Sunday, 27 October 2013

Odd Ball - My golden cage at the ANU Art School Ball

The Art School Ball was on the 12th of October. I made a golden bird cage out of recycled materials, a combination of metal poles from felled shade pavilions, floor insulation and old poly-pipe, wired and taped together. This exercise relates in theme to my self-portrait as a galah, "I'm not a Budgie." The cage was documented there at the "Odd Ball"by Janis Lejins - many thanks, see more photos at

We took the cage into the Art School in our truck and already had a hitchhiker as we carried it inside.

At one stage there were six revellers occupying this small space, it bent in a few unexpected ways. Eventually I hung up my flapping bird companions, donned my wings and danced. The next outing for the birdcage should be on our float at the Mardi Gras next year.

Anime studio adventures in portraiture

I've been having lots of adventures with my Anime Studio Debut program. For an animation program which cost me under $50 (student version) it is amazing. Here is a screenshot of some work I have been doing on my animated self-portrait as a galah, "I'm not a Budgie."

I have built a face and figure representing myself and have been experimenting on ways to use the "bone" morphing tool. What I really love about this tool is its complexity coupled with an ease of use which I think of as intuitive. For a sculptor/painter like myself it becomes just another tool. I feel that I am squeezing those pixels with pliers or sweeping them around with my brush and like with the use of a hammer, chisel or saw, the angle at which the tool is applied is of the utmost importance.

So this is my head and my body, a cross between the symbolic and representational. The grey lines are the "bone" areas of influence which I have set into my drawing. It is an interesting method of working because every "object" in the 240 frame "bone" animation has to be set up in frame 0. I am fairly meticulous when I do artwork - every idea must be executed exactly, but I am also very adventurous and willing to innovate as I progress. I suppose that a lot of it is a matter of experience and being able to look ahead, whatever... setting up the whole animation in the first frame was a challenge that I enjoyed.

This is how I set the "bones" in the face. I started my use of this program a couple of months ago by following some tutorials. I never follow them exactly because that bores me too much, but I tried some techniques and watched a lot of people explaining their methods. When I came to applying bones to this drawing there really was no guide available, so I just did it by feel and experimentation. I'm sure that most people use vaguely the same techniques, but I just couldn't find anything close so it was quicker to experiment. The main thing you have to remember with using "bones" is to have them properly sourced or "parented". In this structure most of the "bones" relate to the bone in the neck which, when manipulated, will move the whole head.

I found it necessary to use a mass of "bones" placed around the mouth to effectively compress and stretch the area as I have used it to lip-synch a short passage of spoken word in the Budgie Song. I have crossed the two long "bones" over the lower jaw area to help move the whole chin/lip zone and also have detailed related groups for the eyes and earrings. I filmed myself speaking the words in the song and worked out how to import the video into Anime Studio as a guide for the shapes and timing of lip synching. Anime Studio actually has an automated lip synching system, but from what I saw in tutorials, it would be too simple and coarse for my feral/obsessive way of working. I always have to re-invent the wheel...


Thursday, 26 September 2013

Audacity to make "music"

When I was growing up (as opposed to growing out) I loved the work of William Blake and fancied that when I was older I could get stoned and write poetry like his. I later found that I had no need of drugs, they only hinder your motivation and thought processes and I am quite strange and creative enough without them. As a teenager I listened to music that would be called Progressive Rock now. I remember that one of my desired careers was to become a "degenerate musician." I can laugh at myself and my dreams, but I think that people shouldn't give up on their ambitions, no matter how old they are, or how distracted they are by the other needs and choices of their lives.

Here is a YouTube clip of the band Van der Graaf Generator, the music which moves me most. It was integral part of my teenage years. I used to come home from school and turn it  up very, very loud. Van der Graaf Generator supported Jimmy Hendrix and they are still a major touring and recording band. (Very respected in Germany, Russia, Italy and South America - we Anglos can be so conservative) This is from a live recording in 1970, when they were so young, but they are still making music now. I saw the band live in 1976 at Saarbr├╝cken, Germany and saw Peter Hammill solo many years later.

The driving force of the group, the singer/poet/musician, Peter Hammill creates the supreme fusion of words and sounds. His voice is superbly versatile and his lyrics and music, whether dark or joyous, match each other in a way I have not found in any other songs. To me it is really exciting, but I understand that a lot of reasonable people can’t bear the complexity, depth of feeling and discordance in Van der Graaf Generator music. It’s not pretty! If you were looking for the complete opposite to elevator music this has got to be it - at times it is heavier than the heaviest metal, rougher than punk or more soaring and soulful than a choir or an opera. The fact that I attempt karaoke with Peter Hammill’s words and music has got to be a sign of my mental instability, but I love it.

