Independent vs collaborative creative processes.

I know a song-writer who divides his creative process in two parts. 1) Creating, which he does alone, and 2) Editing, which he does with others, and in a separate room from the one he creates in. I used to think this a bit weird, but more and more I think its a great idea.

I bring this up because all to often I see writers talk about their craft as if they are doing it all alone. Yet every other art form I’ve done (both professionally and as a hobby) has used both an independent creative process and a collaborative creative process. Usually, like my song-writer acquaintance above, the initial creative process is done independently, while the editing is done collaboratively. But even the independent part of the creative process, (Bog, is there a better word than “independent” to describe working alone?) is not really working alone, at least for me. When I write my ideas come from all around me. Something said to me earlier that day might make its way into the story, or a joke I overheard, or something I witnessed on the bus. And that’s not counting the hundreds of novels and stories I’ve read over the years. Surely some of that works its way into everything I write.

And once you get to editing a novel (and I’m not just talking copy-editing here) then the story goes from independent to collaborative. An author writes, but where would their novel be if there weren’t promoters, and printers, book-jacket designers and art directors, publishers and even readers? All of these people make up a successful novel, not just the author. I think its time we authors start admitting this. Our stories are more than just the sum of their parts.

 

Book Cover Design

I did a book cover project for the wife of a friend of mine. I think it came out pretty good, what do you think?

If you wish to download the book, you can find it here: Leaving Stage IV

 

 

Forget the toast, which side falls up when you drop a cube of butter.

We at Chez Tolladay are civilized enough to keep the butter dish in the cupboard, not the refrigerator. This morning we discovered that if said butter is dropped from waist height it makes the most interesting pattern on the floor. A nice round circle, with the remainder of the cube stuck in the middle. It looked, for all the world, as if it were a high speed photograph, freezing the action half-way through the splash. Fortunately the floor was cold enough for me to scrape most of it up before it spread further.

Alas, I didn’t think about taking a picture until after I cleaned it up. 🙁

Skin Texture tutorial

I’ve been using a technique to retouch skin for a while, and thought I would share it. It is fast, and if done well, fairly seamless. It is not perfect, but it is faster than perfection.

The basic premise is that when you do major changes to a person’s skin, you have to leave the texture behind in order to rebuild the features smoothly. This is especially true when retouching the neck and jaw line, but this technique can also be used on the cheeks, forehead, chin, and other places where the underling skin, absent of it’s texture, is nothing but a smooth complex gradation. This technique allows you to build the gradation, and then go back and put in the skin texture.

1. The first image shows how I like to set up my work. As you can see by the contents of the Layers Palette, the initial image layer is named by the file name (that way I can find the darn thing later).

2. Here is where I do my retouching. I make a duplicate of the initial image (so I can always refer back to it if necessary), and I name the duplicate RET. In this example I went ahead and retouched the neck, especially where the skin was clumpy, and got rid of a some bulges as well. All work was done loosely with the Clone Tool. If you look closely you can see some soft spots where the retouched skin has no texture. Normally this is a problem, but not if we replace the texture.

3. This is my next step, adding a blur layer. To get this layer, I duplicate the RET layer, after I’ve cloned out the major flaws. The blur should be large enough that it covers the smaller flaws and imperfections, smoothing out the potholes and such. In this case I did a Gausian Blur of 5.1, but half the time I end up doing a Median instead as it keeps the gross features, while blurring the fine ones. The number isn’t important, as it is based on the pixel size which will vary depending upon resolution, and the size of your image. The trick is to blur it enough.

4. Here I am adding a new layer which will by my texture layer. Essentially it is a layer set to Overlay, with a 50% grey fill. Nothing fancy here, if your used to working noise in on a separate Overlay layer.

5. This is where the texture it added to our layer. I’m using Grain, and in this case the Grain is the Enlarged setting. The grain from the Grain filter is larger than a Gausian Noise (which is why I use it). The trick here is to try the different settings until you get something close to the native skin texture. This may take a while to get. At first it will appear WAY too sharp (which is okay, and we can turn that down with the layer’s opacity) and the colors will be way off. Do not worry. Complete the steps, and then go back an undo if you don’t like it. I usually test in a small patch, and then apply Grain to the whole layer once I found something close. I also will scale the grain sometimes up or down to get a more precise match. You should not have to go up or down more than 50%. If you do, then you chose the wrong settings for the Grain, and should go back and try another set.

