Sunday, June 10, 2012

On Your Own Internet (Part Two)

As quite a bit of time has passed from when I first posted Part One I have come across quite a few examples of well structured business models taking advantage of digital media's power in direct networking.  I would like to think that my post was perfectly timed but in reality these types of examples are always occurring.  I just pay closer attention now.

I am returning to this issue again (and will a third time), because I firmly believe that the influence of technology on the business of art is still yet to happen.  Simply attributing it to the auction market being open online or the influence of technology on art installations is horribly short sighted.  A real change is going to start with something completely shaking the foundation of the art business, leaving everyone questioning the sustainability of its future.  Since we have yet to see the collapse of the major auction houses, much in the way we are witnessing the collapse of the major box retail stores (i.e. Tower Records, Virgin Records, Borders, etc) I am assuming it has yet to happen.  It will, and it will more than likely eliminate other middle men as well, decimating the value of contemporary museums and galleries, which, in all practicality, the idea of a "contemporary" museum feels a little like an oxymoron.  What use is a museum to preserve something that hasn't even proven it's relevance against the test of time?*

Regardless, my only regret is that I didn't jump on the second part of this post sooner.  I always felt that the business of the tech world stands as progenitor to the business of the art world.  Between Apple Inc. and major U.S. book publishers being accused of price fixing eBooks**, the battle against the Stop Online Piracy Act and it's many iterations, and the constant fight for Net Neutrality, I have actually been following the tech world more closely.  Understandably, this seems to be the only industry where adaption over repulsion is the standard and any instance of a different industry using this method as well seems to be taking advantage of the tech worlds tools to reach their goals.

This first example I saw this executed remarkably well was when comedian Louis CK self released his Live at the Beacon Theatre performance through his own website.  The basic idea didn't seem to be anything remarkable, but the details in which he executed his plan made all the difference:

--$5 to download
--Quick and easy to pay
--No Digital Rights Management (DRM)***
--Mailing list subscription set to "No" by default

These all seem like minor details but they are near revolutionary in regards to the respect and faith they put in his fan base. In fighting online piracy major labels and publishers had forgotten the basic rules to effective retail: cheap, fast, and quality.  When Louis CK was asked why he didn't include and DRM restrictions on his downloads he simply responded:

"I see it as a sign of quality.  If you buy a really nice toaster it isn't going to come with a huge lock on it."

The simplicity of his thinking seems anything but revolutionary, but his sales told a different story.  Within a week he had made over a million dollars, posting a photo of his Paypal account online.  His business model only became that much more profound when he decided that he was going to divide the proceeds into quarter shares:  one part going to himself, one part covering production expenses, one part going to his staff as bonuses, and the last part going to charity (can you name any other for profit business that donated a quarter of its revenue to charity?).  When addressing this decision he stated, "This is crazy.  I've never had this much money before...I don't need this much money" and noting in his act, "I don't view money as MY money.  I just see it as THE money."  It would be easy to imagine titans of industry arguing this as a somewhat communistic viewpoint.  I feel it is quite the opposite, seeing revenue as a means for growth as opposed to the hoard.  This model soon paved the way for other comedians to follow in his footsteps, being successfully executed by Jim Gaffigan and Aziz Ansari soon after.

Though a torrent-link to a pirated copy of Louis CK's show appeared on The Pirate Bay website soon after, even the uploader atndigcrk seemed to share some sense of conflict, stating:

Yea its the new one yea i kinda feel bad putting it here but people like louis ck gotta realize without torrents and the net he wouldnt be anywhere bc honestly louis i know ur here and i know u mite be mad at me but u gotta realize not everyone has paypal , not eveyone has credit cards, some people use net lounges, some have barely money for food, art = comedy should be shared with the mass , and Believe me u can judge the popularity more from the torrent downloads then the paypal sales, also if people like it , its easier to buy on there ipad/ipod or personal/work computers...more buzz = more sales

Hope you understand louie

Though his logic borders more on self-fulfilling idealism than practicality, it is one of the few times someone, who so strictly abides by their beliefs in piracy, had so openly struggled coming to terms with their actions, given the accessibility and low price of the content.  This conflict was only heightened by a note from CK on his website's download page:

To those who might wish to "torrent" these shows:

Look, I don't really get the whole "torrent" thing. I don't know enough about it to judge either way. But I'd just like you to consider this: I made these files extremely easy to use against well-informed advice. I was told that it would be easier to torrent the way I made it, but I chose to do it this way anyway, because I want it to be easy for people to watch and enjoy this video in any way they want without "corporate" restrictions.

