I'm so excited to give you a sneak preview of what is likely the final image in my dark and moody tūī series. "Forever calling me" speaks to an uncertain future for our resplendent tūī. And from now until the end of March 2020, limited-edition medium-sized (28x28cm) prints are available exclusively at Forest & Bird's webstore.
Ten percent of my proceeds for my bird art goes to conservation, and for this print Forest & Bird is the recipient. By going through their webstore, you increase that percentage even further because they also receive a commission.
Forest & Bird is one of New Zealand's largest and oldest conservation organizations - for nearly a century they have advocated from the grassroots to the highest government levels for our precious wildlife. I've been a member and supporter for over 15 years and I'm delighted to be able to support them further through my art (six pieces are currently available). If you want to support the birds through art, this is a great way to do it!
(In late March, Mr Tūī will then make his public debut at an exhibition in Akaroa and will be more widely available on my web store and in other galleries. If you're interested in larger or smaller limited-edition prints, just contact me for details.)
Creativity ebbs and flows and after a busy patch doing something else it can be hard to get back into it. Sometimes the business side of art, other work, and life has to come first for a bit. I've been reflecting on what's helped me in the past and I thought I would share my thoughts with you - I know I'm not alone in needing some inspiration (and a kick in the pants)! I'd love to know what works for you - feel free to add ideas in the comments...
1. a reward for getting going
Photo-art teacher Sebastian Michaels taught me that you have to turn up, and keep turning up, for your muse to arrive. She won't take you seriously unless you take yourself seriously too. I like to hook in a reward for turning up - something as simple as a cup of coffee or tea in a special mug first thing in the morning can get me out of bed and ready for action. For a long time I was starting every morning with art, but somehow I got out of the habit. This is probably the number one thing I need to remedy in my quest to get creative again. Sebastian's 21-days to creative abundance is a good kick-starter. I also love Elizabeth Gilbert's book "Big magic: creative living beyond fear". Might be time for a re-read...
2. The time is now
There's no point waiting for the perfect time to get creative - there is no better time than now, even if just for a few minutes. Waiting for the perfect time means so many lost opportunities. I find when the perfectionism/procrastination ramps up so that I find I'm waiting for the perfect time, when it arrives I'm out of practice and risk squandering the opportunity. A little bit more often, even if not ideal, means I'm more likely to have days when I find my muse and get into the zone.
3. Message a trusted friend
It makes a big difference touching base with artist friends regularly to inspire each other with plans and schemes and to bounce ideas around. I'm blessed to have a couple of artist friends that regularly check in and are quick with positive encouragement. We all need people in our lives that believe in what we're doing, especially for those times when we don't believe in ourselves.
5. Try a new art medium
Seeing a favourite subject in a new way can help, and what better way to feel enthused than a visit to the art store for new and interesting art supplies. My life was forever enriched when pastel artist Karen Rankin Neal put me onto shimmery Pan Pastels and Dahler Rowney pearlescent inks! It's what took me from a purely digital world into experimenting with Giclee print embellishment, mixed media, and big messes.
6. Do a creative course
I love getting creative and crafty with weekend workshops and online courses. Even if not directly related to my main artform, they can lead to creative connections. The weekend picture framing course I did last year at The Learning Connexion unleashed an entire product line (TinyArt), produced a rewarding collaboration with friend and framer Chris Helliwell, and enabled me to get bolder and more creative with my framing choices. There are so many free online courses and tutorials on literally every creative endeavour - start with YouTube and you'll soon be on an adventure. Did you know all the classic Bob Ross "Joy of Painting" courses are online and free? All 403 of them! What a resource! I've not been taking advantage of my subscriptions to the online KAIZEN (enrollments currently closed) and Shift Art photo-artistry communities, both of which have an incredible wealth of creative tutorials, and I will get back into them tomorrow... or even today... I promise.
7. Schedule social media
Being active on social media is an essential part of most modern artist's lives, but it so easy to go down unrelated rabbit holes and never return. Make time for social media, but not at the expense of the most productive hours of the day. I have to relearn this lesson again and again and again… how about you?
8. Join a regular creative challenge
daily, weekly, or monthly creative challenge can be a fun way to keep trying new things and to build a habit of creating regularly. I created the weekly Art of Birding Wildlife & Nature Photography Challenge in 2018 to push myself to try new things, and then invited the world to join me. There are now hundreds of people also doing the challenge and we're all set to go for 2020 - check back in early December for the new challenges. Next year's challenges will emphasize creativity and composition, won't rely on having special gear, will have extra credit challenges, and will work for both photographers and other artists. I'm excited!
