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:


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?

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

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!


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!


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:


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

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

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

Part 2 of 2 (link to Part 1)

Zac, where do you get your ideas? You have so many different styles, certainly more than I can do justice to (for?) in terms of the selection in this article. Is there a sort of random (e-)doodling that you’re doing or is there always (sometimes?) a very distinct rhyme and reason to – especially, but not exclusively – one of your more abstract pieces?
I admire tattoo artwork. But to be honest, I think it looses something when it's put on skin (lol, a lot of people aren't going to like that thought!). I watch 'LA Ink' on television and see them do some incredible drawings that are masterpieces in themselves – only to have them be put away in some folder while a 'copy' is put on a rough, variously shaped canvass (e.g. someone’s body) that is normally moving around and hard to really take in. I mean, how many times is a person going to stand still so people can really appreciate the tattoo? Maybe someone could do a show with people arranged like paintings, perhaps a wall mounted brace to hold the tattoo still for viewing, ha ha ha.

I guess what I'm getting at is that I like to do tattoo inspired stuff that you can admire without feeling embarrassed in staring at a person’s arm (or other body part!). The Tribal stuff is so cool with the strong curves, points and branching to which I add colour and depth. Symmetry also fascinates me in how it creates shapes and lattices I would never have thought of otherwise.

Is there rhyme or reason to my designs? Well, once in a blue moon, my subconscious picks things out that symbolise the turmoil I feel I am going through at a particular time pretty well. For instance, when we found out my dad had cancer, I started doing a lot with red. I did one piece which had this curve of energy and movement in the upper left and a cragged mass on the lower right that I called 'Incoming Reality’.

Most of my stuff though is just me relaxing and letting go. I enjoy setting up a world that I can then explore and send post cards from where I've been to people out there.

How does the approach for one of these pieces compare to say, a picture featuring a futuristic or even utopian cityscape or other ‘recognisable’ object?
Again, early on I did a lot of Sci-Fi stuff, spaceships, a city called Zberg, etc. These could take me days to complete and would bog down the computer like you wouldn't believe. I'd spend a few hours trying to get the right view, rendering small sections and then letting the whole scene render for a few hours only to find a dull section blocking a cool part.

I might go back to doing some of that once I get a fast enough system. Still, the abstracts can be more fun and still be Sci-Fi if you consider how alien they look at times. I can well imagine them up on the walls of the inhabitants of some distant exo-planet.

How are you getting your art ‘out there’? Have you participated in gallery or other public shows?
I've had some stuff put up in a coffee shop and have exhibited at a few Sci-Fi conventions and at one stray show in Chicago. Still, my art doesn't seem to fit the formula for what people call ‘modern’ art. Sometimes I think, ‘hey, I could do variations on squares of flat colour!’ Actually, I did this once as a joke, which was a series of variations from squares, circles etc. until the last one, which I called doughnutism, ha ha. Or maybe I should go for the shock value, making a statement about religion or politics! But for me that would be too easy and contrived.

I just think some things can't be forced, they have to come to you. Take the song 'Wish You Were Here' by Pink Floyd (ZN: perhaps one of the three best songs EVER written by anyone... just in case you’re curious). I have it on my iPod, but I never choose to play it. Still, it seems to come to me at the right time, be it on the radio or someone else picking to play it. It means so much to me, that song; but I just feel like if I play it ‘on purpose’ that it would be some kind of perverse violation, you know, to ‘make’ the song sing for me.

So, I do what I want, not what the establishment – aka the galleries – want I suppose. Or at least what I perceive they want.

How about the Internet? Where can the general public best find your latest offerings, e.g. via social platforms or blogs or how?
For now, I am only on the web, MySpace and Facebook. I tried out dozens of art pages and even a blog, but I just felt that I wasn’t getting enough traffic to justify the effort. And with all that is out there, I just felt it became a waste of time for me.