Please bear in mind that I am not a company or a corporation. I'm just some guy. I paid for the production and posting of this video with my own money. I would like to be able to post more material to the fans in this way, which makes it cheaper for the buyer and more pleasant for me. So, please help me keep this being a good idea. I can't stop you from torrenting; all I can do is politely ask you to pay your five little dollars, enjoy the show, and let other people find it in the same way.

Louis C.K

It's a very straight forward request and provides very little room to rationalizing around it.  In this instance, regardless of the price, art is a luxury item, making the argument of its necessity being important enough to steal a hard one to justify.  No one's life is being saved by comedy, so the charitable aspect of viewing the content probably does not outweigh the value of the $250,000 paid directly to charitable organizations earned from paying customers.

The promotional aspect of The Pirate Bay may be debatable.  Though most people who pirate software regularly will not be swayed by CK's note, it was a direct issue that had to be addressed.  In the end, the file will still be torrented by them, but CK is still respected in that he addressed the pirates as people acting selfishly and not criminals.  Support from that portion of the internet can go a long way in your content going viral online and insuring that you stay on the good side of the pirating community****, even if your beliefs and politics toward digital distribution do not sync*****.

It is the savvy creators that know piracy will always remain one step ahead and can therefore use it as a beacon to stay on top of new means for distributing their product.  For example, as I write this sentence consumer grade 3D printers are hitting the market.  Months before these products were ready for sale The Pirate Bay devoted a section of their website for users to upload links to 3D printing torrent files.  Someday soon, someone out there is going to steal a pair of shoes by printing them out at home, an issue that has more than likely never been addressed in a Nike corporate office.

*  It's a trick question, a contemporary museum isn't used to preserve history.  It's used to inflate the market value of the artwork donated by collectors, some of them even on the board of directors of the museum themselves
**This was becoming obvious when consumers were noticing that their eBooks, which require almost no overhead to publish, were often being priced more expensive than their paperback versions.
***DRM refers to different restrictions enabled on digital content to help "prevent" privacy.  This may include restrictions on the number of downloads or installs on a particular machine, special file formats that can only be read by the software the company provides, streaming only as opposed to downloading, etc.  Though implemented by most major companies many consumers feel that these guidelines tend to hurt the customers legally buying the software as opposed to the ones stealing it, who tend to just find new ways to steal the product while the actual customers find the install restrictions becoming increasing limited.  Here was a great letter written to Chris Dodd by an open source founder and some more insightful thoughts on eBook DRM and
****A good example of this argument is the price Sony paid when they tried to sue George "geohot" Hotz for hacking the Playstation 3.  A mistake that cost them tens of millions of dollars when they were subsequently hacked and millions of their user's account information was dumped online.  Exposing their lack of security and devastated their name among the gaming world.  This also all happened as the gaming console era shows a questionable future, putting Sony in a uneasy position it has still yet to recover from.
*****There are actual Pirate political parties around the world.  Their book No Safe Harbour is a selection of essays that addresses their supported ideas and beliefs.  You can find it here  These ideas are beginning to be being openly promoted by many artists as well

Monday, June 4, 2012

Get There 2.5 Mid-Levels

It has been a little while since I have done one of these posts, or any posts for that matter.  I had no intention to step away from the blog, or even take a break.  But coming back into my routine and considering that I just put a final coat of varnish this painting an hour before I began writing this post, I thought it would be best to return to this series of Get There posts.

At this point with these paintings many of the steps are pretty much the same techniques, repeated over and over with different colors.  Fortunately, that makes this post easy for me and requires much less writing.

I pretty much make all of the land details on this painting with a 1/8" filbert, a roughly 01 round, and the smallest round point brush I can find (to be honest I forget the numbering system, maybe it's a 001 size).  Slowly but surely I scribble each layer on inch by inch, leaving sharp dark edges for trees and bushes, and rubbing other edges with my finger to soften the transition from darker to lighter layers.  I will come to realize later in the painting that this particular piece is pretty much all background, with very few legible details.

