A picture a day keeps…away

coverI manage a group of designers who make tutorials for Adobe’s products. My team is super-talented and I love working with them. You might think that since I work at Adobe, I get to draw and create all day long. Nope. I attend lots of meetings and create spreadsheets and emails but I don’t create much in the way of artwork anymore.

Not long ago, this fact started to really depress me. When I went to art school I took scores of photography, drawing, and painting classes. But in the last few years, I haven’t actually made any art at work – or at home. I’ve been too busy managing people and projects. Last summer, I decided that I would spend just a few minutes each day making a picture. Here are the guidelines I set for myself:

  1. use only an iPhone camera
  2. explore different iPhone photography and painting apps
  3. post an image to Instagram once a day for one year

I have been doing just that for one full year and it has been a great experience. I’ve stretched myself artistically and reconnected with things that I have always loved about photography and photo-illustration. When I started this project in August, 2014, I began by focusing on composition.

Challenge: working within a square
My self-imposed requirement to post on Instagram inadvertently created a secondary limitation – all the images need to be square. I know there are ways around this but I decided to embrace the challenge. I didn’t set my iPhone camera to square though. I wanted the whole image with the opportunity to crop later. Cropping became part of my process and it has helped me take better pictures.

HawaiiChallenge: Learn to use new tools
During the past year I have experimented with many different apps. I’ve used Lightroom Mobile, Photoshop Touch, PaintCan, Snapseed, SlowShutter, Camera+, and Stackables. Each app offers different tools and I have dabbled with most of them. This is by no means an exhaustive list of photography apps. Seán Duggan has a great blog with a list of recommended photo apps for iphoneography. Its a nice place to start if you are interested in exploring these tools.

oversaturateI considered this project an exploration and a daily journal – not a daily masterpiece. Learning to use the macro feature with Camera+ enabled me to photograph insects and waterdrops close-up. I experimented with saturation and HDR. Sometimes I pushed the tools and the iPhone camera too far and discovered their limitations.

Challenge: Relax and just experiment
When I began this project, I put a lot of pressure on myself to create a beautiful work of art each day. The problem with this thinking was that it really stunted my ability to freely experiment and try new things. It takes time to finesse and craft an image and time was something I didn’t have enough of. I decided I would post an image before I went to bed each night even if I didn’t have a masterpiece. While visiting my aunt in Portland last fall, I took the same shot of the Tualatin River several days in a row. Each day it looked different and I never got bored of that view. Experimenting and playing can produce masterpieces you never knew you had inside you.

OregonExperiment: Turn a photograph into a digital painting
Sometimes I just want to capture the feeling of a visual scene without a lot of the fussy detail and distractions that can come with a photo. I started playing around with some of the filters and apps that add grain, textures, or a painterly effect. The apps I used for painting effects were Photoshop Touch, PaintCan (an experimental app from Adobe), Snapseed (mostly the Grunge filter), and Stackables. Here are some of the results of my painting and impressionistic experiments:

paintingsExperiment: Create a series
I take the train to our San Francisco office every Wednesday. This means I’m sitting on a train facing other passengers for 2 hours each week. If you are sitting in the right seat, the light coming in from the windows can be quite lovely. At first, I wanted to take pictures of the travelers’ faces but I was worried about being rude and invasive, so I started taking pictures of their hands while they rode the train. I realized that because almost everyone had a cell phone in their hands, nobody noticed me taking pictures of them. Most of these images I created in black & white because I found the colors distracting. I wanted all the focus to be on the hand gesture and expressiveness. What started as an experiment, turned into a series of photographs that I call “Fellow Traveler.” Here are a few from that ongoing series:

trainAnother theme developed from my photo walks qualifies loosely as a series. These are the images of plants and flowers I created from walking around my neighborhood and my garden in the early mornings. Here are a few of my flower images:

plantsOnline critiques
This project has brought me back to my art school days in a certain way. The art students would pin our work to the wall in the studio classroom and then stand back and listen while the teacher critiqued the work. Instagram isn’t exactly like art school. But there is something about the act of making my image available for public viewing that causes me to take a bit more care than I would with a private sketchbook.

This has been a project I’ve done for myself, not for a particular audience. Some of my posts have received no notice at all. I’ve had a very, very small group of people who have liked or commented on my images and that has been interesting to observe. For example, one of my most popular images literally took 1 minute to create – from snapping the photo to posting the cropped and unaltered version of it. And some of the images that I spent a lot more time on – images that I really, really loved looking at – garnered very little attention or comment.

My former colleague, John Nack, now a product manager for Google’s photo apps, once told me about how some people follow the Instagram Rule of 11. They will take down a post if it doesn’t get 11 likes fairly quickly. I hardly ever get 11 likes and frankly, I don’t care. My teenaged niece swears that you should never, ever post more than once a day – its not cool. I’m not doing this to be cool or to be liked. I’m doing it for myself. I’m having fun. I’m practicing my art. And I think I’m improving. What’s not to like about that?

Great image journals and art process posts on Instagram:
Photography:

Illustration:

If you are interested, please check out all the images on my Instagram feed.

2 thoughts on “A picture a day keeps…away

  1. Thank you for this beautiful post – both visually and verbally. It’s always interesting to learn what creative challenges other people face and what results they achieve in the end.

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