6. Once we have the Grain the right size, we then have to fix a few flaws that the filter does to the Grain. The first one I do it remove all saturation, so the final Grain is completely greyscale. You might wish to leave a dash of color in, but usually it just gets in the way.

7. Now we need to balance the color as the Grain filter tends to leave it too dark or too light. To do this I use Levels on the layer, and pull either of the top ends (darks or lights) until the middle point lines up with the darkest part on the Histogram. In this case, Enlarged tends to go dark, so I drag the dark side up (8-9 usually, but sometimes as high as 14-15). Some of the other Grain settings go lighter, so make sure you don’t skip this step. It is essential that the grain ends up neutral, so it will add a texture to the image without darkening or lightening it. At this point, I usually turn down the Opacity of the Texture to 50% or 40%. Rarely do I need more than this.

8. The final step it to add a layer mask to both the Blur layer, and the Texture layer. I usually fill the mask of the blur layer 100% black, and then working only in the mask I airbrush in its smooth gradation in just the spots I want. I use a light brush doing multiple strokes, rather then try and get it right with just one stroke. Once I have this mask, I apply it to the texture layer. This is a good starting point for the texture as you are only putting it where you covered it with blur to begin with, but I find I need to add a bit more texture to help blend some of the transitions.

9. This last image shows a before and after so you can see the changes to the skin. I don’t usually use this on such a small area, but rather I fix the all of the areas on the skin that need it.

On how it sucks to be an artist

A buddy of mine posted this nice article from Salon called “The Creative Class is a Lie“. Below is my response.

In the creative class a lie? I disagree. Perhaps a better statement would be to say it was oversold. But it has always been this way.

When I moved to LA back in 88, there was a whole group of us young turks out to change the world. We were going to be musicians, actors, screenwriters, directors, artists, etc. By the time we hit our mid 30s, most of us had quit the dream, and taken day jobs. Many moved back home, wherever home was. This is the cycle of the “creative class”. There are always more dreamers than jobs, especially for jobs like “movie star” or “rock star”. There is only going to be a few influential rich in any given field, that is how art has always been.

Has the effects of the Great Recession made things more difficult for these dreamers? Possibly, but I would argue that it also has done a better job of separating the wheat from the chaff. 15 years from now, most of those dreamers will be happy and healthy because they will have found something better for their lives. In contrast, right now they are bitter because their dreams got crushed in the cruel, cruel “real world” of having to pay the rent, and buy food. Time will fix this as it does most things. One only has to look a few years backwards to see.
Perhaps the biggest disservice ever given to young bright-eyed creatives is that no one ever tells them their dreams will happily crush their bones to make its bread. The real world is the crucible. It is harsh, cruel, and has no care for your needs. Many will go in, but only a paltry few will remain. And it is at that point–when you have sold everything for the dream and wake up one day, beaten, tired, and lying at the side of the road–that the real art begins; living your life, not the dream.

A Class of Fancies

A part of this letter is spoken by Orson Wells at the beginning of the Alan Parsons Project album Tales of Mystery & Imagination which is a musical take on Poe’s stories. I got the album from my wife for Father’s Day, and it enjoying it lead me down this rabbit hole of discovery.

Graham’s Magazine, March, 1846

Some Frenchman–possibly Montaigne–says: “People talk about thinking, but for my part I never think except when I sit down to write.” It is this never thinking, unless when we sit down to write, which is the cause of so much indifferent composition. But perhaps there is something more involved in the Frenchman’s observation than meets the eye. It is certain that the mere act of inditing tends, in a great degree, to the logicalisation of thought. Whenever, on account of its vagueness, I am dissatisfied with a conception of the brain, I resort forthwith to the pen, for the purpose of obtaining, through its aid, the necessary form, consequence, and precision.

How very commonly we hear it remarked that such and such thoughts are beyond the compass of words! I do not believe that any thought, properly so called, is out of the reach of language. I fancy, rather, that where difficulty in expression is experienced, there is, in the intellect which experiences it, a want either of deliberateness or of method. For my own part, I have never had a thought which I could not set down in words, with even more distinctness than that with which I conceived it:–as I have before observed, the thought is logicalised by the effort at (written) expression.

