Feature Friday 2: Florida flowers

Another quiet week on my blog reader, but April can be a busy time of the year. Just a couple links to share, then I will inflict my personal (ahem) “style” of photography on y’all, because I had ample opportunity to whip out the little digicam yesterday on our trip in to the feed store.

But first, some real photography from Deb Beausoliel who blogs Beautiful Sun is a translation of her family name. Her topic (after a big fall last month) is sunrises, which being a morning person she prefers over sunsets just because she has them mostly to herself. Now, as a painter who wields brush and pencil instead of camera, I can say with all certainty that capturing a sunrise or sunset is mostly the domain of photographers, unless a painter has an almost-photographic visual memory or such an encompassing grasp of light and shadow to work from imagination. I probably could not even make a mess with with my soft pastels fast enough to capture the perfect moment of optimal color in the sky and how the light hits the surrounding land without the light shifting before I could get it on paper. When I do a sunrise or sunset work, I use a reference photo to “hold” the light still so I can work out the perfect colors and get the surrounding landscape shadows correct. Photos may not always capture what the eye sees, but it can get it close enough when a photographer knows what she or he is doing – and I can definitely work with that.

As fun as a skyscape or cloudscape or sunrise/set picture can be, right now my inspiration is a lot more down-to-earth: there is a new series of wildflowers blooming around the property and along the sides of the roads on the way into town, and I do not really know what they are called, and Google image search has been not-exactly helpful. Apparently, I need to upload the snapshots online before I can use Google Lens, since I do not own a touchscreen device. As my son used to say back when he was in high school, “Le sigh.” These are likely called weeds by the local population, but I still want to figure out what they are so I can title drawings and paintings with a little more detail than, “pretty flowering weed in my Florida yard.” Here is the one I tried to look up on Google, which gave me two different names depending on which photo I used, and both names were genus names with almost 500 species each, so between my two attempts to identify this plant I have over 900 possibilities.

delicate blue-violet to lavender flowers, approximately an inch in diameter

When hubby took a snapshot of one of these plants from above to get the five-lobed shape as the focus, Google first tried to say it was in the campanula genus, commonly called bellflower. The problem with that is in the above snapshot I took this morning, which clearly shows the flowers having a trumpet shape, not bell. The above snapshot returned gentian genus as its result, and while it does look similar, all the online sources for gentians say they bloom usually September to December, except one species which has the common name spring gentian but doesn’t look like this. Perhaps I should only use the digicam for reference photos, and try to identify local flowers after I’ve drawn and/or painted them in a botanical style?

The other flowers I really want to draw and paint are along the paved county road heading back from town. Yesterday, with critter food in the truck bed, and Mexican food in the cab with us, I persuaded hubby to pull off the road for a couple minutes to snap some photos of these lovely fuchsia colored flowers:

eye-catching small fuchsia colored flowers

There were actually a couple other variations of this flower all around me: one variation had white in the center instead of a darker fuchsia, and another had the lighter color as the middle with the darker as the outer color. These flowers are a little smaller than an inch in diameter, and I had the worst time seeing the screen on the digicam just because it was sunny and bright. I didn’t spend too much time with it, because our lunch from the little family run Mexican restaurant smelled delicious (and it was) and I knew hubby’s stomach was growling.

Finally, the reason I pulled out my digicam at the feed store for the second week in a row (remember the gorgeous purple morning glory blooms last week?) is right here:

a pair of peahens hanging around the feed store
they must be camera shy peahens, as they went out the door and around the building when they heard the digicam turn on

The employees and owner of the feed store had been putting a little bit of scratch out for them, and since it was a lovely mild day the doors were propped open and the two peahens actually walked into the store, but turned and immediately left when they heard my digicam turn on. I remarked it was a bit of a shame, because with the backlighting from the door I could see the iridescent blue of their neck and shoulder feathers so nicely. On the drive though town from the feed store, while I was looking at the digicam’s screen, hubby commented, “And there is the peacock,” but traffic was moving too fast for me to try to snap a pic of him. Ah well, there are plenty of photos of peacocks on the various royalty-free stock photo sites, but finding photos of the peahens is not as easy, and I’ve been thinking of doing another peafowl painting sometime this summer to go with my Peacock Portrait acrylic sketch from last year.

We did go get our new goat on Monday, and are once again on kidding watch as she is due soon, which means I’ll get to do the whole bottle-feeding a baby goat routine again. The bright side to this is I now have tinted charcoal to use for my drawings, so here’s hoping I can get some good cat-free drawing time. Maybe I’ll even be able to identify these wildflowers (or flowering weeds) I have blooming around me this week.

Feature Friday inaugural edition

I am starting up a new but old regular weekly post for the blog: Feature Fridays. This will be a bit of looking back at the previous week here and also on my fellow artists’ blogs and picking out which post I liked best for the previous week, and to drop the occasional hint on upcoming ideas I plan to draw or paint. I keep a little Nikon CoolPix digicam in my purse now, so I can snap photos when I come across something that I want to paint. Given my notorious lack of photography skills, most of my snapshots will very much look like snapshots on an old, cheap digicam, but every once in a while the stars line up just right and I can get a decent photograph. Normally though, I have a snapshot that needs all kinds of cropping and tweaking or it needs to just stay on my computer and not let anyone see it. Even out of focus photos can give me a good enough idea of how the shapes and shadows fall to draw or paint … and I am sure some of y’all have heard my personal joke about learning to draw and paint because that is actually faster and often easier than getting a good photo.

