I Need a Plan

I’m running as fast as I can and it’s not fast enough. I am trying to be a full time artist on a part time basis. This is a fools errand and I think I may end up making myself crazy.

My husband and I talk about the tradeoff between keeping the photography fun and taking it to the next level. Certainly keeping it at the level it is now, where it is a fun and relaxing hobby, is appealing. But the artist in me wants to kick it up a notch. Unfortunately, those projects take a lot of time and energy.

It would be wonderful to have a patron system alive and well in the arts world. But like all the other arts, (i.e. music and literature) the internet has changed the way we sell our work. There is no mythical “other” to support the arts, be it big business or a rich patron. Each artist is tasked with creating work then marketing and selling it. We are asked to tweet, blog, make connections, maintain a web site, amass a mailing list, etc… all while creating ground breaking works of art or literature.

“To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.”  Leonard Bernstein

Well, I definitely don’t have quite enough time, now I just need a plan.

~ xxsjc

Do you find that you don’t have enough time to realize all your creative ambitions?
How do you prioritize?

Happy Inc.

Visiting the American Dream
We are not shy from asking difficult questions to our inner selves here on Stuck In Plastic, and both Shelly and me touched upon our influences with Big Inc. in a variety of posts, including this latest one where I wondered if having a boardroom exposition at Shell would be off limits.
This weekend I had the pleasure to visit the history of another Big Inc. in the city of Atlanta, Georgia. One that turns universal happiness into a bottle of fizzing pleasure, and while my European roots sometimes got an overdose of too much sweet and happiness, it was an awesome journey through The Coca Cola Company history.
An history that started with an artist pharmacist called John Pemberton and a fantastic marketeer listening to the name of Asa Candler.
A story that may have had a hidden reference to Van Gogh but given that I was so overwhelmed with the happiness inside, this only dawned on me once I was outside again.

Howard Finster at the World Of Coca Cola

The Coca Cola Company is for sure part of Big Inc. yet it plays its role in the art scene.

From being a major pop culture sponsor today over art projects like the 1996 Olympics when more than 70 artists around the world, including Howard Finster turned their cow bottle into art to using advertising artists of the highest level with people like Haddon Sundblom to create a complete generation of pop art culture (or should I say pin up) around the American Dream.

I am still very much fascinated by the influence of Big Inc. on the Art scene.

An influence that goes far beyond sponsering an exhibition or endorsing an artist on a new product release.

Big Inc.

To be continued.


The Long Road to a Finished Photo

I am guilty of looking back from time to time. No, I am not the type of guy who only listens to old music because new stuff supposedly sucks, you know those guys, what I mean is that I have a hard time letting some of my photographs go. I return to them from time to time and re-edit them to see if the original edit can be improved. It may be just a little thing with colours, maybe with how the image has been cropped or just tweaks in contrasts and exposure. In the most extreme case it was a shoot, then a re-shoot, after that a re-edit of the re-shoot before I called it done. This took four years.

Editing photos from RAW is also not just about knowing the techniques, it’s also about choices. Sometimes I didn’t really succeed in either of those. There are things in the process I did not know how to do just a couple of years ago, and these little discoveries can make a big difference with certain photographs.

I do this because I want to learn, not because I do not like what I have done originally. By editing the same image again after a while I get a second chance with something I already know; on the second take I know what to look for. Somehow I feel this helps me to understand the editing process better than editing something entirely new. It’s like practising to play a musical instrument by playing the same song again and again.

I don’t replace the originals to the newly edited, but if there is a significant difference, I may post it again.

This one I posted again, “The Call of the Wild” (a nod to Jack London stories). The original on the right (from March 2011) is almost straight from the camera with very little edits, a tighter crop being the most obvious one. The one on the left has a new crop (or, rather, isn’t cropped at all), the composition allows the image to breathe a little, the colours are more vivid and I dug the wampa out of the shadows. Now, after three years, I think this image is finally done.

Fast and Furious …

I know I posted this shot of Teddy before.
Both here and on good old IG a while back.

I am sure some of you may remember it, but it feels like it was ages ago.
When Shelly only yesterday posted her view on the amount of digital noise we produce in this fast moving age of digital information, where images are yet another language to tell a quick story to friends and strangers alike (one picture says more than a thousand words) it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the normal conversation we produce with our imagery (a selfie here, a foodie there, …) and the significant ones you want to treat like a good book you want to take aside, enjoy when reading and foster in your library.

