Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Nicole Gastonguay's Crocheted Creatures

My sister, who has a fascination with alternative representations of food items, introduced me to artist Nicole Gastonguay, who crochets adorable characters with tiny yarn smiles (or frowns) on their faces. Gastonguay says she doesn't use patterns to create her toys, and that she makes things up as she goes along. I've included a few of my favorites below, but you can visit her Flickr page to see all of her creations, or her blog to see shots of her crochet process in action.

This cannoli looks nice and cozy.

This shrimp lo-mein is super detailed! Yarn looks like noodles.

For all you photographers out there, an old-school Polaroid and his buddy. They are best friends.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Instructor Interview: Craig Havens

Craig Havens teaches Introduction to Digital Photography, which is often the course students start out with in our program. He's a successful and productive photographer in both the commercial and fine art field, so I thought it would be interesting to hear a little bit about his process and experience. In the below interview, he talks about his latest project, Soundings, which you can view on his website, craighavens.com. His commercial work can be found on studio642.com.

Can you talk a little bit about your Soundings project? What's your vision, how do you set up the shots, etc?

The imagery of Soundings depicts phenomenological occurrences set mostly within the nocturne landscape. The work is created by handholding a camera for as long as twenty minutes. During this time the camera settles into a state of stillness, allowing the phenomenon to unfold while releasing attachment to the outcome of the exposure.

This state correlates to many pan-religious descriptions of epiphanies of the sublime. The final creation and display of large-scale silver prints of these images mimic the intricate rituals and resonant metals of religious iconography. In essence, I am engaged in constructing a meaningful mythology around these moments.

How is the creative process different on commercial shoots than when you're doing your own work? Is working for clients "paying the bills", or does it just feel like another creative enterprise?

I have always felt that the artist's intent is the determining factor between personal artwork and professional work. My art-making fuels everything else as far as inspiration and personal fulfillment is concerned.

With regard to commercial work as a creative enterprise, it varies greatly depending on the project. For example, I just completed shooting an editorial piece on San Onofre State Beach for Huck Magazine - a beautiful surf and skate magazine out of London. It was a completely solo shoot because my client was in England and had asked me to interpret the subject matter independently. I was able to spend 3 days just walking the beach alone and meeting surfers young and old while documenting the atmosphere of this unique Southern California beach.

On the other hand, I recently shot a national print campaign for Comcast Communications that involved a crew of almost 30 people on set. While producing and delivering a shoot like that can be nerve-wracking, I am fortunate enough to be working with a lot of professional creative people who are great at what they do. In the end we had a wonderful shoot and delivered above and beyond what the client was expecting.

You just sold a piece - congratulations! What were the circumstances, and what does it mean for the project?

Yes, I was recently honored to be asked by the curator of the Armory Center for the Arts, Jay Belloli, to participate in the Pasadena Armory Biennial Art Auction. This is a great event held every two years to support the arts in LA. The event was a great success and a wonderful collector and patron of the arts who is very active in collecting photography acquired my piece. Any time a collector is willing to add an artist to their collection by acquiring a work, it affirms the convictions of the artist that there is an audience for their work. So I was very pleased to be a part of the event and am looking forward to completing the series and showing it in full over the course of the next year.

What's something you've learned by experience that you wish you could go back and tell your just-getting-started photographer self?

I've definitely learned that making art takes patience and perseverence. I always had deeply personal reasons for creating and that has sustained me through the hard times. I've learned that no matter what may come, the work always continues. Over time the process becomes less and less about defining your success against exterior measures. Eventually an artist's measure of success becomes very personal and the greatest challenge becomes the act of creation itself.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Books and Their Covers

Last night I was reading Steve Almond's book The Evil B.B. Chow and Other Stories, which I have read before, and really enjoy, in part because he writes very convincingly from a woman's point of view, which is kind of weird, but cool. Anyway, I flipped it over and noticed how much I actually like the cover as well. It uses big, blocky primary colors, pencil drawings, and graffiti to create a collage effect. Also, the paper is really nice (it's a hardcover). Scott is always pushing for nice, heavy weight paper in our publications, and I have to admit that it makes a difference.

I started thinking about other book covers that I've seem recently that have made an impact graphically - here are a few.

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris

This book is kind of a postmodern distopian tale of office life. It takes place in a struggling ad agency where one by one, the staff is being laid off. Topical! It's also about the relationships that we develop with our co-workers, and how the office, for better or for worse, becomes a kind of home.

I love the yellow forest of Post-it notes, the words that look like they were drawn in Sharpie, and the haphazard placement of the text. It reminds me of a messy desk.

Candyfreak by Steve Almond

I guess this is a Steve-Almond-heavy post. Though I don't think this is genius design or anything, I love that each letter in the title is taken from on iconic candy bar wrapper. Let's play "spot the brand", shall we?

