Saturday, July 30, 2011

Inspiration and Motivation - Trying to Get Creative Again

I didn't feel up to writing last week.  There's been a lot of junk going on that drew upon my energy and put a bit of a damper on my creativity.  With all that I've handled over the years, I managed to be strong as I have indeed survived them, but sometimes it saps my energies.  It's a struggle, admittedly, to find the strength to continue handling life's "bumps in the road" as many times I feel that my tires are running flat.

Through one recent dilemma, I have been in touch with a fellow artist who has posted on her blog how she's dealt with creative block, especially when you feel like your self-confidence is being severely tested.  I thought I would link up her blog posts here as they are indeed appropriate for how I'm feeling right now.  and

and to overcome creative block in the art world,

It comes down to getting motivated and finding one's own goals and I thought I would address some things here.  Motivation - the driving force to do something.  Hum... where does one start?  I guess in a way I've been lucky in that my creative juices flow in many directions.  When I'm feeling particularly down lacking motivation to do any one particular form of art, I hop over to something else or do something else.  And then the flip side of this, I face hurdles in staying focused when I feel things aren't going quite the way I want them to go.

Model Horse Painting/Customizing.  Sometimes it's a battle here as in many cases your sales come down to how well your work wins in our hobby competitions.   I've battled feeling held back and one well-established artist told me to stop thinking about what others think - paint/create model horses because it makes ME feel good.  I really tried to change my mindset, and believe me, I still battle with this today.  However, when I started focusing NOT on creating winning pieces and focusing on doing a better job, it seemed to help.

Here's one of my latest creations named Incantation - a Peter Stone Ideal Stock Horse model repositioned, repainted, and given real mohair.  He is owned by a dear friend who's been kicking my butt to push on with this art form based on two models I've now done for her that have become local "champions".   My focus here now - not on creating winners but having fun doing the creating, doing the best I can, and just pleasing a commissioning client or MYSELF. 


When the painting of model horses "isn't talking to me," I'll jump over to another form of art to refocus.  Sometimes it's attempting to do poetry, writing fan fiction for my favorite movies or TV shows, or doing something like digital art.  I can spend hours looking for colorful patterns and pictures using free program called Fractal Explorer and Apophysis and taking the rendered images and at times making even more creations by combining them together.

Inspiration - something that sparks that inner drive to move forward.  To me, it can come in many forms - perhaps as a kind word from someone who understands what you are going through; a feeling of success at one step that drives you on to the next; or obtaining some inner peace doing something relaxing (sometimes these are temporary "fits").  For example, I will take a stroll down to Center Cemetery in my home town - yes, this sounds freaky but let me explain - Center Cemetery resides right alongside a salt marsh and it's truly beautiful there in the summer.   As a nature watcher, I enjoy the large number of birds that congregate here to feed on fish and small crustaceans that make their way upstream on the high tides.  Egrets, herons, songbirds, ducks and geese, sandpipers, and my favorite - the Ospreys - all hand out here.  I'll watch kingfishers show off their marvelous hunting skills hanging in the sky as they locate a fish to pounce on.  The sandpipers probe the exposed mudflats for bites to eat.  And seaside dragonflies patrol the cemetery grounds and over the river's water for prey.  As a water sign being a Scorpio, I find peace here.  It's generally quite except for the periodic visitor wishing to pay respects to a loved on that passed on.  Even for myself, a dear friend was laid to rest here and now I get to say hello to her while I commune with Nature.  I never go to this place without my camera as I never know what I will see there.  And after a venture like this, there are times I'll come home and create, create, create!

You don't necessarily need to go far either.  Sometimes I just need a short walk outside my own door into the yard to feel inspired to work on art.  I also don't go outside without my camera.  The flowers are blooming now both wild and cultivated.  There are numerous creatures hard at work with daily life.  Sometimes I find inspiration in seeing how they don't let the bad things hinder them.  They have things they must do and they just do them.  Even if you are in the city, take a moment and go outside.  One favorite thing I enjoyed in my youth was just looking up at the clouds and observing patterns or pictures that emerged.

 I see ocean wave rolling in.  What do you see?

