December 14, 2010

Just Beastly, Make No Bones About It

An Interview with Illustrator Jared Moraitis

Part 1 of 2 (link to
Part 2)
Click any picture to engage enlargation drive

Okay, I have some more confessions. Yes, I know it’s starting to seem like I have something weighing on my conscience with all these admissions, but trust me, the concept of ‘conscience’ – and most probably ‘consciousness’ as well – does not come into play here.

It’s just that I like... no, correction: I REALLY like cool drawings of zombies. No, I don’t know why. I don’t particularly get into movies of that genre and I really have no interest to watch any films or shows that don’t either feature Milla Jovovich in various stages of (un)dress or knee-slapping British humorists (preferably dressed in the latter case). I just have some feeling in my head (heart? Which part is it again that has the feeling bits?) that if you can get your art to the point that you have mastered the ‘common’ depiction of Victus Mortuus (neat huh? That means ‘living dead’!! [Thanks
Uncle Google!!]), then you will go places! Hey, if a multi-billion dollar arm of the Disney Universe – formerly known as Marvel Comics – can even ‘go there’ with all their big money-makers in tow, then you know it’s got to be important. And no, I’m not talking about the next ‘Toy Story’ either, even though I do understand that some of the toys buy the proverbial plastic farm in Part 3...

But for better or worse, zombies are an indelible part of our public psyche (and yes, I caught the Freudian bit tied into marriage there as well). In addition, I think that in all honesty, many of us are drawn to not only the macabre but also the ability to tie-in and make cool cross-overs throughout a vast variety of our social and cultural markers as well as milestones over the past 40 to 50 years or so. Especially when they can be incorporated into talented art-work that is not only unique and stylish in form but also in the cleverness of how it is ultimately presented. And that is something that Jared Moraitis is very good at!!

I recently caught a glimpse of Jared’s work – just a ‘simple’ one of the ‘mascot’ icons for the new incarnation of his free-lance illustration work
BeastPop Artworks – and was immediately hooked! I went on to find that Jared is a masterful story-teller, using rich flowing lines coupled with an intelligent subtlety not found every day to get across his message. As such, I hope you’ll also have a good time getting to know this talented artist and developing a taste for his brains... no, no, I mean his very enjoyable abilities and offerings!!

ziggynixonziggynixonziggynixon

Jared, welcome to ZN HQ. To get started, can you tell us a little bit about how your journey began in terms of becoming a freelance illustrator and pop-culture/pulp/sci-fi/comic-book fiend?
Like most young folks, I didn’t leave high school with a great sense of direction. I was struggling to find my way in life. All I really loved doing at that time was drawing – and making silly movies with my friends – but I wasn’t very good at it. But unfortunately, I didn’t pursue my interest in art with a proper sense of passion and motivation back then.

I tried going to college for fine art, but just wasn’t ready for it. So I dropped out, got married, and found a ‘real job’. Alas, neither the marriage nor the job lasted, but the seeds of my passion for and ability to focus on art began to bloom in the wake of my dissatisfaction with my factory job! So I decided to go back to art school and pour as much of myself into it as I could. And that’s where I began my journey as a freelance illustrator.

As I was browsing your galleries, I kept a list of different influences and inspirations I was seeing: rock and roll, magazine covers, video games and comics, vintage ads, television shows and movies, with even some iconic Catholic imagery thrown in to boot. If you had to choose (you don’t) a single sort of ‘that was it’ influence out of all that, what would you say it was/is?
I grew up with a pretty solid and advanced sense of curiosity and awareness of the pop-cultural landscape. I was one of those fortunate ‘Star Wars’ kids whose life was utterly changed by the sudden arrival of this majestic and imaginative behemoth. It ignited something inside me that still burns to this day, not only as an artist, but also as a collector of ‘cool toys’ and memorabilia.

Music has also always played a big part of my cultural foundation. I never really dug typical ‘kid’s music’ as a youth, gravitating instead towards some of the music my parents owned (on vinyl back then - I feel old)[ZN: no, you’re not, but this makes ME feel old...]. The music of Queen, Mountain, Pink Floyd, the Who, Deep Purple, Abba, the Rolling Stones, John Baldry, Led Zeppelin - all of these were on constant rotation at my house growing up. I would sit and draw while these bands and musicians took me to places in my mind that I just couldn’t get to with the help of the more juvenile fare I was ‘supposed’ to have been listening to.

Seeing the
original ALIEN film in the theater at the tender age of 5 was also a major cultural milestone. It stunned me, it terrified me, and it gave me nightmares for years to come; but it also touched me and awakened a love for horror and things disturbing (and a rabid need to collect all things ALIEN)! My father owned the original comics adaptation of the movie by Walt Simonson (published by Heavy Metal, which I still own), and I poured over the pages, copying drawings and trying to capture that beautiful nightmarish creature on paper.

So all of this began a thirst for everything from EERIE and CREEPY magazines to Frazetta paperbacks to Fantastic Four and Spider-Man comics. And don’t get me started on the explosion of the video game arcade and home video game consoles! I was in heaven!

Jared, you’ve already had some ‘unpleasant’ experiences with ‘bootlegging’ or to put it bluntly, people just plain ripping off your images and selling them under their own name or brand. They’ve been seen being sold by street vendors in NYC, being pumped out en masse by manufacturers in the Philippines, and have even been offered by other graphic ‘artists’ and comic book companies (not to mention having someone even try to win a pumpkin carving contest with your ‘ZOMBAMA’ design). Shoot, even a few days ago we saw another version of a cheap ‘copy’, ‘move a bit’ and ‘paste’ version of this same shirt (noting that I will NOT give the copier the satisfaction of including their image here).

Obviously, this is maddening and difficult to defend. But how do you balance the need to get your ‘stuff’ out there in the ether vs. making sure it doesn’t get absconded and abused?
All I can do right now is put a watermark on almost every image I put on the web, to at least confound and create difficulty for these thieves. I’ve had to block a few folks on Facebook as well who hail from some countries that are hotbeds for bootlegging if they seem suspicious. All I can do after that is send threatening letters or emails.

Sure, ‘they’ say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but thievery? That’s just being a douchebag.

ZN extra: Jared recently included this ‘tale’ of a communication with one such bag of zee douche'ing:
...my ebay bootlegger responded to my "firm" letter with this:

’I will definitely remove this listing. I'm sorry for the trouble and
if you could forward me something where I can see your other work so this issue will not happen again that would be appreciated.

Or unless you would like to keep the listing active and take 50% of MY profit.
We could leave it up. But that would be up to you.’

Still, you obviously need to get your message out. What have you found to be your most effective means of communicating with not only your current fans but also the poor deprived masses that are not yet hooked on your style? (btw: loved the entry: ‘GOD HELP ME, I'M ON TWITTER!)
I use Facebook and Twitter (as well as DeviantArt) to promote what’s going on with my design work as featured on my blog. I get far more response from those two outlets than I get comments on my blog, which I don’t mind.