It's a shame how completely unhelpful this photo is.  There really is no way to get a good reading of this brown I previously used, by looking at this photo.  This isn't even taking into account the fact that each different computer will make this little container of paintl look different from screen to screen. Fortunately I got a whole bunch of these photos lined up.

Wow, again I apologize for this photo but I am working with just a point and shoot because I do not have the time to stage nice pictures or stitch together a nice little video.  Regardless, there is useful information to glean from all of this.  This photo highlights the small subtleties between warm and cool colors that you must juggle between different portions of the land.  At this stage I had to start distinguishing between three main different tones of the land in the painting:

--The cooler gray-brown of the higher elevated mountains.
--The warmer ochre-ish brown of the mid-range mountains.
--The brighter green-brown of the benches and valley

I started these mid-layer steps by mixing a good ochre tone for the mid-range mountains.  My process would normally dictate that I start with the more distant gray mountains but that tone didn't really spread through the rest of the image so it was much safer to start with the ochre.

The color of this photo was saturated some with the camera, which tends to be an inevitable side effect of over compensating while fixing overexposure.

Though this color looked awkward in regards to the palette of the painting it will actually layer into the piece pretty smoothly.  It never ceases to amaze me how much different the color looks on the canvas than on the glass palette.  That's why I usually have a gray palette.

If you are really looking for a high functioning palette to mix color on though, you should use a sheet of glass taped to a board painted in four sections:


Here is a closer shot of the brushes.  The round brushes constantly get chewed up on this canvas.  Three of them were pretty much unusable by the time I finished.  I didn't have a good photo of them, but by the end the bristles would funnel in toward the center then poof out on the tip, making them not only hold little paint but also struggle with accuracy.  The brush on the right leads me to believe that I started with a flat head brush that actually just withered into the shape of a filbert.  Of course, this is a different brush than in the first photo and this one was more likely used to build some hard edges and develop a little more form and structure into the mountains.

The round point brush was good for adding a sense of foliage, though while applying I was constantly trying to prevent the side effect of it looking like choppy water.  There was lots of finger smudging at this point, which inevitably made me start to lose some of the form of the mountains.

You can see the fresher ochre paint in the upper right of the photo.  This layer was executed in multiple sittings and though it is not as common with oils, they still can dry a little cooler than the intended color.

Regardless, a more common problem I started to face at this point was the spacing of the dark spots.  When filling in an area and building positive structures of trees and rocks by painting the negative space around them, it is very easy to accidentally space the negative spots too equally apart from each other.  Much in a similar way as if trying to paint stars in a night sky and making them all equidistant from each other.  Our brains have a natural tendency to try to order our visuals to make the interpretation of what we are looking at easier to comprehend.  It is important to paint meticulous and subtle details with a clear head.

This shot should give a better idea where the painting is so far.  I was a little nervous about the scale of the value jump to this layer, but I usually tend to not push the contrast in my paintings as far as I should.  In this case, this is an improvement for me.

This right side of the mountain was bothering me and began to look too flat.  I spent so much time scribbling in the details of the lighter layer that I didn't pay attention to the form of the mountain, particularly in the center of this photo.  The overly even spacing of the dark spots only added to the problem.

Sorry about the glare in this photo.  I only have one spot I can hang this piece on my wall and the skylight above my studio can make shooting this painting a battle.

You can see the problem on this closeup of the left side of the mountain too.  The warmer fresh paint is clearly applied with less attention paid to the structure.  One of the most common mistakes I make is letting my short attention span get the best of me and trying to speed through the process.  My only saving grace is being able to catch myself when things start going south.

When a painting begins to unintentionally lose form and structure I either recover by laying in large, rectangular, hard edge strokes with a square edge brush or, in this case, lightly draw out the contours of the planes to make sure I follow the detailing correctly.  This painting was too far along to try the first option.

As I worked up the left mountainside the form began to return.  I mentioned earlier that there are three main tones I am was working with.  That was why I hadn't applied much of this layer to the upper center. Though it contained some ochre and brown elements I decided to wait and put down a base consisting of a little more gray.  I applied this tone to the bottom benches (it is a more green area) though because  it made for a good base to begin applying the brighter green tones later.

