Thursday, October 30, 2008

How and why.

As it turns out, my professor does not want to know the "how" but the "why" in the written statement of our final digital art assignment. My why takes up a wimpy paragraph in the first draft. I spent waaaaaay more time discussing how I'd manipulate the images and print them...probably because that is easier to do. The following "why" statement is stretched out a bit, but I'm pretty pleasantly surprised at an idea that popped up as a result of this experiment:

My photographs are a visual exploration of organic form and texture. Similar to a scientific experiment, I reduce the number of distracting variables to move the viewer away from her everyday associations with nature. Stripping flowers, leaves, and trees of color reveals symmetry and detail in much sharper focus than they would have otherwise been viewed. By removing plants from their environment or simply focusing on individual plants or parts of a plant, each subject is shown simply as it is in a moment of time; identity is defined outside its usual physical or culturally conceived environment.

For a moment, then, a gerbera daisy is not defined within human language by its latin name, Gerbera jamesonii, or culturally bound as a cheerful, popular flower well-suited to floral arrangements. A close-up image of its central florets doesn't give that much away. An image of an eye, for instance, or a lily pad, may surface for a moment before the mind snaps it neatly into place as "gerbera daisy."

A pattern is revealed as these images are observed as a collection, transforming them into a case for Darwinian natural selection. Nature has, indeed, selected more successful forms and textures that are repeated over and over in the natural world. The rough bark of an oak tree is very reminiscent of the exterior of an orchid bulb, while a close up of a daisy's flower head may remind the viewer of a field of corn. By examining form and texture outside of context, common links are revealed.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Jason and Leslie are having a baby.

Shhh, it's a secret. Here are the proud parents-to-be!


I haven't mentioned my print communication class yet, probably because I don't find it as interesting as my digital art class. It's still fun, though. The objective of the class is to learn how to develop logos and print ads. What's fun is that we get to pick whatever business, service, or product we want, and the teacher encourages us to push our designs in way-out-there directions. In all, my team will design three logos and three print ads this semester. We just finished up the first one. Check it out. If it makes sense, we did our job. If I have to spend an hour explaining it, hey, at least it's kinda pretty.

Company name: Airfair

Description: Consulting firm that advises homeowners how to reduce their carbon footprint. We calculate a home's footprint and follow with information about energy efficient products they can use as well as ways they can offset their carbon footprint if they're interested in going neutral.

In case it's not clear, the above image is the print ad. The logo is at the bottom of the image. One thing to keep in mind is that there isn't anything on the ad that is an accident. So, for instance, the map that is screened back behind the house, the house that is shaped like an arrow, the highlighted "f" in the logo with the fingerprint texture behind it: all done with a purpose. Designers spend crazy amounts of time thinking through things like this. Not what I want to do for a living, but doesn't it sound like a lot of fun?

Digital art written statement

As part of the final project in my digital art class, a written statement is required. It is due today and, for whatever reason, I put it off until just now. It's a good exercise, though, because it forces you to really think about why you're shooting what you're shooting. And, wow, I didn't realize how clinical my approach was until I wrote this. Very revealing, and a little scary. I tried to keep it short and sweet:

My photographs are a visual exploration of organic form, shape, and texture. By stripping flowers, leaves, and trees of color, I seek to isolate and study their exterior and their gorgeous symmetry to reveal that nature has, indeed, selected more successful forms and textures that are repeated over and over in the natural world. Similar to a scientific experiment, I reduce the number of variables to move the viewer away from their everyday associations with nature. In addition to removing color, I do this by either removing plants from their environment or simply focusing on individual plants or parts of a plant. For my final project, all images are formally and conceptually linked.