I also like being able to keep up with other artists and what they’re working on (unless they post a bunch of political or philosophical mumbo-jumbo in lieu of art-related news). Still, I don’t like the amount of time I have to spend on the computer doing promotion, posting my work across multiple sites. I could be using that time to work on actual art! I need an assistant who is more computer-savvy than I (and knows how to build websites, because I am clueless).

I have to know: why do gorillas – beautiful and majestic creatures that they are – hold such a special place in your heart?
You know, I wish I had a cool story like I was rescued by a tribe of gorillas when my parents’ plane crashed in the jungle and they nursed me back to health until a rescue chopper could come... but the fact is I just think they’re cool! They have a very powerful form and there’s some fun shapes to play with there.

Same with squids and octopi. Fun to draw.

After going through your blogs and the often well chronicled steps it takes to get your works ‘ready to go’, I have a couple of questions:
You seem to ‘labor’ for lack of a better word with different color combinations for many pieces. Why do you think that is?
I feel sometimes like I don’t have a very good sense of color, or maybe it’s just that I don’t have much confidence in my choices. I have to struggle to remember all the things I was taught in color theory class and I do a lot of research and experimenting to give me several color choices to choose from.

Even then, when I think I’ve nailed it, I’ll let it rest, come back to it the next day and think it looks rubbish, so I’ll start all over again. Sometimes I’ll try to overcomplicate things and it takes me a while to step back and simplify.

How do you know then when it’s time to stop fiddling about and put the pen down? Do you have a kind of built-in ‘OK that’s enough’ mechanism (say something that acts as if someone slammed the piano lid down on your fingers)? For example, you share a number of postings with the aptly named ‘
She-Spartan’ as she progressed over time (ignoring for now the issues with Facebook concerning some specific bits of her bobs). When did you know she was finished?
Well, many of my pieces probably still aren’t ‘finished’. It’s funny, but as much as I complain about guys like George Lucas going back and constantly monkeying with his movies, trying to ‘improve’ them, I can understand that mindset.

As I constantly evolve and improve as an artist, I go back and look at work that was done years, or even months ago and think ‘I can do that much better now’ or see a flaw that wasn’t evident before that needs patching or tweaking. I have a whole drawer full of old sketches and roughs that I intend to return to for the sake of improving and really turning them in to something swell.

Usually, though, if it’s work for a client, the deadline or commission fee will determine when I ‘put the pen down’. If they need it by the 4th, then I better be done by the 4th. Or, if they’ve only paid me $500 for the design, I need to make sure I don’t spend so much time on it that I’m only making minimum wage by the time it’s done. I also have to try and avoid going back and revamping too many old designs because I need to keep moving forward. That’s a trap that’s hard to get out of.

Even though you do try out a lot of different colors and even shading combinations before you submit things, often your works are ‘adjusted’ by the end-user. How does that work contractually, I mean, once the image is sold, is that it for you? How does it make you feel when you see a slight or even dramatic change?
Oh, I usually hate it! I’m fine with clients coming to me and saying ‘this color in the zombie’s intestines doesn’t look right. Can we change it to more orangey than pinkish?’ I’m fine with that, even if I think it doesn’t look quite right. At least they’ve let me know so I can change it.

Still, I’ve seen some of my shirt designs where both parties have agreed that MY final colors and design are pretty good and ready for print. Then I see the actual printed shirt and they’ve either changed colors or ‘omitted’ certain elements that I thought helped the design ‘pop’. For example, one design I was particularly unhappy with when it was printed had some color changes that ended up being not only a bit garish, but had also obviously been done without the care and attention I would have given it, because they missed a chunk of color on something. The average person, of course, probably wouldn’t notice or care, but it stuck out like a neon sign to me.

You’ve mentioned that ‘I've always had trouble keeping a consistently updated sketchbook, and I've lately fallen into only doing sketches for whatever job I had currently on my plate’. Why is that and how do you eventually force yourself to ‘keep at it’?
A lot of that is because I just don’t have the time to do much ‘practice drawing’ or leisurely sketching, which is a shame and results in my stunted development, I’m sure. When you’re doing freelance and you’ve gotta bring the money in or the bills don’t get paid and there’s no such thing as a regular paycheck, you try to make every bit of drawing you do count towards that final image or design.

For example, if the job entails monkeys, I’ll get out all my monkey references and draw up some preliminary sketches. But there’s never any time where I’m sitting on a park bench sketching people or nature, unless the job calls for it. Plus, it’s hard for me to draw on tiny little sketchbooks. I need to have room to move around!

I do try to make it a habit of sketching from imagination whenever I can – you know, doing creature design and concept art and such, just to keep in practice.


Continued in
Part 2

Just Beastly, Make No Bones About It

An Interview with Illustrator Jared Moraitis

Part 2 of 2 (link to Part 1)
Click any picture to stop squinting at it

Jared, one thing I am curious about is that before BeastPop Artworks was ‘born’ this past September, you put your previous venture and even blog called ‘PopMonkey’ to rest. What’s it like ‘killing off’ a blog or an identity like that?
My life has changed so much from the time I was ‘PopMonkey’ that a brand new identity made sense and was necessary. My personal life has been pretty tumultuous since I graduated art school, and I wanted to make as clean a break from that time as possible.

Plus the name ‘Pop Monkey’ had recently been appropriated by several other business ventures, most notably I suppose is a new TV production outfit that goes by the name (and has a dreadfully poor mascot). Thus, BeastPop ArtWorks was born! BeastPop is also for me a bit more in-tune with what I do and who I am.

You’ve also mentioned that you are ‘continually growing and developing as an artist’ and at least trying to trend ‘away from the overly cartoony/simple aspects of (your) work that held sway earlier on’. What are you doing to push your own creativity in a new direction?
I’m trying to bring more detail, dynamism and unique techniques into my work. My skill at inking with a brush has improved ten-fold over the past several years, which also helps.

Plus, I’m looking more closely at the artists who influence me, spending time pouring over their work. But I’m going beyond just being impressed by them or doing something as basic as trying to copy them; instead, I’m trying to see the thought behind the decisions they make in composition, lighting, technique, design, and more.

I found your various inputs about your inking processes, including scanning and all, very interesting in a kind of ‘I wish I understood that’ kind of way (for example, with your ‘
UGLY STICK’ work). Can you talk us a little bit through your process please? Are you mostly a ‘pen in hand’ artist or do you primarily rely on the various soft- and hard-wares out there today to create your work? Or is there some sort of happy medium (every pun intended) between the two?
I don’t think I could ever depart from the tactile fun of inking and drawing by hand with real pencils, pens and brushes on real paper. But, having said that, this may just be because my technological capabilities do not allow me to produce work as polished and detailed as I can do by hand.

