Sunday, May 22, 2011


A good artist is a good manipulator.  This is the reason that propaganda, done well, can be so successful. 

One of the things I like to use is "contrast." 

 When one is working visually, contrast is really a technical term.  It has to do with the degree of difference between light and dark in your image.  The ultimate contrast is between white and black.  One is represented by the lack of light, the other by an excess of it.

As artists we use contrast in many ways.  Some use it to create an illusion.  A bright image in the middle of a dark one makes it appear to be coming towards you; while the opposite of a dark image in the middle of a light one makes it feel like it's moving away.

Others use it to draw attention to one part of an image.  In the illustration above you can see how the screaming woman's face is brighter than the rest of the image.  I did that so you could focus on her and on the level of her rage.  It's a very effective tool for drawing attention to what you want the viewer to see.

Of course, there's more to contrast than simple light and dark.  If you look at the illustration above you can see that there's quite a bit of color contrast.  Sarah Palin's image is lighter, the screaming Wisconsin protestor's image is lighter than what surrounds it, but still darker.  So, you have the classic technical aspects of contrast.  However, you also have the emotional aspect, and that's equally important.

As I said, artists are manipulators.  They can draw you in and/or out of an image using the trick of contrast, and they can also affect the way you feel about a subject by the way they use light and dark.

The Sarah Palin image is manipulated to give it a high light, almost ethereal look to it.  It's suffused with light, and if you had no opinion of her as a politician, the image would make you think of her as someone almost angelic.  The screaming protestor is the total opposite.  The screaming in and of itself isn't necessarily a dark thing, (we've all seen teenage girls scream at rock concerts),  but in this case it's nearly primal.  By playing with the image's conrast, and using photo editing tools, you can  take the already disturbing image and make it even more so. 

Political art is always a manipulation of one kind or another.  Even those of us who don't like to think of ourselves that way have to be honest, we create the kind of art that we experience.  To me the look on Sarah's face is angelic, and the look on the protestor's face is evil.  The fact that I played up both aspects shows how we can use art to reach the hearts and minds of others.

This is all the more reason for conservative artists to start working with their iconic figures to create a visual image that expresses the positive life force of these people.  The left for many years has done the opposite.  They've turned conservative figures into caricatures, (and worse), and presented their own heroes in messianic style.  One almost expects posters of Obama to have a halo glow and a sparkling tooth, and very often finds just that.

It's our turn to use these techniques against the de facto "owners"of the popular culture.  People are drawn to attractive, light filled images.  Let's give it to them!


Thursday, May 5, 2011

All Things To All People? Not!

One of the things you learn fairly quickly as an artist is that not everyone is going to like what you do.  It's probably the most difficult thing for creative people to deal with.

The fact is that most of us in the "arts" are emotional people whose creative life is a vital part of who we are.  I've been involved in the quilting/art quilting world for a while and it's an interesting place because there are so many levels of "artists" and so much insecurity about what is and what isn't art.  One of my quilting blogs has to do with putting yourself out there and accepting who you are and what you do.  Not everyone is going to be a great quilter who will win big show awards and be on the cover of magazines.  Considering the huge numbers of quilters and the relatively few magazine covers and big show awards, the odds are not in your favor.

As to what is "art" and what isn't, who knows?  I know I don't and I don't mind admitting it.  To me, it's like beauty, it's in the eye of the beholder.  For me being an artist isn't about winning big awards or being published or even selling your work, it's about how big a part of your life it is.

My entire life I've been a creative person.  As a child I would envision something in my mind and then try to recreate it.  I actually destroyed a brand new dress in kindergarten because I was inspired to paint a picture of a lamb and was so excited about it I forgot to put on an apron.  I always say to people who are questioning their "artist" status that if they "have" to do it, if it's a drive within themselves, and that they'd do it even if there was no chance of any praise or other reward, then they can consider themselves an "artist."

OK, so now you're an "artist," what does that mean?  It means your life is going to be full of joy and heartache, and probably more difficult than your average bear's.  I envy those who can spend their free time lying on the beach because for me that's an uncomfortable thing, and it's not just because I'd scare the kids in my bathing suit.  It has to do with my need to spend every moment I can creating.  Life is short, but when you have all of this creative drive, it seems even shorter.   The saying "so many men, so little time" can be translated into the artist's world as "so much I want to create and so little time to do it in."

Getting back to my original thought of how it's impossible to be all things to all people.  It is, so just get over trying.  I know it's hard to be critiqued and mocked and ridiculed.  However, if you become too sensitive to that kind of attack you may pull back and not do your best work.  You can't worry about what other people think.  Remember what I wrote above, if this is something you are driven to do, you have to do it for yourself and accept that not everyone else is going to "get it."

Take my word for it, even after many years of doing this kind of work I still get a twinge of pain when my work is critiqued.  As a professional graphic designer it happens all of the time.  After a while you go into the situation knowing that whatever you create is going to be dissected and turned inside out by people who have no idea about what it takes to do what you do.  This is when you have to take yourself out of the equation and not take it personally.

The fact is you cannot be all things to all people, there are people who are going to love your work, some who will hate it, and some who don't care one way or the other.  It's especially true when you do something with political overtones.  The other side will pick it apart in any way they can.  The poster that appeared in the "Palin Poster Wars" was dissected and discussed and destroyed by people on all different sides of the political spectrum.  People who liked Sarah Palin didn't like the Sunburst behind her head because it was like the Japanese flag, and then there were those who thought it was a religious icon, or those that didn't like the colors, or her face, or, well, you get the message! 

The fact is that when you're doing political art, if it's being talked about, you've accomplished your mission.  You've started a conversation, and in the case of conservative artists, we've chipped a little away from the left's stranglehold on our popular culture.

So, get out there and create some art!  Tea Party groups and other conservative organizations usually need people who can help them with graphic and website design.  Volunteer and contribute.  Art has the capacity to create great "hope" about it!