9. Create something just for fun and just for you
It can be too easy to get caught up in the mindset that everything created needs to count. But sometimes it's best to relax and take the time to create something just for ourselves. It's especially important if you're having an "attack of the shoulds" (when you hear yourself saying "I should be doing this" and "I should be doing that"). It took two days to make this crazy-complicated secret Belgian binding notebook, but I loved every moment. Especially fossicking through my decades of interesting paper scraps. Want to make one too? There's lots of tutorials out there and I referred to many, but the lovely Jennifer aka Sea Lemon tutorial was the clearest.
10. Fill your world with inspiration
Enrich your surroundings by subscribing to art magazines (check out Artists Down Under), collecting art, following artists on social media, and going to exhibitions. Try the Excio app that puts art and photography on your phone's wallpaper. Put on some of your favourite music, grab your tools, and get creating!
Do any of these suggestions resonate with you? What works for you? What else would you recommend I try? Let me know in the comments below...
[An article for budding artists who are taking the plunge to exhibit their work, though art buyers might also be interested in what goes on behind-the-scenes of an exhibition]
So you've taken the plunge and agreed to do an exhibition - congratulations! One of the first major decisions is framing. If you've not done it before, it can be quite intimidating. Hopefully this blog will take some of the uncertainty out of it, or at least will help you know which questions to ask.
My key take home message? It is important to see the frame not merely as a vehicle for the print but as an extension of the art itself.
So what's going on here? We have a super-intelligent parrot - Polly to her friends, but Professor to her students - at home and trying to relax but the kids are testing out their camera skills. We've all been there...
There's something about the aesthetic of old family photographs that I perversely love - the retro wallpapers, the jaunty angles and lack of focus, the look of terror on the poor victims, the fashion faux pas - and of course the memories - they're a delight to relive. And I found some wonderfully cringing examples in my old family photo archive to share so you can perhaps see where I'm coming from with lovely Polly.
Those all-knowing eyes! I was completely captivated by this lovely youngster - she's as bright as a button and so curious about the world. She became "Professor Polly", and she reminds me so much of a super-smart friend who became one of youngest female professors in NZ's history (who coincidentally has a daughter named Polly!).
I have long been fascinated with bird intelligence and cognition. Study after study are now showing that birds are incredibly intelligent - just this week there was news about tool-use seen in kea (the kākā's cousin) in the wild. Long gone are the days when scientists thought that tiny brains relative to body size meant tiny abilities. Birds have vastly more dense innervation allowing smarts to be packed in much more tightly than human brains. And parrots and corvids are some of the brightest.
Researchers are quite taken by the kākā as a study subject. They're cousins of the kea, who are thought to be the most intelligent bird species in the world, but kākā are rating similarly on the IQ scales. It is fascinating watching them solve the tasks the researchers set them. The thought was that as social birds they would learn by watching their friends solve problems. From what I've seen, it appears more competitive than that with each wanting to show that they can solve puzzles their own way. It was quite incredible to see how many different techniques there are to solve the simple task of acquiring a cashew nut tied to the end of a string.
Not only are kākā super intelligent but they have complex emotional and social lives. We do of course have to be careful at over-anthropomorphizing, but I fear under-anthropomorphizing has had a negative effect not just on our understanding of animal cognition but also animal welfare. They might not think or feel identically to humans, but they think and feel and we shouldn't assume less.
I'm going to take you behind the scenes of what has been one of my most popular posts on social media recently and let you in on how it came about... I know it has been puzzling some folks...
It was a typical Sunday morning, mid-winter at Zealandia, on our regular photowalk and we had just reached the pontoon to spend some time with the kāruhiruhi families as they went through their morning rituals. The low sun was just starting to break around the corner, back-lighting the birds and sparkling the dew still hanging on the leaves. Then the rays hit the chilly lake and ethereal mist began rising. For once I was delighted to have lost the battle as to who had the 24-70mm and who had the 100-400mm lens!
The magical misty light hung around for only a few minutes; just enough time to take a bunch of photos with the wrong settings and then to figure out something that might work better and to hopefully get a nice shot. And the photos were indeed "nice," but not much more and I put them aside. On returning to them some months later, I realized that there was no one shot that had everything, but with some judicious compositing I could create a scene with a story.
I know some people have assumed that this image is a single photograph and have puzzled over how I got the shot, so I'd like to set the record straight, so to speak. And in one sense it is "just a photograph," far less messed about with than some of my images. But I believe that adding artistic licence and liberating oneself from pure photography, it's possible to more accurately capture a moment experienced and to share that emotion.