There is, however, a class of fancies, of exquisite delicacy, which are not thoughts, and to which, as yet, I have found it absolutely impossible to adapt language. I use the word fancies at random, and merely because I must use some word; but the idea commonly attached to the term is not even remotely applicable to the shadows of shadows in question. They seem to me rather psychal than intellectual. They arise in the soul (alas, how rarely!) only at its epochs of most intense tranquillity–when the bodily and mental health are in perfection–and at those mere points of time where the confines of the waking world blend with those of the world of dreams. I am aware of these “fancies” only when I am upon the very brink of sleep, with the consciousness that I am so. I have satisfied myself that this condition exists but for an inappreciable point of time–yet it is crowded with these “shadows of shadows”; and for absolute thought there is demanded time’s endurance.

These “fancies” have in them a pleasurable ecstasy, as far beyond the most pleasurable of the world of wakefulness, or of dreams, as the Heaven of the Northman theology is beyond its Hell. I regard the visions, even as they arise, with an awe which, in some measure moderates or tranquillises the ecstasy–I so regard them, through a conviction (which seems a portion of the ecstasy itself) that this ecstasy, in itself, is of a character supernal to the Human Nature–is a glimpse of the spirit’s outer world; and I arrive at this conclusion–if this term is at all applicable to instantaneous intuition–by a perception that the delight experienced has, as its element, but the absoluteness of novelty. I say the absoluteness- for in the fancies–let me now term them psychal impressions–there is really nothing even approximate in character to impressions ordinarily received. It is as if the five senses were supplanted by five myriad others alien to mortality.

Now, so entire is my faith in the power of words, that at times I have believed it possible to embody even the evanescence of fancies such as I have attempted to describe. In experiments with this end in view, I have proceeded so far as, first, to control (when the bodily and mental health are good), the existence of the condition:- that is to say, I can now (unless when ill), be sure that the condition will supervene, if I so wish it, at the point of time already described: of its supervention until lately I could never be certain even under the most favorable circumstances. I mean to say, merely, that now I can be sure, when all circumstances are favorable, of the supervention of the condition, and feel even the capacity of inducing or compelling it:–the favorable circumstances, however, are not the less rare–else had I compelled already the Heaven into the Earth.

I have proceeded so far, secondly, as to prevent the lapse from the Point of which I speak–the point of blending between wakefulness and sleep–as to prevent at will, I say, the lapse from this border–ground into the dominion of sleep. Not that I can continue the condition–not that I can render the point more than a point–but that I can startle myself from the point into wakefulness; and thus transfer the point itself into the realm of Memory–convey its impressions, or more properly their recollections, to a situation where (although still for a very brief period) I can survey them with the eye of analysis.

For these reasons–that is to say, because I have been enabled to accomplish thus much–I do not altogether despair of embodying in words at least enough of the fancies in question to convey to certain classes of intellect, a shadowy conception of their character.

In saying this I am not to be understood as supposing that the fancies or psychal impressions to which I allude are confined to my individual self–are not, in a word, common to all mankind–for on this point it is quite impossible that I should form an opinion–but nothing can be more certain than that even a partial record of the impressions would startle the universal intellect of mankind, by the supremeness of the novelty of the material employed, and of its consequent suggestions. In a word–should I ever write a paper on this topic, the world will be compelled to acknowledge that, at last, I have done an original thing.

More Poe quotes can be found here.

My take on this is Poe attempting to describe the creative process before the language of modern psychological analysis brought to us the term the subconscious. His attempts at his own mental and physical “perfection” are interesting. What do you think?

Oh frabjous day!

It’s 8:30 and already I’ve had the most wonderful morning. You see I was walking Trevor to our local public school, like I do every school day. To get there we have to cross the treacherous and swift moving Burbank Blvd. where more than once I’ve almost been hit by passing cars. So today, when we round the corner and spied the villainous street ahead, we saw there was a roving gang of jack-booted thugs on motorcycles, enforcing the local traffic standards. They even had an undercover “troll” who crossed the street – at the cross-walk, and always with the huge lights flashing – just to reel in more suckers.

Let me tell you, it was beautiful.

