Feature Friday 8: Holiday Art Walk

After a week’s delay, we are now doing our holiday edition art walk all weekend on our blogs. That means I will edit this post as more folks find the time to add their blog to the art walk, so check back here in a few days and you’ll likely find even more posts from art bloggers listed!

Architectural photography

First up is Rebecca of Beyond Essential, with her stunning captures of wonders of the Old World, in particular Istanbul’s famous mosques like the Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, and (a new one to me) the Basilica Cistern, along with the archetype of the mountaintop monastery, Meteora Monastery.

A Cityscape photo and some opinion

Jim Hughes seems to be trying to cultivate a curmudgeonly reputation in regards to the big hype over digital art software, in particular the text-to-image generators. As a photographer, he asks the valid question of “What is left?” in the wake of so much computer-generated imagery. I certainly agree with him, and see the same question needing answers on the more traditional art side of this equation as well.

Interlude for an image

This being an art blog, every post ought to have some kind of image – drawing, painting, doodle, etc. Here is that poor jack o’lantern I am still working on from October. It’s a little bit further than this scan because I did work on it for two appointments in Gainesville, which is roughly a two hour drive each way.

pencil drawing of a carved pumpkin jack o'lantern
progress on my jack o’lantern pencil drawing

Nature photography

Bob Decker left the comment on one of my first post about the text-to-image software saying he does not see himself trying it out because he loves to go out into the woods and get his own images. He then demonstrated by taking a hike and bringing back some lovely photos of the Cape Lookout National Seashore area of the Crystal Coast, and even tells us a bit about this secluded slice of nature in his area of North Carolina.

Almost Heaven – West Virginia

Steve Heap says his part of West Virginia had an absolutely beautiful autumn season, with gorgeous fall foliage colors and perfect weather for photography. Despite going a round with the RSV virus, he managed to get enough good photos from around Morgantown (where he is based) to put together an entire year’s calendar of fall foliage photos for 2023.

Digital art posts to resume in a few days

I will be continuing my series on my successes and humorous failures using the text-to-image software to make a bit of digital art next week. Looks for the first of the floral barrage to commence Monday or Tuesday. Meanwhile, I offer my first two posts on the subject – my introduction and new avatar/internet face as well as my Christmas digital art for those who may have missed them.

Christmas Digital Artwork

Alright, fellow procrastinators: It is now the proverbial “last minute” as far as ordering custom greeting cards to send out for the winter holiday season. It does not matter if you are celebrating Christmas, Hanukah, Yule, Kwanza, or just the generic Festivus – it’s getting to be crunch time for ordering custom gifts or greeting cards if you want to receive them in time to send them back out! On my end, it’s crunch time for creating and posting Christmas artwork. That means I need to post up some digital artwork for the holidays since I procrastinated too long on the painting I started (in August).

Custom artwork for the holidays

I did post up a handful of hand drawn and hand painted artwork last year, and those are all still available. See my Winter Snowman, the two matching ornaments, and (my personal favorite) the colored pencil Christmas Candle for purchase links. My intent was to add to the collection, but I really do have problems getting into the holiday spirit in the summer. I guess I should not move to the southern hemisphere any time soon. Instead, I suppose I’ll just do my usual “one holiday at a time!” that has been my mantra for so many years, and promote this year’s Christmas and Yule artwork next summer. The other option is:

Digital art for the holidays

Honestly, if you have the patience to fine tune your text prompts and modifiers, then digital art is the quick fix. Once you have zeroed in on a good target prompt phrase, then you can have the software churn out multiple versions and simply choose the ones that have the right look and correct object shapes. I did some more playing and tweaking over the weekend, and here is the cream of the crop, so to speak.

Decorated Christmas Tree digital artwork

In a way, this one was both the easiest and the most finicky to get a version that didn’t have me saying, “It’s almost good except for …” I have a virtual folder at the NightCafe site with a good-size bunch of also-rans, but this one was one of the first and also one of the prettiest images of a fully decorated Christmas tree. I did need to crop off the sides, but the result fits the 8:10 ratio perfectly.

Decorated Christmas Tree digital artwork for the holiday
Decorated Christmas Tree, digital artwork in 8:10 format

You can order this image as a fine art print, or printed on a greeting card, puzzle (oh yeah, this one makes a great puzzle!) or home decor items at my Pixels store or at my RedBubble shop. Being digital art, there is no original to buy, but I may be inspired to try my brush at it in the darker days ahead.