If I had a powerful computer with a Cintiq and the latest, coolest drawing software, I might be satisfied working solely digitally. But as it stands now I am working on an outdated iMac with an old version of Photoshop and an old Wacom Intuos 3 tablet. I would love to be able to do a lot more ‘painting’ in the computer, but my system can’t handle the speed necessary for me to open up Painter and tear into it. I need a grant!

Here’s a description of my current working method: first, I do the sketching and put the roughs on paper. Then I scan them into Photoshop, resize, manipulate, add text, etc. Print larger and refine and tighten the drawing with my lightbox. Scan again, blow it up, manipulate it or whatever other adjustments need to be made. Convert tight pencils into a blueline image, print it out on nice bristol paper. Ink with brush and pens over blueline drawing. Scan inks, clean and resize in Photoshop.

Usually I will print the inks again in blueline and ink the shading/ highlight elements on a separate sheet of paper, scan these in and layer them over the inks to assist with coloring so I don’t have to muck about too much with working out the shading in Photoshop. This also creates a nice hand-drawn look to the shading and is where I can imprint my unique style. The rest of the coloring, shading, halftones, text, etc. is usually handled in Photoshop.

Over the years, your work has been sold via tee-shirts (see also below), skateboard designs, logos, convention banners, coffee mugs, bags, buttons, posters, boxer shorts and
thongs (‘Dirty Rat’ themed no less = this year’s holiday gift to ALL my family!!). With all that in mind, where would you really enjoy seeing your work ‘presented’ in terms of where it hasn’t been yet (or as much as you want)?
I would love to have some of my character concepts and drawings turned into vinyl toys and/or action figures! The world of vinyl toys is expansive yet there’s so much repetition and boring design out there. I mean, how many stubby bear/bunny shaped characters can one stand before you go crazy? I want to see some radical cool designs captured in vinyl.

I would also love to create an animated series and do all the character designs and such. This would scratch my artistic itch as well as my creative writing itch!

I recently had the pleasure to interview
Chow Hon Lam of ‘Flying Mouse Designs’, a really great guy operating out of Malaysia who has become somewhat of a ‘modern legend’ in tee-shirt design circles. I asked him as well about what advantages or even disadvantages do you see trying to ply your trade in this area? And why tee-shirts instead of fashion or even more ‘traditionally’ oriented graphic arts?
I personally love to wear super-cool tee-shirt designs, whether it be rock band shirts, pop-culture based shirts or shirts featuring just plain cool designs. So to me it’s just natural that this would be something I’d want to be a part of. It just seemed the easiest way for me at this stage in my career to get my work out into the world.

Tee-shirt design just fits really well together with the kind of art I do. It doesn’t have any deep meaning: it’s fun and cool, and it isn’t designed to ‘sell’ anything outside of itself (except maybe furthering my brand name). I’d like to branch out more into CD album covers, skateboard design, and poster art, all of which are fairly closely tied.

I promise not to dwell too long on this but I do want to ask about the ‘ZOMBAMA’ design and what turned out to be almost literally the brain-eating mania that followed it’s release, with
one national publication calling it ‘one of the most stunning post-inauguration (graphic art) successes’.

On one hand, it must be quite satisfying to enjoy this kind of success with a piece (selling in just 24 hours more than 1,300 shirts on
TeeFury.com - triple the site's previous record-holder). What was it like for you when that took off like it did and even later when it literally would sell out printings as soon as they were announced?
It was thrilling and took me completely by surprise. Folks can go read my original blog post for the details behind the origin of that design, but I had no idea it would take off the way it did. I had approached TeeFury to see if they’d be interested in printing a different design of mine, but they picked the ZOMBAMA piece off my blog (and I really just considered it a fun throw-away design to poke fun at Shepard Fairey) and wanted to print that instead.

The sales figures stunned me, and even more so, when after the day of the sale, my inbox began to be deluged with a steady torrent of emails begging for another chance to own the shirt. I had to take matters into my own hand and get it printed by a screenprinter and fill the orders myself (it’s too dear to me now to sell the rights to the design to anybody). It went through three printings before TeeFury decided to reprint it, and I’m still getting emails from people who want the shirt. I may have to do another printing here soon.

ZN update 1: as shown here, the ZOMBAMA shirt is in fact on sale NOW for a limited time in the
UK via Qwertee.com!!!

ZN update 2: in addition, the design ‘Glass Bast’rd’ shown at the end of this blog
will be offered via TeeFury.com under the name ‘Not Kool’ starting December 21st!! Just in time for December 22nd everywhere!

On the other hand, is there any sense for you of 'oh no, I don’t want to be known as the ‘ZOMBAMA’ guy the rest of my life'? How does an artist eventually balance the two extremes, namely, a sudden and significant success with the potential ‘pigeon-holing’ that might naturally follow it? Like, do people phone you up and say ‘oh please please do me in Zombie form?’ (just thinking maybe Sarah Palin had called).
I have only had a couple requests so far for a Zombamafication-type design, but one was from a really distasteful ‘band’ that I simply did not want to be associated with, and the other guy just simply couldn’t afford me, I think.

In all honesty, I don’t mind being pigeon-holed for now. It’s the piece that started me on the road to recognition, so it deserves to be one of those things I’m most associated with right now. Most importantly, I definitely think I am growing and moving above and beyond that! I am convinced that there will be much more that I create that will cause people to take notice. So I don’t think I’m forever going to be known as ‘the Zombama guy’.

I would note though for our readers that more recently, your ‘historical Japanese’ take on PAC-MAN (shown above) has also experienced a good level of sales (true story: I had been looking at this pic for a while before I realized what the pattern on his skirt was... I’m still sore from the headslap). This raises another interesting aspect of the work of modern ‘pop art’: how important is it for an artist to really do his homework and research a piece before getting started?

In addition, and here I want to play devil’s advocate a bit: how do you eventually draw a line between ‘basing’ a piece on something you find and avoiding the very processes which have seen your own works ripped off?
With the Pac-Man samurai design, avoiding rip-off territory was easy:
the back-story I included in my blog post about the old scroll print and the ‘real’ inspiration behind the creation of the game was all baloney! I made it all up!

Now, don’t get me wrong: I still did my research, and I always do, even if it’s just to make sure I’m not accidentally ripping something else off or ripping it off in just the right way (there’s a very fine line). For example, with my recent
Boba Fett/Speed Racer piece, I wanted to do a fun mash-up of Boba with some other lesser-known (to me) pop-culture icon. When I stumbled over the Speed Racer imagery it just seemed to fit, plus it allowed for some minor commentary on Lucas and his Star Wars empire.

I immediately scoured the Internet to see if anybody else had run with the idea before me, and this is usually what I do before sketching even begins. I’ve had many a ‘brilliant’ idea that it turns out were already conceived and executed by other artists.

