Art and Photography:
Excellent FREE Instruction on the Web
Regular readers of My Mac Magazine will recognize the names Eolake Stobblehouse and David Price. Eolake (pronounced “eeee-o-laig”) lives in Copenhagen, and contributes informative letters/articles to the editor here at My Mac. David is in California, and participates in the World Without Borders site, which includes the weekly Wednesday evening chats with My Mac writers and associated guests.
We shall start with Eolake. He is the rare visual artist who is able to support himself entirely via his commercial website. As a gift to budding new artists, he created WhatMeArtist.com, http://www.whatmeartist.com, a trans-medium course for creative people. Let’s meet Eolake Stobblehouse.
John: Hello, Eolake. Thanks for your interesting letters to My Mac. I enjoy reading them.
Eolake: I’m glad someone does, John! Actually, I know people do, but it’s not always very many who take the time to write and tell you, even with the ease of email. Of course it is way better than before the advent of the Net, where meeting the audience was a daunting task.
John: Are you creating your artistic domains yourself, doing HTML and the whole works?
Eolake: Yes. Apart from having an ISP running the server and taking care of credit card payments for me on my commercial site, I’m doing everything myself. Like many artists I am fascinated with what technology can do for me, while at the same time being rather intimidated by all the complexity. Learning Photoshop, for instance, was really scary at times.
John: Shall we consider you a web entrepreneur, then?
Eolake: If I had any start-up capital, I would probably have gotten some help. But I had none, and also it turns out that getting others to see your vision is close to impossible. Even clever people with the best of intentions can be so far off from what you had in mind that it would have been easier to just learn how to do it yourself. In other words, as it often turns out, what you have to be forced to do can be healthy for you. For instance, I always tried to squirm out of brushing my teeth as a child. I’d hate to see my teeth today if I had always succeeded at that.
John: Were you an early-bird using art on the Internet?
Eolake: Hardly. When I first heard of the web in 1994, I had not even used a computer before. But hearing about web pages, I said “I want one!” It was so obviously what I and the world needed. To imagine that even now there are people who can’t see it! The great visionary “Gill Bates” saw the light only in late ’95.
John: What sort of server is carrying the traffic?
Eolake: I think it is running Apache on a UNIX box. I found a host that has fast servers and connections, close to a backbone, which is important when people are paying to use a site. Before I went commercial and still had a Danish ISP (I am Danish), the nice people at the local ISP shocked me and themselves by discovering that apart from an oil company, I was the one customer who had the most traffic!
John: Were they charging you extra for so much bandwidth?
Eolake: It turned out that in Scandinavia, this volume of traffic resulted in fees that were higher than my rent at home! So I had to find an American server, where phone line traffic is more reasonable and I had a chance of paying it. We are talking ten or fifteen times the price in Scandinavia, compared to normal U.S. fees! This goes for private traffic, too. Even local calls cost money in Europe, which is the reason Europe is slightly behind the U.S. in Net coverage, although some strong forces are lobbying to change that. I hope they succeed soon.
John: Is your work on the web a job or labor of love?
Eolake: Yes and yes. Everything I do on the Net is labor of love, and I have great difficulty fixing my attention on anything that is not. So I have been very fortunate that my commercial site could be turned into my livelihood too, with a mixture of hard work and good luck.
John: Can you give us a little background on your new website, WhatMeArtist.com?
Eolake: It is based on a philosophy which is an effort to understand what is this thing we call art, and how the creative process helps people. I have been researching it for decades.
John: In what way?
Eolake: A combination of studying all I could get my hands on about the subject, then direct observation by myself, working with different media, and studying the effect of art on people.
John: Sounds ambitious.
Eolake: A few years ago, I wrote the basics down as a long article. I was planning on writing the whole thing as a book and getting it published early in the next decade. But it often appeared like the project would be a major hurdle and would practically kill me. So when I heard that information was one of the things that was good to sell on the Net, it occurred to me to write it as a course instead. That way I was also forced to face the biggest problem, which is how to make it understandable to most readers, especially newcomers learning how to be artists. Because otherwise it would not have a firefly’s chance in a blizzard of surviving as a course.
John: What are your goals for your free art-instruction site?