Victorian Christmas Scene digital image

This one has a bit of a backstory to it. What I was attempting to get was some kind of image of a species of aloe plant often called a century plant with Christmas ornaments hung on the wide, flat leaves. It’s something you see down here in Florida, since southern pine trees are tall and sparse and very fast-growing (which makes them ideal for the lumber industry). There are a couple houses within a few miles of me that do this on a semi-regular basis, but I have never stopped and snapped a photo of this to use as a reference for a painting. Next time those houses decorate that way, I will certainly get a snapshot – even if it isn’t good enough to post here.

So, I used the text prompt “century aloe Christmas decorations,” and the software had no idea what it was supposed to display. Along with three that were just weird, I had this image, which I call Victorian Christmas Scene. It looks very quaint, like it ought to be a color plate in an edition of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Until, that is, you get a closer look at the greenery. Yup, some of that greenery is aloe plants.

Victorian Christmas Scene, digital computer-generated artwork
Victorian Christmas Scene, digital artwork

The proportions are a little off on some things, but overall it makes a very pleasant picture. The sky certainly looks like a winter afternoon, and all the lights and garlands lend a festive air to it, even though there are no people on the street at all. The bunch of aloe-like plant in the lower right corner aren’t obvious until you are putting it together as a jigsaw puzzle – which I am doing digitally since I have three cats in the house. For fun, here is a screenshot of this as a puzzle.

Victorian Christmas Scene as a jigsaw puzzle (in Microsoft Jigsaw)
Victorian Christmas Scene as a jigsaw puzzle

Like the others, you can order this image as an art print, a puzzle, apparel, or home dec item either at my Pixels shop or at my RedBubble shop. Like my other digital creations, there is no hardcopy original, and I really don’t see myself sitting down and drawing or painting this one. It’s a pretty street scene, but cityscapes just don’t appeal to me.

Red Poinsettias, the Christmas flower

Y’all had to know I’d get to this one eventually. It’s time for some red poinsettias, the official flower of Christmas. There are many reason why this flower is so popular, but the main one is all about the color combination of cheery red petals with yellow centers (stamen?) framed by the rich green leaves. Add in a strand of Christmas lights, and you get my next piece, unoriginally titled Red Poinsettias.

Red Poinsettias digital artwork featuring the Christmas flower with lights around the flowers
Red Poinsettias, digital artwork featuring the cheery Christmas flowers with lights

My husband chose this one of the two poinsettias images that turned out well, saying the lights and softer focus look goes better with the other two. “It’s like a visual theme,” he explained. I’ll roll with it, since I asked his opinion because I was having trouble choosing. He’s an artist also! Links to buy prints and home accessories at my Pixels shop and for a selection of apparel as well as more accessories at my RedBubble shop.

More digital artwork to come!

I am still not all the way through the categories from just my first two weeks of playing with the program that generates these images. I have a lot of flower bouquet images, and wanted to spotlight those in their own post. It looks like there will be at least two flower posts now, as this past weekend I hit upon a combination of modifiers that I really like. I’ll keep working on those posts, as well as working on refining my text prompts to see if I can get even better images, but I really wanted to get these up for my fellow procrastinators to order those custom Christmas cards … or you’ll have to wait until next year unless your family and friends are used to getting holiday cards in January.

Experimenting with Digital Art: Text-to-Image software

The other week, I saw a fellow artist post a link on Twitter about a site called NightCafe Studio where you enter in a text prompt and it generates an image (which a lot of people mistakenly called “artificial intelligence”). Curiosity finally got the better of me, so I followed the link and began to play around with the software as an experiment. You can see the portfolio of my experimenting here on my profile at NightCafe. I’ve spent almost two weeks playing with it now, which is to say I am stepping into the concept of digital art, at least on the text-to-image side of it. (It’s so much faster than drawing or painting, and right now I feel as though I have a hundred different things going.)

The good, the bad, and the “What the ****?”

The profile/portfolio I link to over on NightCafe only includes the stuff that turned out good. I started off with a simple enough prompt, “pink flower on dark green leaves” or something very similar. If you scroll down far enough you will see the result at the very bottom. I fiddled around with a couple other phrases, and deleted those results as I did not like them. I am saving all the flower ones for their own post, but then moved on to see what kind of results I could get for some classic still life subjects.

