Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Constructive Criticism


I have always shied away from constructive criticism when offered in on-line classes. It isn't that I don't want to get better, because I do, it's because I am afraid that my fragile self-confidence can't take it. I would rather hear "That's beautiful", "Great Shot", "Well done". Or so I thought. But the truth is those kind affirmative comments leave me feeling a bit empty, like a whisper of air passing by my ear, but the words don't fill me. Instead, I want to know what someone sees or feels when they look at one of my photographs, does it resonate within them.


I just completed an on-line photography course called The Personal Project You Already Shot, taught by Pam Korman. The course built upon the weekly photography projects I had been doing. I liked this class because I didn't have to figure out what to shoot each week, I could look through the thousands of photos I already have stored in my Lightroom catalog, searching for project themes. It would also teach me more about editing and sequencing a project, something that caught my attention after watching a Kelby One course taught by Stella Kramer. I also had a chance to delete some hideous work from years past and make some extra room on my external hard drive.


It was a four week class. Two weeks to nail down your project's theme, and two weeks to get the editing and sequencing done. The third and fourth weeks we could take screen shots of our Lightroom grids showing our sequencing and get feedback from fellow classmates and Pam, the instructor. I was only too happy to review and comment on other's projects, but I stubbornly held my own screen shot back. After seeing everyone else's work, I was sure they would think "what an amateur" if I posted mine.

Finally, midway through the fourth week I gathered up my courage, opened Lightroom pulled up my project grid and took a screen shot. Before I had a chance to talk myself out of it, I clicked over to the Facebook Group and posted it.


I got amazingly helpful critique. One gal loved the anonymous feel of it. I loved the word anonymous. The best advice came from Pam. She said "It seems like at times your photos show you feeling stuck, but then you gather yourself up and move on, I would love to see some photos of movement in your sequence, the moving being the bridge between feeling stuck and progress." Once I read that I thought "yes that is exactly it." At times on the journey we make steady progress, but then we slow down or get stuck, but usually after a time of rest the journey continues.


We are often too close to our own work and can't see the bigger message. That's when we need fresh eyes, people who don't know us, to tell us what they see within us.

I am in the final stage of sequencing my project and hope to have a Blurb book completed by the end of next week. Work is also underway on a portfolio.

Looking back through my photos in Lightroom, I found a couple of other possible projects that I would like to develop for portfolio pieces. The journey continues...

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sketches


I signed up for Vivienne McMaster's year long self-portrait photography class Body Peace 2017 when it was first advertised last fall. The first class started January 1st and ran for 15 days, then we had a 15 day break before the second one started February 1st. In my mind this was an ideal schedule; 15 days on, 15 days off to catch up on the few lessons I may have fallen behind on.

I started out strong, as I always do with on-line classes, obediently working on each day's prompt.


The class is intended to help us, especially women, to be more accepting of the body we have right now. Always the rebel in a group, I also choose to use the prompts as starting points for well-thought out, creative self-portraits. Now don't think that I don't have body issues I need to deal with because I do, but for me it is about becoming a better self-portrait photographer as well. It is amazing the details you pay attention to when you are the subject of your photograph.


My self-portrait creative perfectionism meant that I could only shoot with my Canon dSLR, no iPhone allowed. That perfectionism carried me for about three days, after that life got in the way, as it always does. I no longer had an hour each day to set up the perfect vignette. So instead of loosening my criteria and adapting to what life was at the moment, I quit. I didn't do any more lessons for January, and in February when life got even crazier, I didn't even start.

But here's the thing, I'm not a quitter. So when March 1st came around, I opened my Morning Pages journal and did some soul searching:

  • I paid for this year long class, so stop wasting the money
  • I enjoy the prompts - they make my creative mind start working again
  • I love the community and sharing with other classmates
  • I need to find a way to adapt
So I slid off my creative high-horse and I got out my iPhone, my GorillaPod tripod for my phone and my remote shutter release and set about doing the daily prompts.


When I was having my weekly Skype conversation with my friend Leon of Sea Blue Lens, I was lamenting to her about lowering my standards but at least getting it done. I also said, the ones I really like I can go back and take with my Canon. Then she said "It sounds like you're doing sketches with your phone". There is was! The artistic term that I needed to make it alright to shoot with my iPhone. I am an artist and I understand things in artistic terms, the term "sketches" made it creative. Thank you Lee, you are a Godsend, in so many ways.


So now I happily get my iPhone out almost every day, some days I have to do a couple prompts to catch up, but I am keeping up. When I have extra time I do get out my dSLR, making vignettes like the one above that actually made Flickr's In Explore, which surprised me to say the least.


