Thursday, December 17, 2009

Another Quarter Ends

Another quarter ended this week at the Art Institute of Seattle and with it went many joyous young grads full of hope for the next phase of their lives. As I went from portfolio to portfolio I couldn't help but notice evidence of what was taught in my classes. I am grateful that I was effective in getting the skills across. Clearly teaching is gratifying.

For me last week brought to a close a longer then usual teaching year, sadly marked by the passing of one of our beloved photography faculty members to cancer. It is time for me to take a break... I need to reflect on all that has passed and to see the result of my labors.

Aside from my teaching I have done some good paintings and taken many wonderful photographs, I finished one new marble sculpture torso and almost another. In my younger days this would be insufficient creative work but now at 63, I am glad to have new images reveal themselves in oils, stone forms come to life no matter how few and an opportunity to use new digital technology to capture and process images of light.

This week we are packing our bags, my wife and I are leaving on a cruse to and through the Panama Canal. I am excited to be going to such a tropical and exotic place for the first time and am glad that I will have a chance to rest and renew myself over the holiday and through the New Year. The sun will be a warm relief from the dark of the Seattle winter.

We all need a break from time to time and because of our commitments, dedications and financial limitations we often put it off, thinking that someday all the parts will fall in place and we will suddenly be free to do just what we want. Time passes... we get old and things often don't go as we plan. Mortality is something that is so abstract in youth, ignored in mid-life and only because it forces itself upon us in our golden years do we confront it.

Today I feel like I am winning the bet I made with myself about travel before I get too old or too tired.
I hope this year was good for you, that you achieved some small part of your dream and that you are well and happy. Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Tactics of Composition in 10 Steps

The concept of image creation often takes many directions that lead the artist into individual choices. We often hear that because of this flexibility there are no rules to the process. We are told to forget all the rules of design and go with the flow of our feelings and just create. But I  wonder, how can you forget what you never knew? I think that one must learn the rules first in order to forget them. To make them intuitive to the creative process so they become subconscious to the artist. In this way we can forget the rules and still make good choices. We can trust our gut feelings knowing that they are founded in deep design principles proven over many generations of image making.

Keeping this in mind lets look at the blank canvas of the creative mind. Lets start by asking some basic questions. Where to begin? What is the content of the vision? What do you want it to communicate? How will we divide the space? These types of questions provide a direction for the artist, they set the stage for the message.  Next are the 10 steps that I find helpful.

1. Think about the zones of the image you want to create. By this I mean for-ground, middle-ground and back-ground. Will the image be lit from the back to the front or the other way around?
2. If lit from the back start with the lighter pastel colors, form the large negative distant spaces first. As you move from the distant back to the middle-ground deepen the tones as you form larger closer shapes.
3. Reserve the darkest tones for the for-ground imagery, in this way the image has a visual light orientated logic.
4. Work from general to specific and don't develop detail to quickly... stay loose as you work keep the imagery moving. Flexibility is key. Remain uncommitted to your first choices.
5.Keep in mind placement of shapes to conform to the way the composition is to be viewed. Avoid moving down the middle. Create forms that move left and right as they come closer.
6. Examine the scale relationships so they assume the proper dominance to the overall meaning within the statement.
7. Vary the hue within forms to excite the eye.
8. Keep in mind the light source and consistently be true to it's direction as you shape the content.
9. Turn form with light and shade and accent with highlight and shadow.Reserve details and complexities for last. Always work from the ambiguous to specific.
10. Turn form with light and shade and accent with highlight and shadow.

OK, now you get the idea... do all this while you forget all of it. 

Apply this to realism or abstraction it still works. If you master this you will be free to consider the overall meaning of the communication. Why are you making this image? What does the composition mean to you and your audience? Did you fulfill the content and meaning or is the message lost to vague unresolved forms that mislead the meaning? It is at this point that you are your own worst critic, judge and jury. It is now that you must decide the fate of the work. Will it see the light of day and be shared with the world or will it be banished to the reject pile. For me this is the most difficult part of the creative process.  In the end even with all this hard work and thoughtful execution it is guaranteed that there will be those that love what you do, others that misunderstand it's meaning and hopefully only a few that do not appreciate the result at all.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Question of Faith?

