C88: Bruised Terrestrial

The merciless beauty to whom I am affianced said last night of my blog's title, "that's very seventeen-year-old of you."  Mollified I suppose by the hurt look on my face and my flaccid defence ("I thought it sounded good") she appended an apologetically-inflected "it's cute." Better cutely juvenile than uncutely, you might have tried to brace me up by saying (charitably, friend, charitably) -- but her lance of truth has, as it unfailingly does, nullified the imparted creative inertia of my ego-steed, and made again a bruised terrestrial of its rider -- that is, forced a crashing dismount from mine haught horse.  I do love the view from my stallion-mule's back, though, and so, I reattain the saddle.

It is undeniable: there is a teen-aged stink to the name. A sort-of art-school-freshman air. To use a culturally depleted term, it's a bit emo. I tell you, I was not unaware of this.  However, I let my liking of the phonics of it overrule my awareness that the name floats in a humorous backwater; it lacks sufficient thrust of meaning to carry it through the gate thrown-up by expectations of sarcasm, and lacks sufficient sarcasm to pay that gate's toll and filter through unmolested.

The name must go, and so it shall.  But what in its place?  I must confess that as I get older, meaning grows increasingly wearisome.  Meaningless sensation is my cup of tea, more and more. Here is what I will do: I will find a sound that I like, or a sound that I like to make with my speaking organs, and I will transliterate it, and that will be the new name. Across from me at this moment is a box of 20-Mule-Team Borax.  I like Borax immensely.  As a word-sound, I mean -- although as a mineral I find little fault in it as well. Borax. Axbore. Redox. Oxene. X is maybe the finest letter in our little Latin alphabet. Maybe something with X. We'll see.

For a full-stop, a meaningless sensation:

C33: Rasterramble

(Photo swiped from Emily C.)
The first pieces of art I ever bought were a pair of signed prints by Darrel Anderson, way back in, oh, I'll say 2001. I think how it came about is that I'd been re-reading my old copy of Count Zero and had become captivated by the cover illustration; I had a memory, too, of the cover of the first copy of Neuromancer that I ever read having had a strong effect on me (although the copy I subsequently owned was disappointingly different), so I was doubly motivated to search the artist out. The copyright pages sent me after someone named Richard Berry, and a quick internet search landed me on the Braid Media Arts website, where my mind was verily blown. In addition to discovering the work of Berry, who has remained my favourite contemporary painter, I was happily introduced to the work of Darrel Anderson -- Anderson wasn't responsible for those novel covers, but he was a frequent collaborator with Berry and turned-out to be the illustrator of the cover for the 1988 Neuromancer computer game. I was swept right up and made a kind-of impulse buy of the two prints: a variant of the Neuromancer game cover, and an abstract piece called "Arcpunc Quad" which is no longer available on the site.

The aesthetic of digital painting in illustration these days is fairly homogenous. It's differentiable from traditional media most of the time by a kind of slickness, lack of grit, and the way that everything looks like it's under stage lamps, but otherwise it does tend to look like painting. Artificial painting, perhaps, but it certainly doesn't look "computery". That's a good thing, sure -- the greatness in the potential of digital art is that it doesn't have to look like digital art -- but I happen to love digital art that looks digital. More generally, I love when the limitations or nature of any medium are exposed or exploited -- it adds richness and informational depth to a picture beyond what's being conveyed by the artist -- but I particularly like it in digital art.

The nature of digital art is exposed when we see two things: finiteness of information, and computation. By finiteness, I mean evidence of the individual quanta that make-up an image. This is most simply expressed when we see individual pixels, but also when we see copied-and-pasted arrays of pixels, or limited numbers of colours -- anything that makes us say "this information is being expressed within finite parameters, and we can express any part of it within those same parameters". Computation is exposed sometimes by things being "too perfect" -- geometry and gradients and  so-on -- and sometimes by things being "too perfectly imperfect" -- glitches and artifacts and weird colour curves and other evidence of manipulation, corruption, etc..