So what did I do? Four very similar photos went into this image - each was selected for what the birds were doing over the course of just 5 minutes. One was swimming making a spiral of ripples, two youngsters were looking excitedly into the water, another was "hanging out the washing to dry", and others were looking with anticipation into the new day. No one photo showed all that happening and there was no time to wait until they simultaneously did something - the mist was fading too fast. Choosing one photo as the main image, I did a first pass through camera raw to make basic adjustments to the exposure and lighting. I then carefully masked, adjusted with camera raw, and composited in the alternative birds to create a more interesting version of the scene. Then came a little bit of secret sauce; using Topaz Impression to add in a silky, painterly feel at a lowered opacity over the image, and then layering painted textures using soft-light blend modes to subtly change the lighting. When viewed at full size, the more painterly feel is much more apparent. A couple of passes through adjusting highlights and shadows and spot-healing distractions completed the image.
Do you like this image more or less now that you know how it came to be? Do you feel cheated and that it somehow isn't real? Does it take away the magic knowing what was added and how it was made? Or do you feel like you've seen through my eyes and into my soul? Have we shared a moment?
As soon as I started creating bird art I was asked "when are you going to do a tūī?" As a photo-artist, this isn't so easy because first I need to get the photos and you can't just ask a bird to sit right there and strike a pose. But eventually the stars aligned and "Unfurling" unfolded and quickly became my most popular print. And still the requests for more tūī came... So I turned my attention from my beloved kākā and spent more time searching for magic moments with the best-dressed boys of the NZ forest.
And after many hours of spending time with tūī, I came to see so many subtle differences among them. Each lacy nape is like a fingerprint, each poi is a fashion statement - some neat and tidy, some worn more jauntily. And their colours! Not just black and white, but glorious shimmering shades of blue and green, with touches of purple and even gold.
I asked them for their stories. And they answered with dark, gothic tales of loss, defiance, colonisation, foreboding, and reclamation. The tales are still coming, but now is the time to let you in on some of their inner secrets. Stay tuned on Facebook or Instagram this week as I unveil these new works, or if you'd just like to see everything all in one place, jump ahead here.
There is something about the tūī that resonates with people, more so than other more iconic birds it seems. Whether it's their colours, their personalities, their vocal gymnastics, their ubiqituousness in many regions (thanks to predator control), tūī capture people's hearts and minds like no other. Have they enchanted you? What stories have they told you?
Aside from a good dose of curiousity and willingness to explore and try things out, I can recommend the following courses, software, and hardware to anyone keen on getting into photo-artistry.
Anything and everything by Adobe Evangelist Julienne Kost (check whether your local library provides free access to her Lynda courses - Wellington Library does.)
Photoshop Artistry: Fine-art Grunge Composition with Sebastian Michaels
Teaching the fundamentals of photo-artistry with Photoshop and PS Elements
AWAKE - Living the (Photo)-Artistic Life with Sebastian Michaels
A year-long training program for photo artists - life-changing!
Enrollments open twice a year for students of his Fine-art Grunge Composition class.
Fine Art Photography with Brooke Shaden
Everything you need to know about creating fine art photos from the shoot, compositing, making prints, to running a fine-art business.
SOFTWARE & HARDWARE
Ask in the comments below if you have any questions about any of the above...
I'd like to offer up my method for managing my stash of textures, elements, overlays, and masks that I've acquired through courses like AWAKE, Kaizen, and from content I've purchased. It's a bit different to what Sebastian Michaels' suggests, but each to their own. It's a big decision to make, so considering various strategies allows you to make an informed decision before taking the plunge to get organized. This overview assumes you already know a bit about navigating your way round Lightroom Classic and how to import images.
Just considering textures alone - I have over 4000 textures after the AWAKE and KAIZEN courses, along with creating my own. Too many to search through if they were all in one folder. One option is to create folders for each type of texture: grunge, paint, black and white, cracks, urban, concrete… but that quickly makes for some hard decisions. How would you file this texture on the right? You certainly don't want to duplicate the image and put it into multiple folders!
Rather than fuss about which folder an image should be filed in, forget about filing entirely. Let Lightroom work for you instead, with keywords, searches, and smart collections. When you get a new content bundle, unzip each content package into a main folder for all your goodies. I usually let the folder be autonamed by the package name, which also makes it easier to trace back to the source (e.g., "2LO Artist 11", "FS_Cloudy_Day_background_"). Within my main folder, I also have separate folders for AWAKE, Kaizen, and my own content, but that doesn't really matter. Once the content is unzipped, import it into your Lightroom catalog. Then (and this is the only painful bit), keyword every image.