But my favorite one thus far is this one, taken with my iPhone while messing around with the grand puppy. There is no way I would have been able to take this with my big camera.

The takeaway - If you need to give something a different name to make it work for you, do it! The most important part is not to quit. You will be creatively blessed by staying the course.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Scene & Story - February 2017


Deep breath and release.

That's how I feel now that February is over. What is usually the longest short month of the year due to Michigan winters has passed in one quick blink.

The weather in February was unnaturally warm, many 40 and 50 degree days, the average is usually around 20 degrees. We have had very little snow. I don't think I got the snowblower out once. We also saw more sunshine than all four winter months put together.

Big changes also occurred in our house. Our daughter moved into her own apartment with her dog. It is very weird to be living in a house with no dog, we have had a dog or dogs for the past thirty years, I am still getting use to the emptiness. I spent a couple of weeks helping her find furniture for her place and painting the dark brown walls light and airy shades of gray. All of this left me with very little time for exploring.

This photograph was taken on the second to last day of the month. My husband took the afternoon off for a date day. For Christmas we tend to do experiences instead of big gifts. I gave him 12 date days for 2017, one per month, vacation days were required. He always ends the year with too many vacation days unused, I plan to change that this year.

For our date afternoon we went to a Bar & Grill we had never been to for lunch, after that I made us climb 300+ stairs to the top of a small mountain with great views of a resort town and Lake Michigan. The day wouldn't have been complete without a trip to the beach. In summer you have to pay $8 to park at this beach, but off-season equals free. My husband and I explored a natural area at the end of the beach, and then wandered down to the lake. As my husband lingered on this path I captured the moment with my iPhone.



Sunday, February 19, 2017

Painting


I use to occasionally paint for others. By paint I don't mean a landscape painting, I mean painting their bathroom, their bedroom, their living room. It isn't that I love to paint, but over the years of painting all the rooms in our houses multiple times, I have my system down to a science, and a little extra hobby money never hurt.


I went through the faux texture wall application phase, I went through the focal wall a bold color phase, I went through the colorful walls phase, and now I am settling into the simply white walls phase.


Over the past two weeks I have been doing another painting job, and this one is without pay, at least in the monetary form. But it also a painting job that brings me great joy. For the past two weeks I have been helping my daughter paint her new vintage apartment.


My beautiful girl is moving out, and most likely for the last time, with a taste of true freedom I doubt she will return. I had a moment the other day while driving to her new place when it hit that this is it and I could feel the tears well up. But I pulled myself together and said she is only ten minutes away, not like college when she was eight hours away, she can stop by any time...

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Scene & Story - January 2017


It was about this time last year that I began to become disenchanted with iPhone photography and the driving force of social media linked to iPhone photos - Instagram. I can't put my finger on one specific reason for the dissatisfaction. Two things do stand out though. First - I had grown extremely lazy with my photography. My iPhone and various apps. could do everything for me and fix almost any technical error. Second - Instagram, something that had once been a community of "my people"  had turned into one more way to prove my self-worth based on how many "likes" a photo received. I was posting to post and to get likes, not to create and that bothered me.

Over the course of the year I continued to fall off, at one point even temporarily suspending my account, I needed a break for a while. Eventually I did reinstate it, probably prompted by a class that encouraged Instagram sharing.

Some really good things have come out of this disenchantment; I use my big camera on an almost daily basis now, as opposed to my phone, I also feel my photography skills have grown with my recommitment to my dSLR. Using my Canon has also made me strengthen my Lightroom and Photoshop skills, as well as, learn some new programs like Topaz Texture Effects and Impressions. I have also rediscovered Flickr and some pretty amazing groups there.

A couple things I have missed with my iPhone: the easy portability, and apps. like Stackables, iColorama, and Brushstrokes. I will probably never return to the level of obsession I had before, but I am slowly finding a place for it in my life again.


This photo was taken with my iPhone on a cold, damp, foggy day in January at the Lake Michigan beach near my house. The day was too cold to lug my dSLR around and freeze my fingers off fiddling with dials. Seeing the potential in this shot, I did some editing in Snapseed and Stackables and created the image at the beginning of this post.

No matter the camera device or the editing software, I still love the creating.



Sunday, January 29, 2017

Altered


It has been an unusual January here in Michigan. We have had a couple of cold blasts and enough measurable snow to break out the snowblower a time or two. But for the most part the days been a dull gray with temperatures hovering in the 30's and 40's Fahrenheit. There was even a day that it reached into the 50's.