As an artist I am often faced with the dilemma of believing in what is factual knowledge and what is belief beyond proof, often called faith. Recently the comedian Bill Mahr said "Faith is the suspension of critical thinking." It didn't sound like a joke to me, instead it struck a cord of truth and I began to reexamine some beliefs I simply held in faith.

As I get older questions about death and after-life begin to loom with more relivence then in youth. I know myself to be a logical person with a good mind and I can stubbornly hold to a position of reason based on experience and factual knowledge. I am not a psychologist nor an overly religious person, but I have studied much about the connection of the mind, body and soul(spirit).

I know for example that the ego is not the soul but rather a necessary product of the self-aware little mind. It is that part of us that needs what we do not have, that drives us to achieve more and more and to strive for gains in the social game of life, it is the "separator". The ego being self driven sees what it lacks and wants it. Once it gains it's desire it resets it's goals on the next need. This is a cycle of fulfillment and emptiness that has no end. It is a necessary part of our survival because of the way we live in the physical world we find ourselves in.

On the other hand the soul is our source of connection to each other and all else, it is the "unifier" from which our desire to love flows. The soul holds the view of the big mind and is our emotional compass to knowing right from wrong. We are a duality of ego centered body and lofted soul consciousness. Now these are my thoughts of reason based on what I have learned from studied scholars and scientists. I do not profess to have come to this conclusion based solely on my own extensive research. So with this as a premise here are the questions.

If the ego is a product of our mind-body and it's fulfillment is driven by need, then how is it possible for it to be part of the soul in death? If it is not then logic follows there is no self-awareness in the afterlife, right? Which also drives the question of any afterlife at all?

So death is the end of mind-body and the release of spirit back to the source of all things. How can there be  judgment of an ego-less spirit? Shouldn't it then follow that there is no heaven or self-aware place for our ego's to cary on beyond death?

It is my supposition that there is not a white bearded deity out there somewhere sitting on a thrown of judgment that will punish us with unspeakable acts of cruelty if we have not followed religious doctrine. It is however true that our acts of good and evil are watched by ourselves and others and we reap what we sow, but it is while we are in life that it applies. We need to come to terms with how we live. Is it in the love of the big mind spirit or in the need of a small minded ego? Each of us makes these choices every day sometimes we are good and sometimes we are not. Awareness of your mindset will determine the outcome of your choice. All we can do is to try to be awake and aware of our best self so that the ramifications of our actions affect not only ourselves, but touch everyone in our personal universe - that we can inspire or disappoint or just coast in neutral. (thank you Shari for the last line)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thankful for...

I like so many, often think of Thanksgiving as a time to reflect on the gifts I have in life as well as the big feast of turkey.  I am sure you do to at this time.

I am thankful for the love of my wife, family and friends. For my good health longevity and prosperity. I am thankful for my position on the faculty of one of the best art schools in the Northwest. For a life long artistic career and all the adventures it presents.

I know it all could be otherwise except for the right turns I've made instead of the left ones that would have put me somewhere else doing something else. It's a gamble, each day is a new set of choices. Each choice changes the events that open before me. I guess the best I can do is to be with each moment as a witness, no as a participant of it's unfolding. That's the key participate in the NOW. Living in the now that's all there is, all else is illusion, no past, no future. I am thankful for NOW, Oh and NOW and NOW.

Thank you for the illusion too, sometimes we need to step out on reality. The NOW can often be boring, not all it's cracked up to be and while I'm at it, thanks for dreams and all the fantasies I find myself dreaming. Have you ever had a dream that was so good you didn't want to wake up? I have, but then I wake up... so now I'm thankful for the new day. Oh, and the rain falling outside... and the sunshine that will eventually follow. Right?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Global Positioning Satellites

We live in interesting times.
I know you have heard that before but it really is true.

I am so amazed at all the things that have become a real part of our everyday lives in the last 40 years, flat screen TV, computers, digital cameras, blue tooth phones and Global Positioning Satellites.

