My Photoshop Process : A Revealing Collaboration

I recently received a little gift— a chance to slow down, reflect on my favorite creative Pho­toshop tech­niques and recall how my current artistic style is influenced by grade-school experiments.

This collaboration began with an email from artist/author/instructor Seán Duggan. We had met a few summers ago while both teaching Photography and Photoshop at Maine Media Workshops, and revealed that we enjoyed each others’ work. In his email, Seán asked if I would like to con­tribute to “Pho­toshop Masking and Com­positing”, a new Pho­toshop book he was co-writing with digital artists Katrin Eismann and James Porto.

Duggan's book cover on Sky6k

I knew it would be a pleasure to con­tribute to a book by any or all of these authors, and that no matter how busy, I would make time for this.

The ‘catch’ was that Seán needed all materials in a few days, and I had just landed in Aspen to teach a solid week of pho­tography to a very full class. Seán was teaching too, but in Iceland, and under a rapidly nearing deadline.

He sent me a brief outline of ideas for illus­trated spreads about creative Pho­toshop artists’ processes called: “Artist In the First Person”. To illustrate my contribution, I would need to access and reformat some high-res images, but I had only my ‘lean, clean teaching machine’ Mac­BookPro with me. For­tu­nately, I had cloned my studio MacPro tower’s work files onto a 1.5tb portable Seagate Go-Flex Free-Agent drive, so I had my whole high-res portfolio with me. Score!

After a few email volleys over interna­tional datelines, we chose three of my more personal artworks and the context of my written contribution. I assumed that most con­tributors would talk about their present creative process, but I wanted to inform readers about how I began—at age seven— and got to where I am. It was fun to recall my meta­mor­phosis and also talk about how I approach my artwork today. My thinking was that many emerging Pho­toshop artists might enjoy knowing that using PS is a process of practice, creative play, doing and lots of undoing. It is possible to truly express yourself through Pho­toshop once you know the tools and have spent the time to immerse into the bril­liance and com­plexity of the appli­cation. It is also in making little accidents that you really learn Pho­toshop, and yourself.

 

Duggan's book DJ spread on Sky 6k

My personal take-away from this expe­rience was that col­lab­o­rating with others, even in a small way, is a truly rewarding experience of giving back. Sharing what we know is what we are here to do.

Some people keep a journal, and through that practice they are deeply in touch with what matters to them. I don’t often write, but I do use pho­to­graphic explo­rations as my chrono­logical mirror. One way to do this is the revealing self portrait, and I’ll soon write more about this process in an upcoming post.

~

Here is an expanded version of my feature in “Pho­toshop Masking and Com­positing”:

“I’ve been using Pho­toshop since 1993, but I had prayed for it 30 years earlier. Not sat­isfied with the crayons given to me in grade school, I pasted scrap images cut from mag­azines onto cardboard col­lected from my dad’s dry-cleaned shirts. Even­tually, I began col­laging and drawing entire scenes where machines with human limbs and household appliance heads spoke in math symbols from airborne auto­mobiles. When my artwork triggered alarming concern from my parents and teachers, I knew I was onto something and I was soon hooked on collage.

In my teens and with a borrowed camera, I shot parts of what I had seen in my dreams and became fas­cinated with sur­realism.  I was especially drawn to the pho­to­graphic magic of Man Ray, Jiri Kolar, Jerry Uelsmann, and the graphic wizardry of record album covers. While working part time at Harvard (pron: Haahvad) as a lab assistant in a subterranean warren of sealed rooms, I explored my first photographic darkroom. Though many have found mecca in such glowing red creative havens, I became frustrated and felt confined to in yet another corrosive bat cave. I longed for a precise montage process with instant visual feedback and editing. i would have to wait, so I learned to create montaged illustrations and assemblages in mixed media. Twenty years later, while on staff as a visual designer at TimeWarner/HBO, I dis­covered Pho­toshop 2.5 and dove into the deep end with eyes wide open. Photoshop was still lean and slow, but when version 3.0 was released, it held the tools I craved: layers, instant revisions, unlimited color options, textures, opacity, and pre­cision masking. Flash forward to present; It is through a com­bi­nation of layers, masks, and selective fil­tration that I can now create almost anything I conceive.

"Desire" by David Julian

Sitting down at the computer to find a concept and make art doesn’t nec­es­sarily start my ideas flowing. My brain-train likes to be moving, so I discover some of my best ideas while exer­cizing, kayaking, hiking or dancing. I also sketch in a Moleskine book while attending per­formances or when evesdropping on adjacent conversations. I refine the best of my simple scrawls and import them as a template into Pho­toshop. To bridge my mind to the software, I use my beloved Wacom Intuos pen tablet and a Cintiq pen tablet display to keep the tactile quality of pen in hand, and to give me pressure sen­sitive control in the digital world. To regain the tactile feel of a pencil when sketching in Photoshop, I sometimes tape a sheet of paper directly onto my tablet. 

Transformation-build-sketch

Today, I use digital cameras, scanners, and Pho­toshop to complete assignments for clients and my own personal image explo­rations. My process varies depending on the nature of my input or my goal. I sometimes have a pre-visualized idea to accomplish through pur­poseful and somewhat linear pro­duction steps. For that process, I sketch my idea and then build it with plenty of room for inter­pre­tation. At least as often, I truly wing it. If am inspired by something—an image, a film, place, a con­ver­sation or event—my ADD brain leads my thoughts down a winding path of ideas and tireless exper­i­men­tation. That’s when I really burn the midnight oil and take my most adven­turous visual journeys.

     “I become lost, and found, in Photoshop.”

When I work with clients, they may come to me with a rough concept or at least a title to target with my visual. I then I brainstorm my ideas into rough sketches for dis­cussion or approval. Col­lab­o­rating with them energizes me more than confines me, and with my problem solving expe­rience as an art director, I am usually given a creatively free hand. I like my work to have a powerful ‘first read’, but reveal deeper ideas to reward the curious viewer within my crafted and often peculiar details. I like to spark the imag­i­nation yet leave some inter­pre­tation to the viewer.

"FEAR" by David Julian

Sym­bolism plays an important role in my work and clues in the viewer to what I am revealing about the subject, and about myself. For example, but­terflies are used to suggest an ephemeral yet powerful icon of trans­for­mation, beauty, fragility and my years of collecting in both urban and tropical forests. Hearts, keys, eyes, clocks, gears, and numbers hang from wires, and objects are served up by floating hands. I also brand my former passions in ento­mology by embedding a tiny Ant element in nearly every com­posite.”

“For me, Pho­toshop is powerful, wondrous, precise, and lim­itless. Pho­toshop helps me express myself.” 

If you’d like to create your own photo-illustrations and enhance pho­tographs with orig­i­nality and expertise, I invite you to join me in one of my upcoming Creative Pho­toshop workshops, or schedule personal live tutorial sessions using free Skype desktop sharing. I’ve got lots to share with you.

~ dj

Quoted (edited) text excerpt from “Pho­toshop Masking & Com­positing” by Katrin Eismann, Seán Duggan, and James Porto. Copyright © 2013. Used with per­mission of Pearson Edu­cation, Inc. and New Riders.

 

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3 Responses to My Photoshop Process : A Revealing Collaboration

  1. Carol Edan says:

    Congratulations! Love Katrin’s books..have 2…my photoshop bibles!

  2. Sean is a cool guy, I met him at the Workshops too.

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