In Search of the Perfect Moment

    I had forgotten about Spalding Gray until last year when a friend reminded me how memorable his live performances were, especially Swimming to Cambodia. Gray was the consummate storyteller. Known for his insightful personal monologues, Spalding Gray built each rendition of his narrative from the memory of the last performance. With each successive presentation, he would refine and perfect them. Swimming to Cambodia was one of these unique theatre pieces on which Gray spent two years developing.

    Swimming to Cambodia was written in 1985, based on Gray’s trip to Southeast Asia, and in this YouTube excerpt he talks about searching for “the perfect moment.” Spalding Gray was constantly searching for one, and believed as I once did, that they could only happen at an unexpected time and place. But, in the past year, “I have experienced more perfect moments than I can count,” which I now believe can be attained whenever we want. The “perfect moment” is where time seems to stand still; it is when we become fully “present.” As Eckhart Tolle puts it in The Power of Now, it is when we mentally are able to be neither in the past, nor the future, but in the “NOW.” Usually, I get glimpses of these moments, which last for a few brief seconds or minutes, but I have known these moments to sometimes last for hours. They can happen anywhere at any time, and I can be doing almost anything. I have had perfect moments when I’ve been in the company of family and friends, at a birthday celebration, in a meeting at work, a quiet lunch, and even when I’ve been alone driving in the car.

    If I’ve made it sound like I can turn these moments on and off like a light switch, well, I can’t. I am not at a place spiritually where I can do that yet. To be present continues to be a struggle. I still worry about my family and friends, agonize over finances, have bouts with depression, and experience emotional pain that is almost palpable, but in time, I hope to reach a level of enlightenment where perfect moments become the norm. If I understand Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D. of My Stroke of Insight correctly, it’s allowing my “right brain” to be more in balance with my “left brain.” For now, I do my best to be aware of my “mind chatter” (left brain) watch it, observe without judging it (right brain), and as a result, be present and in the moment. To be in the moment and present, I’ve come to believe, is always perfect and should be cherished, even if it’s for only for a second.

Fall Roundup

Can You Relate?

    True to form, and much to their credit, the writers of the Simpsons have squared off against one of today’s prevailing social crises, education in our public schools. In this episode, Marg, desperately in need of a restroom, uses one at the local school. By chance, and to her chagrin, she observes overcrowded classrooms, apathetic teachers, and deteriorating facilities. However, another Simpson adventure ensues when Marg and Homer discover that to ameliorate their situation, they must acquire the “proper” address for Bart and Lisa to attend a better school in the district.

    Many of the situations depicted in this episode ring true with me. Albeit exaggerated, they are for the most part accurate. For example, random visitations, called “bed check,” do take place in some districts.  At the beginning of every school year, a school official, not quite like Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men, makes random house visits to confirm that your child lives in the district. I know this to be true because we had such a visit one evening four years ago. My family moved to South Pasadena, CA six years ago to have access to good public schools. We didn’t rent a 10’ x 10’ apartment as Homer did, but moved from a home we loved, to be in a town that takes pride in its schools, and where our children could grow up, be well, and thrive. So, the satirical representation of public schools in “Waverly Hills 9021-D’oh” isn’t a stretch for many middle and lower middle income families for whom private schools is not an option.

    Parents with school-aged children, or anyone who values the importance of a quality public school system, will appreciate this snapshot of our present-day culture. Enjoy!

p.s., comments from my reader(s) is (are) appreciated.

Blaise Aguera y Arcas: Awe-inspiring Photosynth Demo

    Several months ago I began watching TED lectures for want of inspiration. Sometimes they are sent to me by family and friends, and sometimes I will choose one at random. Every lecture I have watched has been inspiring or touched me in some way. However, quite naturally, some strike a chord with me more than others. This one, perhaps because I think visually, blew me away. If there was ever something that comes close to illustrating a collective experience, this is it.
    Blaise Aguera y Arcas developed a program called Seadragon, which was acquired by Microsoft in 2006. Seadragon is an environment in which you can interact with images seamlessly (panning, zooming, rearranging, etc.) with enormous amounts of visual data. It doesn’t matter how big the collections are or how big the images are. You are able to “dive” through images and have a multi-resolution experience. The only thing that limits the performance of this system is the number of pixels on your screen.
    Photosynth merges two technologies, one is Seadragon and the other is some computer vision research done by Noah Snavely, a graduate student from the University of Washington, co-advised by Steve Sites, and Rick Szeleczky at Microsoft Research.  What is unique about Photosynth is that the spatial arrangement of the images becomes meaningful. The computer vision algorithms have registered these images together so that they correspond to the real space. The aggregate view from the individual photos of Notre Dame Cathedral is nothing less than astounding. It was achieved entirely computationally from images acquired from Flickr. What becomes significant is that what we believe to be a unique individual experience now becomes a part of a collective memory. By using this technology we are able to acquire images from social networks, link them together, and create something that represents a Gestalt (the result being greater than the sum of its parts). The more users there are, the more everyone benefits, because each user’s image is being tagged with someone else's metadata. Therefore, each image is enriched with every new photo that is added. This could very well redefine the way we see the world, or at the very least, the way we see the digital world.