You’ve also mentioned being selected to appear in various collections (e.g. the
SPECTRUM annual art book) but having just missed out on others, as with the Darkstalkers Tribute shown here. What does that mean to you both personally and also professionally when you get invited to be involved in something like this?
Well I wasn’t ‘invited’ to either, unless you count open submissions as an invitation. The SPECTRUM thing was a nice surprise and an honour to be included in. Things like the DARKSTALKERS TRIBUTE are disappointing, not only because my design didn’t get featured, but because I’m not too keen on that sort of ‘contest’ in the end. It’s just that you pour all this time and effort and passion into a piece, hoping to be published in the book.

But in reality, the publishers of things like that are essentially getting a lot of free work which they can make money off of by selling the book, and there are no payments or prizes to published artists outside of a free copy of the book. I’m probably going to stay away from such things in the future, but I will be submitting to SPECTRUM again this year.

My son and I have enjoyed looking through your character designs for ‘
COLLIDE-O-SCOPE trying to imagine what neat stories must go along with the gang. How did the concept pitch go?
COLLIDE-O-SCOPE was actually my senior thesis at Ringling School of Art and Design. I came up with a pitch for an animated series (or maybe comic book) based around a crazy, mega-popular rock band. This included a ‘series bible’, full character descriptions and finished concept art for all the major characters. It was tremendously fun to work on, but also tremendously stressful as it involved many sleepless deadline nights.

I have yet to really do anything with the pitch outside of simply posting it on my old blog, but I have every intention of dusting it off and doing something with it soon. I hope.

Can you share with us one thing that no one or let’s say not many people know about you that will not get you arrested or otherwise in trouble?
I collect spores, molds and fungus. No, really..

Other than that, I do seem to have a predilection for ‘starving artist’ type pursuits. I think that if I had not chosen to be an illustrator or had no artistic talent, I would have traveled the path of the musician instead. I love music and I loved creating music back when I had time to. I love singing, playing bass, guitar - I just simply don’t have the time to pursue both, so the world gets BeastPop ArtWorks instead of BeastPop MusicWorks.

What else would you like to add as we begin to wind things down?
I think I’ve been long-winded enough, so I’ll just say if you like my work, follow me on Facebook and at my blog (and maybe Twitter, if you’re nasty) and spread the word.

And, hey, if there’s any wealthy philanthropists out there looking to give a hand to a starving artist whose entire computer set-up is dangerously close to crapping out on him, I’d make a perfect candidate for a large grant of some kind. I promise to use the money wisely and put it towards fancy equipment that will boost my production speed... and maybe as well a screen printing set-up so I can print my own shirts and posters. I will also swear loyalty to you should you become the duke of your own uh... dukedom after the zombie apocalypse AND I’ll name my next pet after you.

Plus, if there’s any lawyers out there, I might soon be needing the pro-bono services of someone who is equipped to handle George Lucas’ attack dogs! BeastPop out!

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Jared Moraitis and BeastPop ArtWorks are currently to be found in the foothills of the glorious and extremely visit-worthy Blue Ridge Mountain area in Hickory, North Carolina (yes, I have family from this region who would benefit from increased tourism, why do you ask?). He’s got oodles and oodles of honest-to-goodness talent and we are really looking forward to seeing how his next projects come out!!

Keep checking back at his blog and/or social media sites often, as he likes to keep his viewership and fans posted on how given projects or pieces are advancing!! Plus, it’s a great way to keep abreast (oops, sorry Facebook!!) of the tee-shirts or other design voting’s going on! In addition (or ‘Plus, The Return’), he occasionally re-posts some real-life ads for freelance illustration which are totally stupid but funny as ... well, they’re really funny, let’s leave it at that (for the kids, you know).

To help you with your own enjoying and finding actions, again you can find the following stuff at the, uh, following links:

Illustration Blog:
http://www.beastpop.blogspot.com

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All pictures, videos and other media are used with written permission of Jared Moraitis, including all current or previous business affiliations related to same, or are available in the public domain (noting copyright and other restrictions, accordingly). No further reproduction or duplication is permitted without contacting the artist directly.

Some pictures have been modified slightly or combined only for the purpose of space limitations.

November 24, 2010

Just Don’t Ask to Fix the Kitchen Sink!

An Interview with Jonathan Klein and Tal Koren of Ascended Media

Part 1 of 2 (link to
Part 2)
Click on any picture to enlargeniate

Now I try to keep things here at ZN HQ on an upbeat tone. I particularly try to avoid being the bearer of bad news ... However, in case you missed the news last night, well, I hate to break it to you but: the World Economy is not getting terribly much better. And it looks like that’s going to be the case for a while to come as well.

I’ll wait a moment for that to sink in for those of you standing here and sharing the warmth of my last can of Sterno...

I think that with this bit of reality in mind – however shocking it may be – was the reason that a recent announcement on Facebook particularly caught my eye. Not only did I bear witness to someone announcing the start-up of a new company – complete with requisite targets and a list of exciting services in tow as you’d expect – but I was also duly impressed at how steadfastly convinced they were that their goals would be met on both their local as well as the global stage. This after hearing time and again from so many graphic artists, illustrators, service providers and more just how bleak the situation is – and has been since essentially those terrible hours in September of 2001.

But that is in fact what Jonathan Klein was indeed stating, there in the ‘broad daylight’ of social media. Intrigued, I followed up with Jonathan – together with fellow founder Tal Koren – to find out how the newly formed ‘
Ascended Media’ was set to face the challenges ahead. After all, we all need business to pick up in any way we can get it going!

I’m pleased to bring you our discussions about their up-and-coming enterprise:

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Hi folks, welcome to the show. In 20 (+/-) words or less, who is Ascended Media?
Ascended Media is the synergy of IT, web design, SEO (search engine optimization), graphics, and now promotional services. It is comprised of an engineering group of talented individuals, with 40-plus years of collective support experience!

Can you tell us a little bit about your ‘site’ and the people that you see and interact with every day?
Our 'site' caters primarily to small-to mid-sized business customers and home offices. Our customers are typically those who require an IT department but can’t afford to have a full-time staff.

Because our business model caters for the most part to businesses, well, we don't actually have a retail store-front in that regard. Occasionally, we will have some consumer customers; still, in these cases, we provide service that is on-par with the level of service that we provide all customers, including business customers.

All of our customers demand a high level of expertise and support. Basically they want to know that their needs are met or exceeded and that they are getting their money's worth.

Now if I understand, Ascended Media has been formed by joining the graphic and web design services of
Dewality with the IT expertise of RIOTTech (or RIOT TEK, LLC as it is also listed), correct? What was the motivation for bringing these organisations together?
Yes, that is correct. Dewality Designs has been replaced with Ascended Media.