Like many, sometimes you feel like the weight of the world is upon your shoulders.  I'll focus on the things I can't do or haven't felt successful with and these will curb my creativity a great deal.  Then, I will get a swift kick to the posterior that gives me the strength to push on.  Yes, there are times I feel like I'm taking a step forward and then twenty backward.  We all can be our own worst enemy - this can squash the creative focus or cause unnecessary high levels of stress.  I'll whine and complain, but I will eventually seek something that allows me to push forward - like a fast and hard reminder I still have a roof over my head, food in my belly, and my health.  I've overcome stresses others might have folded to long ago.  Admittedly, it's a battle but I refuse to give up.  As I was yet again just reminded via conversation with a fellow artist, perhaps something is coming along that just hasn't presented itself yet - maybe where I am now is just a springboard to something bigger and better - and I need to be there with open arms to embrace it.

I guess the reason for my ramblings is this - find something that boosts your motivation and allows you to find inspiration to create, or to accomplish a task that has otherwise proved daunting to face.  So today, I will finish painting that model horse I was commissioned to do, take care of a few necessary chores around the house, and take a short walk outside and marvel at what I might discover in my own back yard.

Coming Soon:
Feel Better Friend card and a Friends Like You birthday card

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Digital Play

Oh, darn!  I set the wrong ISO on the camera and my image came out a bit too grainy!  Darn it, I over exposed or underexposed my picture and my butterfly took off!  Oh, man!  The color is off!  My image is, well, boring!!  ARGH!!!   Cuss.  Swear.  Rant.  Ok, back to reality.

We’ve all had these problems and we have a choice we can make – hit the delete key or we can actually try something new to rescue it or give an image new life.  Please bear in mind I am NOT a professional photographer and my ideas of “rescuing” an image might not play as well in the realm of professional photography.  I am your average “Joe” who’s been shooting pictures since way back in the day when Kodak Instamatic cameras were the norm for the casual photographer and enjoying what comes of it – even if unsuccessful the first time around. Most of my work currently is of a documentary type since I am a wildlife watcher and want to record what I see.  I'm trying to learn to take the curve around to combine what I see and make images that are pleasing to others.  I have a great deal still to learn, but in the meantime, I am enjoying some digital play.

I left my early days with that old Kodak to finally venture into the world of digital photography leaving the world of film cameras forever behind when I purchased my first digital SLR in 2004 – a Canon Rebel 6.1 megapixel.  I had spent quite a bit of time seeking my new “side arm” and I did consult with a pro photographer for insight.  Bear in mind that this blog is geared not only to the dSLRs but any digital camera.  No matter what, we have all suffered through some blunders – accidentally forgetting to change settings resulting in under or over exposed images or those that were too noisy or blurry.  Some shots I just didn’t have the heart to delete – they were still a special memory for me and I started to learn about some of the various programs and plug-ins one could use to play with the images.  Whether they are your best shots you want to manipulate to give a different feeling to, or in my case, taking some otherwise “documentary” or poor quality images and making them a bit more aesthetically pleasing or perhaps rescuing them all together, digital manipulation might be the answer.

There are several programs or plug-ins out there that can be either bought and downloaded or are free to download and use.  For me, free is best.  Who doesn’t like free?  But, some of these programs or plugins you do have to pay for. So, for the purpose of this article, I thought I would introduce a few of these options I’ve become familiar with and hope that perhaps others might add to this discussion and help expand this topic and library of fun applications.

My post-processing is usually done within the Canon software that came with my camera or after I convert my RAW images to a format my old Photoshop Elements 2.0 can handle.  I’ll give the usual corrections a run through - compensating for minor over or under exposures and color/contrast corrections.  However, sometimes no matter what, I might still have a picture that just doesn’t quite shine, even to my non-professional eyes.   

Now, what to do?   

I had one shot I really liked and didn’t have the heart to just delete it.  It was not your standard image taken with a telephoto lens but a combination of camera body and a Swarovski birding scope (a method called “digiscoping”).  The resulting series of images of this immature great blue heron hiding in the reeds came out less than spectacular.  The image is soft and very grainy due to the high ISO I needed this day and due to the fact that I was still learning how to take pictures via this method.  However, I knew I’d never get this shot again. 