Modern style still life of red and yellow bell peppers and one cherry tomato on white plates with a blue tablecloth
Tomatoes and Peppers, digital art

Here is one that turned out nicely. I deleted probably half a dozen or more in my attempts to get a nice still life arrangement of tomatoes, peppers, garlic, and an onion – salsa still needing assembly. I figured it would be perfect to hang up at my favorite Mexican restaurant in town, especially since my Summer Jalapeno painting is there. Let’s just say the program is not good at doing an onion and totally ignored the prompt about garlic. So instead of a still life I could name “Salsa, Some Assembly Required,” I got red and yellow bell peppers and a single cherry tomato. It does look nice, although I will need to draw/paint what I actually wanted. I uploaded the digital piece to my Pixels shop and my RedBubble shop for accessories, apparel, and prints.

Classic still life subject seem to give the art generator fits. I have some truly wild examples of a big weak spot in the code – but I will save a few of those for the floral post since I was trying for an old masters’ style of fruit and flowers still life composition. I will mention the text-to-image program has some issues with what shape apples are supposed to be. It also doesn’t seem to realize that apples and pumpkins are affected by gravity like everything else.

A smashing success for text-to-image

On a whim, I decided to try a text prompt that would describe my very first pastel piece I did at the age of just seven. I have no idea if it still exists, but it has stayed in my mind all these years. The first result is still the best: here is Sunset Palms, with the Neo-Impressionist style filter applied to it.

Sunset Palms, two palm trees silhouetted against a brilliant sunset sky with simulated impasto
Sunset Palms, digital art

The software even generated simulated impasto that looks like it was applied with a palette knife. I was a little surprised to see a swathe of green in the sky, but I think it works. I put this into Microsoft Jigsaw to play with it as a jigsaw puzzle, and the colors are just fun. Art prints are at my Pixels shop (along with puzzles) and apparel and accessories are at my RedBubble shop. I can definitely see myself painting variations of this image, either in acrylic or oil paint, once I finally get a cat-free art studio where it can dry without being walked on by my cats.

The struggle for black cats

I decided I wanted to see what kind of Halloween imagery the software could generate for me, and began to enter various prompts and try different style filters. I wanted an image of a black cat’s face filling the frame, with lovely green eyes providing a stark contrast to the black fur. Instead, the program spat out this – and I have seen hairballs that look prettier.

ugly software glitch
I just call it “fugly”

Well, at least it got the green eyes part right. No matter how I tilt my head and squint at it, it just does not look like a cat as I know them. This is emphatically NOT in the public portfolio, because that would just be embarrassing. Or maybe I am just not modern enough in my art sensibilities. I kept trying with the text prompts.

Black Cat sitting, digital artwork created using text-to-image software
Black Cat Sitting, digital art

The title Black Cat Sitting is the text prompt I used, and in this specific case, the image it gave me was very nice! I love the soft focus feel to the light, and the cat sure enough looks like a real cat. When I saw this one, I began to think perhaps there is some hope for text-to-image software after all. Yeah, famous last words. Here is what the software thinks a black kitten ought to look like.

another disasterpiece from a simple prompt
a five-eyed kitten? What the ****?

Yikes. That is not public anywhere else but here on the blog. Seriously – does this have five or six eyes, and why would a supposed “artificial intelligence” think kittens look like that? I mean, I know Halloween is supposed to be all about scary imagery, but this is just so many levels of wrong. And that is about as polite as I can stand for this one. I could post a few jack o’lantern mishaps, but I think y’all get the general idea of just how spectacularly wrong the algorithm can be on some of these.

Text-to-image digital art of – ME!

One day last week, I had an “Ah-ha!” moment and decided to see what kind of software-generated digital image I could get from the text prompt describing me. Hold your laughter now. I started off with the text prompt “middle-aged woman with short blonde hair,” and ended up with this:

ugly image from what ought to be a straightforward text prompt
how I feel first thing in the morning

OK, now y’all can have a good laugh. Apparently, punctuation is important, and that hyphen in middle-aged must have messed the algorithm up good and proper. Granted, there are definitely mornings when I might feel like this, but I don’t usually look quite this rough (or so my husband says). So I tried “mature woman with short blond hair,” and the second time I got an image I am now using as my “face” here on the internet.

the internet me, from text-to-image digital art program

Now, she doesn’t look like she’s about to celebrate her 50th birthday like I am, but most of the female figures the software spits out look to be no older than 25, and most look like they could be movie stars, so an image that brings to mind Florence Henderson from The Brady Bunch probably fits the program’s parameters for mature. I like the simulated brushstrokes for it as well. Her eyes are the wrong color and she isn’t wearing glasses “thick enough to see into the future,” but she’ll be my face for the internet for now.

