I have always used photography as inspiration for my batik work. I find that the two mediums work very well together, complimenting and strengthening both design and execution. This came clear for me during my senior year in high school when our teacher had us create visual art campaigns by collecting pictures photographs, and magazine clippings. I saw how photography could become a great tool for my designs.
At about the same time, my parents gave me a Kodak Instamatic camera. I took that camera to Uganda with me and used it to document some of my experiences in that distant African country. I used some of the pictures from that trip to create my earliest batik paintings. Those paintings were done in crayon batik and India ink. I have been using my own photographs as visual references to the subject matter I want to portray in batik ever since.
Today, I am always taking pictures. On my recent twelve-day trip to Cuba, I shot over 1500 images. I have over 40,000 pictures stored on my computer and backup drives. Each of these photos has the potential to become inspiration and foundation for a new batik.
When it is time to create, I will select a group of photographs on my potential subject. Then I whittle down to one, and get committed. A lot of factors have to add up for me to decide I want to use the selected photograph. The major artistic factor is: does the photo speak to me? Does it cry out that it needs to be a painting? Does the photo have a strong emotional context for me? And on a visual level: How strong is the composition? How much cropping or vignetting does the image need? Do I like the colors of the image? I am always composing with the eye of a painter when I shoot.
I then play with the images in Photoshop to get the design I want to use. A fellow artist taught me how to create a line drawing in the program several years ago. I like the way it has enabled me to speed up the process of transferring my drawing to the fabric. What a game changer! Once that is finalized, I draw the design on the fabric by laying the fabric on my light table and drawing it.
I rarely free paint my batiks. As an artist, I need the structure of the line drawing to be my roadmap to guide my process. It is like a stained glass artist needing the wire frame to hold his window together. If I don’t have a well-composed photograph, I won’t have a well-designed painting. No matter what process I use. The two, for me, are inextricably entwined. The photographic process helps me to study my subject matter more closely, allowing me to pick out little details as I am examining each part of my subject. This foundation ultimately gives me greater freedom.
I enjoy getting lost in my photography the same way I enjoy getting absorbed in creating batiks. When I have worked too long on a batik and my eyes begin to cross, I escape to my photography. When my hands are worn out from too much photo editing, its back to batik. It seems they will always go hand in hand.
These days I am getting into almost as many juried photographic exhibitions as I do painting exhibitions. My photograph titled “Lunch Break” will be on display through July 17th at the “Camera USA 2015” national juried photography competition along with “Pelican Preening” in the Naples Art Association members show- (and that show had a different judge) at the von Liebig Art Center in Naples, Florida.
My batik paintings will be on display in a solo show at the LeMoyne Center for the Arts in Tallahassee, Florida August 5th through the 29th. Why not stop by and take a look!