Seth Godin on Creating

Photo by Bjorn Amundsen. Header image stolen from OnBeing.org
 There is no question that Seth Godin is one of a kind. His views on marketing are famous in an age of where the public market has changed rapidly, making it harder and harder to find a large audience for products, books, and arts of all kinds.

His perspective inspires me as a creator, particularly as I listened to this On Being interview of Seth Godin today (the interview is from last year — I’m behind the times, as usual).

He talks with Krista Tippet about how all people have the opportunity to be artists in our new post-industrialization world. He also gives views on finding an audience, spending your best time creating, and how to raise your children to respond to media well.

I can’t recommend this conversation enough! If you get a chance this week, have a listen.

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Common Humanity: Ben Rasmussen’s Photography

Ben Rasmussen and I knew each other loosely in college. We recently ran into each other in Denver, after which I stalked him on the internet. Instead of digging up all kinds of dirt however, I found his incredible photography portfolio, which I now share with you. Ben has an eye for shots that tells stories. His photographs are artful without being “artsy,” they’re beautiful, humanizing and sometimes haunting. Ben graciously consented to being interviewed, and that hard-hitting exposé follows.

(All images © Ben Rasmussen. You can click on the photos if you’re curious about them, they will link to Ben’s website where you can read about his current projects. It’s definitely worth a look, and a read. In particular check out his Home series.)

Why are you a photographer?

I grew up in the Philippines, with an American mom and a dad from the Faroe Islands, a small protectorate of Denmark in the North Atlantic. And then I married a woman from rural Wyoming. I became a photographer because I loved the idea that through images, I could connect these different worlds to each other.

Growing up between those separate cultures, I learned how there is a common humanity shared between people, regardless of race or culture. And when I began pursing photography, I saw that it had the power to create emotional and aesthetic connections between viewer and subject, and communicate that common humanity.

How do you make a living at this? Do you work on commissions, personal projects, selling prints or books?

Honestly, I am still trying to figure that one out. Right now, I make a living doing a combination of advertising and magazine/newspaper commissions. But a lot of my time is spent on producing personal work and book making, which I lose money on directly, but which end up getting me more work in the long run. And it is setting a foundation for the future, when gallery sales and books will hopefully be a larger part of my business.

What are some goals you’ve set for yourself?

I used to set goals for myself that were concrete and very much based on the industry’s response to my work. Things like winning this competition, being included in that annual, working for this client or getting a write up in that magazine. But the more of those goals that I have met, the less fulfilling they are. And when your goals depend on other people, there is only so much you can do to meet them.

So I have changed my goals and separated them into two categories: promotional and personal.

The promotional goals are the things like winning contests, getting new clients and having my name out there. They are things that I think of in marketing terms, but do not have an emotional investment in.

My personal goals are about where I want my work to go. I know what I want my photography to be and I know the area in which it falls flat. I know what stories I want to tell and what aesthetic tools I want to use and that is where I focus.

What are some goals you’ve met?

I…start[ed] a large project focusing on my personal history that is called “Home.” It explores the meaning of home by looking at the connection people have to place in the three worlds I am connected to.

I [have also] created a series of promo books that both communicate my vision and separate me from the crowd. I started this last spring with my Wanderlust books, which are handmade artist’s book that focus on one body of work created in the last six months and then are sent out twice a year. It has forced me to keep creating work I am proud of and has taught me about what makes books work.

What motivates you to keep shooting?

…I want to see the projects I am pursing develop and grow. They are like children, and my role is to invest in them and nurture them until they are ready to be sent out into the world.

Also, I am motivated to keep growing as a photographer. And this happens through hard work, reading and looking at work, and good conversation. I developed so slowly as a photographer in my early 20s because of not working hard and not surrounding myself with other people and work that inspired me.

What do you fear?

Reaching a creative plateau. Being a young photographer is great, because you are constantly growing and developing. I end each year with work that is so much better than the year before, and so much closer to what I want it to be. But I am terrified of that ending.

That is one of the reasons that I do my Wanderlust books twice a year. It forces me to produce two bodies of work a year that I believe in enough to print, bind, and send out to dozens of people that I admire professionally.

Do you have like ten thousand pounds of gear when you’re shooting? What is the bare minimum you would take on a shoot?

When I shot digital, I used to shoot with just one camera and a couple of lenses. But now that I am shooting more and more medium and large format film, the gear has ballooned. I was just in the Philippines in January and had a huge backpack with a 4×5, medium format, and digital camera, and tons of film and film holders. And added to that was a big tripod and a light with a battery pack, a stand, and an umbrella. This way of working definitely slows me down, but that’s a good thing. I want to make slow pictures.

From the look of some of your shoots (in particular the Faroe Islands and Afghanistan), you’ve met some interesting people. Do you ever write about your experiences?

Nah, I am terrible at writing. I am a bit dyslexic and am much more visual than verbal. Making pictures feels like a very natural and fluid process, but writing is so slow and stilted for me. I ended up in photography because I realized after a year of studying journalism that I hated writing.

How do you choose your subjects (both in a larger sense and also shot by shot)?

