Nature is the greatest teacher of mankind. In it we find ourselves revealed. To humbly read its lessons and thereby transform ones’ self is to give birth to the deeper soul. My montages are my meditations within this often fragile, yet persistent, living realm where our own impact is so palpable. Indeed, we are a part of nature itself, not separate from it, and our interaction within this world determines our own identity and substance. Hopefully my montages will trigger a realization of the importance of that powerful relationship.
A simplified tutorial of procedure.
First, a quick greeting! As a professional photographer, meaning is really important in my work, but it is not all seriousness and deep ponderance. Joy and a sense of play are important to any creative endeavor, and this realm of nature of which I feel privileged to be a part can often be a very amusing place. Fun and wonder are at the top of my list for life experiences, so let’s have some. I BEGIN MY MONTAGE BY SELECTING A SET OF IMAGES. I should note that I produce all my own images using a Nikon digital camera, usually a Nikon D80 with an 18-135mm lens, though I also use the Nikon 60mm Micro lens.
Take the little creature below for example. This wonderful gecko, master of the quick-change art, can appear to be near death in his palor, or can disappear into the greenest foliage you can find. When I first saw him I couldn’t help but think of Tolkein’s Golum! Now, that is seriously deep stuff! But how does that connect to my way of making art? Well, this little guy is really very soft and squidgy to the touch, very slow moving and quiet, and totally harmless. He is however a reptile, and we always think of his ilk as DRAGONS or other such formidable, untouchable things. Still it is his physical tenderness and vulnerability that makes this image the right choice for my first layer.
Which brings me to the next image I have chosen: the detail of a huge copper statue of St. George that I saw in San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, Italy. Yes, the St. George who slew (is that really a word?) the dragon! Hmmm….. Irony here – Humans can be very hard, harsh, destructive – like the scaly man-made exterior of this statue- whereas that marvelous creature, our gecko, can be so easily destroyed by our own selfish and oblivious exploitation of his little parts of the world.
TO SUPERIMPOSE THIS IMAGE OVER THE FIRST LAYER, I FIRST OPEN THE FILE.
THEN I SELECT ALL AND COPY.
THEN I BRING THE FIRST IMAGE TO THE FRONT.
THEN PASTE THE COPIED IMAGE OVER THE FIRST LAYER’S IMAGE.
THEN I CLOSE THE ORIGINAL of the IMAGE I JUST PASTED OVER THE FIRST.
THIS IS A VERY SIMPLIFIED AND QUICK WAY OF SHOWING HOW MY PROCESS WORKS. I OFTEN USE VARIOUS FILTERS OR MORE INVOLVED ERASURE TECHNIQUES, ETC. BUT YOU WILL SEE THE BASIC PROCESS HERE. FIRST I DETERMINE THE OPACITY LEVEL OF THE UPPER LAYER BY ADJUSTING IT AS SHOWN.
ONCE I HAVE THE DESIRED OVERALL EFFECT OF COLOR, TEXTURE AND SHAPE DEFINITION, I WILL BEGIN TO ERASE THROUGH THE UPPER LAYER TO REVEAL PARTS OF THE IMAGE BELOW. I ENLARGE THE IMAGE SO THAT I CAN WORK ON IT WITH A WACOM TABLET AND PEN TO ERASE EFFICIENTLY AND CAREFULLY.
STILL ON LAYER 1, I SELECT A SMALL BRUSH SIZE FOR MY ERASER AND SET THE HARDNESS FACTOR TO GIVE THE EFFECT I WANT. IN THIS CASE, THE ERASER WAS AT ABOUT 75% HARDNESS TO REVEALTHE SOFT CREATURE UNDER THE ARMOUR.
USING MY WACOM AND PEN, WITH THE SMALL ERASER I BEGIN TO EXPOSE THE SHAPE ON THE LAYER BENEATH.
I ERASE THE OUTER PERIMETER OF THE SHAPE FIRST.
THEN I ENLARGE MY BRUSH, AND GO BACK INTO THE INTERIOR OF THE SHAPE, LEAVING SOME AREAS BARELY ERASED AND OTHERS COMPLETELY EXPOSED. THIS GIVES A MORPHING LOOK TO THE CREATURE, AND HELPS THE VISUAL TRANSITION FROM THE HARSH ARMOUR TO THE FLESHY GECKO.
THEN I SIZE DOWN SO I CAN SEE THE WHOLE IMAGE. USUALLY I AM WORKING ON A PIECE FOR SOME TIME AND WILL DO THIS REPEATEDLY TO CHECK THE OVERALL EFFECT OF MY WORK AS I GO ALONG.
ONCE I HAVE THE EFFECT JUST LIKE I WANT IT, THEN I FEEL THE WORK IS COMPLETE. THAT ONLY COMES WHEN THE DESIGN IS GOOD AND THE COLOR, VALUE, SHAPE AND TEXTURAL RELATIONSHIPS ARE WORKING TO PRODUCE THE FEELING AND MEANING I WANT. THIS PIECE WILL PROBABLY TAKE MORE WORK TO MAKE ME HAPPY, BUT THIS SHOULD GIVE YOU THE BASIC TECHNIQUE I USE. SOME PEOPLE MIGHT CHOOSE TO USE LAYER MASKS, BUT I PREFER THE ERASURE TECHNIQUES.
In summing up, if you will choose your images to reflect two or more opposites (some of my images contain 3 or 4 layers, like the “Woodsprite” above) like soft/hard, or crusty/buttery, or shiny/rough, then your ideas will be more likely to come across effectively. I can promise you, if you put a beautiful butterfly together with a soft blanket texture or a layer of flowers, you will get an “AWWWWW – HOW CUTE!” image, with an effect about as trite as those sappy little big-eyed ceramic dolls you can buy at the card store. If you want an image to be important and carry deep meaning while it still intrigues the viewer, do whatever it takes to avoid cute, sweet, “purty” (can y’all tell I’m from Texas?) or fluffy subject combinations. Butterflies are incredible creatures that deserve better!