C = Nestle Crunch, A = Starburst, N = Butterfinger, D = Mr. Goodbar, Y = Almond Joy, F = Butterfinger, R = Snickers, E = 5th Avenue, A = Abba Zabba, K = Kit Kat.

I am both proud and ashamed of myself.

When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

I haven't actually read this David Sedaris book, but I've read many of his others, and I like how this grim image belies the humorous nature of the prose. I also like the broad, tactile nature of the brush strokes (the paint looks thick and three-dimensional) and the subtle placement of the title, as if it's an afterthough.

The Book of Other People Edited by Zadie Smith

The cover art for this collection of stories was done by Charles Burns, a graphic novelist who is the author of a creepy comic called Black Hole, which is unsettling and hard to describe. I like the stark black/white/red color contrast of this cover, as well as how the individual faces seem to be gazing at each other but not making eye contact.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Panning for Gold

One really fun part of my job is that I get to sit in and observe photography classes. Last quarter I observed a session of our Master Photographer Series with Roxann Arwen Mills. The students had just completed a panning assignment, and many reported being surprised by how hard it was to get a good panning shot. The assignment also involved crowds, so the added element of photographing strangers might have made it a bit more difficult.

I found a great, simple tutorial about creating sucessful panning shots on Digital-photography-school.com, and was happy to see the author admitting that this seemingly simple technique befuddles a lot of photographers. Now even I understand it!

Digital-Photography-School.com - The Art of Panning (via Lifehacker)

Hello Dave

As anyone who has seen Terminator, or Battlestar Galactica, or Bladerunner, or 2001, or Westworld, or WarGames, or Transformers knows, robots will kill us all. But we keep building them, because the spirit of human innovation cannot be extinguished, at least until we are all slaving in the Martian salt mines under the watchful eye of our Asimo overlords.

Actually, I'm usually more interested than scared when I hear about the latest robot developments, and I imagine that their creators must feel that the process of conceptualizing and constructing these machines is a kind of art form. Which is why I wanted to share these images of robots from universities and tech shows around the world. Their designs are often a subtle mix of functionality and form, some looking like bugs, dogs, people, and other familiar characters. To me, the casual, people-shaped ones are the most jarring - watching a robot do something mundane like make a cup of tea or pick up a straw seems to blur the lines between science and fiction.

Boston.com's The Big Picture (via Laughing Squid)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Slowly Exploding

These examples of high-speed photographs are insane. It's like a whole universe exists in the split-seconds that our eyes can't even record. Though I wouldn't want to be the one holding the egg steady as the guy with the gun takes aim, they make for some amazing images.

See work from 7 high-speed master photographers on Weburbanist (via Gawker).

Lego New York

I saw this on the NY Times a while back and thought it a great example of how the simplest of representations can call to mind specific, detailed life experience. I love the sushi and wasabi rendered in Lego.

I LEGO N.Y. - Abstract City by Christopher Niemann

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Yoshitomo Nara Arrested, I Don't Know How to Feel

I'm not one of those people who thinks everything should be covered with graffiti. Sometimes graffiti is awesome and great, and waiting for the bus is a lot less boring if you're looking at something by Banksy. But isn't most graffiti lame and ugly? Are taggers really graffiti "artists?"

So I was conflicted when I heard that famed Japanese pop artist Yoshitomo Nara was arrested and spent the night in jail after being caught doodling on a Brooklyn subway platform while waiting for the L-train. We have whole classes devoted to the practice of public art, which is a much larger conversation. Also a larger conversation: should the NYPD be stopping to ask themselves "But is it art?"

But I can't help but feel like a little magic is lost when art is whitewashed over and confined to small, enclosed spaces. The rigid definition of what is and isn't an appropriate forum for art takes some of the spontaneity and joy out of the process.

Plus, that platform would have been worth a ton of money.


Sister Wendy Explains It All For You

Though raised in a secular household, I was introduced to Art History by a nun. My Dad had Sister Wendy's 1,000 Masterpieces on his shelf, and one day I took it down because it looked interesting, and I wanted to see what the nun on the cover was all about.

Now I know that her BBC series made her an unlikely household name, but at the time I had no idea who she was, or what nuns had to do with art. But I remember poring over every image, and being fascinated both by the work and by her concise, enthusiastic explanations of the pieces. Her commentary was unpretentious and invited me to explore the details and history of work that was totally unfamiliar to me. I specifically remember pausing over Allori's Judith with Head of Holofrenes and thinking "Woah. That is a cut off head. Art is cool."

Like Sister Wendy, our best art history teachers are the ones who bring the same kind of enthusiasm to this complex subject, and open up the whole history of art to our students. Sister Wendy made me realize that art is supposed to be exciting and emotional, and her good humor and insight helped me connect with some of history's great works.