Eolake: The philosophy behind this course is truly a labor of love, or maybe even Labor of Obsession, and I am very happy with the result. I honestly think I have a unique and valuable thing here. We’ll see if WhatMeArtist.com will produce any revenue. If it does, I will be very grateful, for I did not really imagine making any money on these materials.
EOLAKE AND THE MACINTOSH
John: What is your background with computers, Eolake? Which Macs do you use most of the time?
Eolake: I started with Windoze on my day job in the mid-1990s. But everything I heard indicated that the Mac was for creative people, and was easier to use, so when I had the means, I got a PowerMac 7200/90, which was a low-to-mid-range machine in 1995. Now it’s a snail compared to the little cute iMac.
John: Were you glad to make the switch?
Eolake: Macs are just what they say they are, and even when things were the worst for Apple, I never regretted the choice. These days, with both software and hardware improving faster than the eye follows, it is just heaven, and excitement. There were people who tried to convince me that I should go with Wintel machines. And honestly, the differences are mostly in the details, and emotional. But I just LIKE the Mac, and I think it has huge potential in speed and ease of use for the future.
John: Where did you go from there?
Eolake: In early 1999, having lived off the web for about a year, I could afford to have two machines for redundancy. I have the old PowerMac, which is networked with a tangerine iMac. The network is easy to set up. I’d hate to try it on another platform. I am looking forward to getting my first portable. The new thin professional Powerbooks would be perfect, but I may wait and see what the “consumer portables” have to offer before deciding. Basically, it is a matter of my wanting the lightest possible machine for simply writing anywhere, but also wanting a real computer to do image and web editing anywhere on the planet.
John: Are you thinking ahead to additional creative media?
Eolake: What I am looking forward to is digital video, but probably not until next year, and OS X, hopefully early next year. The Mac OS is better and more stable than it was when I started on system 7.5, but I will not be satisfied until freezes and crashes are mythical things only happening in fairy tales. I think this level of stability is possible, because that is often the state of affairs on UNIX systems, I hear, which is what OS X will be based on, although any operating system with many millions of lines of code will take years to stabilize totally, according to experts.
CONTENT AND NEW MEDIA
John: Which other URLs or sites are your personal favorites, as far as quality, design, and content?
Eolake: That is hard, but I’ll have to say that with the Net being so young, there is nothing yet that is absolutely great, unless you only consider content. For instance, I am a great fan of Doonesbury and Peanuts cartoons, so I can recommend those sites.
John: I’m not sure I understand what you mean about content, Eolake.
Eolake: Apart from the pre-existing content, which is adapted from non-web media, there is very little that really shows the potential of the web. Amazon.com is one of those sites that does. There are lots of services Amazon has that totally leave street-bookstores in the dust. Amazon is simply a wonderful concept.
John: So you can sense the potential, correct?
Eolake: Definitely. I think we have not yet even seen the beginning of what will be possible on the Net creatively, when we all LEARN how to think without spatial restraints. It takes a long time to learn how to really use a brand new medium. Look at film, because for the first few decades people were amazed simply to see locomotives rushing by on the silver screen. It took a while to start doing serious art in that medium.
John: Do you follow the Macintosh sites?
Eolake: Just a few. Apple Today on Applelinks, MacOSRumors, and Mackido are indispensable. I check them very often.
John: What are your goals and plans for WhatMeArtist.com?
Eolake: As big as possible. Do you know, John, I just recently fully realized that there are lots of people who are not ambitious??!! Quite a shock to me. Very unreal. How this can be, living your life without big goals? Weird.
John: Can you be a bit more specific?
Eolake: Sure. WhatMeArtist.com is designed to help artists. We’ve yet to see if it can earn any money. But even if it can’t, I will run it. I have already had several people say to me that they have had their desire for creating rekindled! This is very important to me, and very central to what I wish to accomplish in this lifetime.
EOLAKE THE VISUAL ARTIST
John: Are you a working visual artist?
Eolake: During the late 90s my own artistic production has been on cruising speed, sometimes going months without important production. I used the bulk of my energy on learning to use a computer, understanding how to use the Net, getting to a point of earning money on my own site, and additional research on the art philosophy contained in WhatMeArtist.com.
John: Are you ready to get back to the drawing board?