C33: DEGAS Elite drawing flipped and tweaked and layered in GIMP and Irfanview.
In digital painting for illustration, we usually don't see these things. Millions of colours in billions of pixels go a long way in hiding the finiteness of information, and manipulation of images is usually done in such a way that they don't look too obviously manipulated. One of the reasons I like using old computers and old programs and old methods in new programs for working with images is because there's no way to conceal the nature of the medium when you've only got a few hundred thousand pixels and a pittance of colours to work with. Berry and Anderson's older work is particularly interesting to me because they weren't ever trying to be "pure" digital artists -- computers were part of their workflow, but an image may have started as a digitized drawing, or it might have finished as a painted-over print. This is a very contemporary way of doing things, and they were pioneering the approach with personal computers in the '80s.

C33.1: A macro photo of a tiny pencil scribble smeared and painted into a face with GIMP, then palettized in Irfanview.
I stumbled across a site yesterday morning that informed me of Darrel Anderson's role in the continuum of development that resulted in 3D Studio and 3DS Max, and I was ecstatic to find a few screen dumps of Berry and Anderson images done with Spectrum 512 on the Atari ST -- among them, a very early version of the Neuromancer image that I now own a print of. Apparently, Antic published a couple of Spectrum 512 demo/portfolio disks with their work on it, and I'd love to find copies of them (PD9100 - Spectrum 512 Slide Show, SB9108 - Spectrum Portfolio), but that's a search for another day.

B6F: Hatchling Call Pulp

Killoran and I were at the dollar store the other day, looking for a tea-infuser (in Canada, "dollar store" is apparently a pretty loose term as two-thirds of what I saw in there was $1.50, $2, $3, &c.) when I wandered into the office/school supply aisle and started looking over the paper. I spied this little 72-page booklet, saddle-stitched, with unlined pages and it struck my fancy. The paper is really thin and cheap, a sort-of newsprint-bond, but I liked it and said so to Killoran. She asked if I like cheap paper because I grew up poor. She's quite perspicacious, my girl.

To be clear, I didn't grow up in dire poverty or anything. In fact, for a couple years after my parents split-up my mother continued to spend money like she had it, which maintained some kind of illusion of middle-class standing -- but she didn't actually have any money, and eventually she filed for bankruptcy to escape debt collection. From the time I was about 10 to when I left home, the only household income came in the form of child support payments from dad and Supplemental Security Income which my mother collected after bouncing off the rear-end of a car. This is all extraneous information. The long and short of it is that while I always had clothes and food and a heated bedroom and a fairly steady supply of comic books (they were $.75 when I started reading 'em, and by the time I quit were still under $2), more extravagant purchases were sometimes a bit hard to come by. So, when I took-up the drawing habit, I'd just draw on what was around. I had a box of fan-fold paper that my dad had given me with my first printer (an Okidata μ92), and I remember drawing my first two comics on that stuff. When I'd visit my grandma Fern, she always had boxes of Hollerith cards around, and I'd draw on those. I got my first pad of Bristol when I was 17, and I remember never wanting to use it because it was expensive. I still get that way about paper; I'm always reluctant to do a drawing on illustration board when I think I can get away with doing it on bond. Paper's expensive!

As a result, it's kind-of a point of pride for me to be able to make/do things cheaply and with cheap supplies, to get good sound from a cheap guitar, to use old software, to use old/cheap computers, and so-on. One thing I've seen true in art school is that I can turn-in a much more professional-looking piece of work on crappy paper than some of my better-funded classmates can manage on much spendier stuff. Professionalism comes from how you use your materials, not the materials you use. I was quite pleased to have Kurt Hollomon reiterate this sentiment when I took his Word & Image course last spring.