How to keyword
Ctrl-K or Cmd-K gets you to the Keywording panel quickly. Simply type in your keywords, separated by commas. As your collection of keywords builds up, Lightroom will autosuggest and autocomplete for you. For the above texture, I've tagged it as "fabric, cracked, watercolor, texture". I can then easily find it (and others) by simply searching for "texture fabric" or "texture watercolor", or whatever. It's up to you as to how detailed you get, but once keyworded, you will more likely be able to find your goodies in the future. Keyword all your photos too, not just your stash. Even if you have a big collection already, start like you mean to go on with new images and knock the rest off in 15 minute chunks each day till they're all done. It will save you more time in the long run as your images will be so much easier to find. I have over 45000 images in my collection, and they are finally all keyworded.
It's taken me this long to complete the second quarter of the Dogwood 2017 weekly photography challenge because I struggled to get Week 14 Panning completed. Panning is hard! So without further ado, here are the results....
Week 14 - Panning (Technical)
This challenge has been "dogging" me for weeks, so what better subject to choose than a doggo. Must be the slowest pan ever done, but it's done!
In between working on complex photoartistic composite images, I do like to do straight photography too. This year, Linton and I have been doing the 2017 Dogwood weekly photography challenge, which alternates through technical, story-telling, and artistic challenges, and forces us out of our comfort zone to learn new things. All good stuff! We're a quarter of the way through so I thought I'd pop up a gallery with progress to date.
Week 1 - the rule of thirds (Story)
Off we went to the Botanic Gardens, cameras ready! I'm not sure if the pot of tea was exactly rule of thirds, but it got "explored" on Flickr, so is now one of my most popular images. Prints are available on request.
Week 2 - straight out of camera (Technical)
For over three years I've been searching for Zealandia's kākā kura - a very rare red colour morph (variation), seen and photographed by a lucky few, but not by me. And finally I saw a wee orange head emerge repeatedly from within a clump of muehlenbeckia to feed. She was unmistakable! With salmon-orange feathering on and around her head, rather than grey and yellow, and an overall colour of burnished mahogany, she was drop-dead gorgeous. And nothing like any other kākā I'd ever seen.
Such a shy character too, but given how much she ate, I suspect she has many hungry mouths to feed and so was willing to take the risk of being seen by humans. Kākā are not normally that shy, but I suspect only kākā kura with shy genes survived the onslaught of Victorian collectors, who were hell-bent on scoring yellow, white, and red kākā colour-morph skins for their pathetic but highly-prized collections. If only they had cameras rather than shot-guns...
And this shy girl is of special significance to me - she came from one of the nests I monitor and I'd even held and cuddled her when she was banded and micro-chipped back in 2010 (and this is why I left the leg-bands in the image rather than photo-shopping them out). Back then, her colouring was normal so it presumably only changed after her first moult - she wasn't seen again until 2013. So as she's a banded bird, we know for sure it's the same bird each time she shows up, and we do know a little bit about her history.
Her mum "Pinky-B" was one of the first generation of kākā to hatch at Zealandia after the initial translocation. Her dad "Heath" hatched the year after. Both mum and dad are the progeny of the infamous Alfie Kākā and his first partner, making them brother and sister, albeit from different nests. Pinky-B and Heath were prodigious breeders too, so who knows what other interesting recessive genes and mutations are out there. Heath disappeared some years ago, but Pinky-B keeps going, though now she's partnered with her son/nephew and her fertility has dropped.
After a week of weathering everything mother nature could throw at us (earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, gales, and storms), and which are likely not all over yet, I felt the need to work on this series of images from our recent trip to the Marlborough Sounds. These ethereal, languid landscapes belie the awesome forces that created them.
Most of the photos worked into these images were taken on Simon Woolf's Natural Environment Photography Retreat at the Bay of Many Coves Resort. A long weekend filled with fun, photography, and quite a bit of rain! The images themselves were inspired, in part, by Julieanne Kost's course "The Art of Photoshop Compositing", which LinkedIn kindly offered for free recently (probably the only time LinkedIn has ever been useful). If you're interested in photoartistry, Photoshop or Lightroom, she has many tutorials and courses, many of them free, and all highly worthwhile.
For parrot-lovers, visiting Australia is always a treat! We recently visited Sydney for the first time and were delighted to see wild sulphur-crested cockatoos (Cacatua galerita) and rainbow lorikeets (Trichoglossus moluccanus) filling the skies with chatter and colour. It was quite something to see these beautiful birds outside of captivity.
My Aunty Helen was somewhat perplexed by our interest in what are commonly-seen birds to Sydneysiders, but she was very obliging in taking us to likely bird-watching sites around Mosman. I was particularly keen to see cockatoos.