Back to relative sanity, Nette... I have been making noises, rapping, singing and mixing them with Audacity to create a background track for my Anime Studio animation, "I'm not a budgie." Stuff the fact that my voice is untrained and wobbly and that this is only the second time I have tried to use Audacity,  a free open source digital audio editor and recording computer software application, to make my own soundtrack. I went ahead with it anyway. They way I can tell whether I have finished any artwork I do, is just by getting to the point where I can't think of any changes I want to make. Apart from the coarseness of the sound and recording which is an accurate reflection of myself, I think this piece of "music" is finished. Here it is.

Digital Self Portrait

I've decided to create a digital self-portrait using Anime Studio. I have always had an obsession with birds so I am basing my digital work on a self-portrait which was a "morph" of myself and our caged Galah (Rose-breasted Cockatoo) whose name is Budgie. I entered a version of this "bird morph" in the Archibald Prize in 2010. There are some strange works entered in the Archie, but this must be one of the oddest.

Budgie was born on our farm as a wild bird, but when she was learning to fly she broke a wing. She is about three years old now and a caged bird. I have always felt bad about birds being caged, but if one's cage is one's only means of survival perhaps it is not that bad. Any sane creature wants to survive. Budgie has an indoor and outdoor cage with a transparent sliding door between, she opens her own door and goes out each morning and we spread birdseed on a two sided feeding shelf which she shares with her wild family, so at least she has a good social life, if not freedom.

I designed this galah morph as a result of questioning the traditional portrayal of winged humans in art. Bird/human hybrids like Nike, Hebe, Alkonost, Genies, Cherubim, Maat, Garuda and Tangata Manu all have their wings at shoulder level or as part of their arms. Occasionally a symbolic winged figure like Faravahar has lower body bird characteristics, but I became fascinated with the actual mechanics of bird movement and decided, when watching my galah, "Budgie," that her legs were actually more the equivalent to human arms with their hands and opposable digits, whereas her wings provide the propulsion force as do our legs.

I have an interest in mythology and comparative religion and I am fascinated by the narrative uses of anthropomorphism and its impact on society. I have a lack of belief in human supremacy and attempt a level of fairness and relative equality in my relations with other animals. I find the anti-anthropomorphic attitudes of extremists in religion and the sciences absurd. I am an animal, I think like an animal and feel like an animal. This attitude is reflected in my artwork. This project is a way to express my artwork in a new form where I link abstract images and words and sounds to tell a personal story.

For the last 35 years I have been using a wide variety of media including sculpture, glass, ceramics, collage, drawing and painting to express my viewpoint and explore my obsessions. Over these years I have intermittently created self portraits. A painting expresses a single aspect of my self, but I usually explore deeper levels through the use of complex detail. I am wondering how the ability to use of a linked string of moving images will effect my ability to portray my shifting identity. I am hoping that the use of sequences of images will reveal a more complex self portrait.

When I paint and draw I use complex techniques which can often obscure the primary statement of the artwork. I am hoping that by using a medium in which I am less skilled, but which is straightforward enough for me to use intuitively, I will be able to communicate more simply, the emotion of this personal statement. At the same time these simple abstract forms will become complex by their placement in the sequence of the short film.

I will use film of live action as a reference for areas which require life-like form or movement. I have been making videos of trees moving in high wind. I will study these films to use as a reference for the way the different levels of trees, individual branches and leaf clumps move against each other, but I am unlikely to use them as a direct photographic reference because I want the moving landscape to be fairly abstract.

The narrative is an important part of this project. I am intending to incorporate both sound and text into the film. I want to strike a balance between the images and the words. For added impact I will experiment with how I can create dissonance by disturbing the synchronisation between the sound, the images and the text, while still retaining a cohesive narrative. My bird/human character will create a point of reference throughout the film.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

It started with a feather...

Sometimes accidents provide very good results. This piece of film I made in Anime Studio started with an attempt to draw a feather, but I haven't worked out how to put texture detail into this program and the lines weren't going the way I wanted them to. So I ditched my direct drawing and decided to try turn a jpg of an existing drawing I had made of a feather into a vector image.

Here is what the feather turned into. It may have amounted to nothing like my intention at the beginning of the exercise, but I just love random shit. It was like trying to control the weather. A lot of effective abstract images came from figurative sources, simplified and extended. It's fun to see the extent to which that initial image can change.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Abstract Animations

Searching out interesting animations leads you all over the world. Here is an animation, Armenian Abstract Dreams by Sargis M which has interesting techniques and images as well as being well synchronised with its music track.

Here is another interesting film, Eyeliner, an indie 2D computer animation by Joanna Priestley of Portland, Oregon in the USA.