19. Point and Shoot

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                            North Woods, Central Park (Abstracted)

Post-op

In time I found a decent job designing kitchens, but the hours were terrible. It was a schedule good for a hermit. Luckily this hermit had a guitar and the music of Bach to play on it. There came a day however when, thanks to a shakeup in management, I got laid off. I had just had hernia surgery and was happy to have the time to heal. It was December of 2009 and I cashed in some kitchen vendor points to get a tiny Canon point and shoot camera. The Powershot was my first digital camera and I took it with me on my convalescent winter walks in Central Park.

There was a real innocence to those walks, because I no longer thought of myself as a photographer. It had been roughly 15 years since I had taken any photographs, so I took pictures like a beginner. I was just enjoying myself while I recuperated. Then something nice began to happen. I remembered  how much I loved photography and why I pursued it in the first place. My digital camera opened a new world for me, so a sense of excitement started to build. I was also having fun.

I started shooting almost every day and came home to see what I could do with the images in Photoshop. I had been using the program since 1993 and had several versions on my computer. The earliest ones had some very wild filters and tools, so things took on a whole new dimension. The North Woods image above was originally a normal picture of trees, but I modified it into something completely different. I love it, but creating it required a real leap into the void. You can’t create an image like that without going out on a limb, at least I couldn’t. Working in that space is similar to the Jerk mode I mentioned earlier, where every day reality has to be abandoned for a while.

A New Perspective

The more I played with my new photographs, the more I realized my outlook had changed. If making 3D illustrations taught me anything, it was that I had a sense of humor. My black and white landscapes never revealed that. Shooting still life with and 8″ x 10″ camera was too big a production to take lightly. But 3D allowed me to loosen up. Creating a bird cage, a clover castle, or a drunk Absolut bottle on a sidewalk got me to operate with a different part of my brain. My new cerebral real estate opened a perspective which allowed for images like the North Woods. There is no way I would have produced an image like it in the “old days”.

Landscape photography, like the image below,  has always had a grounding and restorative effect on me. It fuels me to try other things. In short, it’s alright to travel if you have a home to come back to. Landscapes are my home. Places like the North Woods are where I go to explore.

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                                     Fall at Rockefeller State Park

18. Life with J.S. Bach

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                                       Gas Pump

Life as a Kitchen Designer

One day my friend Rita told me Home Depot was hiring and that I should apply. I had no idea what Home Depot was. This was going to be their first venture in New York. When I told one of my 3D buddies that I was going to see about a job at HD, he told me that they designed kitchens for the public using a 3D software program. He told me to mention my 3D skills when I applied and I took his advice.

Home Depot hired me and taught me their kitchen design software 20/20. It was fairly simple and easy to learn. After adjusting to the transition from 3D hermit to 20/20 kitchen designer surrounded by lots of people, I became a worker bee.

It was fun designing kitchens and making new friends at Home Depot, but beneath it all I was sad and depressed. I had worked hard to build my studio along with my photography and illustration skills.  Now those things didn’t matter any more. I sold prints of my work here and there and I did get illustration jobs periodically, like the one above, but I felt fundamentally lost.

Gas Pump

First I will tell you the story of my Gas Pump illustration because it’s kind of cool. I was asked to do the cover of a trade publication called “Convenience Store News” and the art director told me she wanted a scene with an old gas pump. I researched gas pumps and found a picture of the one above and then built it in 3D. I thought a lamp by a roadside would provide the elements and mood my art director wanted. Then I added some dirt to illustrate the passage of time and some grass growing by the side of the pump to make the scene look more realistic. The cover illustration did not have the  house or the oil drum and signs. Those came later.

What prompted the house was a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where there was an exhibit of photographs by Walker Evans. He had taken a picture of an old store in the South and he also had pictures of road signs, like one from Route 66.  When I was 18 I  hitchhiked 5000 miles around the United States and had fond memories of Route 66.

After the magazine cover was published, I modified the  image for my portfolio. I added the house, signs, oil drum and tire to give the scene an abandoned look I had seen so often on the road.

J.S.Bach

Despite making images like the one above, I had it in my head that my days of making illustrations were over and I needed to focus on something else. The question was what?

My money situation was not great.  I almost never went to a movie or a restaurant and I avoided my friends because seeing them invariably meant spending.

If I had to withdraw, I decided I would do what I always wanted to do, so I started memorizing the lute music of J. S. Bach on guitar. It is some of the most beautiful music on the planet and, while hard to play, it is also a joy to play.