My dear good old IG is mostly about conversation in the here and now.
When @brickcentral announced their latest photo contest on teddy bears, they made it clear that only new pictures were allowed in the conversation.

For sure my blurry shot of Teddy disqualified as it was shot 17 days prior to the contest(*).
17 days.
Old News. ´
A lightyear in our digital conversation.

I could reshoot Teddy and get actually a better composition, a more intriguing look and resubmit it for the bear competition (I still have two days) and actually gain more likes and engagement on that shot because it is part of the conversation, but that would be partly fooling me as I would be recomposing a closed shoot.
It would be a remake of a significant moment that happend 17 days earlier.

Just like with a 365 day project (more on that later) competitions like this force you to take your creativity to the next level, reinvent and dont dwell on the past.
Practice and improve your skills and crafts and engage in the digital conversation.

It is a fantastic learning school, it is an enabler, it is the instant feedback loop of likes from the audience we all crave, and Avanaut explored in his first post here on Stuck In Plastic.

We are moving so fast and furious in our digital conversations we dont always take the time to look back and select the 12 most significant photos that will make it into our portfolio like Ansel said.

But now is a good time to stop and start looking back.

We are fast approaching the end of the year where we will all look back and start posting our best 12 photos of the year. Do think twice and not just select those that created the most conversation and likes, but look for those moments and images that stood out, that were significant and important for you, even if they drowned in the digital noise around you.

The ones you would print and stick to your wall.

The ones that may have been shot 17 days too early in the digital conversation we are constantly engaging in.

Your 12 significant ones.


(*) I am not grumpy I could not enter with Teddy, I luv the great folks over at @brickcentral and if you dont follow them on IG yet, go ahead and tag along as they bring great new features of talented photographers to you on a regular basis. I just thought it was a perfect example of the fast and furious speed we live in when we produce images as part of our conversation.

Few and Far Between

“ Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.” –Ansel Adams

The godfather of the zone system, Ansel Adams, knew what he was talking about. Great photos, significant photos, are few and far between.

This is still true in this day and age when every one has a digital camera and the feedback loop is so short anyone can take a good photo. A good photo is not a significant photo. In fact, during any given year you might only take a handful of truly memorable images. Sure your odds will go up if you take thousands of photos in a year. But for most of us who aren’t full time photographers, that probably isn’t going to happen.

If I was going to be truly honest with myself about my underwater photographs…their might be 20 significant images in 20 years of work. It was never easy shooting nearly blind underwater with a slow shutter speed, on film no less. Capturing a useable image, much less a significant image, was its own victory. 

I have taken over 5500 Lego mini figure photos this year and I would be hard pressed to come up with eight images I would include in my portfolio. That ratio is slightly better than my underwater ratio of usable images to images shot, but still not that impressive. Luckily, when I look at those eight images they make me feel all “warm and fuzzy inside” (my sons phrase) and I know that it is all worth it.

So try not to get discouraged by the sheer number of images that need to be taken to get a significant image. Remember you are in good company: you, me and Ansel. 

What is your favorite image of the year? 
How many images do you have in your portfolio? 
“Now where?”

This is my new favorite photo of 2014 

Another Kind of Diary

Painting is just another way of keeping a diary. ~ Pablo Picasso

This also applies to me and my photography.

I love to look back at my photos and think about where I took them and who was with me at the time. Each photo is an instant flash back to (mostly) wonderful memories. This past week on G+ I have been sharing the few Lego photos I took while in Iceland last year. Looking at them today takes me immediately back there and I experience the exhilaration over again.

For me photography has always been a form of documentation; be it my emotions, my family or an unusually viewpoint of a particular place. It may not seem like one, but my photography is a visual journal of my day to day life.

I have always travelled with my Lego mini figures and my photographs represent the places I have been. Since this is on a micro scale a specific place may be difficult to identify. As the colors and textures of places differ, it is interesting to see those differences in the final shots. This can be especially obvious when viewed as a group.

I am curious how you view your photography.

What role does it play in your life?
Is it a book in the making?
Is it a documentation of your everyday life?
Is it reaction to world events around you?
I wonder if +Me2 takes his Lego with him when he travels for business?