All images are also digitally and physically treated similarly. Ten to twelve photographs are shot by a Nikon D80 digital SLR camera. For many of the flower images, I utilize a Hoya close-up lens kit rather than a macro lens for two reasons: I do not currently own a macro lens, and I enjoy the bokeh effect achieved through use of the Hoya lenses. All images are digitally scanned into Adobe Photoshop CS3 and most are treated with the following techniques:
- The color image is converted to black and white.
- A color fill is applied (R = 90, G = 55, B = 20) to produce a warming effect at an approximate 12% to 15% opacity. I use blending options to take the color fill out of the highlights to increase the contrast of the overall picture.
- A curve is applied to reduce the strength of the shadows. This evens out the values in the shadows and midtowns and reveals more detail.
- All or part of the image is sharpened using the smart sharpen filter. Most are sharpened by 100% to 150%. If a portion of the photo is sharpened, a layer mask is created using the lasso selection tool.
- Contrast is increased. The percentage varies pretty widely picture to picture.

All images are printed on Hahnemuhle 308 gsm Photo Rag using an Epson Pro Stylus 4880. A color profile specific to Photo Rag is applied to each image. Each print is 17" wide and approximately 10" to 12" tall with 1" margins.

Monday, October 27, 2008


For my second progress review in digital art class, I will be showing a series of flower shots I did at home.  I used a Nikon D80 with a close up lens kit (magnified 6x) using natural light in my kitchen.  I thought these looked fine on screen until I printed them on an Epson Pro Stylus 4880 on 308 lb Hahnemuhle photo rag at a 15" x 12" size...let's just say certain imperfections were revealed when 
viewed at such a large scale.  

I still like them, though!  Here are a couple of them.  I personally like black and white with a slight brown tint (aka sepia), but they may be a tad boring to some when compared to full color versions.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I looooove letterpress.

I mean, who doesn't love letterpress printing? Everything about it is...luscious. I've been on my computer today surfing my favorite sites. Take a look:

- Wiley Valentine - Two extremely talented designers on the west coast, Emily and Rachelle, design and print wedding invitations, birth announcements, and social stationery. They will print most things either flat or letterpress. For those that can't afford letterpress, no worries: their designs lend flat printing a modern vintage, dimensional feel that reminds you of letterpress. Plus, they use fabulously textured papers for most of their work. I got my social stationery through them and, by chance, the name of the design is Katie! Check it out and drool.

- Mr. Boddington's Studio - Mr. Boddington is actually a woman named Rebecca based in New York. Yummy wedding invitations, birth announcements, and social stationery. Her save the dates are hilarious. 

- Pomco Graphics - I worked with this company for several years and, in my humble opinion, they're one of the best printers in the country. And they do everything - letterpress, offset, digital, thermography, foil stamping, engraving, embossing, name it, they do it in house. Love these guys! They just updated their site, too, it's so much better than it used to be. 

- Smock - I don't really know much about this company but from what I see on their site, their stuff rocks! 

For great color on press, go green.

Occasionally, I'm going to write on topics I'd like to learn more about as an incentive to research them in the first place. Today, on my birthday, I'm going to be lazy and share an article I already researched and wrote for International Paper. Having just gotten back from San Francisco, all things green and sustainable are on the brain. The audience for this article included merchant paper companies and commercial offset printers. My intent was to inform them of environmentally-sound choices they may make regarding inks and varnishes. The article was published July 2007 in Link, a bimonthly publication that is designed, written, produced, and circulated by International Paper.

Sustainability, as defined by the World Commission on Environment and Development, is development "that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." The concept of sustainability can seem complicated at first, but when boiled down to basic principles it is quite simple. Every human activity consumes resources from the planet and produces waste that the planet must somehow absorb; this is referred to as an ecological footprint. Having recently taken a quiz on my personal footprint (analyzing food consumption, mobility, shelter and goods/services used), I am glad to know that I hit the average for a U.S. citizen but shocked to find that, were everyone on Earth to live a lifestyle like mine, we would need 5.5 planets!