I am really drawn to stories about people’s connection to place. It is something that I explored in the whale kill and Afghanistan work, and even more directly in my “Home” project.

Within those stories, I am drawn to people whom I feel an aesthetic connection to. This can be based on they way they look, act, or carry themselves, and is very immediate. When I see someone I want to photograph, I know it immediately. But I am quite introverted, so the real process is not choosing to photograph them, but instead taking the leap and asking if I can photograph them.

Have you shown your work in any galleries? Is that something you’re interested in?

I have done several group shows, which is not something I am very excited about. At its best, it feels like an expression of the curator’s vision more than my own. And at its worst, it seems like just a ploy to get the friends and family of the photographers to go to the gallery.

But I have my first solo show coming up in Washington DC in 2013, which I am excited about. It will be work from my “Home” project, so that is pushing me to finish that work this year.

Who are your heroes?

I am really inspired by people who are creating interesting work and doing it their own way. For photographers, that would include Rob Hornstra, Alec Soth and Richard Mosse. They are all people who are creating powerful and important work, and taking ownership of the process, whether that is through self publishing or creative funding.

Another huge influence is Tom Waits. His music has completely changed the way I think about beauty and place.

Do you ever try to make a point with your images? Or are you concentrating more on documenting events, places, and people?

I definitely want my images to make a point, but it is a really simplistic one. I want them to make viewers feel connected to and gain a value for people and places they have not interacted with. Basically, I want them to make the world a smaller place.

Thanks Ben. Love the work!

RECKONING: Terry Maker Interview

One of my favorite shows of this year is currently at the Fine Art Center, downtown Colorado Springs. Boulder based artist Terry Maker‘s awe-inspiring body of work “RECKONING” is on display now through June 3rd. Maker’s show is full of intentionality, packed with meaning and metaphor and each of the 50 pieces will reward careful inspection yielding surprise, insight and emotion.

I emailed Terry, and she was gracious enough to answer a few questions which I’m sharing with you here.

“Ship in a Bottle,”2011, resin, rope and hand made bottle
12 x 20 x 34 inches. Photographed by Chris Rogers

Jeremy: Where do theme and process overlap for you?

Terry: I generally have a theme or direction that I am taking and am on the look out for materials that will support this path. Of course, I am sensitive to the the happenstance of the upexpected material discovery that may take me on a totally new thematic course or may be a related off-shoot of that direction.

Jeremy: How/when did you start using resin and casting techniques? Is there a particular significance to the resin?

Terry: I’ve been interested in casting methods and resin for over 10 years now…the resin in particular, has a very appealing, seductive surface and color – this plays into the theme of want and desire that has interested me for some time now.

Jeremy: I’ve read that you keep poems, and excerpts of literature around your studio as inspiration. How else to you stay inspired in art-making?

Terry: My art making is integrated into my entire life and is not a separate activity. This co-mingling makes me aware of every step of the day and how each step can be necessary and integral to this calling.

Jeremy: I immediately noticed an archeological element in many of your works (and later read Tracy Mobley-Martinez’s article where you mention an “intellectual archeology” ) Where does that come from? have you studied archeology, or are you just inspired by it?

Terry: My work is all about the layers – both literal and conceptual. This embedding, unearthing, digging, scraping has been a necessary part of the message. I am very interested in what lies behind and beyond the surface of the piece both aethetically and metaphorically.

Jeremy: Who are people that you look up to?

Terry: Tim Hawkinson, Tom Friedman, Lee Bontecou, Vik Muniz, Sarah Sze …to name a few.

Jeremy: Do you have any advice for young artists? Things you’ve learned to do (or not do) on your journey?

Terry: Go out – travel to the great art centers and see art, lots of it. Try to connect with artists that inspire you and if
possible go to their talks and ask questions…like you’ve asked of me – thank you!

Jeremy: Thanks for making time for me, I really appreciate it.

“The Garden of Nineveh-Bitter,” 2008, resin, plastic, aluminum foil, human bone replicas, bubble wrap, plastic maze puzzles, and shredded money, audio recordings
16 x 20 x 2 Ω feet. Photographed by Chris Rogers

“Jaw Breaker Series, 1, 2 and 4,” 2008-2009, resin and jawbreaker candy on panel
40 x 40 x 2 inches. Photographed by Chris Rogers

“Reptilius Consumerus Devourus,” 2010, Shredded US Currency, various bank documents, and glue
100 feet x varying sized bread slices. Photographed by Chris Rogers

I highly recommend this show. And if you’re strapped for cash, the FAC has a free admission day the third tuesday of each month – the next one is March 20th.

header image:
“S¸ss,” 2011, resin, jaw breaker candy
30 x 19 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches. Photographed by Chris Rogers

Paint a Community: Lessons Learned from Scott Erickson

Crumbling buildings crowded with graffiti passed by as he stared out the window. Ever thickening layers of paint cracked to reveal bits of history. Inspiration often comes unexpectedly. For Scott Erickson, it came when he saw a some graffiti out the window on a public transit ride in Argentina.