In addition, Ascended Media was also formed so that RIOTTech can focus on the products of SONY, BlackBerry, HP, Lenovo, Toshiba, Cisco Systems, and about 18 others. RIOT TEK, LLC is therefore not a retail sales entity, but rather a business entity of these manufacturers.

When you deal with RIOT TEK, LLC, it is as if you are dealing with the manufacturers themselves, because, you basically are. RIOT TEK, LLC gets its product from manufacturers' distribution centers. Ascended Media will acquire product from RIOT TEK, LLC (if and when needed) and provide service through its own entity.

I’m curious: with the global economy struggling along as it is today, do you think that Corporate Identity or Branding has lost focus? Or do you see companies pushing for this even more than ‘before’?
In our opinion, the global economy should really push companies into getting more of a focus on their identities and brands in order to stay afloat. This is why we have taken this philosophy and formed Ascended Media.

Your list of services for both IT Solutions as well as ‘web’ services – which also includes even apparel design – is quite extensive. Are you aiming to have all of these activities centralised ‘in-house’ or does the Ascended Media approach include outsourcing?
Our target is to have all of our talent in-house. Still, at present, if we need to bring in additional resources, obviously we do. So in that respect, yes, we use outsourcing, but only the ‘best of breed’ talent.

We have to keep in mind that we are also looked at ourselves as an 'outsourced entity.' As such, we aim at bringing back high-quality services to the area when most services of this type were outsourced to Asia.

What criteria do you use for selecting your outsourced activities for both information and graphic talents as well as the actual production companies with whom you work?
Again, we always pick what we call the ‘best-of-breed’. Currently, Tal – again as one of Ascended Media’s founders – has all the graphics associated with the business 'assigned' to him.

Still, we will typically use the same resources. We find that our relationships with businesses allow us to turn around and to provide our own customers with the best possible service. In addition, we strongly urge business entities to cooperate and work together, which we find produces the most effective and best results.

Let's take for example your services for ‘apparel’: what is important for Ascended Media to establish before giving the green light to spend essentially their own clients’ money on a run of shirts or other items?
It is most important to ensure that what the customer wants is actually produced. If what we show the customer is not what they expect, then we have not effectively done our job as a service entity. For example, in this case, we have already established a strong relationship with
Sussex Tees out of Delaware. They provide us with outstanding service and the best in quality of fabric in their apparel and design.
(ZN: check out some original designs below and also in Part 2 of this interview!)

How do you manage then all of the various creative talents that you gather? Is there a centralised Project Management approach or do various team members assume the leadership role(s) as needs arise?
All information is gathered at each engineer's level. It is key then that each engineer has his or her own schedule laid out.

The engineer has a briefing period prior to a project's commencement. After that, they review the requirement, make sure they understand the requirement, and then implement its solution. After the project, or as the project is being completed, the engineer reports back to me, keeping also Tal in the loop. There might be times when the progress report is performed at more than one interval, in which case it is basically based upon trust and scheduled intervals immediately post-presentation of said report.

Think of it as a ‘TPS Report’ and cover sheet from the movie, ‘Office Space.’ ^_^

In terms of your customer base – targeted or existing – what are you aiming for? Do you have a particular market segment in mind, or even different size or location restrictions to consider?
With regard to IT, we have been concentrating for the most part on small-to-mid-sized businesses. As mentioned earlier, we also cater to home offices and consumers at times.

With regards to web and promotional services, we are able to provide that both nationally and even internationally, which is something we have begun to integrate. This is due to the fact a lot of what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ can be provided remotely. This brings up another key fact about our daily business: with regards to IT server support, we very often get requests for remote server and even work-station support.

Is there a difference to you between ‘big’ and ‘small’ customers in terms of how you approach the start-up projects or even long-term service?
No.

Again, the bottom-line is that we provide the highest level of service to both big and small customers. We aim for the highest level of customer retention that we can obtain!

And what we have found is that if we provide the same level of service across the board, we will get back what we provide: a happy customer and happy internal operations here within our own organization!


Continued in
Part 2

Just Don’t Ask to Fix the Kitchen Sink!

An Interview with Jonathan Klein and Tal Koren of Ascended Media

Part 2 of 2 (link to Part 1)
Click on any picture to humongenate

Guys, you’ve noted that your ‘headquarters’ if I can call it that is located in the New York Metro area, which allows you to cover obviously New York City and the Northeast regions. In addition, you indicate that your web services cover the globe! How then are you managing this global presence, even say for example
if you’re dealing with a customer who insists on having you close at hand?
We offer remote support on the IT services portion of our organization for both work-stations and servers. Website design, SEO, graphics and promotions are able to be done remotely as well. Overall, web services never have to be done locally. In cases where the customer insists, we typically use remote audio/visual solutions such as SKYPE or
ooVoo.

What is key is that part of the interaction with customers is the ability to diplomatically provide them with education on the solution of which we are providing. Once we are successful in doing so, we typically have their confidence, even if we’re physically quite some distance away.

How are you placed then to service these customers vs. say a more globally ‘recognised’ – in terms at least of ‘divisions’ or addresses – company such as
MetaDesign or others?
We typically cater to the smaller customers, however we can provide global service, being that our webmaster is based in Israel and we are based in the United States.

Sure, since we are currently small, we have lots of room for growth!

How does one of your projects typically start with a customer?
We typically start with an interview of the customer's needs. We want to ensure that the customer knows that we are there for their benefit and that he or she can confide in us. It’s key that they realize that we 'feel their pain'.

How about the incubation and start-up periods of a given project?
After we have had a chance to sit with the customer and the customer has decided to choose us based upon their own criteria (this varies between customers as you might expect), it is a 3-stage process. Typically this involves:
a) We bring forth a proposal to the customer identifying the customer's requirement and/or issue;
b) We outline what we need to do to get ‘there’ (why has the customer hired us to do what needs to be done), and
c) We discuss how we will satisfy the customer's needs/objectives/expectations, providing an ultimate resolution or satisfaction accepted by the customer.

Next, we typically come up with what is referred to, for example, as a ‘website wireframe.’ This allows the customer to ‘see’ what they are getting before the actual work continues. At the point where the customer is actively working with us on the project, such as the website design, we ask the customer for the ‘content’ for the site. Only the customer is the expert of the website that they want for their business. As such, the customer needs to provide us with the information so that we have it to post on the website itself.

With regards to other projects, typically Tal and I, along with other applicable engineers will work together to gain an understanding of customer-related projects. For example, if we’re working with a customer to create a website, we’ll also look into other areas of the needs of this customer that often go hand-in-hand with the initial project.

What kind of other services do you typically identify in these regards?
If IT support is needed, we discuss what is needed and assign these tasks internally, that is, among the Ascended Media organization. If a logo is needed, we get to work on creating a ‘corporately-clean’ logo which would apply and be accepted by the customer. If there is a need for customer Internet marketing, we discuss once again internally what needs to happen to make these solutions work.