 Pretty yucky looking, right?  Well, enter a plugin from Redfield called Fractalius.  I was introduced to this downloadable, although not free, plugin through the artists at RedBubble.  This plugin does work with my old Photoshop Elements 2.0, which generally is another hurdle I must leap over since PSE 2.0 is VERY OLD but all I have.  I opened the image in PSE after downloading the Fractalius plug-in ($49.99 charge), did some clean up removing some of the reeds that cross the bird’s bill through cloning them out and sharpened the image as best as I could.  Then, I ran the image through the Fractalius filter using the “Glo 100” choice.  This is what resulted.

It’s certainly a far cry from the original version and I called this new image “Night Heron” because it gave me the impression of a bird hunkered down for the evening with the moonlight splashing over him.  I can expand my visual picture in my mind thinking the moon is full and shining high off to the left.  I did share this picture with some pro bird photographers and got some nice feedback on it as well as a few suggestions to tweak it a bit for further enhancement.

Here’s another example of a rose photo taken at a friend’s house.  It’s a beautiful image as is, although I am a bit miffed I clipped the upper petal… and below that is what it became after running it through Fractalius.

I did so some additional clean up removing some stray lines and blending/blurring some of the edges I didn’t like but I did get some nice comments on this one as well.


A documentary image of a captive Barred Owl.   Again, this could be taken as pretty boring.  The following images are made by using the black and white drawing selection and the Glo 100 selection. 


Hum... what to do with this one?   


Let’s try Fotosketcher!! 

After running this image through this free downloadable program, I ran the image through using the “oil painting” choice and selected to add a canvas texture to it as well as heavier brushstrokes.   Beside the full image is a detail crop showing the brush strokes and texture effect.

When I visited a local craft store to get a price on matting and framing this image, a pro photographer was also waiting at the counter.  She couldn’t believe this was a digitally post processed image and raved about how beautiful it turned out.  Needless to say, I was beaming when I left there!  

Fotosketcher has several effects from pencil sketches to watercolor effects or even adding frames and canvas like textures.  And, it's a free downloadable program that will work with my old PSE 2.0.

How about a third choice for unusual effects?  I recently was introduced Optikvervelabs by Suzanne Williams after seeing an image she turned into a spectacular black and white.  I took one of my “documentary” images of a monarch butterfly and ran it through several of the choices available.  These are just at the tip of the iceburg!  There are many more options you can try!

Here's my favorite which I hope to turn into a greeting card.  This one was done in layers.  I took the original butterfly image, duplicated the image, turned both into layers, and did a gaussian blur on the lower layer.  The sharp layer required me to delete everything around the butterfly letting the blurry lower layer show through.  I flatted the image and then ran it through the "Dreamy" selection and this is what came of it.  Not too shabby.

To sum up, sometimes those less than stellar images can sometimes end up pretty cool after doing some digital alterations or manipulations using some of those programs and plugins out there.  Most of all, it's about having fun, creating, and enjoying what results!


NOTES:  Additional links to other programs.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Say It With Flowers

The giving of flowers can help lift a person's spirits when they are feeling down or they can symbolize the love shared between couples or help bring a smile to one who is sick.  This practice has been going on for centuries between couples in love or between members of the family or between good friends.  I have fond memories as a child of staying at my Grandparent's apartment in the city and walking to the corner store with Grandma to get fresh produce and coming home with a new potted Geranium to give to Mom and it's a practice I've tried to be faithful to well into my adulthood especially since the meaning of comfort seemed to really fit.  My parents divorced when I was five years old and comfort was definitely something my mother needed in those early years after my father broke his vows and left.  

Here is a partial list of flowers and their meanings taken from the website “About Flowers” – I focused on those with positive meanings and you can visit their site for the full list.  