Anyhoo, here's a tree study that graces the second page of my dollar-store exercise book. Less than two cents worth of paper, probably a couple cents worth of graphite from my pencil, and some time -- making something out of nearly nothing, it's like a conjuring trick. Killoran doesn't mince words, she says it's magic. In the absence of modesty I'm inclined to agree.

B4L: Of Dedication to Digital Doodling

     I tell you this, friends: I am a long-time lover of the monochrome bitmap (if we're being picky about the language, all bitmaps are monochrome -- anything with more than one bit per pixel is a pixmap, but that's neither here nor there). It feels sometimes like I have used just about every monochrome paint program of the last 30 years; on the 68000 Mac I've done MacPaint and Superpaint and this paint and that paint, on the Atari ST I've done Degas and PrismPaint and Pixart and Artis, on the PC I've done MS Paint and GEM Paint and a gaggle of others and through all this I've come to find that absolutely none of these work exactly like I want them to*.  So! Something I've wanted to do for a long time is write-up in whatever language was convenient a very simple monochrome paint program that did work exactly like I wanted it to. This past weekend, that's precisely what I started doing.
*     I'm happy to note, however, that in the area of indexed-colour paint programs I find great satisfaction in GraFX 2 which, after having been in development limbo for a time is now actively being maintained/updated again. Hoorah!

     When I've the luxury of more time (and inclination) I'll write all about how that's progressing, but for the moment, this exciting bulleted list will have to suffice:
  • It's being written in ActionScript
  • It's coming together quickly
  • It's already quite usable (for me, though the UI is spare and cryptic), and 
  • I've no regrets about spending all of last Saturday working on it instead of schoolwork. 
     As I was doodling with my Doodler (that's its name -- I'm trademarking it! Mine! *hiss*) I thought it might be interesting to print off one of the drawings and paint on it to create an under-painting that the bitmap would then be composited back on top of. Sort-of a bitmap-painting-bitmap sandwich. I hastily performed the experiment, and I'm not quite sure how I feel about the result. Below you can see the three stages. The astute observer will note that the last picture, with the bitmap overlaid, has been reduced to 16 colours. This was done because the, um, digitalness of the bitmap was, to my eyes, just too incongruous with the organic qualities of the paint. They looked terrible together. But flattening the colour space, introducing that banding effect of a limited palette, helped the two gel, I think.

B49: Computer Art

"Computer Art" is just not a phrase that you hear much anymore. I think it went out of vogue in about 1987, right about the time computers had become so commonplace in homes and offices that any mystique the word "computer" once had had was gone almost entirely. Either way! Computer art, generative art, whatever folks are calling it these days is something I've always had some interest in.

For an illustration project last week I was trying to come up with an abstract background for an image, something that had a similar visual character to models of Calabi-Yau manifolds. Upper-dimensional spaces and what-not. After some unsuccessful paint sketching, I remembered a program I'd written about a year-and-a-half ago in ActionScript that generated these ever-changing, overlapping, intersecting patterns with circles and lines. I fired-up FlashDevelop and started poking around in the source and watching the program go and decided, yep, that was exactly what I needed.

I had a great deal more fun tweaking the program and grabbing stills than I did doing the illustration. So here are some screen grabs to show the kind of stuff I was playing with. 

B41: Face The Face

I have a big project due on Monday, and I've got exactly 0% of it done. Ugh. But! I've at least accomplished this little warm-up painting! The mouth is terrible, the ear is barely an ear, but whatever! It's okay for a warm-up, I think.

I really wanted to write a caption, but I couldn't think of one. Balls.
My intention is to execute six little acrylic paintings like this, although a bit more developed, over the course of the next three nights. Without laughing at myself too hard for having said that, I shall now step away from the blog and see if I can try and actually make some kind of battle plan.

Good luck, me!

B3D: K

One of the great things, I've told her, about her bein' so pretty is that I'll never match it, y'know? No matter how good I draw or paint or smear coffee onto paper, whatever beauty I manage to capture and confine there, she'll always do me one better.

The unattainable goals are the best ones.