It may be that we’ll also look into providing SEO to the website. So we’ll interview the customer [further] in order to support their understanding about how the meaning of implementing SEO is all a matter of where the website is located, focused, and how it will impact the customer's business.

What about follow-up with companies using your services? Certainly, changes can come at any time in the market or only too often within the corporate structure itself. How do you deal with these new scenarios?
We keep the customer posted with a variety of media, including emails, newsletters, and other communication methods. The customer never loses touch in terms of communication with us.

We also make sure and provide the opportunity for question and answer sessions again using SKYPE or other audio/visual software, chat sessions and phone calls. The customer always knows that we keep them in the highest regard for the best possible experience in relation to the price they are [or were] paying.

It is also apparent that you pride yourself on your ability to provide extremely quick responses for many activities. How do you balance these more ‘immediate’ services with the longer term projects?
We do work hard [and of course play hard].

Really, there is a constant ‘triage’ assessment made throughout the work day, work week, work month, and segments of the work year. In a small business, as you might expect, we all have to wear many hats. Typically, each person knows what he or she is supposed to do within the organization in order to exceed customer expectations.

At Ascended Media, there is a trusting knowledge of each member involved in each project. We very much keep an open communication for new know-how or knowledge, as well as for new assessments for the needs of the customer, in order to effectively provide the customer with the best possible service.

One service that particularly caught my eye was SEO or ‘search engine optimization’, which you mentioned earlier a couple of times. Now perhaps without giving GOOGLE even more free advertising, can you give us a brief introduction to how you would approach this often key criteria for businesses?
There are many modes of approaching SEO. Typically, the best and most-talented individuals keep constant track of the GOOGLE algorithm, as well as how the company is leveraged among other businesses in the same field. There are also some other ‘hidden secrets,’ some of which I know, others of which our SEO expert Tal and his resources know, both of which we cannot possibly share! Sorry!

I will share with you this one small ‘secret’: we have found that having a Facebook presence for each business should assist a business's SEO page ranking. Most recently, we also began offering ‘customized’ Facebook pages: these are beneficial for the customer's presence, since the page changes in its appearance significantly from the traditional Facebook page.

On the other hand, it seems that many of your other IT services would be more what I might consider typical ‘in-house’ tasks for a company including maybe intra- or intercompany website maintenance. If I’m a customer, how do you convince me then that your solution is better than keeping the 5 or 6 guys I have locked up in the basement (don’t laugh) working on same?
We have ample resources internally within Ascended Media, without the customer needing to let those 5 or 6 guys out of the basement! Or it may even be that our solution is more economically feasible in the long run for a company and allows them to better use their own internal resources.

We find that the best way to convey this is to provide the customer the education needed in order to better understand how their total resources vs. services rendered is performing. For example, using Ascended Media’s solutions allows the customer to call whenever they need us. Again, does this provide the customer with real resource utilization improvements? Most often the answer is yes!

We will also provide further perks at no additional cost that they could only get under their current plan through outside resources, which of course only adds to their overall resource expenses. This includes the ‘value-added perk’ of email, chat, phone, and other form of communication with a response from us, typically, at no or minimal additional cost.

How does Ascended Media approach trending? For example, if you were working with the Automotive industry, how would your work today be shaped to include the needs for the near or even more distant future?
After our interview with the customer, we basically immerse ourselves and look to be educated by the customer in the industry in which they take part. We make a concerted effort in maintaining a great understanding about the industry of the customer: how we can better improve the technology of the customer along with maintaining continuous communication of any changes in trends.

These trends are often communicated to us by the customer, as well as through market research among the Internet and other form of communication media. Here is a perfect example: we have partnered with
Edge Studio, in New York City. Lately, we have spent a significant amount of time in learning Edge's business, including where their business is headed, about the actual industry in which they as a business take part, and how we – Ascended Media – can simplify and/or streamline their business's technology. We are in constant communication with Edge and have even been offered an attendance possibility at one of Edge's voice-over workshops! That’s great for us because we learn more and more about their business and as such can only serve them even better than before!!

Ascended Media has already established a website as well as both Facebook and Twitter accounts. I also notice that the separate partners had in the past blogs on which they posted some project information. Is there anything missing in your eyes in terms of your own promotion or even corporate branding?
We are now in the midst of making a big push and offering our promotional services (launched mid-November). We are also in the process of bringing on businesses as potential joint ventures and customers as part of this new offering.

In addition, since Ascended Media is a true ‘media’ company, we hope to bring in more service offerings that relate to ‘media.’ As you can imagine, the ‘media’ field is vast; so the sky's the limit of where we can go from here. In fact, as of today, we have implemented a direct promotional area on our website that enables us to promote our customers directly. The links on our page takes a website visitor directly to the partners' websites.

I’ve asked this question before in a number of different situations (certainly receiving a wide range of answers in return), but in your eyes, what does a brand need in the market to be successful?
The brand needs recognition. It sounds obvious but it’s not near that easy to achieve!

How to achieve this recognition depends upon many avenues or approaches that need to be followed. One is to constantly notate the actual name of the brand. Obtaining a level of constant ‘sight’, repetition, and knowledge about the business is key!

As mentioned, we have to make sure that the knowledge, or if you will, the understanding about what the brand is about (e.g. to which part the industry the brand belongs, etc.) is known and clearly communicated! Otherwise, as you can imagine people would call us for fixing their plumbing issues (‘everything including the kitchen sink!’). Well, okay, sure we could send one of our own engineers, but he may not need a laptop to fix the problem! ^_^

What I’m getting at is that the brand needs to achieve a high level of ‘word of mouth’ recognition, also partnering with other businesses wherever possible to improve and increase this aspect! Again, Ascended Media understands that partnering with other businesses achieves credibility, especially among the immediate local community.

Lastly, the brand may need advertising and promotion. Having this option available reaches out to additional potential customers within either the local community or a targeted area. In this way, Ascended Media is perfectly placed to support our customer in all aspects of what it takes to get brand recognition and ultimately success for their business!

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Many thanks again to Jonathan and Tal for their time! If you’d like to get in touch with Ascended Media to discuss your needs, you can access their on-line
contact page here, or visit them on Facebook or via Twitter! And please make sure and check back often to their ‘partners’ section on-line, as the list is growing very quickly!!


Here’s a little more of an inside ‘scoop’ about these gentlemen for your perusal:

Tal Koren, who hails from the very lovely Haifa area of Israel, has been the head of numerous global projects in the past decade, with a strong focus on Website Design & Development and Graphic Design. A seasoned yet youthful veteran, Tal’s journey began as a teenager, where he has always had the passion and drive to learn and improve in the graphics, Internet and IT fields.