I had studied classical guitar for five years, but had sold my classical guitar and not played any of that music for a long time. Now, I picked up a copy of Bach’s Lute Works and took out the only guitar I had which had strings light enough to pluck with my right hand. It was my solid body electric Fender Stratocaster, with light gauge metal rock & roll strings. I sat on my bed with my back against the wall and measure by measure began memorizing  pieces I had listened to so often. The only problem was that the metal strings were chewing up my right hand fingers and finger nails.  I wouldn’t be able to sustain this, so I began looking for a new classical guitar. I knew I couldn’t buy one, but I looked anyway. It was soon apparent that I had no idea of what to look for, because it had been so long since I played a nylon string  guitar.

“I Just Sold Ten of Your Prints”

That’s what an art consultant I knew called to tell me.  I suddenly realized I might now have enough money to get an instrument I could play. A guitarist I knew put me in touch with John Lehmann-Haupt, a great classical guitar player, and with his help I found a very nice instrument.

Now I could really start to memorize. My cat, Pookie Bear, always a big music supporter, was usually right next to me. I began with Bach’s 4th Lute Suite, well aware that if I were taking lessons a teacher would never let me begin with the Lute Suites. They reqired too many technical skills.  I didn’t care. I just wanted to immerse myself in Bach. The pieces I composed after my mother died had forced me to improve my technique, consequently I was better equipped to take on this project. If I had started earlier my hands wouldn’t have been ready.

Other Motives

There was another reason I wanted to learn Bach. I wanted to give myself new musical ideas. I felt that if the muse ever returned and I were to compose music in the future, having Bach’s music in my head I would be a great resource to draw on. That said, playing Bach is its own reward.

17. Healing Art

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Games From The Garage: Croquet

Some time on my hands

My studio closed some months after 9/11 and what I couldn’t sell or wanted to keep was put in storage. The studio in which I could produce high quality images was no longer a part of my present or something I could build on for the future. It became something I would look back on and tell stories about going forward.

I felt a need for the kind of solace art often provides and decided to create a new image.

I thought about the croquet set I had as a boy. It was kept in our garage. In fact, all the magical things of my youth seemed to live in our garage. We never had a car, so the garage was used for storage.

“Where’s the this or where’s the that,” I would say. And the answer my mother or father usually gave was, “It’s probably in the garage.”

My croquet set was one of the things I saved from the garage after we sold the house. I kept it in the storage loft of my photography studio and now it was in my apartment sitting on the desk next to the computer. I always wanted to photograph it, but never got around to making that happen. I had learned how to use my 3D tools, though, and as I looked at the box and its contents I decided to create a 3D version of the the photograph I always envisioned. I would build my  croquet set and put it on a sweep of black plexiglass in a virtual environment.

I was inspired. I took calipers and measured all the parts. The sizes were written down and then I laid out everything the way I wanted it to look in the final scene. It was a rough layout. The final one was in my head. This would require total immersion, much like a deep sea dive when you leave your boat and dry land behind.

There must have been mice in the garage, because something had nibbled away at the box. Parts of it were also warped because the air had been damp. With temperature fluctuations as the seasons changed, the dovetails of the box corners were out of alignment too. There was dirt on everything and the croquet gates had developed a patina. Those elements gave the game pieces character.

I began building my models using Form Z software. The shapes were pretty basic: a box, spheres, the gates and mallets. Not so tough. The challenge was to make everything look real and believable.  In 3D everything is perfect. So it was up to me to offset the dovetails. It was up to me to add the wood grain and look of dirt over the “paint” of the balls, mallets and box. I loved the process. It was the closest I had been to my croquet set in many years.

I then brought all the modeled objects into my Electric Image software, because I knew the scene would render most beautifully in that program. One of the big challenges was to create the look of a plexiglass surface for the pieces to sit on. The plexiglass had to have just the right amount of reflection to appear realistic.

It worked. The final image came out just the way I wanted it to and there was great satisfaction in being able to honor this old friend with a portrait, if you will, which captured its essence. I felt unburdened too, because I had wanted to do this project for a long time and I finally got it done. I think it is one of my more successful 3D illustrations.

16. 9/11 and Change

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                                            September 2001

The Setting

In the years prior to  2001 my studio took up the whole side of a floor –  the side that had the only access to a fire escape. One day my landlord was pressured to create public access to the fire escape, so he had to cut my space in half. One side would remain my studio shooting area and the other had my office and darkroom. As I became more involved with 3D illustration I rented out my shooting area and then eventually gave it up, because I stopped using it. I kept the darkroom/office side. My darkroom tenants covered the rent for the darkroom/office area and their presence also provided me with some company.

