Friday Inspiration: Elizabeth King

Pupil Pose 1

“Process saves us from the poverty of our intentions.”

I am currently reading Seth Godin’s new book ‘The Practice’. More about that when I actually finish it. I was struck by the quote in the front of the book from Elizabeth King shown above and went on a hunt to find more about her. Frustratingly I couldn’t find the exact source of the quote but many people who attribute it to her but the journey was fun.

Elizabeth King is a sculptor who taught at Virginia Commonwealth University for 30 years before retiring to focus on her work. She is best known for her figurative sculpture that she combines with stop motion animation. Perhaps remarkably she was creating the articulated sculptures that were perfect for stop motion animation long before she had the idea for animating them.

I am always fascinated to watch artists at work, regardless of the medium that they work in. The behind the scenes look that you get in Olympia Stone’s documentary “Double Take’ is a real treat in this regard. It shows Elizabeth at work in her Church Hill studio as well as installing her work at various shows.

What is evident in the documentary is her attention to detail. She really cares about getting the sculpture right, capturing the imperfections in joints on the hands of her sculptures so that the fingers end up a little wonky. I thought she was describing my fingers as she described this detail in the documentary. She’s clearly looking and not just going through the motions and means that her sculpture stands up to the closest of scrutiny.

Of course her attention to detail doesn’t stop with the creation of the work. It’s interesting to see how much attention she puts into the installation to make sure that the pose of the sculpture is correct and that the lighting is just so to provide the correct emphasis to the face and hands. This is what separates masters from the journeymen.

Check out more or Elizabeth’s work at her website here and listen to her describe her work in the videos below. You can watch the full documentary at amazon.

The Gap – Be Kind to Yourself, Don’t Compare

I often fall into the trap, as I suppose many people do, of being generally dissatisfied with the work that I’m producing. I make images that I like just often enough to keep me engaged but it can be tough to keep going especially when we’re surrounded by an onslaught of great work on social media.

The guitar teacher Tomo Fujita tells his students ‘Be Kind to Yourself, Don’t Compare, Don’t Expect Too Fast, and Don’t Worry.’ Good advice for anyone whether they are trying to learn a new skill or to be creative.

The other advice that I turn to when I’m struggling is what Ira Glass said about ‘The Gap’ (see video 3 below). He’s describing the difference between what you know is good and want to be able to do and what you’re currently able to achieve.

Check out the illustrated video below.

The solution of course is to do a lot of work. Bang it out even if you don’t feel like it. Just keep going. You will get better, you will evolve and you will close the gap.

Checkout the full interview ‘Ira Glass on Storytelling’ in the following videos. This should be required viewing for anyone in the creative arts.

Using Your Notebook to Document Your Art Practice

I am an unabashed striver – I want to continue to learn and grow in everything that I do. I am continually looking for ways that I can push myself and my work forward. I’m finding that one effective tool for this is my notebook.

As I said here I have multiple notebooks that I use for different purposes. Perhaps the most important notebook is the one that I carry around with me which is the notebooks I have in the Paper Republic Grand Voyager Pocket. This notebook allows me to capture ideas in the moment, to note the things that catch my attention and could be useful later.

My notebook is a ‘sandbox’ where I can play – develop ideas, ask questions and generally go down rabbit holes. It is a place where I can reflect on the photographs that I’ve been making, the things that I’m noticing and the choices that I’m making. Are there connections that I didn’t recognize in the moment that with some time and space become apparent?

It’s a place where I can make notes on some of the composition and post-processing experiments I’m trying. This week for instance I’m trying out split toning again and also playing with using tree branches to frame subjects. One example is shown below.

My knowledge is fragile in these early stages and if I don’t write things down I am likely to have forgotten what I was trying when I look at the work later. The very act of writing, physically using a pen on paper also helps me to remember more effectively.

My notebook is also a good place for me to write about the other photographers and artists that I’m paying attention to and what lessons I’m drawing from their work. How can I apply these to my own work?

This is not an onerous process that takes ages – just a few minutes reflection when I have the time. More if I have more to say and the time to say it in.

I hope you are capturing your process and having fun doing it. I’d be interested in hearing about how you use your notebooks to develop ideas and projects.