~ xxsjc

Iceland October 2013

Arches NP, Utah, September 2014

What a difference a year can make. 

The Foolish Lego

As the weekend comes to a close I feel good about what I accomplished.  My project has moved forward and I have a doable to-do list ready for the start of the week. My list does includes three additional photos that I am waiting on the weather to finish, but that is tomorrows problem.

All of this does not mean that I didn’t do a fair amount of diversionary activities in spite of my productivity. I finally read the entire Foolish Lego web comic. This comic was created by Dwaas, a Dutch AFOL who is almost through his second 365 challenge photo and started his web comic back in August of 2013. Just thinking about what he has accomplished makes me feel a little foolish for procrastinating on my own deadlines.

Once I had back read the Foolish Lego I followed a link on his blog and discovered a treasure trove of Lego Comics on the Brick Comic Network. It’s literally a one stop shop for all my procrastination needs. I feel I can almost look forward to the next big deadline that I will undoubtedly try to avoid.

The next time you are cruising the internet looking for a diversion, check out Foolish Lego and the other Lego comics. I hope you will find them as entertaining and inspiring as I did.

~ xxsjc

Do you have a favorite Lego comic strip?
Did you have a productive weekend?

Beauty in the little things by Dwaas


noun: procrastination; plural noun: procrastinations
  1. the action of delaying or postponing something.

    We all do it; ok maybe not all of us. I know that Avanaut will be busy this weekend on his beloved fighter project and +Me2 will be flying off to foreign shores courtesy of Big Inc. My husband is out of town, my kids are busy and I am left with no more excuses, it is time to face my fears.

    The task I have set for myself isn’t difficult, I simply need to edit 18 photos so they look vaguely similar. Piece of cake…right?

    It is not the work I am afraid of, because I like the work. It is the potential failure I don’t want to face. I guess I need to relearn the following lesson:

    An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail. ~ Edwin Land

    So this weekend I will endeavor to be boring. I will cut my self off from the world, face my fears and try to get this project done. If I fall short of my artistic goals, I can remind myself that this is all part of the process.

    ~ xxsjc

To Edit or not to Edit

How far will you go to fake your photos? That is a question I have asked myself quite a few times in the past few years. I started my toy photography thing with the noble idea of not making any changes to my photos after they were exposed in-camera, barring some colour and contrast tweaks. It was a challenge, a rule, I set for myself to make this more fun. I held on to that rule for quite a long time. It led to many discoveries—figuring out ways to create, say, a sun in the sky or rays of light in the air without adding them in Photoshop. I experimented a long time to get these things right in-camera and had quite a lot of fun with it.

Gradually, over the past couple of years, I have been slipping on the rule. After doing some commercial photography work, I realized that I will not die if I make things a little easier for myself from time to time. I still wouldn’t add a sun in a post, but I began editing photos more liberally. Nothing exotic, not yet anyway.

You know those beautiful, heavily edited photographs that leave nothing to hope for, perfect in every way? I think they’re fantastic, yet I find myself admiring the simple unfiltered photo just as well. While a technical brilliance can leave me in awe, a simple straight photo can be emotionally much more rewarding. This is true whether or not I’m photographing toys.

Now, the question “how far are you going to fake your photos?” lingers in my mind as I am starting work on something new. Does heavy editing make the photos closer to being perfect – or just generic? Is editing killing something in the photos? Is it like in the music business: would you use Autotune to sing better than you actually can?


When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.

Alexander Graham Bell

Approximately one year ago I was headed to Iceland with the fine folks at KEXP radio to cover the Iceland Airwaves music festival. I was excited, I had packed my lego and I knew it was going to be a good trip. In fact, it was an incredible trip, all my expectations where met!

This year I am not going to Airwaves and I am sad. I had three good years as a volunteer but my services were not needed this time. It is hard to watch my friends prepare for another amazing year and no I won’t be there to experience it. But when I am honest with myself, I know it would have been hard to pull off another Airwaves this year. Right now, nine days out of my life would be crippling. 
So even though I am sad about not joining in the fun, I have faith that I am on the right track…for me. Music is still a big part of my life (it always will be) and I still find time to volunteer, it’s just that now there are other areas in my life that are a bigger priority. 
In the mean time I will have to stop looking backwards as that door closes so I can see the door that has opened up before me. I have to have faith in the future. 
~ xxsjc