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An Artist's Journey

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Chapter 20: More Creative Freedom


While I appreciate and grew up in the world of traditional art, I continue to find new levels of creative freedom and enjoyment making artwork digitally with a pen tablet and professional graphics software. What digitally produced art lacks in tactile dimensions of traditional media it more than makes up for by enabling a seemingly unlimited depth and variety of self expression. As a graphic designer, I am especially delighted with the ability to prepare the digital files for complete products--from fine art prints and posters to books, animations and other video productions.

The recently completed Tucson Bay painting below is one example. Such a complex scene would be difficult to create with traditional art tools. While it still took considerable time and effort, the digital process allows components to be created in layers and endlessly revised until the desired result is attained. The finished image can be accurately reproduced as stunning prints, in this case any size up to 48 x 60 inches, on archival paper or canvas--even stretched canvas--by numerous online services at reasonable cost. Image quality is very true to the original since all printing is done from the original digital file rather than a file created from a scan of the artwork or a scan of a photo of the artwork, and state-of-the-art inkjet technology has a greater color range than traditional CMYK inks.

Tucson Bay

One disadvantage of this art for some folks is that there is no physical original piece--no one-off drawing or painting on paper or canvas that can fetch outrageous prices at auctions. And although, as with traditional printmaking, there could be a limited run and the digital files deleted or disabled so no more prints could be made, it might be difficult to guarantee that no useable copies are lurking on a hard drive or in the cloud. Still, a limited number of hand-signed, high-quality reproductions will always have extra value to buyers and collectors.

The painting below was done at the time I was working on the Tucson Bay painting. While sitting at the kitchen counter on a cloudy, drizzly day. I looked up and saw a hawk perched on the power line. The view was nicly framed in the east window of the loft. He sat there for several minutes while I did a preliminary study with one of the painting apps on my tablet computer. Later, it was refined to this state on the main computer. The Hawk was also placed in the Tucson Bay painting.


Late last year I began a series of portrait paintings that continued into this year. It was practice to see if I liked the results and to develop a format and a more or less regular process so that the time involved could be somewhat predictable. Below is an example--a portrait of my grandniece, Madison Weeks.

Madison Weeks

I set up a slide show for them on my illustration site (click here to see it). Creating the slide show was an accomplishment in itself and extended my limited knowledge of webpage construction. Initially, this was an attempt to generate income, but as usual, the web is crowded with similar services, and now it's simply another display of artwork I enjoy doing from time to time.

The next portrait was of my cat Polla. This is the first experiment in keeping a record of the painting as it progressed. I saved 23 stages of the image as I worked, then used them to create this simple video. It's in HD, so is best at the highest setting in theater or full screen mode.


More fun with social services

In February of 2014, a year ago as I write this, I applied for help with the Medicare payment that is automatically deducted from an already modest monthly Social Security benefit. My income remains well below the poverty line for a single person and I should easily qualify. After two months with no response, I inquired via the online help line about when I could expect an answer. My online account simply said "pending" with no other clue. The next day a response came with the non-news that the application was pending. I took that to mean that I just had to wait until they got to it.

This month, February 2015, I decided to try again. This time the response from the help line gave a phone number to the office that handles those applications. I tried the number given, but it was disconnected. I looked up the office online, found the correct number and called.

In a few minutes I was speaking to an upbeat, friendly woman who listened to my story, said it was crazy that it has taken a year, and finalized my application on the spot. Apparently it had fallen through the bureaucratic cracks and had never been acted on. She said that my March benefit would reflect the change. I'm grateful to her for finally settling this issue.

A few weeks later I was approved for SNAP assistance again and will receive $107/month to help with food for at least the next six months. That, along with the Medicare payment no longer deducted means that there may be just enough money to squeak by with token business income now and then--the new normal.

In August, when I renewed the SNAP assistance, it was lowered to $81/month because of the Medicare help. Squeaking by just got a little squeakier.

I don't mind living simply

...and I love being able to devote my time to doing things I enjoy. Through these circumstances I have learned that poverty, if it's not crushing, can be liberating. (Optimum poverty?) I have not felt so free in a very long time.


More rustic home projects

The east porch of my studio is used for storage of tools, old paintings, art supplies and other misc. stuff.

The old supporting wall shown here was in a state of near collapse as the year began. It was built 25 years before from salvaged lumber as a temporary support for the roof. But now It was suffering from rot along the bottom and some of the studs were also deteriorating and barely holding the simple structure together.