The Shoreditch Sketcher: Phil Dean

I thought that I would continue my exploration of Urban Sketchers today with Phil Dean, known as The Shoreditch Sketcher on Instagram . By the very nature – Urban – it’s a little outside of what I would consider to be my subject area but I enjoy the images and the process of making them.

I wanted to learn more about how Phil approaches his drawing and hopefully learn something that could help my drawing or photography so I purchased his book ‘Urban Drawing: Sketch Club’. The book provides an excellent tour of materials, how to get started and etiquette for working on the street. Then moves on to a series of lessons and associated exercises covering topics such as composition, perspective, contrast, tone, people and adding color.

I enjoyed Phil’s prompts for subjects with sketching potential: Your environment while you’re traveling; mundanity, locals sitting drinking coffee, students doing their laundry, a dog sitting under a table; architectural mayhem, architecture that tells the story of the city, contrasts of old and new and of course vistas.

The appeal to me of drawing over photography is being able to be selective about what you include in the scene or indeed move things around to suit your composition and intent. Interesting to hear Phil talk about this and that he doesn’t really do that and was shocked when one of his students moved subjects around in her composition. Where do you stand on this?

The discussion of perspective, which of course comes up in almost every book on drawing, has me thinking about how I use perspective or view point to tell the story or add depth and interest to a scene. More on this topic in the future once it has had time to percolate.

Check out more of Phil’s work on Instagram or on his website.

Friday Inspiration: Rachael Talibart

I must have been living under a rock to only recently have found Rachael Talibart’s seascape work. She is perhaps best know for her Sirens photos, a series of storm waves named after mythological beings. A book of the same name was published by Triplekite Books in 2018. As an aside I can’t believe I missed this book since I thought I had all of the books that Triplekite had published. I found her work through the recently published book, Tides and Tempests, that further explores her interest in storm waves but also the coast in general.

It sounds like Rachael has had a lifelong relationship with the sea having grown up on the South Coast of England, spending time as a child on the family sailboat. She describes herself as a poor swimmer and a poor sailor who is happier and safer viewing the ocean from the shore. Reading between the lines in the introductory essay to Tides and Tempests it sounds like she had lots of ‘fun’ on the sailboat as a child. These episodes really do shape your life both as an adult and as a child, either pushing you away or drawing you in. Personally I’m glad that she is drawn towards the ocean and chooses to capture the majesty, power and potential that the ocean offers. Check out more of Rachael’s work on her website here.

Also check out the videos that Rachel put together below. Scroll all the way to the bottom to hear Rachel talk about her work and her process.

Check out the mini-documentary/interview with Rachel that Sean Tucker put together below. Sean is worth a ‘Friday Inspiration’ slot of his own. Until then check out his YouTube channel here.

Our Daily Bread

In the spirit of picking up old interests I’ve been making a lot of bread over the last few weeks. Starting with the tried and true recipes in Ken Forkish’s excellent book – Flour, Water, Salt Yeast. The picture from last week was his Overnight Loaf. When I was making this bread regularly it would stick to the cloths in the proofing baskets and generally would be a nightmare for me to deal with. However picking things up again the recipe was easy to follow – no ambiguity – and I had no problem with getting the bread out of the baskets.

With that success under my belt I decided to try the signature loaf in the Poilane book I recently came across. Poilane is of course a marquee name in the bread world. The recipe was a little more involved than others I’d made – requiring a natural yeast starter and also makes a substantially larger single loaf. Going through the planning I realized that I didn’t have a proofing basked large enough nor did I have a Dutch Oven large enough. In all honesty who would? The loaf is ~ 3 times larger than the ‘normal’ home loaf size. I had things that were close enough though so off we went. It was frustrating to not have a good sense of what I was aiming at and I ended up disappointing the in house food critics. Scaling the recipe back gave better results but was still not the wow expected by the local critics.

With a natural starter bubbling in the corner I thought I would try out a final recipe, this time from ‘The Baker’s Year’ by Tara Jensen. When I mixed up the dough it was very wet, a bit tricky to handle and the timings proposed in the margin completely misleading. I should have realized that I would be in for a bumpy ride when the instructions for mixing up the leaven – a foundational recipe for any bread book – were corrected in the form of errata stuck in the front of the book. Oops! Nevertheless I persevered, leveraging the understanding from working through the Forkish recipes many times and also the Tartine bread recipe which is similar. If a dough was going to stick to the cloth in the proofing basket it would be a wet dough like this one – nope, not at all. Came out of the proofing basket nicely, into the cast iron Dutch oven and baked beautifully as you can see at the top of the page.