I mean, I've sold some stuff, both online and off. Still, to push it more, I think I might need a manager or something... I'm not the best salesman, lol.

On the other hand, on Facebook I have people from all over the world who ‘stop by’ to look at the pictures. I can really interact with them and I am happy with that. I guess in a lot of ways I feel that right now I’m just like a garage band with a few loyal followers. But who knows, some day... some day.

Tell us why you consider your art to be your ‘addiction’?
I have an addictive personality – which used to lead to things that where no good for me. Let's just say I remember the first 5 minutes of a lot of parties and leave it at that.

Over the years I've tried to focus my obsessions in better directions, which obviously includes my art. There is a certain opiate quality to knowing you've made a person thousands of miles away smile for a bit.

At least from your Facebook updates, you really do seem to put out an incredible ‘volume’ of high-quality works!! Why is that do you think – not that they’re such good quality but why or better said how are you able to produce such a large amount of work?
Thanks! Well, like anything, it comes down to time and resources. I have so much I want to do, so many ideas and inventions, even more than what you see; but right now I lack the time or resources to accomplish everything. Still, I've always been a mechanic and I don't put up with crap long. Some people see something not working right and use a band-aid approach. I take a little longer to find the root cause, to either strengthen the weak link, or lessen the stress on it.

And yes, there is also that drive that I get when I am shopping for food and realise I can't buy some stuff because my refrigerator hasn't worked in over a year! Starving artist, what else do you want me to say? Ha ha.

And time... well, I wish sometimes that I didn't have to sleep. There is just so much I want to do. So I do as much as I can in the time that I can afford! And again, it is really my way of escaping, of letting the stress of life just flow out of my body and into my work.

I also wanted to get a chance to feel out a bit more why you’ve said:
I don’t do art that makes you ’think’... no, I don’t drag you through my nightmares either; we all have enough of those. I’d rather take you away for a while... if I can get you to say ’cool’, I have succeeded in my mission.
Why is that? And are you really referring more to your audience or yourself?
I didn't set out with that in mind, it’s just what I have realised is all. So many artists want to express themselves, and if you think about that, it's all a bit selfish isn’t it? (Oh boy, they're gonna hate me now, LOL.) I mean, I'd rather be the movie that makes you feel good than the dry documentary that tells you how much the world sucks, sure! I'm not looking down on anyone when I say this, it's just to me like saying my favourite colour is blue, while others like brown.

A deeper reason I do so much art is the fantasy of digging myself out of the hole I'm feel like I’m in. Sometimes I don't want to think about ‘things’ and at times it's all I can do... my art that is. It's like each new piece is another log on a fire, where the fire is my signal fire on a deserted beach and I’m hoping a passing ship will see it. All those happy people on that cruise ship, dancing, eating, feeling great. Oh man, wouldn’t it be great if they just by happenstance noticed the fire?

Other times it's like watching a jet in the sky fly by, thousands of feet high with no chance of seeing my little fire. So I don't even bother to light it. This for me is like knowing that I have so many pieces I've never shown. Sometimes I feel like I am in denial of thought, thinking there is something bigger than me that I must do. I should be building a raft with all those logs, but a raft won't survive the wave... it's the ship I need. Have you ever felt like your building a bridge to somewhere, and it keeps arching out longer and longer? It's made of dreams and hopes, wishes and the way it should have gone. And now it's swaying, giving me vertigo. So I keep looking away from the abyss, reaching for another log for the fire.

Wow I hate to get back to ‘basics’ after that but I have to ask: What software and/or hardware are you currently using? Did I see correctly as well that you’ve had to at least modify the latter to avoid, shall we say, ‘significant overheating’ of your computing unit?
Well, I use Photoshop for some basic stuff, but my main software is a relatively inexpensive 3D program I use.