Gosh, who would have thought that such technology would be put in the hands of everyday people and that we would make such wide spread use of it. Today I ordered my first GPS and did so as simple as if I had bought a new pair of paints. I don't want to speak for others but it seems these days that in America, we often take for granted so much of the abundance we have available.

I am excited to think that I will never get lost again, that I will find my way on highways, back roads and trails, through valeys over mountains, on waterways, lakes, and oceans. My mail ego will never have to shrink to ask directions of anyone ever again. I can now sit tall in the knowledge that I know where I am going and exactly how I am going to get there.  No more mystery's no more dramas... just what I need right?

So here is the best part of having a GPS... You can turn it off and get as lost as you want, whenever you want. Sure is good to have the choice.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A day at a time

You know often I think I have taken on too much, agreed to to many things with too many people. I can often feel overwhelmed if I look at all the things I must take care of in the next year. I have commitments with my job, I have commitments with my goals and career and I have commitments with my family and friends. I have events to go to, planes to catch, places to be, bills to pay and much to do. I have work for myself and work for others and I am getting tired. I am sure you can relate.

My only recourse and by default my saving grace is that I am able to see all of this within context, to break it down into small digestible bits that I can manage one at a time. OK Barry, remember you must chew your food one bit at a time my mother would say. So now I see that it is all just fine to have so much on the plate. As long as I take it one bite at a time. It is not all coming due at once, and NOW is really all there is... so chew slowly Barry... enjoy the flavor of each bite of this life. When I am full I will push myself away from the table until I am once again hungry. One day at a time and it will all get done and what doesn't, wasn't meant to be after all.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Dry run

So anyone who has been following this blog knows I am planing my photo journey through the National Parks. To this end I spent yesterday with my wife on a short ride to Mt. Rainier, to test the equipment and get an early start on the upcoming journey. I brought along the checklist of things to do and a mental list of necessary images to round out the experience. I am so glad I did this quick little day trip. Often we forget that we live so close to Washington's wonderful National Parks and that they are so easy to get to.

I picked up my lifetime pass at the gate for 10 dollars what a great deal. You can get this pass if you are an American citizen and over 63 years old and have proof of your age. One of the perks of getting old along with the 4 O'clock special priced dinners at restaurants and cheaper movie tickets. Buying the pass allowed me to check off the first thing on my long list of things to do.

Soon we were driving up into the heights of the mountain, my excitement welled up as my eyes filled with the spectacle of this majestic wonder of a place. Around every turn was a vision of natural beauty, each stop of the car to gaze at into beauty and take a picture of the mountain slowly stripped away my city mindset, opening my limited vision to the vastness of an ever expanding horizon of nature. So much to see and take in, where do I begin? How do I start? What is my focus here? I am surrounded, I am immersed in the event of a living poem! This is a high spiritual place. What image do I record and why is it the one that I need to shoot?

This is all too much to take in so quickly. My thoughts were racing. It wasn't long before I came to the conclusion that the plan I was making was flawed, it would not give me enough time in each National Park to do what I needed to do. I would have to stay longer to experience each place for the spirit it contained. To sit in it an soak it up to see it and let it see me... to reveal to me it's hidden qualities. I have come to understand from this dry run that I am not just taking pictures. I am not a tourist here to grab an overview and say "bin there done that"!

There is just so much to take in of these great National Parks. For me, it is about more then just seeing and photographing the sight. If I am to truly express what I get from my experience I will need to be relaxed in a place, to sense it, take time to listen and become aware of what each location is offering to more then just my eyes.

I now understand that this journey has no time limitation or end. The time spent in each of the National Parks is the reward of the trip. There will be no finish... I will go as far as I go in this time slot of my sabbatical and then continue on as time and life permits. The photographs I take will evidence a deeper experience of what I have found valuable and transcending. Yes the images must be technically fine, yes they must be born of an experience of vision, this is the nature of art.