Today Tal is Ascended Media’s SEO guru, Senior Webmaster and Designer, and Flash Software Developer extraordinare! In addition, Ascended Media is using Tal’s expertise in social networking, noting that as the advent of this phenomena arrived, he immediately immersed himself into developing custom Facebook pages for the community! Tal is also looking forward to driving the overseas presence of Ascended Media in the future and his presence will imminently provide more confidence for future customers of Ascended Media.

In his spare time, Tal enjoys spending quality time with family and friends and making people laugh as he has 'fallen off the tracks,' as they say! ^_^


Jonathan Klein
, from the New York City area, has also been working in the computer field since he was a teenager. Jonathan started programming using IBM's APL language after hearing someone say, ‘you push a button on the keyboard and the computer spits out an answer.’ Well, of course it happened exactly like that, right? °_°

As a result of his exceptional ability and troubleshooting during his programming sessions, Jonathan was able to produce one of the world's first computer games! Still, Jonathan was told back then that computers would be obsolete the following year, and, of course, that happened, right? Undeterred, Jonathan continued working with the computer systems of the day, later diving right into the Apple, PC DOS/Microsoft DOS, UNIX systems. From here, he showed proficiency and excellent performance with Novell and Windows systems, graduating into higher-end Cisco systems networks.

Jonathan considers that his background is very well-rounded because of his ability to be a ‘technology sponge.’ He has the ability of reading code and/or different programming languages and, most importantly, understanding them! He excels at managing and juggling the responsibilities for several projects at the same time, as well as maintaining extensive vendor contacts with many of his channel relationships ranging over 24 original equipment manufacturers (e.g. SONY, HP, BlackBerry, Toshiba, Lenovo, and more).

Jonathan looks forward to working with Tal Koren and other future members of the Ascended Media organization, as Ascended Media reaches for the stars!


Oh the cat at the beginning? Why, that’s LucyLiu, the Office Manager, of course! She’s a pretty good ‘boss’, but watch out if you leave a warm chair for too long as she is very likely to claim it as her own spot!

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All pictures, videos and other media are used with written permission of Ascended Media or their related partners or are available in the public domain (noting copyright and other restrictions, accordingly). No further reproduction or duplication is permitted without contacting the appropriate business(es) directly.

Some pictures have been modified slightly or combined only for the purpose of space limitations.

November 4, 2010

Do You See the Same Thing as Me? And Now?

An Interview with Illustrator and Artist Zac Lowing
Click on any picture to gigantisize

Part 1 of 2 (link to
Part 2)

I’ve discussed before in this forum ‘what it takes’ to get selected during whatever process it is that I use to pick out an artist or designer to interview, besides random happenstance or more often than not just plain dumb luck. Of course, that an artist has an obvious level of talent and skill is a must, as is both a sense of uniqueness and the ability to catch one’s eye in the sea of incredible offerings the world over.

However, in the case of today’s guest, Zac Lowing, it goes one step beyond that. You see, my interaction with Zac and his work has become part of my daily routine. And just as I can’t really start my day without my requisite morning coffee(s) spruced up with brewed-in chocolate flavouring (I am weak, I confess), a glance at the world’s news headlines and a read-through my must-have funnies (
Non Sequitur and ‘Over the Hedge’ to start), I also stop by Zac’s ‘place’ to take in his latest creation.

Zac himself is a nice fellow with a good sense of humour, someone you enjoy getting a chance to chat with on a regular basis. He is also deeply contemplative about things in our universe around us, from topics such as the details of travelling through blackhole event horizons to improving the common combustion engine. In addition, I find him to be quite sensitive to – and grateful for – his fans’ input. And I truly enjoy the interaction with the others on his Facebook fan list, as we routinely take turns reflecting on ‘what we see’ in each picture. Each day it’s as if we meet in our own little private gallery (in my mind they also serve doughnuts) and have a good glance at the newest portrait hanging there in the hall, stepping back to view it at different angles and at different sizes as well. One viewer may be attracted to the mysterious face in a field of yellow, whereas the next may see something completely different in the background, hidden in sea-greens, Aztec blues and more! Another may be trying to press their back against the farthest wall possible to get a unique view and yet someone else may be focusing on one point with their face nice and scrunched up in appreciative concentration!

I think that one of my main targets of this interview is to introduce each reader to this as well, this experience that I enjoy so much. Sure, I want to specifically have you get to know Zac and his talents, but at the same time I want to invite you to play the little game ‘do you see what I see?’ You’ll see throughout this blog update that I have included some pictures at very small size with the intention of sharing the equally small ‘blurb’ of a picture that typically comes with that first viewing experience via a Facebook or other web-page icon. But before you ‘embiggen’ these pictures, look at the small versions carefully. What do you see? Now, click to see a larger version and see what more you can find in these amazing miniature scenes and alternate universes that Zac has so cleverly provided. Do you still see the same thing? Or has perhaps that silky smooth picture of a graceful flow of water turned into the face of an angry demon god? Or a butterfly? It’s your call!

And so fans, without further ado, from one Z to another, I am very pleased to introduce Zac Lowing:

ziggynixonziggynixonziggynixon

Hi Zac, welcome to the show. Without already jumping into the deep end of your pool of art (oh, what a terrible metaphor), can you tell us a little about Zac Lowing please?
Hi Ziggy, thanks for the invitation!

Well, I love innovation. When I read an article on how somebody has come up with a new device or invention, it is almost as exciting to me as a good pass in football would be to a sports fanatic. Some people like solving crossword puzzles to exercise their minds; well, I like solving mechanical problems. And as the computer is a tool, I naturally love finding ways of using it to bring about an innovation of vision.

Oh, lol, maybe you meant the basics about me! Well, I was born in 1963. I’m 6'2 and weigh 240 lbs., have blue eyes and had blonde hair until I shaved it all off. I come from Polish/German roots and was born on the cusp between Aquarius and Pisces. I have a combination or habit if you will of stubborn determination, depression and elation when it comes to figuring out problems.

Your own biographical descriptive mentions that you are a self-taught artist and that you are addicted to making your CGI art. First, have you had ANY kind of artistic training? If yes, how much did it help (or even hinder) what you’re working on now?
Ha, in High School, I had an art teacher that always got frustrated with me when I didn't do it her way! So I never got good grades in her class – or in most other classes either to be honest.

My first ‘art-form’ really was building things with
Lego blocks. During a period of my life when I was living with a girl that was studying to be a nurse, I dug my old box of them out and goofed around a bit to pass the time. It occurred to me somewhere along the line that since I was now an adult, I could buy more! So, I started building really massive ‘sculptures’ with these amazing little coloured plastic bricks!

