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

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