The old lumber was removed as three new posts were installed. Headers and footers were added between the posts to support the studs. I sorted through the old fence boards left after last year's fencing projects and found just enough to cover the new wall.

east porch East porch

           A white corrugated roofing panel was incorporated into the wall for extra illumination.

east porch

The wall cavaties were used for storing tools along with screws, nails and other hardware. It may be the most organized and accessable my tools have ever been.

east porch

Part of this process was re-sorting the stuff stored on the porch to clear the way for construction. A certain amount was thrown away and the rest reorganized to fit more compactly in the limited space. Going through the items, I rediscovered parts from an old futon couch.

"So?", you might ask. Well, they became another example of how serendipity is woven into the creative process. An idea arose that they might work as the gate door for the gateway I'd built the year before. When I played around with positioning them in the opening, they fit perfectly--as if the gateway had been made with them in mind. And, they didn't just fit, they became a completely unanticipated sliding gate. The video below presents this unique solution as an example of the spirit of the Hermitage.

The completed east gate now joins the west gate with it's spring-loaded paint brush opener as a unique pair of entries to the Hermitage.

The paint brush is labeled "Pull". A gentle tug down allows the gate to swing inwards. Visitors smile.

Officially semi-retired

 In June, I changed the entry page to my illustration service to announce that I will only take on a limited number of projects in the future. This reflects the reality of my professional life the past several years as imposed by the post-Great Recession economy. As far as the public knows—unless they read this narrative—it was completely my choice to cut back rather than imposed by the Great Recession.

What is completely my choice, however, is a more consistent focus on personal graphic artwork along with the usual flow of home projects. Those two interests are starting to be packaged as presentations of The Linden Street Hermitage. The East Gate video above was the first, and the New Eyes video below is the second.

This video took on new meaning after a medical appointment, courtesy of Medicare, my first in five years. It was more thorough this time, however—a complete physical including EKG, prostate exam and all the lab tests (I declined a colonoscopy). I was initially motivated to make the appointment by the desire for a referral to an eye clinic to deal with cataracts that had developed over the past few years. I got that referral and in July my right eye had it's cataract removed. The left eye was scheduled for the next week, but a follow-up exam revealed that, even with a cataract, acuity is 20-30—not severe enough to warrant treatment at this time.

The result of all that medical attention is confirmation that I'm reasonably healthy with no issues to address other than a vitamin D deficiency easily treated with a vitamin supplement. Vision-wise, my right eye is 20-20 and crystal-clear, while the left eye is nearly as good but with sepia-vision due to the cataract. So, I can see colors accurately with the right eye alone, or with a nostalgic, golden tint with the left eye alone, or a slightly warmed up hue with both. Only over-the-counter reading glasses are needed for close-up reading or computer work, but even with the computer I often need no glasses at all.


In May I subscribed to Adobe CC to take advantage of an about-to-expire one-year discount ($30/month instead of $50) offered because I had purchased the CS6 Graphics Suite of programs just before the Creative Cloud business model was fully implemented. The subscription allows use of all their software, including video and audio programs that aren't included in my CS6 suite.

I've also been attempting to learn to use Blender, a free, open-source, professional level 3D animation program--something that Adobe does not have except for a limited set of 3D functions built into PhotoShop. With Blender, one can construct objects, characters and settings and, if one has a computer with the processing power along with a powerful graphics card or two, produce high quality HD movies. Big studios like Pixar and Dreamworks use 3D Max or Maya to create their wonderful films like Toy Story, Cars, Up, etc. Those programs are even deeper than Blender but very expensive and more than my PC can handle.

Needless to say, I have been on a steep learning curve the past several months. I take breaks for necessary home projects and the usual chores and errands, but my primary focus and passion has become learning to use all this software well enough to lift the level of my animation projects. This new focus is possible thanks to the free time now available after the retirement of my illustration service. I do not miss business projects at all.

Here is the first project completed with the upgraded tools. It's the continuation of a project from my time at DINFOS (see Chapter 2 for that story), and also the next offering as a Linden Street Hermitage production. It seems an appropriate way to end the year and this chapter.

The Egg 2 has subtitles in English here, or in Spanish here

So it is that I have learned to be grateful for my good health, the Great Recession that changed the direction of my work, and, of course, for the support I occasionally, magically receive from completely unexpected sources.



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