Eolake: Definitely. I can now concentrate on getting back into serious production of my own art. At this point I have 99 major and 999 minor ideas swirling around in my head, being tested one by one. Some of my older projects are linked from my personal site which is http://www.stobblehouse.dk.
John: Where will you present the results?
Eolake: What I do know is that I want it to work on the Net. That is mainly a matter of resolution and accessibility. It is probably going to be a combination of written and pictorial art. This is not currently being done to my personal creative standard, except for a handful of comic book artists. But also there is the amazing new possibilities in Net-based publishing, even on paper. If you don’t get what I mean by that, check out http://www.pubspace.com.
John: Are you thinking of traditional or digital tools and techniques?
Eolake: Well, I will certainly return to using large canvasses at some point, but mainly it will be produced on the Mac. I have recently bought more professional software for graphics. And I would be dissatisfied if the site did not pay for itself, too. Now there’s a challenge for an art site.
John: Is visual art something you have done for many years?
Eolake: I have drawn all my life, and painted a lot, too, plus photography very intensely in periods. Photography is a very healthy art form, because it is extroverting compared to other media.
John: What about the written work you mentioned?
Eolake: I had not been writing all that much when I was very young, but I entered a contest for beginning writers, called Writers of the Future, which made me try writing for real in the last half of the 80s. I found out that it was tons of fun, and not quite so hard on me as picture making has tended to be for some reason. So I have continued doing that as well.
John: In which genre?
Eolake: I’ve written a couple of novels, not yet published, and have a few short stories published, mostly science fiction and fantasy. Now I have all the stuff on my own sites and several different places on the web.
John: What else should we be looking for in the future from Eolake?
Eolake: I have dabbled briefly in music, and I will not leave this mortal coil until I have done both music and films professionally, too. Some people advise others to specialize. I imagine they said that to Leonardo da Vinci also. Not to compare myself to him, he was an excellent sportsman too, for instance, which nobody ever accused me of being.
John: Thanks for the thorough discussion. I hope our readers spend time at WhatMeArtist.com, and benefit from the experience.
David Price is passionate about photography, and uses his Snapshots to Photographs online interactive tutorial and his website to educate. In addition to written instructions of photographic techniques, he provides active “teaching by example” links to specific photos on the web, which illustrate the concept under discussion. Seeing is believing, so spend some time in the interactive tutorial at http://worldwithoutborders.com on Saturdays at 10 PM Eastern, 7 PM Pacific and on his website at http://home.earthlink.net/~davidprice and see for yourself. Now let’s meet the man behind the URL.
John: Where do you want to start, David?
David: At the beginning. I grew up in a family of professional photographers. Both my grandparents on my father’s side, then my father and two of his brothers all were professional photographers. My mother and my father’s sister also worked in our photography studios, but were not photographers per se.
John: You say studios. Were there more than one?
David: We always had at least one photography studio, and often two, while I was growing up. My family sometimes sold and bought studios, though, and moved occasionally.
John: Sounds mysterious. Do you know why they skipped town?
David: I don’t recall ever asking why they would decide to sell and move to another location. I can remember studios in West Virginia, Ohio, South Carolina, and Tennessee. We had two studios in Tennessee my last year of high school.
John: What remains in your memory from the experience?
David: I have very fond memories of being taught to print, develop, wash, and glaze photos from an early age. As I grew older, I was also given copy work assignments using a 4×5 camera, for photo restoration purposes. I also used to spend hours watching (and occasionally helping) my grandmother hand color and retouch photos. We had a motorized retouching table, which was sort of like a drafting table with a vibrating light-table surface.
John: Did your relatives nurture and coach you?
David: Funny you should ask, John. Although at the time I thought it was a terrible thing to have to do, I also now have very fond memories of having to work very hard to find the answers to photography “problems” my grandfather gave me to solve.
John: Can you give us an example?
David: One of the strongest memories along this line is of a photo of a reflection in a calm lake. My grandfather told me to prove to him which half was the reflection. That one was very hard for a youngster like me to solve. The rest of my family would not give me the answer because they knew the problem was an assignment from my grandfather.
John: Any others?
David: I also remember one pretty clearly in which he gave me a camera scene setup and asked me to prove what was the maximum depth of field using the range of adjustments and movements available with a 4×5 view camera. At the time it didn’t occur to me that it was unusual for a young teen to be asked to research and solve view camera problems.