Amaryllis                   dramatic
Anemone                    fragile
Apple Blossom           promise
Aster                          contentment
Azalea                        abundance
Baby's Breath            festivity
Bachelor Button         anticipation
Begonia                     deep thoughts
Camellia                    graciousness
Cosmos                     peaceful
Crocus                      foresight
Daffodil                    chivalry
Delphinium               boldness
Freesia                      spirited
Forget-Me-Not         remember me forever
Gardenia                   joy
Geranium                 comfort
Gladiolus                 strength of character
Hibiscus                   delicate beauty
Holly                        domestic happiness
Hyacinth                   sincerity
Hydrangea                perseverance
Iris                            inspiration
Ivy                            fidelity
Jasmine                     grace and elegance
Larkspur                    beautiful spirit
Lilac                         first love
Lisianthus                calming
Magnolia                 dignity
Marigold                  desire for riches
Nasturtium                patriotism
Orchid                      delicate beauty
Pansy                        loving thoughts
Passion flower          passion
Peony                        healing
Poppy                        consolation
Queen Anne's Lace   delicate femininity
Star of Bethlehem      hope
Stephanotis                good luck
Statice                         success
Sunflower                   adoration, loyalty, longevity
Wisteria                      steadfast
Yarrow                        good health
Zinnia                         thoughts of friends


Some flowers can have various meanings based on their color or particular variety. 

pink for gratitude, red for flashy, striped for refusal, white for remembrance, and yellow for cheerful.

bronze = excitement; white = truth; red for sharing and yellow for secret admirer

The Calla lily stands for regal; Casablanca for celebration; a Day Lily for enthusiasm; and the exotic Stargazer lily for ambition.

Pink for friendship; red for passionate love; red & white for unity; white for purity; yellow for zealous.

Pink = caring; purple = royalty; red = declaration of love; white = forgiveness; yellow = hopelessly in love; and violet for faithfulness 

Upon further reading, the website Meaning of Flowers, the number of flowers can have a meaning.  The site states that normally these following sentiments are done through the giving of roses:

Meaning of one flower – You are my everything
Meaning of two flowers – Let us travel away together
Meaning of three flowers – When will I see you again?
Meaning of four flowers – I look up to you and am grateful to you
Meaning of five flowers – I would do anything for you
Meaning of six flowers – I doubt your words
Meaning of seven flowers – I love you
Meaning of eight flowers – I will be faithful to you until death
Meaning of nine flowers – I want to be alone with you
Meaning of ten flowers – Will you marry me?
12 flowers – The perfect dozen, perfect love
36 flowers – Attachment to ones partner, 36 is one of the most romantic numbers there is.
99 flowers – Love you forever
365 flowers – Loving you every day of the year.

What about our native wildflowers?  There are many beautiful blooms out there if one just takes a walk in a state forest or park where flowers grow wild.  These are sometimes looked upon as weeds but in many cases have served as the source plants for the wide variety of cultivars and varieties plant growers have used to create our garden variety plants.  I’ve grown fond of letting some of the “weeds” have their way in the yard.  As a lover of Nature and wildlife, allowing native flowers to grow supports the animals and require far less care than the various cultivated plants.  I have a new mantra - “Go Native”.  As I research plants I know used to grow wild in my area, I hope to return some of them to my yard.  For the small stand of Goldenrod that now grow on the edge of my yard, I am pleased to see the great variety of butterflies and other insects that come to sip nectar from them.  Joe-pye Weed brings in the swallowtails and Monarchs and provide seeds for the Goldfinches in the fall and a haven of small insect life that feed the dragonflies.  There are a wild variety of interesting blooms out there – some that serve us by providing food or medicine, food for birds and insects or as host plants for the larvae of butterflies.  A small section of cliff abbuting three properties including mine has become a growing spot for a particular type of milkweed.  I've been amazed with the number of wasps and bees coming to nectar on the white flowers and those insects have served as great fun for my macro lens.  Take a look at those “weeds” and see just how interesting or useful and beautiful they can be - not only themselves but for the host of life that will make use of them.  Of course, the types of native wildflowers one finds in a particular location will vary.  However, here is a list of some native flowers and their meaning (resources: Living Art Originals and )

Bird of Paradise – freedom, good perspective, faithfulness (when woman gives to man)
Black-Eyed Susan encouragement
Buttercup – humility, neatness, childishness
Cattail – peace and prosperity
Dandelion – persistence and strong will
Daisy innocence
Ferns – magic, fascination, confidence
Goldenrod – caution or good fortune, encouragement
Honeysuckle – bond of love, devotion, generosity
Morning Glory – affection
Trillium – healing, joy of spring

So, if you are creating greeting cards using flowers as the subject or want to tell someone something in particular, say it with the right flower.