the shooting of this particular photo, and at the point where I thought I was done, I discovered that the octagonal shape of the soft box was being reflected in each and every bead that had been used within the scene! This hadn’t been a problem with the light tent… and, so, the big 40″ diffuser was brought in to better distribute the light and eliminate the reflections.

Why stop with new lights when your camera is 7 years old?

Exactly! As stated in part one, I’ve been using the same Canon XTi since 2007. By no means has this been a “bad” camera; it’s super easy to use and takes very nice photos. But, over the years, as I’ve continued to develop a technique for creating better images, I’ve found the camera lacking certain efficient features. Most notably:

  • Falling behind the megapixel curve. Even though 10 megapixels was a lot in 2007, there are now cellphone cameras that can (badly) capture images at that resolution, and while the number of megapixels may not equate to better pictures, it does limit how large you can effectively print.
  • The lack of an LCD view finder that can display a scene “live” as it is being composed. I didn’t mind using the built-in “by sight” view finder, but I’ve always thought it would be easier to see what I was planning on shooting on an LCD display, or…
  • …view an interface to an external monitor, a feature the XTi lacks.
  • I also felt somewhat constrained by the focusing limitations of the XTi, which provides 9 autofocus points, and for the past few years I’ve been relying more and more on taking multiple shots of the same image, all at different focus points, then “smooshing” those photos together, as layers, to create the final image. I figured, the more autofocus points, the better!

My solution was to take the plunge into much better equipment, so I purchased a new Canon EOS 70D — 20 megapixels instead of 10, 19 autofocus points instead of 9, LCD display with a live mode, and…

Software!

What the camera sees, I see

What the camera sees, I see

Absolutely the best feature of the new camera is the ability to tether the camera to my MacBook and control every aspect of the camera (aperture, ISO, focusing, pressing the shutter, etc) from my computer, all the while seeing what the camera is seeing on the laptop display! And why is this so cool? Well, let’s take a look at the process I used to take to setup my images using the XTi:

  • Setup a scene in my studio (which is outside, across a small patio, in my guest house).
  • Take a photo.
  • Remove the camera from the tripod, take it into the house and upstairs to my office.
  • Plug the camera into my iMac and import the photo into Aperture.
  • Analyze the image, writing notes on a scrap of paper: turn yellow kewpie clockwise by a little, nudge blue buddha to the left by a smidgen, replace small goat with small lamb…
  • Go back to the studio
  • Make the noted changes
  • Remount the camera onto the tripod (and hope that it is in the exact same place as it had been when I took the previous photo)
  • Take another photo
  • Repeat ad infinitum…

Toss in several clumsy disasters dealing with the iron-maiden-like constraints of the light tent, and… well, you get the idea. But with the new camera and Canon’s software, I can see the scene live, zooming around the entire composition to immediately evaluate where one figure stands in relation to all the others. Even better, I can fine tune the focus since the software also allows me to control my L-series lens — and, I’m able to see the eventual histogram in real time, so I can adjust things like the shutter speed or the lighting conditions on the fly to produce the best image possible. Needless to say, this has cut down the above steps drastically! So, does that mean I’m going to be able to produce work faster than in the past? Ha!! Don’t jump to conclusions… We’ll get to that in part three.

I know what you’re thinking… Where has John been all year? Why have we not seen any new posts? Why haven’t we seen any new images? Why haven’t we seen any spectacular new videos? First, thank you for wondering (even if the wondering is really just me typing in italics), and second, I’ve been busy, of course! Busy doing what? You know, busy, which is why I’m writing a post subtitled “a quick 2015 update.” So here goes!

Getting clean and organized!

Looking around my studio as the calendar flipped from the old year to the new I came to the realization that… wow, my studio was a mess!

My messy studio

My messy studio

Boxes and bags, cables and extension cords, crates of records, trash, litter, and dust, dust, dust! How could an artist with a mild case of OCD work under such chaotic conditions?!?! Worse, I was beginning to notice that many of the most cherished toys were just plain dirty after years of handling and open air storage.

