This morning as I was working in my office reminded me of the expression “Throw things at the wall and see what sticks!” This can seem a bit like a shotgun approach to art making but it really isn’t. The reason I have to go through this process is because I cannot trust my eyes or my judgement at any particular moment. Our eyes see color and luminosity differently at each hour of the day and our vision is impacted by energy level, emotion, and fatigue. To make the final edits on an image I have to make multiple versions and keep working until I break the image by pushing it too far in terms of sharpness, texture, luminosity, saturation, hue, and composition. I then have to give the print some time to live within my workspace to verify that the print looks good at various levels of eye fatigue throughout the day and night.
Winemaking and Art
I think a fine art studio practice is a lot like winemaking. There is a lot of testing and time that goes into choosing and making a final print that I sell to my patrons. Annual gallery shows are like wine release parties where the winemaker essentially says the wine is now good enough to drink.
As I am preparing new works for a couple of upcoming shows I’ve been busy making test prints and putting them up in my office under gallery track lighting and natural window light to see which version of an image is best and what materials should be used. It can be a grueling process. With one recent image I had my lab print seven 5×7 metal prints of the same image just to see what surface finish works the best on that particular image!
The aging process
Sometimes it takes several years before I am ready to release an image and other times only a few weeks are needed. Usually it takes 1-2 years before I am confident that an image is ready to sell and become a permanent part of someone’s home or office. Part of the reason delays between photographing and printing the work are necessary is because you need time for the emotions to subside so I can be objective in evaluating my work.
The reason I picked up the camera to make the initial exposure is because I was excited about something that came into my field of vision. In that sense I am in love with every image and I work and work at it until I have lost the excitement and I know I have done all I can with the composition. This particular image involved taking almost a hundred exposures and then selecting 6 frames to stitch together into a mural size image that can be printed up to 8 feet wide!
The waiting process takes place immediately after I made my first basic corrections for exposure in the darkroom. At that point I am exhausted from the photo shoot and from the the initial review of my photos after I return from a hike or long trip. I need to wait to make final edits because I am exhausted by the subject and really almost start to dislike the image before I can return to a neutral center and make objective decisions about which images to print and what final adjustments I need to make to adequately interpret the scene to reflect what I was excited about in the first place.
The Barrel Tasting on Social Media
A lot of times I do post images to social media right away because I want to share my excitement but most of the time I feel a little queasy afterwards because I realized I released the image too soon. However I do gain some insight into what images resonate with my patrons based upon the responses I get to the images. Comments and likes can tell me a lot about the work based not just on the number but rather who out of all the people I know and trust personally took the time to say something about one of my images. In that sense a social media release early on is like the barrel tasting of a new vintage that is still in the oak barrel.
Today I came back to an image from a hike up at Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge. Sarah and I completed a 4 mile hike and I was struck by this meadow that appeared to me to offer up an alter to nature with the perfectly symmetrical tree in the distant middle.
We had never visited this refuge before and I became excited by the fact that it is the largest wildlife refuge in the lower 48 states and the only forested and mountainous refuge outside of Alaska. As we face the long fire season and stare at yellow yards, the evergreen of the pine needles and the resilience of the wildflowers and grasses give hope and faith in a better season ahead. I hope you enjoy the image! Please feel free to leave me a comment about what you think about the art-making process and this image.