But in this instance a collection of photographs are not the only result of the trip. I am the result of the trip. I will be evolved, I will be broadened, I will hopfully be a much better person for the experience.  Nature has a way of reaching into our soul and reminding us of the bigger picture, we can become small again, let go our egos and find our child. You know the place where wonder supersedes reason.  Look for me there and you will see me, the small boy with the big camera.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

plan revisions and life thoughts

Well like all plans that I seem to make they often need revisions. After checking the cost of travel to Europe (especially Paris) and the room rates of hotels, I will not be doing that leg of the journey, at least not for my sabbatical. I would love to see Paris in the Spring time and maybe before it is all over I will. This change of itinerary is in a way a good thing because it will keep me focused on the Parks here in America. So much to do and consider for this project. I need to stay focused.

On another topic my friend and colleague at The Art Institute is not winning his battle with cancer. This event saddens me and causes me to think of my own mortality as I am 13 years his senior.

I can't help but think of the value of this life I have. How lucky I have been to avoid so many pitfalls that living seems to place in our way. Gratitude for my modest successes in my art and teaching bring me to appreciate the choices I have made. The benefit of not smoking over a lifetime now supports my healthy later years. Living an active life with focus on right eating and surrounding myself with loving and positive people. After all health is the foundation of pleasure. To be active and thriving in actions and thoughts, to continue to grow in these years that I have is truly valuable and I am blessed.

Don't we owe it to ourselves to be the best we can be? The only problem is we struggle to define what our best is. Half the battle is knowing yourself, how do I identify my feelings on those topics that are meaningful to me? Am I working to live or living to work? Is the work what I am supposed to be doing or have I become sidetracked into what might be the easy path rather then the one I really need to be traveling.

All this can be scary to contemplate because it means that we might need to change many things that we have become comfortable with.  We need to evolve the couch potato into the athlete, the dim wit into the intellect. All this seems like such work, all this seems like it is to difficult, to much to ask, to hard to achieve. But if we give in to these barriers to growth what will be our outcome? When if not now will we rise to our potential? Today is the only day, now is the only time, here is the only place. This life is precious and not to be wasted. What will I do with today?  What will you do with it?

Friday, September 18, 2009

The plan unfolds

I think it is time to start thinking about the upcoming sabbatical.  I have never been good about planning trips. I am more of a spur of the moment and lets see what happens kind of guy. But this time I think real planning is called for. The original idea was to visit the parks in different climates to shoot HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography but that will not be practical. Instead, I will focus on HDR images based on observing the contrasting content of subjects found in very different locations.

I will start in Washington State with some of the inspirational vistas only Washington can provide it's mountains and forests are among the best in the country. At Christmas my wife and I will sail through the Panama Canal, presenting an opportunity to capture the light of Central America and it's unique places, marking phase 2 of the work.

Then the parks of Zion and Canyon Country for Phase 3, to bring the fabulous content of the desert in glorious color to the project. Next, in the plan is a trip to Paris, France. Need I say more? Paris will add old world charm and an experience I have not had yet, yes it's true I have not been to Paris! To balance out Europe, images from Italy will also be included.

Finely phase 4, back to America and the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tenn. for the forests and spring blooms of eastern landscapes. If there is time I will finish the journey at the Atlantic Ocean for a lighthouse or two.

I know this sounds a bit scattered but my intent is to create contrast in content, to make each image group a unique experience not based on the one before or the one to follow, chapters of images on a journey.

I am looking forward to the challenges that each location will provide to test my skills and artistic vision. I am grateful for the support and feedback I am getting from those of you who are following my blog. I will keep trying to add great content as we go.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Going to Extremes

     It's not easy to get out of my comfort space. Often I like to sit within what I know as familiar. I rest in the knowledge I have obtained and practice that which I have learned works well. I get really good at repeating known practices. Hurdles are often sidestepped whenever possible. Now I don't mean this is the state of affairs for everyone or even for me to any meaningful depth. But sooner or later we all fall into the trap of the easy way out. I have been guilty of this from time to time, as I am sure these words ring true for most. This does not happen often but when it does it's depressing, just getting into a routine and going with the flow becomes annoying, not exerting more energy then needed, not going the extra mile says I am not involved. Comfortable makes me uncomfortable!