Back From BCAM


The Inaugural Installation - Through September 2008

    I am probably a little late to the party, but during spring break, I had the opportunity to spend a wonderful afternoon at LACMA's (The Los Angeles County Museum of Art) new BCAM (The Broad Contemporary Art Museum). I really felt at home there. Many of the artists represented in the exhibit were, and continue to be, important to me and the development of my own work. All of the art is exceptional, but one work in particular stands out, the sculptural installation titled Urban Light by Chris Burden. It is engaging because Chris Burden is able to do so much by doing so little to over two hundred restored cast-iron lampposts from Los Angeles County.  The lights, arranged simply in a tight grid, are transformed from being something utilitarian to something nonfunctional, art. By day, a stroll through the sculpture is reminiscent of a walk through an ancient Greek temple; by night, the sculpture bathes the visitor in a warm protective blanket of light making him or her not just an observer but an integral part of the art itself.

    Putting aside the fact that Eli Broad, home builder and art collector extraordinaire, helped to see BCAM realized for the sole purpose of establishing permanent digs for his extensive art collection, BCAM offers viewers an exceptional in depth view of American contemporary art. The works of art are grouped by individual artists and provide a generous representation of some the most significant artists of the last forty years which include: Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha, Andy Warhol, Ellsworth Kelly, Cindy Sherman, Jean-Michel Basquiat, John Baldessari, Jeff Koons, Chris Burden, Mike Kelley, and Richard Serra.


Typography Primer

You need a cornerstone to build a cathedral.

    My lecture titled the Basics of Typography is now available on Google Video and can be download to your iPod or Sony PSP. Adobe software (Photoshop, Illustrator, etc.), as well as a host of other software packages for print, the Web, and motion graphics, provide us with a variety of robust typographic tools. However, to be able to take full advantage of them, a rudimentary knowledge of typography and design principles is essential.   

    In additon, please view the YouTube video on using type as a design element. It beautifully illustrates how type can be a powerful graphic element that both enhances the aesthetic of a design and facilitates the communication of an idea.



A Cure For The Creative Doldrums

    Feeling burned out? Have you hit the proverbial creative brick wall? Is the gas gauge on your creativity meter registering empty?

    Then you could use a creative diversion... Gizmo!

    Watch five minutes of this a day to refill your creativity tank. It's novel, amusing, and sometimes just plain goofy.


Tokidoki with Simone Legno

Adobe Illustrator - Inspiration

    Inspired by Japanese manga (comic books) and anime (animation), the illustrations of Italian designer Simone Legno have become immensely popular to an international audience.  Legno has successfully branded his work, marketed, and licensed his tokidoki collection on everything from hand bags to skate decks; the current obsession by some collectors is nothing less than astonishing.

    Lynda Weinman has produced a series of videos online at that document Legno's creative process from start to finish. In them, Lynda interviews Legno, and we observe him drawing his characters in his sketch book - then complete them in Adobe Illustrator. The series consists of 10 short videos. Unfortunately, most are available to subscribers only. "Shame on you Lynda!" During the first session this summer, I'll be offering Art 186 - Computer Graphics with Adobe Illustrator at Cerritos College as a hybrid course and encourage anyone interested in Illustrator to look at Simone Legno's work for inspiration.

    As a parenthetical note, the visual similarity between the work of Simone Legno and Takashi Murakami is striking (See my Blog, Murakami | The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA). However, what distinguishes one from the other is that Murakami's work is framed by a Fine Art context, and by misinterpreting and appropriating concepts of minimal and pop art, specifically Andy Warhol, Murakami successfully adopts the modus operandi of advertising, brands his characters, thereby blurring the distinction between high and low art. Simone Legno's frame of reference, on the other hand, is strictly commercial (i.e., design / illustration). There is nothing in his work that challenges conventional ideas. He sometimes ventures out by making a facile attempt at painting but remains wholly rooted in commercial art. Legno's characters compared to Murakami's are a pastiche and nothing more.