While the text-to-image programs used to generate digital art are far from perfect, every once in a while you get a good result. I can’t see it replacing us traditional artists any time soon, but for now it is an amusing novelty. I may just use it as a way to test composition ideas or to get inspiration. Mostly, I am just playing with it because it amuses me.

Feature Friday 7: Our first virtual art walk

Feature Friday is back, and with a new twist this time. This week, we’ve all made a post of our personal favorites from our art portfolios, and today that is what we will all be linking. The inspiration for this is something art galleries do in the physical brick-and-mortar world, the art walk. In between links, I am posting some floral snapshots from before the hurricane with the story behind the flower at the end.

The art walk downtown

Going back to when we lived up in Clarksville, Tennessee, the downtown art galleries got together on the first Friday of the month to host an art walk after normal business hours. Along with being open in the evening, most of the galleries also had small refreshments available, and some would arranged a themed display when the artworks in their gallery had one. In particular, I remember one when my husband was home (as opposed to being in South Korea or Afghanistan) and my son still lived at home, and it was a beautiful late spring evening when the temperature was perfect and it seemed everyone we saw was in a good mood.

September-blooming white spider lily
Day 2 was the first decent snapshot I got

Our virtual art walk

Starting the week off, Jim Hughes posts his favorite photographs from his portfolio. His main criteria for this list is: he had a plan, a mental image, then a photo. The nautilus shell is cool. I think I like his funky-colored flower (zinnia?) best though.

two spider lily blooms open - and a cat lounging on the railing
Can’t crop out the lazy cat on the rail, but I really wanted a snapshot of one of the flowers in the sun

Jo from Siena Blue has posted her recent favorites in watercolor and gouache, along with an acrylic painting and one of her drawings from this year’s Inktober, done in ink and colored with coffee. I think I like her seashell best of all, and not only because of the unusual medium.

spider lily with four of the six blooms open
day 4 – and at this point I had figured out the plant was opening one bloom a day

Cannot forget my post from yesterday about which paintings I think make excellent jigsaw puzzles.

Finally, we have Steve from Backyard Image, with his best photos that are not from his back yard. The two that feature the color pink are my favorites – one the cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C. and the other that gorgeous sunset sky from his Alaska cruise this year.

About that spider lily plant

We bought this property in the summer of 2012, spent a week’s leave down here in September of the same year, then moved in for good in February of 2013. In the almost ten years we’ve lived here, I have never seen this plant under my window even bud. I had not idea what it would look like if it did.

Then, a couple days after the autumn equinox, I noticed it was going to bloom.

Once the first bud opened, I knew I had seen pictures of this flower before, and the name that sprang to my mind was spider lily. Yup, a quick search showed I was right … but there are quite a few species that are called spider lily, and most are white like mine, so I began to read which ones bloom in September and I think I have nailed it down to Hymenocallis occidentalis, also called Hymenocallis caroliniana though Wikipedia says this in incorrect while another botanical site says it is. Either way, its common name is certainly spider lily, and the possible reason it didn’t bloom until this year is probably because this summer has been very wet. Several of the lookalike spider lilies for Florida says they prefer wet ground, and this may be the first August and September when we got enough rain.

Yes, there is a spider lily painting in my head now. It’s just a matter of time before I wrestle it onto paper and canvas.

My current favorite paintings as puzzles

I enjoy working on jigsaw puzzles, but with three cats in the house that is something I need to do digitally these days. Back when I was a child and we had a cat-free house, we kids would put jigsaw puzzles together on the back of a game board, so they could be moved off the table for meals. Once completed, and after a sufficient time to admire the accomplishment, the puzzles would be carefully taken apart and mixed back up in the box for either the next time or when a sibling wanted to put it together. Given this brief bit of my childhood, is it any surprise I am fascinated by current print-on-demand technology that can put my paintings onto jigsaw puzzles?

Digital workaround

I mentioned my cats as the main reason I cannot do physical jigsaw puzzles, but the secondary reason is flat surfaces in my vicinity just do not remain empty for long enough to put a puzzle together either. Along with the obvious art supplies, I also have sewing stuff and yarn crafts stuff around my desk. Using Microsoft Jigsaw, I can upload up to four of my paintings and have the game create puzzles ranging from extremely easy (only 12 pieces) to very challenging (grandmaster 588 pieces). It may not be as challenging as to 1000-piece physical jigsaw puzzle, but it does keep me amused without taking up space or becoming a cat’s toy. The biggest downside for me is that MS Jigsaw limits me to only four at a time. So which four did I upload first? That is why I am writing this post!