I was nervous applying this gray layer too.  Much similar to how I felt while applying the ochre mix, the value jump felt relatively drastic and didn't sit too well with the other colors on the painting.  In many cases I would try to just remove it with Turpenoid and try again later but I decided to spin the wheel on this one and see if it provided a more striking tone to work off of for the mountains.  In other words, this was just a another case of me letting my short attention span get the best of me again.

Though the gray seemed odd on the canvas, next to the other sealed colors, I was really starting to see a nice earthy palette form.  This was also a factor that contributed to me sticking with the gray.  Letting it dry and coming back to the painting later was the only way to know for sure.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Time in Mourning

If there were one series of posts I would hope to be visiting the least it would these.

Since my last "Time" post I have been trying to move back to my original schedule of shorter work periods on more days of the week.  I found that though, in theory, I could have have more intensely focused work sessions if I structured them with longer hours, I instead found that I just forced myself to work twice as long, at about a third of the productivity.  The hours were just too severe to hold focus and inevitably I would find myself just staring at the canvas in long intervals, not painting, not thinking, and not even moving.  The schedule was unmanageable while working a full time job during the day and managing a gallery at night.

I underestimated the power of the shorter and more frequent routine.  I forgot, in fact, that it was an actual "routine" and that routines build habits.  Habits are useful when you battle such things as phone calls from friends and family, broken bikes, overtime at work, emails, tax season, business bookkeeping, show curating, manager meetings, business meetings, more bookkeeping, doctors appointments, studio visits, dinner, groceries, family emergencies, more bookkeeping, computer trouble, birthdays, holidays, entertaining guests, picking up supplies, updating websites, mailing lists, networking...(it goes on like this)

The truth is that there is no perfect schedule beyond just trying to work during any brief and sadly fleeting opportunity you can.  I haven't made a real blog post in months now and it was definitely not due to a decision under my control.  But now that have control over my schedule again I am back at it.  Since I lost the routine, it will take time to set a regular posting schedule back in place.  And since I lost the routine, I lost the habit.  And since I lost the habit, all I see is the screen.  On that screen...


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Will Return Soon

Sorry for the lack of new posts.  I will continue working on the blog starting April 16th.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

On Your Own Internet (Part One)

I used to hate ebooks.  I also used to hate ipods and cellphones too.  I am, or at least was, one of those people.  I was stubborn about every new form of technology no matter how practical or useful it was.  Surprisingly, given how stubborn I can be, it wasn't the introduction of the internet that challenged my beliefs, but the introduction of internet piracy.

Theft is an often overlooked but highly important aspect of a competitive market.  It is imperative that as prospective buyers we have a choice to steal and battle with our own demons over the justification of doing it.  The misconception is that the theft is rooted in a moral battle over desire and selfishness, as opposed to the human nature of survival and the pursuit of knowledge.  We are programmed to consume resources, and Napster new this fact before the record industry.  It may have been labeled theft on an unimaginable scale but the participants felt no remorse because no one believed it to be theft, but instead a human right to use all available resources to gain knowledge.

Back when we (yes, I very much was downloading music on Napster) were introduced to Napster we were overwhelmed with its accessibility and massive library of music (though it was really just our own libraries being shared with each other).  The main argument at the time was that we were stealing music because we didn't want to pay for it.  That wasn't entirely true.  We "stole"* music because we were excited to have unlimited access to it and couldn't afford to pay for it.  It is important to remember that back then Youtube didn't exist, CDs were $20 (and many of us were too young to have jobs), there was no internet radio, most of the local radio stations were terrible, MTV didn't play music videos, and most of us weren't lucky enough to have a decent record store nearby.  I didn't feel like I really discovered music until I was introduced to Napster.  Had the option to download music at a competitive price** were available I probably would have spent all of my money it.  Unfortunately for the record industry, they were slow to the draw and it finally took Apple, a company outside of the industry, to bring it up to date with iTunes (though iTunes brought a whole new set of conflicts as well).

My point in all of this was that theft was not only an important part in the evolution of the music industry but also the evolution of the listener.  Major labels are now struggling to control their market and younger and younger listeners are discovering music that we ourselves didn't find until well into adulthood.