    The thrust of this comparison lies not in the stylistic similarity between Legno and Murakami, or high vs. low art, but with respect to each artist's ability to brand his collection and license it to every kind of product imaginable. What makes Legno and Murakami interesting to me is how they have taken the notion of branding and dialed it up to a degree that would make even the most astute ad man envious.

H20 Goes With The Flow.


Building a Global Community of Learning

    This past weekend my wife stumbled upon an incredible website, H2O Playlist. H2O is a web-based home for educational collaboration, in beta, and founded by The Berkman Center For Internet & Society at Harvard University. Educators and students alike can benefit by using this tool, which should be familiar to anyone who has used Playlists in iTunes. The concept is very similar. 

H2O playlists are more than just a cool, sleek technology -- they represent a new way of thinking about education online. An H2O Playlist is a series of links to books, articles, and other materials that collectively explore an idea or set the stage for a course, discussion, or current event.

"H2O Playlists make it easy to:

  • transform traditional syllabi into interactive, global learning tools
  • share the reading lists of world-renowned scholars, organizations, and cultural leaders
  • let interested people subscribe to playlist updates and stay current on their fields
  • promote an exchange of ideas and expertise among professors, students, and researchers
  • communicate and aggregate knowledge -- online and offline."

    You can learn about the philosophy of H2O in their video Go With the Flow, and you can also read about their philosophy.

Painted Yourself Into A Corner Lately?

Paintincorner02    Long before computers, I worked for many years as an airbrush illustrator.  As a commercial artist, I discovered the importance of making rapid, seamless (i.e.-undetectable) changes to my artwork.  Mistakes will happen, but when there’s a deadline looming, a plan for making clean repairs is essential.  Additionally, it is important to note that changes are part-and-parcel of the business; clients nearly always want to make “improvements” to the artwork you create.

    With some forethought, you can develop techniques to render your artwork non-destructive.  This will make the modifications quick, easy, and more enjoyable, while demonstrating your value as an effective and knowledgeable professional.

    For users of draw programs like Adobe Illustrator, making nondestructive artwork is a slam dunk provided you don't go to the dark side and Rasterize objects. Draw programs create Vector Images, and by default, offer the user the luxury of multiple undos. Command + Z (Macintosh) or Control + Z is your friend. The default setting for many programs is 10 undos, and depending on which program your using, can be increased to as many as 200 undos.

    On the other hand, Bitmap/Raster Images created in programs like Photoshop are less forgiving and require more planning. Photoshop is a 'memory hog' and technically has only one undo. The introduction of the history panel now permits you to go back 20 steps, but it is important to note that each click of the mouse constitutes a step, and the history panel is cleared as soon as you close the file. Therefore, don't rely on the undo command, or History Panel. It's advisable to take a different tack in order to avert a serious disaster.

    Everyone needs to devise their own system, but until you develop yours, my recommendation is to do the following:

  • Save your files often, and name them in sequential order (i.e., file.01, file.02, etc.). This will give you access to earlier versions of your project should you desire to pursue another direction later or realize you have made a serious mistake.
  • Separate elements of your project on layers whenever possible. This applies to all computer graphics applications (e.g., Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, Lightwave, etc.) but especially Photoshop.
  • Duplicate layers and place them in Layer Groups in Photoshop. Turn the duplicate layers' visibility off and use them as "spare parts."
  • In Photoshop use Layer Masks whenever possible.
  • Photoshop CS3 users now have the luxury of applying filters that are nondestructive by turning layers into Smart Objects.
  • Illustrator users should use Effects instead of Filters because Filters are permanent, and Effects are editable and nondestructive.
  • In Photoshop, create a New Snapshot of  your document using the History Panel. This feature enables you to save alternate versions of your project while your working on it, but as I mentioned before, disappears when you close the file.

    To discover you've painted yourself into a corner with a project can be exasperating. Having to start your project over from scratch is disheartening. This often leads students to throw up their hands in despair and  give up.  Sadly, I see this happen all too often.

    Accept the fact that it's not possible to avoid disaster in every situation. Technology isn't perfect, and we're not perfect, but if you follow some of the suggestions outlined above, I believe you'll have a much more enjoyable, and less stressful, journey on your way to learning computer graphics.

    If any of my readers have something to add, I would love to hear from you.