The Wind-up Dreams "toy store"

The Wind-up Dreams “toy store”

Sure, it was nice to have all of these fun things on displays, and visitors to my studio loved to browse the visual treats on display in “the toy store,” but this came at a price, and the inevitable question, “How do you dust all of that?” Well, I didn’t. I just sort of dusted off things as they were selected to appear in my photos. Plus, I was completely out of room and it wasn’t always easy to find the figure I was looking for. And so I decided to “close” the toy store, and spend the early part of January organizing and cleaning every single piece of retrograde ephemera on the shelves. Battalions of army men! Jungles of exotic animals! A congress of presidents and a bandstand of Beatles! One by one everything was plucked from its place and carefully scrubbed with soap and a soft toothbrush.

Cleanliness is next to kewpieness

Cleanliness is next to kewpieness

Next, to avoid a similar future fate befalling my kewpie, monks, and finger puppet nuns, every piece was organized and stored in plastic lunch containers. Yes — Jesus, Buddhas, and devils to go! Leftovers of the holiest variety! One bin for astronauts, another for nesting dolls. Hearts, brains and assorted other body parts together in an organic stew, while robots reigned supreme in an air tight container of their very own. Super fragile hand painted pieces — my presidents, football players, and collection of Marx “bathing beauties” — were boxed, labeled, and shelved. The results?

Every good kid put their toys away at the end of the day

Every good kid put their toys away at the end of the day

While perhaps not as visually inviting at my previous “5 Levels of Wind-up Dreams Hell”, the new shelf arrangement is far more efficient for actually creating my art. Plus, I can always crack open a corner and out they all come to play and create mischief before the eye of my camera! Next up was to replace the black milk crates you see in the top photo which I have been using to store all of my cheesy vintage vinyl albums. The crates are actually a really great storage solution for LPs: perfect sizes, stackable, and portable. The emphasis, however, is on “storage” as they are not particularly convenient for browsing album covers.

Quick admonition I don’t actually browse through the albums in my collection, flipping from one to the next in search of the perfect cover art to provide the background for a new piece of art. I long ago digitized all of my album art, so I usually do my browsing from the bright colorful screen of my iMac.

Ikea Kallax shelving for my records

Ikea Kallax shelving for my records

If you’re not going to ever actually use your records, yes, by all means, put them in crates and stack them to your heart’s content. But if you need to find a particular record, and it happens to be buried with crates above, and to the left and right, prepare yourself for torturous pain. A full crate of records is not exactly light, and milk crates tend to enjoy taking a bite out of stray fingers and knuckles as those interlocking jaws of plastic snap with bone crunching force. I replaced my faithful black plastic crates with a pair of much more aesthetically pleasing Kallax storage units from Ikea. They’re just the right size for LPs, and now I can find my alphabetically arranged records by simply browsing the spines. Nice, huh? And that’s going to do it for part one of what will be either a three or four part post on bringing my blog up to the present. In the next installment I’m going to write about how I took seven years of studio experience and tossed it out the window to completely start fresh with how I setup and shoot my images. Sounds scary, don’t it? It was, I assure you! Look for Part Two very soon!

Just in case you’ve had your eyes squeezed shut over the past couple of years, you may have missed the building movement in the Art World (capitalized here because art is important!) of artist collectives — a mechanism for like-minded artists to join forces to advance, grow, and promote their work. There are all kinds of collectives: painters, muralists, sculptors, those focused on the human form, seagull wings, macro photographs of disgusting insects… pretty much anything you can imagine! Some are local, some regional, and others open their membership to artists spanning the globe as they ink, paint, draw, or pixelize away to realize the unique visions that defines their individual art.

Well, isn’t it about time I join a collective? Sure! Why not?!?!

DMACAnd, so, I’m very happy to share the news that I’ve join the Dream Machine Artist Collective! The DMAC is the brainchild of artist Linda Halsey who has been hard at work recruiting artists and building the social media presence of the group. The initial lineup of participating members is very impressive, focusing initially on a small group of local San Diego artists whose work — if you’ve been to practically any large group show in the area —  should immediately be recognizable:

Ashley Gallagher
B.D. Dombrowsky
Jacki Geary
John Purlia
Linda Halsey
Michelle D. Ferrera
Nicole Waszak
Pamela Jaeger

 As I said, the collective is juuuuust getting started, so expect lots more information about shared endeavors in the weeks to come. In the meantime, you can explore our website and learn a little more about each of the participating artists. But wait! There’s more!! You can also follow all of our activities — art! shows! announcements! — on:

Facebook
Instagram
Twitter

We’re all very excited to pool our collective energies and ideas. Keep an eye on us… you are bound to be visually pleased!

 

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!

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