Having been involved in tracking the distribution of kākā around Wellington, I've followed the "Cockatoo Wingtag" program with interest (also see their Facebook page) - a joint venture between the University of Sydney and the Australian Museum. They too are interested in the distribution and behaviour of parrots in an urban setting and also rely on public reports to help track the birds. Unlike kākā, who just have coloured leg-bands, cockatoo have cattle-tags attached to their wings with large numbers written on them. This makes it much easier for the public to identify them as individuals without having to decipher leg-band colour combinations.
There are only around 100 birds in the Wingtag study, so we were not expecting to come across any, but to our delight, we spied not just one, but two Wingtag birds: #035 "Shakespeare" and #011 "Watermelon", both in Clifton Gardens in Mosman. (And yes, I had to just about leap out of a moving car to get the first sighting!)
As an aside, I do wonder if the yellow tags make the cockatoo more or less sexy to one another? Presumably the yellow tags were chosen to match their colouring?
Some cockatoo like Shakespeare are now also sporting solar-powered GPS units. Cockatoo are about twice the size of kākā so can carry the units more easily. When this was tried with kākā, the researchers were at the limit of what a bird could be expected to carry, plus the duller Wellington skies were not as conducive to solar-powered devices (battery-packs were more successful). Not to mention, it was incredibly difficult to build the units strong enough to withstand a kākā's powerful chomping beak. I hope they have more success than we did.
Back home, I've been working on some compositions, including this one of Helen enjoying the Sunday papers, with some additional "embellishments" that for me capture what was a lovely long weekend "across the ditch".
Linton also sneaked this shot of this "bird watching bird" scene - don't be surprised to see this charming kookaburra in a future composition!
Working from home, I often go for days without leaving the house. Surrounded by the familiar can sometimes seem like a block to creativity but if you can get past that, the familiar can lead to creative and more deeply meaningful compositions. The image above was composited with photos all taken within a few feet of my front door. The ones in the gallery below, all from a short wander around the garden.
Prints are available on request.
"Pushing up daisies" was accepted in the Open division at the 2016 PSNZ Central Regional Salon, hosted by the Kapiti Camera Club.
All images by Judi Lapsley Miller
For those people who have only known me as an adult, my forays into the creative world may appear to be a new craze, but for those who knew me as a kid, they'll remember that I loved both art and science in equal measure. And often the two worlds would combine, like when I made a space rocket out of my Snow White talcum powder bottle and toothpaste caps, or when I illustrated a book on the planets (including Pluto of course!). I belonged to the local astronomy club when I was only 7 and I was selected as one of the top art students to go on a school trip to see the Thyssen-Bornemisza art collection at 11. I'd spend hours colouring and drawing - especially butterflies. All that ended when I was in my teens due to an illness - I was no longer able to hold a pen long enough to write, let alone draw. So art went by the wayside and I pursued maths and science instead. [...insert a 30 year gap...]
Coming back to art as an adult has had its challenges, and like many, I worry that I don't have a "style" and that I'm scattered all over the place. I was reassured today that perhaps there was a vestige of innate personal style that I was drawing from. I was tidying my home office - which serves a dual purpose as an acoustics laboratory and an art studio - when I found this treasure. It's a bookmark I made my Nana over 40 years years ago - featuring a space parrot and a butterfly!
One thing I've learned in the "Awake" photo artistry course is the importance of warming-up by doing what Sebastian calls "Finger Exercises". The idea is take a few minutes, grab a couple of images and some textures, and knock something together. It's a great way to get into the flow, and most of the time the results are rubbish, but sometimes something good comes out and suddenly the whole morning has disappeared. This piece is not my normal style, but was engaging to work on. I hope that we never reach the day where all we have are photo albums with memories of kākākpō. Fortunately the Kākāpō Recovery Team is doing all that is humanly possible to ensure their survival and are well worth your support, but it is an uphill battle.
Kākāpō and other photos by Linton Miller and myself, kākāpō skeleton from the NY Public Library digital archives. Additional content via "Awake".
Have you ever noticed that it's the black and white packages that have all the cool edges and photo frames? But what if you want to apply a frame on a colour image? As in all things Photoshop, there are multiple ways to do this, but I like this quick trick.
"Winter at the Cape"
Images from Cape Cod and the Galapagos. Additional content used under licence from FoxeySquirrel and Ninka Studio.
Access Octomono Masonry Settings
Judi Lapsley Miller
Fine art inspired by the stories of birds and the natural world. Starting with photographs, I let my imagination take me on flights of fancy. What is real and what is imagined is blurred. What is physical and what is virtual is disrupted. Bursting with colour and life.
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