Photo Credit: Glen Huizenga
I have a gym membership for the rainy days, the snowy days and the bitter cold days, but given a choice I prefer to be outside. The need for fresh air, natural light and wide open space is irrepressible. Most of the year I am happy to walk along the beaches near my house, but in the winter, when I am craving creative visual stimulation, I hop in my car and drive to our thriving downtown.

I begin my walk in near darkness, the sidewalks illuminated by street lamps, car headlights and the lights of store window displays. It is the window displays that draw me downtown, so much creativity and imagination goes into each store's presentation of who they are. Following the holidays, my mind seems to be empty of creativity. I walk, I look, I dream, I am inspired.

Photo Credit: Glen Huizenga
There are also office buildings at the east end of our downtown, many of the offices have windows looking out onto the main street. As I walk past and the lights begin to come on, I see the photographs that adorn the desks and walls of these spaces. The smiles of children and spouses often shine bright from the desk or the shelves behind the desk, my favorites are when the family pets have their own framed portraits, this office belongs to someone I would like to know.

The walls though are the most interesting, family photographs tell a part of their story, but what about the artwork on the walls. Did they get to chose their own pieces? Or did the interior designer chose what should adorn their walls? I like to think if you have to look at it all day, you get some say in it. Judging by the variety I have seen, it seems most people get to pick their own, to me that tells another part of their story.


Some have large, matted realistic photographs of the big red lighthouse near our local beach, a much photographed icon in our town. But the pieces that catch my eye are the painted canvases; open fields with rustic barns in the distance, painterly lake shores with iconic lighthouses. I always wanted to learn to paint, lacking the patience for that, I became a photographer instead.

I have many empty walls in my own house. I have talked for years of printing and hanging my own work, and I have done some over the years. What I mostly print is realistic photographs and then frame those 8 X 10's in 11 X 14 matted frames. They have never stirred me. The few canvases I have had printed of creatively altered photographs are the ones that move me, and the bigger the better.


You can guess and assume what your preferences are, but until you actually take action you don't really know. By seeing my small 8 X 10's printed I found out I prefer bigger prints. Realistic photographs don't thrill me, creating painterly images from my photographs in Photoshop and Topaz Labs programs, that makes me happy. Taking that knowledge and the inspiration from those downtown offices, I ordered a 24 X 36 canvas of a digitally altered portion of snow fence I shot in December. For the first time in almost fourteen years in our house, we finally have something on the wall above our bed. I kept waiting to find the right thing, little did I know I just had to create it myself.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Perfectionism


Perfectionism seemed behind me, but that is only because I have become fairly good at what I do.


Last week I began something new - Art Journaling. Perfectionism returned like the nasty, caught in your throat slime that it is, slowly choking me until all my creativity was extinguished.


One of the things I want to reclaim this year is making with my hands. I have tried collage work at various times over the past two years. Generally, I would get to the halfway point in a project and then my love for photography would return and the half-finished collage piece would sit on my art desk for months while I was at the beach, in the woods or exploring old buildings with my camera, completely captivated again by my first love.


Part of the problem with collage pieces is that I start too big. Smoothing drywall compound on 11" X 14" wood panels, letting that dry for the required 24 hours then coming back and staring cluelessly at it.


This year I am determined to try again, but on a smaller scale. I went to Hobby Lobby and purchased a cute, little red 5" X 5" art journal.


Being an explorer I love maps. Recently I purchased an old map of Lake Erie at an antique story. It was perfect for my first project. I got busy measuring, cutting, gluing and stamping. Loving what I was creating, I was ready to put the finishing touch on it - a stamped date for the date created. I inked up the stamp, did some sample stamps on the craft paper that covered my desk, one final ink and I was ready to commit. After pressing firmly I lifted the stamp, despair filled me. Only half the date had stamped on the paper due to the uneven, bumpy layers of paper and glue. I walked away.


An hour later I came back, picked up the matching color marker and tried to fix the error. It looked exactly like that - that I had tried to fix the error. I loved everything else about the pages, but that one mistake was the only thing I saw. I tried to embrace the concept of each piece having one mistake in it, it wasn't working.


I went back to Hobby Lobby and bought a new, smaller date stamp. I bought two new art journals. I began again, creating two new pages in a 5.5" X 8.5" journal. I loved one page, hated the other. My 52 week project was held up for a whole week as I struggled with these pages. My theme for the week was Being a Maker. Success was not coming as a maker.


Then it dawned on me, I didn't start out good at photography, I got good from lots and lots of practice. Why did I think I would be good at Art Journaling and collage pieces without putting in the practice time.