I’ve already started featuring a puzzle on Mondays over on Twitter and Facebook, using my own hashtag #PuzzleManiaMonday, and have shown the “expert” level 196 piece level in MS Jigsaw for the past couple Mondays, so it only seemed natural I write it up into a blog post here.

Goldfish oil pastel painting as a puzzle

The first one I actually tried to use in the game was Book Reading By Candlelight, which has a vertical (portrait) orientation and did not work well. Apparently for their custom puzzle feature, the images need to have a horizontal (landscape) orientation. The second painting I picked to make puzzles out of was my oil pastel painting, Goldfish, which I posted way back when I was still on blogspot and have added to the story of its creation when I moved here to this domain. While it may seem like it would be rather difficult because of all the blue water around the fish’s orange and cream-spotted body, I figured the gradient aspect of it would help … and in the process discovered that my gradient is not exact from one side to the other, despite how it may appear.

my oil pastel painting Goldfish as a jigsaw puzzle
my oil pastel painting Goldfish as a puzzle

While it may appear daunting, this is very fun painting-as-puzzle to occupy some time and tease the brain just enough to keep interest high. I particularly love to work one of the puzzles while sipping my afternoon mug of coffee. Order your 500 or 1000 piece puzzle from Pixels here, while if you are a RedBubble customer you can get puzzles with as few as 30 pieces up to the big 1000 piece challenges. I don’t see this one making that good of a group project, but that could just be a failure of imagination on my part.

Apples sketch painted in acrylic as puzzle

For my second one, I knew I wanted to use one of my apples still life from last November. Between the two, I went with the acrylic paint sketch where I worked to get the red and green variations of the Honeycrisp apple skin. This is a bit amusing, because at the time I painted both, I liked the all red apples version better. This seems to be another case of my opinion of an artwork changing over time (like the ox-eye daisy drawing). Considering I used only about half a dozen colors in this, I think I did better than I originally thought. It makes for a fun puzzle as well.

acrylic sketch Apples as jigsaw puzzle
acrylic sketch Apples as jigsaw puzzle

Pixels customers can find 500 and 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles here, while RedBubble’s software seems to not like my image, even the higher-resolution version I uploaded this morning. I may need to fill out a support ticket for that.

Sunset Over the Hay Field oil pastel painting in puzzle form

Another no-brainer for my short list of favorite paintings to turn into puzzles is the oil pastel landscape Sunset Over The Hayfield. I guess my oil pastel work is a bit over-represented in this sample, but how could I NOT play with this image for a jigsaw puzzle? The colors in the sky and clouds are just so much fun to piece together, then the stubble over the mown hay field provides the challenge. Check it out:

oil pastel landscape painting Sunset Over the Hayfield as jigsaw puzzle
I always get this far before I take a break!

RedBubble offers jigsaw puzzles in five sizes: 30 good sized pieces for your young beginner puzzlers, 110 piece puzzles for the intermediate level, 252 pieces for a good one-afternoon puzzle session, and of course the 500 and 1000 piece options for longer more complex challenges. The one thing to watch out for is some of the image options on the website show their software adding sidebars to some sizes – I have submitted a ticket on this. Pixels offers the 500 and 1000 piece options, and seems to have better flexibility on the aspect ratio for images.

Pumpkin Close-Up watercolor painting as a jigsaw puzzle

Finally, my fourth puzzle is my watercolor painting Pumpkin Close-Up, which looks like it could be a real challenge. In some ways, it IS a challenge, but I find it to be an extremely fun challenge. All these autumn colors! All the noticeable brushstrokes! Check it out:

watercolor painting Pumpkin Close-Up as jigsaw puzzle
I use the brushstrokes and colors to match pieces – this is a fun break from blogging or painting

Personally, I say get the really big puzzle for this one. Why not? Just think of the hours of fun, either by yourself for maximum cool points or with family for a rainy day around the table. Pixels offers the 500 and 1000 piece options, while RedBubble has the smaller options for the youngsters that either live with you or invade for holidays.

Come back tomorrow for our first virtual art walk

Why this fun little favorites list? This is the preparatory post for our first virtual art walk tomorrow, October 14th. Come back this weekend for an online equivalent to an art walk, where each of us participating will be featuring our personal favorites from our portfolios!