Do you ever think about the interaction between technology and your creativity? I mean in a direct way, such as seeing some new tool or capability and imagining how it could change you? This is kind of where I live as an artist and educator. I’m rarely in the “now” of creativity, even when creating. I’m always thinking about my processes and how they’re enabled or constrained by what I have available – skills, tools, environment, and my own familiarity.
Many people get indignant at the thought of a tool changing them, but there’s really no way around it. If you paint, the physical constraints of bristle (or foam) and pigment and substrate define certain ways you work. But you chose that collection intentionally, right? You decided that the brush and the canvas and the paint would be the best way to express yourself and you either worked to master them or you allowed their chaos to rule.
A simple sphere created from the Lens Flare filter, with a little help from Distort > Spherize (technique courtesy of Jon Balza). This is representative of some of my earliest digital work with Photoshop.
For myself, I always look for opportunities in new tools. I ask “what can I do with this?” Sometimes the answer is refining an existing approach, or creating a new entity altogether. And sometimes it’s saving time or being more efficient or simplifying reproduction. Once in a while it’s nothing at all. But I get to choose, and I can only do that through experience.
The thing is, I try to embrace the interaction of my creativity and the peculiar characteristics of my tools. My creativity is usually expressed by probing the boundaries of a given tool and imagining what more it could do. I chose Photoshop early on as my medium. I bet you’re thinking “Photoshop is just a program; it’s not a medium by itself.” Lemme ‘splain.
Just like painters work through a variety of brushes and substrates and pigments, I work through the tools in Photoshop. I’ve written two books and have a monthly column based on exactly that concept. Filters, adjustment layers, blending modes, channels, whatever. It’s all fair game and my creativity is all about the results of exploration. Very little of my art is thematic or connected except as the outcome of fiddling and tweaking and trying and failing and every now and then succeeding.
Simulation of renaissance oil painting styles. Original photo by Robert LaMarche; model is Russell Brown.
My first attempt at simulating oil paintings by Vermeer and Rembrant. The portrait and background texture are stock images from Fotolia. The brush strokes are done with Photoshop’s Bristle brush tool.
The fact that Photoshop has been around for more than two decades, under constant development, means there’s no shortage of potential and things to play with. On the hardware market, I’m excited to see what people do with the new on-body editing and camera technology from Light. When something new hits the streets, I try to dive in and rip it to shreds. This has yielded a huge variety of output. Experimenting has given me far more confidence in my art and expertise. And I’m lucky enough that I get to have a voice in how some of those tools are shaped. As I mentioned before, I think a lot about my processes and I use that to look forward. Some of my creativity is in imagining how things could be, and I’m emboldened by seeing those ideas applied over the years by other artists.
Some of my earliest work is nothing more than the random application of filters and blending modes, with no real direction or intent when I started. A few years ago, I focused a bit more and set myself some problems to solve, such as creating unique shadows and effects with 3D objects. Last year, I worked on simulating traditional oil paintings and that has evolved into something quite new for me, using old tools that have new speed.
Both of these images were developed as a consequence of exploring the oil painting simulations above. The technique is pretty much identical, but replaces brush strokes with stamps.
In each case, I’ve looked to the advances presented and wondered. I’ve encouraged my creativity by allowing it to interact with technology, to flirt with discovery. I’ve wondered and chosen and tried. I’ve asked “what can I do now that I’ve never done before?”
That’s a pretty important question, after all.