     As I am getting older now and my years seem to have limits, I wonder if I have been doing this a bit to much. I want to create new pathways, change my thought patterns, make new synapses in my brain.  I think 2010 will be my year to challenge myself again. Check of some things from a long bucket list.  I am beginning to plan an adventure that will force me out of that comfort zone and place me squarely on the edge of my capabilities as well as my fears. Travel and adventure to new places I have not yet seen, to start with.  Discovering the beauty of seeing something for the first time again, this excites me. I know you are wondering where this might be, but that 's not the point. It's more about the new... not the exotic. Obviously exotic has it's draw but it is often remote and beyond most of our resources. Far away places can be an excuse to do nothing.

     I am thinking of some places that are far away, but also many that are close to home but overlooked. Some of these places I can reach in a weekend, others I may need longer. Some I can find by driving others by flying. All will be new all will hold a mystery I am searching to reveal. Some will be explored by day and others by night.  I am use to being up in the day so I will also stay up at night. If need be I will watch the dawn sun unfold the day.

I will document my new discoveries with my digital camera. I will learn again what a good photograph is. I will do things differently. Change my creative routine and use my new digital camera in new ways. Exploring High Dynamic Range (HDR) is a photographic approach I need to know better. This is a perfect match for this exploration. Spring will mark the start of my journey, Cool weather giving way to spring, new plants spring from the ground animals give berth and nature awakes,  I will let you know how it goes.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sabbatical 2010

I have been teaching at the Art Institute of Seattle now for over 13 years and have just recently been awarded this wonderful opportunity to have time off to fulfill a creative photographic ambition I have had for as many years as I have been teaching.
I will begin the sabbatical in the spring of 2010. The focus of this journey will be to digitally photograph what I think are beautiful places with a working title “America Still Beautiful”.  Using totally digital equipment I will be shooting high dynamic range panoramas as well as other sophisticated but less demanding compositions on a Canon 5D with a fibor carbon Manfroto tripod with a Giotto ball head.
For processing the images I have a Mac book pro laptop using Adobe Lightroom 2 and Photoshop CS4 software products for processing after capture of the work.
I am pleased and excited to have the opportunity to do this creative work and am grateful to the selection committee of the Art Institute of Seattle for their faith in me. I will soon begin planning my travels and as time permits I will post the results. Stay tuned…

Thursday, August 20, 2009


It's hot out and i'm thinking that it's too hot to work today. I wish I could work all the time on my art but hot summer days like this make it difficult to get into the studio. If I could be anywhere, I would love to go a white sand beach of some blue water Caribbean Island... but that's not going to happen today... the daydream passes and I am back at my desk, a bead of sweat roles down my cheek. I have a trace memory of seeing a fim about Picasso walking on the beach he has an umbrella and a stick and is drawing images in the sand. A creative mind finds a way to be expressive where ever it is.

Fall is coming soon and when it gets here I will wonder what happened to those warm long summer days filled with light from early morning to late evening, memories are often better then the reality. It is natural to forget the pain in favor of the sweetness don't you think?

Friday, April 10, 2009

New Day New works

Sometimes I find it hard to go into the studio. I don't feel very creative or i'm just not in the mood. I'm sure this happens to every artist at one time or another. How we deal with it determines whether we will get our work done or simply avoid creating altogether.

I can come up with all kinds of distracting thoughts that will keep me away from the studio. I need to go to the Gym or I have errands to run, etc. any distraction will do. All seem to be justifiable and true.

But then I think, what if this is the day that inspiration will strike, that I will surpass my own expectations of what is possible. Or that I will solve the problem with that painting that just doesn't seem to want to come together. Will I be available today or will I be gone into the mediocrity of my life? If I am not creating today... will it matter?

Well it's getting late in the morning now and I need to get away from this blog and get to it. Guess where you will find me?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

more on content

I wonder if we don't all search for meaning at some point in out lives.

I know that I can only speak for myself when I say that enlightenment is found right where you are and it is only for you as you can see it.