That is actually a great segue into the first link: Steven over at Backyard Image wrote an interesting post where he shows how he sometimes uses his software filters to improve his photos. Steven does a lot of fancy fine art photos, and there is no doubt he can wield his camera the way I wield a charcoal pencil, but as I confess in his comment section, there is a part of me that wants to grab a mahlstick or drawing bridge and smack his cursor away from such things. Then Bob from Carolina Footprints chimed in about how some people use software to create their art, and call it AI-generated. Since Bob opened that can of worms, I posted a short opinion about how art is communication and I have never had a meaningful conversation with a computer or software program (this excludes me cussing at a program), but it probably needs fleshing out because I don’t intend to hijack Steven’s comment section.

First of all, I do need to draw a line between photogs like Steven using various filters and editing out things in a photo editor and these so-call artificial “intelligence” programs that will spit out an image given certain inputs. This is not an intelligence at work – it is just a complex set of protocols the program runs to get its result. The computer doesn’t sit here and “decide” what color palette to use, it uses an algorithm to determine what fits the given input parameters and executes accordingly. Most of all, the program is not trying to communicate anything by running through its protocols. It is just running its program when all is said and done. Said program may be significantly more complex than the simple basic programs we used to type into the display models at the store (10 PRINT “whatever” 20 GOTO 10) but it is still a computer running through its lines of code to apply the parameters and commands.

The bottom line here is I don’t believe there is an intelligence in AI generated images, so I don’t see them as art but the results of a computer running its program. Now, if an artist is feeling uninspired, or maybe has too many ideas, or perhaps just wants to see what a program can do with certain inputs, then takes the result and tweaks it or applies filters or uses it as a basis for something worked by hand, that’s another story. I could boil all these keystrokes down to a simple criteria: to be art it needs to be the product of a human who wants to visually communicate.

So now I circle back to Steven and his photo editing. I know on the intellectual level that he is just using a different tool to achieve the same thing I do with my art tools … but the nonrational side of me is still feeling a bit …. threatened, I suppose you could call it. It took me years and many notebooks and sketchbooks and doodle pads and napkins and the backs of paper placemats over my lifetime to be able to do the charcoal sketch of a monarch butterfly that kicked off this blog conversation. I have little doubt Steven has spent many years and many versions of cameras (including film, which was not cheap) to get to the point where he can get such a great photo of a monarch butterfly, but then he just needs a filter to apply to it to make it look like mine, whereas I would need to learn all the little tricks of a camera and then the plants to attract the butterfly, and a way to keep the outdoor cats from trying to catch said butterfly … or I can do my own version of cheating, go to Pixabay or other stock photo site, and apply my own filters and learn to manipulate photos.

And the penny just dropped, right now as I was typing out the previous paragraph. Call it stream-of-consciousness journaling or whatever, but just like that the feeling is resolved. In his reply to my initial comment on that post, he mentions how the rise of the free stock photo site has put a serious crimp on photographers’ market for stock photos, and concern the same may happen to the hand-created artwork market is the most-likely reason I feel such unease when I first read Steven’s post. I’ve not been out the past two years trying to sell my art to the public much, but in the back of my mind there is the avatar of the Difficult Customer asking, “Why should I pay that much when I can get a photo from the internet and run it through Photoshop and have something better?” Oh, I have a specific face in mind with a specific voice, but I shouldn’t bust anyone out even if s/he probably doesn’t read my blog.

Obviously, I found Steven’s post very thought-provoking, which is what a good blog post should do. He posted a couple other topics this past week, but that is the post that sticks with me and therefore deserves to be shared. Some other notable posts from my blogreader list:

  • Bob Decker of Carolina Footprints wrote a rather detailed description of one of his local wildlife areas where he loves to get his nature photos, the Theodore Roosevelt State Nature Area, Pine Knoll Shores, North Carolina. He even gives specific directions on how to get to both trails open to the public. If you are in that area, or planning a trip to there, this post is an excellent introduction and travel aid. I really love the tricolor heron photo where the bird is casually preening.
  • Sharon Popek has not blogged for a while, but breaks her silence to share photos of her visit to Chicago. While I am content to stay here at the dead end of my little dirt road, if picturesque cityscape photos are your vibe, then she posted some good ones. I like the colors in the sunset one.
  • Speaking of cityscape photos, Jim Hughes was setting up for photos of downtown Minneapolis when a bicyclist rode into his frame … and ended up being the focus of that series, instead of the clouds. That cyclist looks very similar not only to an affable gentleman in my old neighborhood up in Clarksville, Tennessee but also I am pretty sure I have seen a kindred spirit on a three-wheeled cycle around this corner of the county here in rural Florida.
  • Judith at Artistcoveries wrote a very introspective post about a tendency she has noticed in herself, and explores the motives behind her self-sabotaging tendency in both her art and her blog posts. I guess you could say this was a secondary influence on my current post (that you are currently reading). Sometimes you just have to untangle your mixed feelings and mixed motivations, and some of us feel a need to do it publicly, in hopes perhaps it might help someone else.

Since this IS a visual art blog, I probably ought to include at least one image. Remember several paragraphs ago I mentioned I now carry a little digicam in my purse? That came in handy yesterday when I was waiting for my feed order and noticed these gorgeous purple flowers blooming on either side of the local feed store’s entrance. No editing of these photos except cropping out a little extraneous stuff in the frame, so these turned out rather accurate on color (I took about five or six snapshots). These will be painted at some point this year, and I have just the perfect shade of purple in watercolor, acrylic, AND oil paint!

a photo for future painting – I love the shades of purple and green together!