Learning to Love the Unexpected


I was recently cleaning out my studio / office when I came across an old folder of negatives. It was interesting because there were some 35mm negatives in plastic sleeves from my darkroom days alongside digital negatives I had printed on transparency using my home printer. Two different worlds - the darkroom and the digital space - but such similar tactile objects I held in my hands. Both sent a wave of nostalgia over me, acting as personal time capsules.

Sometimes is it hard to visualize how Digital Art can be tactile - how digital can link to traditional - how the cold hard computer screen can be personal and real. For some that is. I never seemed to have that issue. From the beginning I took an approach to creating images with the computer by recording memories and dreams. These ethereal feelings and fragments of subconscious thought slowly taking form on screen was and still is a magical thing to me. Just as magical as the image rising to the surface in the murky chemical baths of the darkroom. There is something about the moments experienced or felt appearing before your eyes again in image form that really can't be beat.

The digital negatives I found really inspired me and reminded me how exciting it can be both to work on screen, but then to move the imagery off screen to be transformed yet again. The negatives were images of clouds that I had inverted and printed as 8" x 8" negatives on coated transparency paper for the printer. My intention had been to use the negatives for sun prints. For those not familiar, these are cyanotypes created by placing objects or negatives on UV sensitive paper. Leaving the paper out in the sun, you can transform a digital image that is created via light on screen into something warmed into being in your backyard. What a beautiful thing!

Perhaps it's time to reconsider the must-have archival digital print - you just have to think outside the box (or the screen you've been staring at) - and figure out what makes sense for your work if this is something you are interested in exploring.

I've tested out dying digital prints on rag paper with teas and other natural stains to create washed out worn down imagery that blurs the boundaries between mediums at first glance. The ink begins to bleed and smudge when liquid is introduced. This is hard to deal with for those attached to the image on screen. But if you are willing to work on screen with the knowledge that that is just the starting point - you really can have a lot of fun. You just have to let go and know that you will not be able to completely control the process - as you are used to doing on screen. Tearing, stitching, waxing, staining, - so many artists are using the screen as the first step amongst many when it comes to their work. The digital object does not have to be viewed on screen or as a high-end print to be viewed as a "finished" art object - it can take on many other forms and still be high quality and high craft.

Even if you are confined to a home printer, think about how to use the non-archival prints as raw material. There are photographers that forgo the fancy lenses and shoot sans lens with amazing results. Others use oatmeal boxes to create pinhole cameras and link to the world in wonderfully haunting ways. Smudging ink, coating with UV varnish to project the image, allowing it to fade intentionally and photographing the results, etc, etc. Don't be afraid to experiment like crazy. The expensive high-end print can beautiful but the low-end, hands-on process can lead to unexpected beauty as well.

When I taught, my students were always a split camp when it came to the mixed media project - but most ended up falling in love at the end. What was dividing them in the beginning was the idea of giving up control and being comfortable with not knowing where the art process was going to take you. Many liked to formulate a plan when working on screen. They would come up with an idea and then set out to make the image. When working with mixed media - one mark on the page often time inspires another - leading you down unexpected paths. Many students soon began to see the on-screen process and the off-screen process transform the prints in ways they just couldn't have visualized and planned out from the beginning and they learn how to loosen up and let their instincts be their guide- making them stronger artists because of it.

As with most things in life - with digital transformations you have to trust in the process - and if you do you may be pleasantly surprised. Leaving a image out in the sun and coming back in a few minutes to find it transformed is truly letting go. You are letting your work be directed by the world. That's a really cool thing! Don't be confined by what digital art is but instead imagine where it will take you next.

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