For me, knowledge of life and why I am doing what I am doing comes from years of soul searching and meditation. As to how that manifests in my life it is multi-directional. I work on my paintings. In my studio, I face the great challenges because this is my personal work; it must ring true for it to be worth painting and eventually showing to others. It must express something I want to be known about my experience. I must see how it looks in my life and how this vision can be of help to others. My work often expresses a visual understanding of an abstract thought. To this end I often use metaphor as a tool to form, that which is formless into shape.

I also manifest it in my classroom, with my students. Teaching young minds is a constant evolution because they often do not understand the terms of my generation. I must find new terms that they can understand so that the meaning of what I am saying will not be lost to them. Teaching like painting is finding the meaning and images that will communicate to your intended audience.

The world is becoming full of meaningless images, movies and sound bits, limited visions of empty content that can occupy our senses with hours of spiritless meaninglessness. Anyone who makes a picture can call him or herself an artist. What makes an artist is up for argument and long semantic conversations over single malt scotch and Absinth often going nowhere and helping no one get any closer to become a better artist.

I believe that all art is spiritual. It is art that manifests a personal truth obtained through an experience of searching for meaning. I believe the quality of the art is to be found in how well the artist understands that meaning and uses the medium of choice to express it. It is the responsibility of each artist to own the meaning behind what they create.

I see my artistic life as a personal responsibility to do the very best work I can, no matter what the medium. I would love it if everything I made was the very best but that is not possible. I choose to not allow lesser work to be shown. I only show work I am sure meets my high standards of excellence.

If you are reading this blog I can only hope that you to will embrace your excellence, that you will sit in judgment of your work with clarity of meaning and not weigh the hours spent slaving over it to determine it’s value. Time spent is of no value to the result.

new ways to work

I cant help wonder how I got so much done before computers, it must have been my youthful exuberant blind devotion to making art. I was on a quest to discover who I was, so the more I made the more I found out. I am grateful to Steven Jobbs for his hand in bringing about the computer age in time for me to take advantage of it. Today, I use my digital camera to capture imagery, my brushes to shape style and Adobe Photoshop to organize the composition. I can't believe how much time it all saves me and the compositions are symphonic in complexity.
With less experimenting on the canvas I save time and money. I know that many artists long to hold on to the old ways, the smell of terps and oil paint in the studio is a necessary evil, I know that we love the hand crafted mediums we add to our colors, The color mixing on the palette to get the pant just right. The daily drawing in our sketchbooks to perfect an image. But I have not given up any of that, I have only added a marvelous way to save time and effort, and produce more better work in less time then I ever thought possible.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Thoughts on Content

I have been an artist all my life and have like every other artist made many works that I wish I never made. This is because in my early years I was unskilled, unclear about direction and meaning and without experience in life itself. Youth is filled with energy,  passion and devoid of life lessons, Expression often lacks meaning and a clear vision. At the time I believed that the sheer volume of work would eventually define the value and justify it's existence.

But now that I have lived long, and in retrospect see that there have been many works that have made others pale, I am glad for all those smaller ideas that lead nowhere and produced nothing. Without them I would not have the clarity of vision I do today. Age is wisdom only if one pays attention. Energy levels change with each year that passes, and I think of what time I have remaining. What do I want to create in the limited number of paintings I have left in my life? I think about subjects of importance in my life and seek to express those topics in a way that encapsulates the depth and breath of my skill. I look to painting or sculpting or digitally manipulating images by orchestrating symphonic compositions instead of some small pop single. I believe these are the works that will define me as an artist. If I am to have any impact in the arts there must be works that create a focal point of idea, design, concept and execution. Works that bring 40 years of creative process together into a summery of self.

This is not to say that simply living long will justify this outcome, rather living long will provide the time for dedicated study, practice of excellence in skill and constantly expanding the envelope of ones experience. Taking chances, walking on new paths and seeing new places. One must develop tolerance of other ideas, test theories and be open to evolve and change your mind. To seek spiritual awareness, push physical limitations, and intellectual concepts. I believe it is the goal of art to teach us how to live in this world. Great art inspires us in spirit, makes us think of ways we can do better, and charges us with energy to do so.

It is the shape of content (Ben Shaun) that delivers meaning to a visual image.