It reminds me of a story my dad once told me: when he was a kid, they would throw rocks at the engineer of a train so he would get mad and throw chunks of coal back at them they could draw with. Years later when I was taking a class at a local college to learn the basics of Photoshop, I met a Chinese lady that did amazing artwork with just charcoal! So fluid and easy for her from the years in the old country where all she had was coal.

These stories taught me that while you might have to find the right medium, it's the persistence of the vision that matters. Sure, I've told people what program I use. And they rush out and buy it, only to give up on it almost immediately. I mean, just because you buy a plane, doesn't mean you can fly it.

And yes, definitely, in the years of learning how to use a computer, I have crashed it a bunch of times. I mean, if you must know, right now I have an HP laptop running Windows 7. While most artists use Macs, as far as I am concerned, once you are in a program, it runs just about the same on either platform.

One simple engineering fact that you can not overlook though is that computers run hot when they are left on at full bore for days on end; so I figured out how to keep mine running cooler. I've also done some ‘over-clocking’ on it, going from a dual core running at 2.2 MHz to 2.4 (cutting the time of one of my bench marks from 9 to 7.5 minutes), which really adds up on the longer renderings I do! For me, improving the cooling was like I was hot-rodding a car!

You should see it: there is a heat sink sticking out of the bottom of my laptop now and a rather large ducted fan blowing on it. I made a base for it all that fits onto the arms of my chair that encloses it all and tilts the keyboard towards me. I tried so many different fans (I even used a full sized window fan) and all kinds of manner of ducting the air to the dozens of different heat sinks I made. I'll post the pictures some day.

Zac, I read an input your provided on Facebook about ‘Extra Communication Perception’, which I thought was a really fascinating concept. Can you explain to us what is this ‘ECP’?
ECP is a realisation of all that the computer and the Internet has brought us. Remember in the movie 'The Matrix' where Neo asked why do his eyes hurt and Morpheus says, "Because you've never used them before"? Right now, there are millions of conversations going on around the world through the net, people relating how their day went, things they've seen and done. Before the Wouter (I just coined that, computer/web combined, lol), this was impossible. ECP is simply the hearing aid we never had before.

Zac, perhaps this is TOO personal, but does your art manage to support you financially at this time? Is that even your target?
I wish it supported me!! Show me the artist that who wouldn't love to have that freedom!

How does Zac Lowing view his future in the arts? Put differently: where do you want to or intend to go with this?
I mentioned earlier being the garage band. Well, someday I hope to be Aerosmith! So I'll keep on rocking, 'cause it's a long, way to the top, if you wanna rock and roll!

Finally, what is something about Zac Lowing that you could tell us that no one else knows and that will hopefully not get you arrested, deported, or be made to vote for Sarah Palin in 2012?
My life isn't as cool as I have let on. Sure, there might be some interesting chapters, it's the other ones I don't necessarily want to re-address.

Heh, it's a hard question Zig... most of my secrets are the same as anyone else’s. I do have a thing for people that do things for a higher purpose. For example, I once read about a group of Japanese guys that climbing a mountain that had never been climbed before. About 50 feet from the top, they stopped. They all decided to honour the mountain by not violating the peak.

Most people don't get that. I do ... and it gives me chills.


Zac’s work can be found via various Internet links (see below) as well as by becoming a ‘friend’ on Facebook of his rather innocent sounding ‘alias’. You are cordially invited to come play the ‘do you see what I see’ game and in general have your mind blown away on a daily basis.

For more, please see these links. Enjoy! (be sure and check out all the various folders!)

The famous 'crashing spaceship' video : (it pains me to watch!!) (a plethora of different offerings [really, count them!!])

or join so many of Zac’s fans regularly at his active Facebook page under ‘Joe Smith’ at!/profile.php?id=100001427029265
(there are some other ‘remnants’ on Facebook but good luck getting them to pop up if you search under Zac Lowing... remember, fans ‘Facebook: you get what you pay for!!’)


All pictures, videos and other media are used with written permission of Zac Lowing 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.