One of my original big Lego spaceships, the Pangea, was about 2½ feet long. The problem was that it cracked in half when I tried to lift it up. After figuring out the structural limits and various ways of weaving the bricks together to increase the strength, I made a series of ever larger and more complicated ones. The last one I made I still have stored away in two crates I custom-made to hold it in. When assembled, this model – the spaceship Dynonochus (shown above) – is nearly 7 feet long, 2½ feet wide at the back, and weighs approximately 50 pounds! It’s funny because the few times I've shown it, the adults seem to like it more than kids! (ZN: according to Zac, this 2nd ‘rear’ view shows 144 Christmas tree lights in the engines which were set at variable speeds for strobe lighting!)

Sorry about the wandering there, back to my training. Let's see, in High School I took a computer class (Apple2 with 48k memory! Woohoo!) and did some cool artwork using basic and random number generators to make bright lines ricochet around the screen. I went to college to do more along those lines but got frustrated when we where expected to learn machine language first. I just wanted to use the programs to make stuff!! This to me was like having to learn how to mine iron from the Earth before you become a race car driver.

It wasn't until years later that I came across the Paint program on a buddy’s computer that the drive to do cool stuff sparked again. I did take a class on learning the basics of Photoshop and a class on advertising – which is difficult to do when you’re still learning and stumbling around with Photoshop.

There was one class I found interesting on Fonts. In part of the class, we had to draw a few letters with serifs and what not. I had never really looked that close at all the individual ‘squiggles’ that make up letters when I read. So to take a few hours to get one simple letter right was like the difference between flying over a town and walking through it. You see a lot more that you would have missed otherwise!

How long does it take to make a 7 foot long / 12’000 brick spaceship?
The big one, Dynonochus, took over a month. I kept a written and video diary during the building of it. It’s funny, but I made a couple of dozens copies of the video and sent them out all over the place, even giving one to the Museum of Modern Art in Chicago. It was eventually shown in Paris as an example of a documentary by an old friend of mine that lives in New York.

Did you ever try to sell these various models after you were done (obviously not including the one you smashed)?
I wanted to sell them, you know like by setting up a company to market them to rich folks for their kids. I mean, how many boxes of bricks can you buy them for Christmas if you’re a millionaire? Well, I say, why not go ahead and buy them a giant, pre-built Lego spaceship while you’re at it! I even started a group on the web for making only big spaceships, so if that company idea takes off, I know where to hire a bunch of Lego artists quickly!

OK I’ve got to ask the obvious: do you see any parallels between working with your CGI-based art and your LEGO sculpturing?
Just that when I was a kid, I loved Sci-Fi... I couldn't get enough! To be able to build spaceships, touch them in your hands, was a childhood dream that I didn't know could come true.

In terms of transition, early on with my CGI artwork, I did illustrate a bunch of spaceships and other Sci-Fi based stuff. It was such a lot of fun! But it was also a lot of work. The computers back then would bog down with what I wanted to do. At times, I would have to set something up to render, go to sleep, waiting to see if I had aligned things right the next morning.

In terms of the abstracts, I started doing them almost by accident. Heck, it wasn't until the girl that was doing a web page for me told me she liked my ‘abstracts’ that I knew they even had a name! I was like, wow, is that what they are?

How did your interest in doing CGI artwork (for lack of a better term) originate? Were there any particular other artists or specific genres that interested you the most?
As near as I can tell, my interest in doing stuff like I do now was from a paint bucket. You see, back before they had paint-can shakers to mix the oils and pigments together, you had to stir paint to get everything homogenous. That duty fell to me as a kid. Churning the thick stuff around, I'd see cool swirls of vivid colours and get lost in them. OK, the fumes might have enhanced the effects but still...

As a child, I suppose I never looked at art too deeply. I've never been a student of art history beyond recently buying a book at a second-hand store. If I had to choose, I’d say I lean more towards the Impressionists rather than someone like Picasso. In a lot of ways, I look at art styles like food and to me it’s a question of which would you rather eat? Something like that anyway.

Still, I had been doing my CGI stuff for a few years when I came across Chihuly. I was stunned by the vibrant shape, colour and curve of his glassworks. He had a showing at a what I remember was a greenhouse just outside of Chicago that I went to twice. While most of the plantings where lush old growth framed by the flat steel structure of the 100 year-old building, the room that held me the longest was a desert setting. Amongst a hill of cacti, Chihuly had arranged spears of purple and Mauve glass pointing upwards a good 6 feet. I was mesmerised.

Now I could get all deep and say how the juxtaposition of the smooth glass to the pointy pieces and how the green complimenting the colours from the other end of the spectrum and all that inspired me, but that wasn’t what I was feeling. It was more like ice tea on a boiling hot day, only in this case it was cool refreshment for my eyes. I found myself staring into the clump which seemed to be pull all my tensions out gently, soothing my soul in the process.

You’ve also mentioned the ‘symbiotic relationship’ that you seem to establish with the computer in your work. Can you explain that please?
Yes, it is symbiotic to me – or perhaps even to me more of a 7th sense.

By symbiotic, I am referring to that dependence between myself and the computer (and the programs in it) and how we rely upon each other to sustain a note of creativity. The program I use wasn't originally designed to do what I am doing with it. And at times it shows me things I would have never thought of otherwise.

For me it’s like imagining standing at the peak of a mountain. You can pour water down the mountain side, controlling how much water you use and in which direction you pour it. But as it flows and hits things along the way, it naturally changes it's course. Or perhaps it’s like riding a horse: you can get it to gallop but if you ride through the woods with it, IT chooses where to turn to avoid the trees. If the horse turns left, you might come to a cliff edge; if it turns right, you might see a magnificent sunset. To complete my analogy, I feel as if I feed this horse and it takes me places. I groom it's programs and it runs better, plus I adjust the saddle and reins for a better interface. And I like to think that at times I even adjust it's ‘shoes’, which to me is a reference to the added cooling efficiencies that I have implemented myself!

On the other hand, for me it’s also like a new sense, a 7th sense. Here I am referring to my connection with the computer and even more so with the connection to the global Internet as a whole. Just imagine: 100 years ago, it would have taken months to get a message from the US to Australia, and many more to get even a basic reply back. Now we think nothing of having a ‘chat’ in real time at those distances, sharing video, files and much much more.

For example, I realised early on I could tell how an on-line friend was feeling by how long it took them to reply or from the composition of our conversation. That is a connection unlike any mankind has had in the past. We can also view far-away places live via web-cams and hear music from every culture at the touch of only a few buttons! If I have a question, I can access the sum of man’s knowledge and even learn unfiltered wisdom, not just what the general consensus is!

I guess you could argue that the voice is the 6th sense in that we send out vocal vibrations and get a picture of what others think. It’s kind of like how a bat’s echo gives him a vision of his location. I learned this first hand after getting an operation for nasal polyps that made it hard to talk for a few days. So yes, the computer has become a new sense that combines vision, hearing and thought to perceive the world in new ways.
Continued in Part 2