12 to 15 motorcycle cops were out, and they just were throwing down ticket after ticket. Half way across the street I looked west down Burbank Blvd., and off in the distance I saw three different sets of flashing lights behind pulled over cars. It was like Christmas in May. On the way home, while I was thanking the fine officers for being there, our corner crossing guard went back and forth across the street twice. Each time two or more cars would zoom past him, and each time another motorcycle cop hit the gas, and that little bit of siren song sounded.

I didn’t feel the least bit bad for the poor unsuspecting cars. That corner has been a nightmare for us for 5 years. I’ve been almost hit countless times while crossing the street with my son. You try crossing a street with a small child, and have the cars miss you only because you jump out of their way, and tell me how you feel about it. Cars will not only fail to stop, but they will zoom right pass you and flip you off.

But not today mother fuckers. Let me tell you. Not today.

So how has your morning been?

A letter to President Obama

Dear President Obama,

I have some deep concerns about your recent change in policy vis-a-vis top tier tax cuts. I do not see this change as positive, moreover I do not see it as being fiscally responsible.

I understand that you are the President for ALL of America, and thus represent ALL American view points. I applaud your recent efforts to try and find some middle ground with the upcoming Republican Congress. However, I think your are selling this particular point too cheap. If you are going to “sell out,” then I believe you should get something more than unemployment extensions in exchange for the top tier tax cuts. There is a fine line between reaching out, and caving in (no doubt, some would say they are the same thing). I believe you have crossed this line.

Since there are a lot of voices supporting the conservative rhetoric that tax cuts to the wealthy are good fiscal policy, please allow me to provide an alternate view. I believe a closer following of the European “austerity” movement is in order. I suggest you kill all Bush era tax cuts. ALL of them. Every single one. When confronted by opposition to such a position you could simply say, “The price for being an American citizen just went up. And it has gone up for ALL Americans, not just for the poor and middle class.” To be honest, what I would prefer you to say would be the more simple, “Quit your belly-aching,” or “There aint no such thing as a free lunch,”  but I understand that both concepts are a bit too divisive for you to say.  Mores the pity.

I am a small business owner (sole proprietorship), and unlike a lot of other Americans, my business has been doing very well the past couple of years. Although I am not in the $250k/year range, removing the Bush era tax cuts will hit me harder then average citizen. So what? It is a distinct privilege to own a business and to make money in this country. I would not mind paying more for it. Well, that is not quite true. I would mind. However, I also understand that sometimes the river rises, or the rains don’t come. What I think is missing from the modern political rhetoric on this topic is this simple truth; there is no right to owning a business or making money in American. It is a privilege. And with this privilege comes certain responsibilities. Only a fool would buy the best tractor, and condition the soil to perfection, only to plant the cheapest seed.

Please, Mr. President. I urge you to reconsider your stance on this topic.

Thank you for taking the time to view my email, and give it all the consideration your busy schedule allows.

Sincerely,

Eric Tolladay

iPod awesomeness

The other day, I showed up at a client’s office in the morning, and several of us got to talking about art and such. As this kind of conversation often does, something was said that reminded me of a song, in this case, “I’m Big in Japan.” Not the version you probably know, but the Tom Waits song from the CD, Mule Variations. Well I thought it would be fun to play the song on my iPod, so I set the songs order to alphabetical by title, and searched for it that way. I was busy, and didn’t want to mess with the iPod anymore, so I just kept listening in alphabetical order when the song was over. Sort of a fun way to do random songs.

Several days, and 490 songs later, I’m still in the B’s. In fact, I’m up to the Chemical Brothers “Block Rockin’ Beats.

490 songs just to get from BIG to BLO.

Awesomeness!

Kill Yer TV

A response to a post in political talk forum on the value of cable vs satellite television.

We Americans have gone from a country of people who do things, to a country of people who need to be entertained. The change has not suited us well. Even worse, we act like it is our God given right to have 24/7 entertainment provided to us on a silver platter. Big brash shows, big brash food, big brash tvs. We, as a country, are getting more and more fat and lazy. More and more passive rather than active. And our entertainment is getting more and more tawdry, while our disdain for educated or cultured refinement grows.

Join me brothers in our fight against the norm. Rise up against the tyranny of the ordinary. Trod the road less traveled. I would rather see 100 disgruntled tea partiers, than 100 couch potatoes.