I am aware that none of this breaking news.  What is confusing now, though, is that so few people feel the same way about books.  Ask someone that doesn't own an eReader what they think about eBooks and they will actually become angry over the subject.  I first thought that this could be related in the same way many music lovers and audiophiles never came around to digital music because it could not replicate the warm sound of vinyl and the experience of handling an actual record, but I think the problem roots deeper.  Books cannot be separated from our ideas of education.  To many, an attack on the physical book is an attack on education itself.  This is shortsighted and a manufactured argument.  Yes, we grew up with books and cannot be separated from that power of nostalgia (analog should always be an alternative) but there is something inherently wrong in immediately opposing something new, without fully understanding its potential.

In this regard, the problem with the music and publishing industries is that they were too stubborn to invest their businesses in the potential of new technology.  In other words, why did Napster happen before iTunes?  We all believe that you can't replace a book.  We love how they feel in our hands.  We love their smell (I most certainly do).  We feel that that is something that cannot be replaced.  But we are also being stubborn.  Many of us love technology too.  We line up outside of stores overnight to be the first to buy it (not me on this one).  We cheer for it.  We are aroused by it (yes, there have been studies and again, not me on this one).  We get jealous.  We judge others over it and have an intense emotional investment in it, proving our desire is ready for the privilege of eBooks, but are our ideas of morality?

Though we may be too unfocused at this point to be effective readers (Who made it this far in the blog post?) we do have a huge opportunity afforded to us in this new technology.  We can control our own publishing, it can be affordable, it can be convenient, and it never has to go out of print.  On the other hand, under these terms, larger companies can also not only control the means of publishing but also control what books you own, even after you buy them.  This complicated and controversial reality was perfectly, and ironically, exemplified when Amazon infamously deleted unlicensed Kindle copies of George Orwell's 1984 from not only their market place, but actual customer's Kindle devices.  This was done with neither the customer's consent or notification***.

The birth of eBooks also presents another moral dilemma for publishers.  Anyone working in publishing would argue that the purpose of a publisher is to distribute literature to as large of an audience as possible.  This is a complicated business with high overhead.  Now, technology has made the overhead considerably cheaper.  Unfortunately, businesses model themselves on growth and not resource preservation.  Currently, eBooks are the same price as printed books, though the cost of publishing is monumentally less.  This contributes to a consumer's consideration toward piracy.  They are human and, after all, programmed for one thing: to gather and process information.  We take it in through our five senses, catalog it in our minds, store it, and use it to help others gather even more information.  It is a primal instinct.  Our nomadic herding didn't stop with agriculture and technology, we just changed the materials and the environment and moved inward.  Under this base instinct, it is human nature to support the idea of a free and open library and now we have the resources for this library model to work online, with unlimited potential, across the entire globe.

This evolution does come with new responsibilities and sacrifice from the publisher.  No one wants their career to become irrelevant.  No one wants to have to fire employees or risk losing comfort in their own lives.  It is a justifiably stressful situation not only economically, but morally as well.  Now, not only are they fighting for the sustainability of their careers but they are also actively fighting against their very own beliefs in the distribution of knowledge to protect those careers.  They are limiting access of eBooks to public libraries, restricting the number of available downloads, and making libraries repurchase the eBooks after a certain number of checkouts.  This is completely counter intuitive to the benefits of the knew technology.  It is primitive view on business and a losing battle for the publishers.  Instead of winning the support of their own audience by opening the electronic versions of their literature and finding new means for revenue they are actively limiting the exposure of their own clients (writers) to preserve exclusivity and manufacture demand.  It is very much a counter-survival business model and with limited interference it will eventually fall apart to be replaced with something that is both more sustainable and more beneficial to the public.

I would have to be an idiot to think that new technology will not one day turn the art world on hits head as well.  On a limited scope it has already begun to happen with the advent of digital photography and online auction databases.  But that will only be the beginning.  Will the birth of 3D printing be able to replace my paintings in 10 years?  Will nanotechnology take care of it instead?  If not then something else will.  Though it is slowly becoming more apparent that I will not find a sustainable career in painting there is a good chance that even if I did I would just lose it to new technology anyway.  Oddly enough, I am not entirely saddened by that prospect.  There is a certain freedom in knowing that one day someone on the other side of the world can enjoy seeing one of my paintings in person, for practically the cost of nothing.  It is important to remain vigilant in supporting possibilities that are clearly beneficial to humanity and not try to exploit them for capital, no matter your own future prospects.  There are always ways to make an honest living.  Because no matter how grim it may look, technology leveled the playing field, and now all of us, with modest resources, have the means to fight with new technology instead of against it.