What if anything you may well ask does this have to do with photography. Well not much if I’m being honest but it did make me think about how I had retained the bread making skills from 3 or 4 years ago. Not only that but some of the things that had been a struggle now seem relatively straight forward. As I re-engage with photography I’m hoping that I will at least have retained a foundational set of skills. It will be interesting to see how the passage of time has changed my thinking and perspective as I get behind the camera more frequently.

Friday Inspiration: A Conversation with Ed O’Brien

I’ve been taking a deeper dive into the guitar again in recent months and have enjoyed the unabashed geekery from the ‘That Pedal Show‘ guys. I’ve also learned a lot over the course of the many episodes of the show that I’ve watched, although I don’t have the ears that Mick and Dan have to discern the nuance in the various amps and pedals that they discuss.

I wanted to share this particular episode with Ed O’Brien one of the guitarists from Radiohead because I really enjoy listening to creative people at the top of their game talk about their process. There are many parallels between the various creative arts that I think that we can learn from and apply to our work some of the ideas from other disciplines.

If you’re not interested in the guitar stuff skip ahead to 17:17 which is about where Ed starts talking about his process.

Deconstructing Vision

I have been thinking about a framework that I can use as scaffolding for my on-going and future projects.  In other areas of my life I have found that having a flexible road map for what you’re working on to be enormously helpful in actually getting projects out of the door.  As part of this process I have been deconstructing some of the basic assumptions that have served me well up to now and trying to reassemble them.  Unfortunately I have parts left over which means either I’ve found a better way or broken something.

I started with vision, which I had interpreted as the way that you see the world. Looking at a dictionary definition of vision I found that vision was described as:

  • the faculty or state of being able to see.
  • the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom.
  • mental image of what the future will or could be like.

Or to put it another way vision is the change that you want to cause to happen.  For instance it  could be telling the story and raising awareness of a disenfranchised group of society, shining a spotlight on the growing crisis of climate change, or mobilizing people to stop using the ocean as a dumping ground.

Vision therefore is not really unique, I know there are many others that are concerned about the state of the oceans and share the vision of clean oceans that will be able to support a diverse population of marine life.   How you express that vision and work to effect change most certainly could, and should be, if you draw on and incorporate the experiences that have shaped you.

White Hot and Passionate: A Focus on the Process Not the Product

In many ways this is a companion piece to making things with meaning while at the same time was written as a kick in the pants for me – to have something to remind me that pursuing the things in life that seem to create their own energy to pull you forward is much better than chasing after something in a lackluster fashion. Anyway here goes…

Once you’ve found the thing or things that resonate with you and not only want to photograph but can’t help but photograph it seems like all issues with writers block, resistance or what have you should evaporate.

It doesn’t though does it? Here’s the deal, if you’re struggling with the resistance, writers block or whatever people are calling it this week you’re either working on the wrong thing – something that doesn’t raise you to the level of white hot and passionate and cause you to become an unstoppable force – or you’re thinking too much about the product, the audience and how will this thing that your pouring your soul into be recieved.

In both cases stop right now.

Stop working on things that you aren’t deeply commited to, that don’t pull you forward into action and more action. Time is short you need to put your energy, and I mean all of your energy, into those few things that you are truly passionate about.

I don’t think that there’s a place for audience while you’re creating the work. Shut out the chatter. In fact my experience is that if you’re truly working on the things that you’re passionate about you won’t have space to think about your audience.

You can figure out the role of audience later – in many ways this is a separate creative act. It’s called marketing.

Your goal initially is to make a lot of work and to do that as best as you’re able. Does this mean that everything that you make will be wonderful? Of course not. By cultivating a circle of friends that you trust to give you straightforward feedback on your work you can get a second and third opinions to help sort the wheat from the chaff after the fact. The more you make the better what you make will become. Keep at it, keep making. This is not a theoretical pursuit.