John: What happened to these family businesses?
David: My family sold the last photography studio while I was in the U.S. Navy in the early 1970s, when my grandparents retired. My father and uncles still worked as free-lance photographers, but did not buy or start any more studio businesses. I got my father’s medium format portrait camera several years later when he retired, and nothing else.
John: Is that what they used for their professional studio work?
David: We had only medium and large format equipment in the studios. I can remember each of the adults having at least two medium format cameras at weddings and beauty pageants at which I would work as their helper, loading and checking one while they shot with another. I first used a 35mm camera after I joined the Navy. Both my grandfather and father were very skeptical of the small film size and cautioned me to use a “real” camera for important work.
John: What were your early personal photographic projects?
David: Since I already knew many of the basics of photography, I got into special effects pretty quickly, and did quite a bit in multiple exposures, special effects filters, custom development, solarization, and infrared.
John: Very ambitions, David.
David: There’s more! Since those techniques were so much fun, I made my own soft-focus portrait lenses and also devised a method for doing multiple exposures with accurate film registration during the exposures, with a 35mm camera that had no provisions for doing so.
John: Did you study photography as an adult?
David: Not as a formal student, since my grandfather had been so thorough with my lessons in our studios. I purchased a medium format camera, a Mamiya C330, which I still have, and two sheet film backs for it so I could learn Ansel Adam’s Zone System of photography. I have also studied and done personal assignments with dozens of photography texts.
John: Did you try to exhibit or sell any of these experimental photos?
David: I sold my first photo about a year after getting my first 35mm camera. It was a reversed color image with deliberately reticulated (cracked) emulsion. It was a photo of the church that was featured in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”
John: What sort of paid photography have you done?
David: I assisted the ship’s photographer on the submarine I was on while in the Navy, making improvements to our periscope photographs by standardizing on the use of a finer grained developer. I have done freelance photography work off-and-on ever since, usually concentrating on outdoor portraits and weddings. I have also periodically sold scenics, wildlife, and macro flower photographs.
John: How did you get into photo-education?
David: Over the last several years, I have been asked to tutor several local teens who were taking photography classes. I enjoyed that and was open to opportunities to expand those efforts.
John: How did you get from there to the web?
David: After discovering the World Without Borders “G” rated chat site, I decided to become a volunteer staff member. I had to come up with a subject for a practice conference and for my final exam conference. I decided to do them on photography.
John: Consisting of?
David: I gave out tips for improving photography and then asked the audience to discuss them. I proposed starting a regular photography tutorial conference to the WWB Site Director, Cys Bronner, and she gave me the go-ahead.
John: How did you kick it off?
David: The debut of my photography tutorial conference, Snapshots to Photographs, was in mid-November, 1998. Although the tips and discussion format worked somewhat, it didn’t really give the audience a real feel for the techniques we were discussing. It is very hard to teach a visual medium such as photography with just text.
John: No kidding! Your site is now loaded with photos, and links to dozens more, as part of the course projects.
David: I then decided to start posting URLs for photographs throughout the Internet that illustrated both good and poor application of the techniques we had discussed. My original plan was to post tips and techniques for one or two weeks, then post and discuss URLs the following week. However, I quickly realized that I needed to post the URLs at the same time as the discussion so that the audience could better visualize the subject.
John: I noticed you have several photography-related sites linked from your home page.
David: I constructed a website for myself and my wife (who is also a free-lance photographer) just to be able to show some of our photographs. As the photography tutorial conference matured, I decided to post some of the text and photo links I had written for the conference on the website as stand-alone tutorials. Although they are useful, they do not have the added benefit that the discussions with the live audience gives the online tutorial sessions.
John: What’s the current status of the live conference?
David: Although the Snapshots to Photographs conference audience from week to week is still small, there are several professional photographers who attend frequently. The group discussions of techniques while viewing photographs that illustrate the techniques is very helpful to all of us. And it is LOTS of fun sharing some of the things my family taught me many years ago.
John: You are generous with your time and talent. I encourage everyone interested in photography to visit, and participate.
David: Thanks, John. The Snapshots to Photographs conference gives me a way to pay back the debt I own my family for teaching me. I think they would be pleased.