* I put quotes around "stole" because it is my feeling that knowledge is a basic human right and the cost of a record is not toward the content but just your own investment in its means of production, artist salaries, etc. Napster just eliminated the middle man and was too young of a technology to fully develop an appropriate means to earn revenue for the artists.  More on that in Part Two...
**$5 is competive.  Not $10.  There is very little production overhead to copy an MP3 file.
***  This is quite a scary prospect, not even considering the fact that this control can also be used as a perfect spying machine, gaining access to not only what you know, but how you obtained that knowledge, and what knowledge you may pursue in the future.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Varnish and Synthetic Brush Update

Restoration is a highly competitive field with most professionals often playing their cards close to their chests.  As an art handler during the day I semi regularly find myself meeting with the company's conservator, which are very opportune times to try to rope in some advice on techniques and materials.  Knowing that I am an artist myself the conservator often provides me with helpful tips regarding making my work archival and fit for conservation.  I feel he is relatively open with me because I obviously pose no threat to his business, knowing that even if he divulged all of his techniques to me, I would at no point be able to execute them with any competitive skill or patience.  The mere fact that I even consider any level of potential competition as an issue between us really just speaks to my own paranoia more so than the reality of our business relationship.  So when I last spoke with him I felt it was an opportune time to get some advice on varnishing my current over-sized work in progress.

Finishing the Grantsville painting is nowhere in sight, but the prospect of varnishing on that scale is making me increasingly nervous.  Though it may not be the highest quality, I can apply Kamar spray varnish without potentially dealing with unwanted brush strokes.  It goes on thin and even.  And as long as I don't hold the can too far away* I can apply an archival and dramatic finishing layer to my painting.  The only downside with Kamar is that the fumes can be overwhelming.  Even though I have a fan and air vent directly above my studio I couldn't imagine breathing safely in a space where I just applied 24 square feet of varnish.

Knowing that I still would prefer to not brush-apply an alternative, such as Soluvar, I asked him if the spray varnish could be applied in parts without showing lines in the surface.  Apparently, this is an option as long as you follow the line work on the painting.

For Example:

Instead of applying the varnish in one step like this:

I would apply it in two steps like this:

In this case the white arrows symbolize the first applied layer.  The gray  symbolize  the second  layer, applied after the first had completely dried.

This is something I would most certainly try on a small, test canvas first.  And though this is one of the primary benefits of a spray varnish, he had no solution to offer for its primary problem, its uncanny ability to collect dust while drying.

"Don't worry about the dust.  It will happen regardless."

Oddly, knowing that I can't avoid it due to my lack of a large dust free environment, that statement was reassuring enough for me.  As for varnishing in steps go, it is tempting, but I will probably just hit up the studio at some ungodly morning hour (5:00am?), put on a mask, varnish the whole damn thing, and leave the fan on.

*This is what caused my last painting to blur.  The Kamar was drying into tiny beads before hitting the surface, building the crystalized layer that inevitably blurred the image.  The restorer advised me that it can be fixed by using a spray bottle to apply mineral spirits to the surface and then lightly brushing it into a thin, even coat. But given how thin my layers of paint are I don't think I could ever try this without extensively testing it first.  He also recommended using a soft, dense straight edge synthetic brush as opposed to my normally preferred natural fiber alternative.  I told him how my synthetic brushes always fray due to the mineral spirits and leave tiny bristle fragments on the painting.  He assured me that that was due to them being cheaply made (though the price begged to differ).  He then showed me an angled straight edge brush he uses.  The bristles most certainly differed from the ones in my arsenal.  Unfortunately the label had worn off.  All I know is that it was German made and had light, warm brown bristles.  Damn.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Time Acceptance

Between the holidays and tax season, December is just going to have to be a month out of the studio.  Though it isn't up to me, it will be very difficult to come to terms with this.