Liz and I recently purchased a collaborative project called Feedback. It is centered on The Lord’s Prayer, the famous prayer Jesus taught his disciples. There are nine lines in the prayer. Derek Webb aspired to create a project to capture the beauty of this prayer. He wrote nine abstract songs and then conscripted a painter, Scott Erickson, and a photographer, Jeremy Cowart, to create nine abstract paintings and nine photographs also based on the Lord’s prayer and Webb’s musical interpretation of the prayer. There are no literal works in Feedback: the songs have no words, the photographs and paintings are abstract.

I’ve heard this project described as “a soundtrack to prayer.” Using description as  directive, Liz and I took an afternoon and listened to the cd, studying the corresponding paintings and photos to guide us in meditation on each line of the prayer. Our experience was positive and the time felt prayer-full. The project is well done, perhaps not mind-blowingly so, but engaging enough that I’ve returned to it a few times since my initial interaction.

In particular, I have returned to the abstract paintings of Scott Erickson. They are hands-down my favorite part of this project. When I did a quick google search on Erickson I found that he is not primarily an abstract painter; this surprised me.

Scott’s primary art form is live painting! He paints as a part of church services, responding to the message and the community. Scott’s art is directly at the service of his community. Fascinating. Now some of these paintings are very good and I’ve posted a few above, but none of them moved me quite the same way the Feedback series did.

“Four of these are great. Five need to be re-worked.” Those were the words Scott Erickson heard when he thought he had completed his nine paintings for the Feedback project. Ouch! Take a few minutes and watch this video in which Scott talks about his process and the few key moments that brought his art from good to great.

The Making of the “Feedback” Paintings from scott erickson on Vimeo.

Because Scott is heavily involved in community, because he paints FOR REAL PEOPLE, because his art is focused on giving rather than taking: he was able to accept some extremely difficult advice.

Scott had cultivated a teachable spirit. He was able to accept the hard truth that took his art from good to galleries.

He was able to find inspiration in totally different cultures in a different art forms, namely graffiti, and use it to communicate an important idea. I am learning from Scott, and taking notes.

Thank you Scott. We love this series.

-Jeremy

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“For me, the layers of these paintings represent the history of the Lord’s prayer itself. Just as we continue to build up and layer over the foundations of our society, so has the journey of entering into the prayer of God. It’s written throughout our history. Though it may at times seem covered up, it’s still amidst all the glitter and decay… speaking to us, telling us about something ancient yet resonating with our life today. The graffiti is less about words (although there are meanings to all of them) and more about the emotions and textures we find throughout our modern society. Just as we see traces of creative life throughout our cities, so too we see symbols and signs of the Lord’s prayer throughout our world. To me the music and the images forged together in this project are a modern urban meditation on an ancient contemplative pathway to the Almighty.”

-Scott Erickson, Painter

Makoto Fujimura on Faith, Art, and His Recent Gospels Illumination Project

Makoto Fujimura, hands down, is one of Jeremy and my favorite visual artists. He paints beautiful, thoughtful pieces for the glory of Jesus Christ, and we admire that!

Here is a recent interview of him that we were forwarded and watched together a couple of days ago (all 40 minutes of it!). We find it to be full of insightful observations about art, life, and the Christian church. He also shares his own story of coming to faith, which we found to be fascinating, and he shares about his most recent project: illuminating the four Gospels (yes, seriously, like the Book of Kells sort of illumination. We are planning on ordering it because it looks gorgeous).

Enjoy this video– and if you have any thoughts, feel free to share! We’d love to hear them.

(P.S. The image is one of Fujimura’s pieces– called “Splendor for Kayama.” I believe it was his graduate thesis project)

Troy DeRose Plays Nice in Colorado Springs

Playing Nice by Troy DeRose

Troy DeRose is a local Colorado Springs painter and graphic designer. Liz and I LOVE his work and are thrilled to feature an interview with Troy.

Definitely check out what Troy says about “limits” in question 3, and see some more great photos of his work after the break.

-J

Playing Nice by Troy DeRose
Playing Nice by Troy DeRose

1.) Tell us something about your process of creating your paintings:

My process is typically the first thing people ask me about when they first encounter my work. I will attempt to describe it as best I can without getting into all the intricate steps that are involved. Basically my art begins on the computer where I manipulate found photos and design the piece in Photoshop. Once the piece is designed I create templates for the colored underpainting (shapes and text) and a full size print out of the black and white images. I use the templates as a guide to do the underpainting portion and once that is dry I overlay the black and white images to the canvas using a photo transfer technique. After the photo transfer is complete I go back in with charcoal and paint to fill in the images until I feel happy with it.

The Closers by Troy DeRose
The Closers by Troy DeRose
Troy DeRose
Artist and part-time model; Troy DeRose

2.) Who is an inspiration to you? Who influences your work?

I am influenced from two different sides of art, fine art/art history and graphic design/illustration. On the fine art side, when I was studying painting in college I was really inspired by both the Dada and surrealist movements in art. I loved the ways that Dali and Magritte used transparency in their work to let one image turn into another. I am also really Continue reading “Troy DeRose Plays Nice in Colorado Springs”