In an atmosphere of rapidly expanding social and environmental responsibility and awareness, many stakeholders in the graphic communications industry are modifying their business practices to conserve resources and reduce their footprint on our planet. One way that commercial printers can do this is to look more closely at the chemicals they put in their presses. Specifying agri-based inks and water-based varnishes for sheetfed and web presses over petrochemical varieties, for example, can significantly reduce the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released into the environment. Beyond that, there are other types of inks that can be used to replace hazardous, petroleum-based inks. Following is a short list of inks that are available to commercial printers today.

Petroleum-based inks. Petroleum is not considered sustainable and is not a renewable resource. They contain relatively high levels of VOCs that are emitted into the air; this can be an irritant to press room employees. They also contribute to the formation of smog. They do, however, dry more quickly than vegetable-based inks.

Heavy metal and metallic inks. Known carcinogens such as cadmium, chromium, and lead have been replaced with carbon-based substitutes, but many colors still contain heavy metals that can contaminate soil and groundwater when leached into the environment. Typically, metallic inks are not easily recycled or mixed with other inks. Earlier this year, Sun Chemical did launch Metal-Eco, a vegetable-based sheetfed offset metallic ink that they claim is the first on the market completely devoid of mineral- or petroleum-based oils. They are available in the full range of Pantone metallic colors from PMS 871 to PMS 877.

Vegetable-based inks. A good alternative to petroleum-based inks, these products are made with renewable and biodegradable resources such as soy, cottonseed, vernonia, sunflower, tung, linseed, and canola oils. Soy-based inks can contain anywhere from 20% to 100% soy oil, and the balance is made up of petroleum. Because there is a percentage of petroluem, vegetable-based inks do emit VOCs; however, their emission rates are much smaller than a purely petrochemical ink. It is important to contact ink manufacturers when specifying a vegetable-based ink to insist on a low VOC rating.

There are several advantages to using agri-based inks:
- Less tendency to skin over in the ink well
- Soy-based inks tend to work well with recycled paper because they adhere more effectively and do not pick out the fibers of the paper
- You get brighter colors
- They permit greater latitude in ink-water balance and provide more coverage per pound of ink

Unfortunately, there are also drawbacks. Soy and other vegetable oils cannot be used for heat set inks because the drying time is considerably slower than that of a petroleum-based ink. Also, the vegetable oil in the ink is a renewable resource, but the pigment suspended in the oils can potentially be a toxic ingredient. Certain colors require heavy metals that are hazardous such as zinc, barium, and copper; for an even "greener" vegetable-based ink, specify a color with no heavy metals.

UV inks. When UV inks are printed they are exposed to ultraviolet light and immediately dry to a solid film. While these inks can be difficult to recycle, this process releases no VOCs into the environment.

Varnish, aqueous and UV coatings. Aqueous coatings are more environmentally friendly than petroleum-based varnishes because they emit fewer VOCs, can be recycled, and do not require potentially hazardous solvents for clean up. As with UV inks, UV coatings can be difficult to recycle but emit no VOCs because they cure instantly.

Recycled inks. Waste ink is generated through on-press color changes, press cleaning and poor ink management; these practices encourage ink drying and skinning. Printers can blend leftover four color process inks to produce black. This produces a deeper, richer black since it is built out of more than one color. They may also mix non-contaminated excess ink with virgin ink of the same color. Otherwise, leftovers can be returned to ink distributors for recycling.

Toner for digital presses. Toner cartridges are recyclable, but toner used in such equipment as laser and ink jet printers are petroleum based. The Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio, has partnered with the Ohio Soybean Council (OSC) to develop a more sustainable, soy-based option for copy machines and computer printers. They are currently working on potential marketers to bring the product to consumers this year.

Friday, October 17, 2008

San Francisco

Tomorrow, I will be 33 years old. Although the purpose for this blog is not really to discuss travel, it's my birthday and my blog and I'll do what I want. So, here goes.

The place that I'd most like to be on my birthday I visited this past week for the first time...San Francisco.  Four days ago today I was sitting in Golden Gate Park, cursing the locals jogging past with their dogs and wondering if there's a teaching hospital my husband could transfer to. Frankly, I'd move there even if I was only qualified to wash dishes. 

What do I love most about the city, you say?  
The food.  Oh, the glorious food.

More specifically, many of the city's best restaurants take time and immense pride in combining simple and, when possible, local ingredients to yield what is heaven on a plate (and the tasty California wines doesn't hurt it a bit). Instead of hiding fantastic meat and cheese under heavy sauce, they allow these tasty morsels to shine.  The roasted young chicken at Fish & Farm, for instance, takes center stage; it comes with panisse, sweet & sour gypsy peppers, and basil.  And that's it. Ironically, I think the fewer ingredients you use, the more difficult it is to make a dish tasty.  There's more than one restaurant in town that has mastered this skill down to a fine art. 

Some may find some of the menus a bit pretentious even if they claim they're not.  One restaurant advertises itself as "unpretentious northern California cuisine" but, upon inspection of the menu, I can't help but chuckle while reading over listings such as "seared cage free hudson valley foie gras with serrano ham, orange braised celery root, and huckleberry coulis."  I mean, come on.  

But, you know what?  I don't care.  It tastes incredible.  So, I embrace my environment, snap my fingers at Farallon's sommelier, and order up a buttery Cutrer to wash down my yummy duck liver.  Oh, happy day. 

Alas, I didn't take pictures of the aforementioned food, I was too busy gobbling it up.  Here are some random pictures from my trip.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Digital art

This semester I'm taking a digital art class at the University of Memphis.  The first half of the semester we learned some Photoshop techniques so that we could spend the latter half utilizing this fabulous-yet-mind boggling tool to produce "digital works of art."  This art may take form through digital and film photography, illustration, paintings...hell, you can even scan an image of your behind and call it art, just don't mention it's yours during critiques.  The sky's the limit.

So, I commandeered my husband's Nikon D80, befriended some folks at the only decent photo shop around (Memphis Photo Supply), and got to work.  Botanical subject matter may be overdone and have high potential to exude a lame, hotel-art feel, but I don't care.  I generally enjoy organic, textured images, and trees and flowers are easy to find.  

In any case, I had a ready excuse in case my work bombed: "Oh, I'm in the English department, I'm not a photographer." 

I felt compelled to have this excuse ready for a reason.  Amidst a close-knit clan of photography students shooting morbid pix of bald men bathed in blood, my simple flower close ups and tree shots at Fisher Gardens didn't seem to hold up...conceptually, whatever that really means.  At the same time I judged the chick next to me carefully adjusting the contrast and shadows of elephant feces, I couldn't help but feel a little intimidated.  Am I boring?  Must I take pictures of depressing, icky or violent images to have any depth?

I decided to stand firm.  I'm thirty two years old, for Christ's sake.  Elephant girl is nineteen, what does she know?  

Thankfully, I began to notice a trend that convinced me I would not be heckled at the next progress review:  when the artsy students blew off work days, the others subtly revealed their own neuroses about their work.  The printmaking major sitting to my left would barely whisper, "I just don't see photographically.  Hey, do you know how to apply a curve to this picture that will lighten the shadows?"  And I did know.  It turns out that the older woman across from me wants to be a wildlife photographer; she spends as much time as she can shooting wild deer in Montana.  The other day she didn't know how to set up a canvas in Photoshop so that she'd have even 2 inch margins around her image of Grand Prismatic.  No problem!  Katie to the rescue.

I'm not saying I'm a Photoshop prodigy by any stretch (anyone that has spent ten minutes in front of the software would agree after reading this).  And I'm definitely not saying I know anything about photography.  I was just glad to be reminded that we're all students, and I'm not being asked to be a world-class fine artist for a semester.  Another thing I realized?  The cool thing about fine art is the eye-of-the-beholder thing: if you don't like my flowers you can kiss it.

Oh, and several people commented that they loved my photos, by the way, so all turned out well!  Uh, not that it matters what they think.  This is fine art.

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