In 2001 I was doing freelance Photoshop and 3D work. The 3D was usually done for POP, or Point of Purchase, companies where I would build 3D models and sets to show what a newly designed POP unit would look like before it went into production.

9/11

On the morning of September  11, 2001 I was on a bus to such a freelance job in New Jersey. I had worked at the company for several days and when the bus dropped me off all the employeees were out on the front lawn. When I asked what was going on, they pointed to the smoke coming from the World Trade Center off in the distance. The office was in chaos. People didn’t know whether to work, watch the TV news in the manager’s office or leave.  There was no way for me to get back to Manhattan that night so several of us stayed in a hotel room one of the company’s Boston salesmen already had reserved. Joe Soucy and I still speak every year on 9/11.

After 9/11 all my magazine clients retrenched. They brought their artwork needs in house and so, effectively, business stopped for me. My darkroom tenants did something similar. They seemed to vanish overnight. Looking for advice, I called my accountant and asked him what he thought I should do. His answer was: “Close the studio”.

So that is what I did. I sold everything I could – all the darkroom equipment I studiously  bought over many years. I had stored family things in my studio loft and all of it had to come home. I had had my studio for 19 years and now that phase was over. I had no idea what would be next.

Like so many other people, I was in shock. I sat home with boxes everywhere, all taken back from the studio. I sold darkroom enlarger lenses, my motorized Besseler and many other things as best I could.

Then I took my first full time job in 19 years building POP, or Point of Purchase, models in 3D and after six months the company had problems so they let me go. I wasn’t used to having  a full time job, much less loosing one so soon.

15. 2001

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                           Absolute Hangover

Absolut

There was a period when Absolut had a wonderful ad campaign. Every month or two they produced a new ad that was cleverly done. They were shot by good photographers, but I was never one of them! Nevertheless, the ads kept coming. After a while I got tired of seeing them, because they all looked so similar. I decided to create a visual commentary on the ads; a variation on the theme so to speak.

I took a photograph of one of their bottles and “lifted” the label to make an image map, which I put on a 3D rendition of the bottle I had built. Then I created a scene around it. I imported the cat from Poser software and dented the carefully modeled garbage cans using yet another software program. And so it went. I added details wherever I could.

A Brooklyn Museum Invitation

Then one day I got a call from either a staff person or from curator Marilyn Kushner herself inviting me to have a print in an upcoming show the Brooklyn Museum was having. Barbara Millstein must have told Ms. Kushner about my monthly emails. The show was called “Digital: Printmaking Now” and the opening was to be in August of 2001. If it happened today I would submit one of my other images, but at the time they didn’t exist.  “Absolute Hangover” was one I thought would be cool.

Print Drama

I knew someone at Epson and asked him if the company would be willing to make a print for the show and he said yes. My 3D scene took a couple of days to render at the file size that would be needed to make a print. I then sent the final image file to Epson and they shipped my print directly to the museum. I thought I was done. Then a woman from The Brooklyn Museum called.

“Mr. Neumann we’re having a problem with your print. The ink is turning to powder and falling off the paper.” Imagine how you would feel. I felt worse.

Marilyn Kushner, the curator, called to say the deadline was fast approaching and they needed my print as soon as possible. She had worked with Nash Editions, in California, and suggested I call Mac Holbert to order a print from them. Mac was familiar with the Epson problem and so we used a rag paper, which he shipped directly to me.

A Transformation Begins

When the print arrived I opened the package and marveled at the beauty of the matte 100% rag paper print. It felt like a new dimension. After so many years of making black and white prints on “gelatin silver” paper in my darkroom, I now encountered a look I liked much better. It had nothing to do with a darkroom, however. I was looking at a Giclee, or ink jet, print and the texture of the paper, along with the matte surface was gorgeous. I had a sense that I was finished with darkroom printing. That change came sooner than I expected.

“Digital: Printmaking Now” opened in August of 2001, with almost no reviews. I guess reviewers were on vacation, and yet the show was terrific. My father should only have known that his son had work in an exhibit with Albrecht Dürer and other wonderful artists.

The Lone Artist

I took a subway from Manhattan to The Brooklyn Museum for the opening. The event began with all the artists in a room with patrons, museum members and, as I remember it, lots of kids who asked me to sign their show catalogs. Then I went to look at the exhibit and find my print. I had invited friends and my cadre of 3D buddies. I found them and expected to leave with them to celebrate. Instead, there was some confusion and my friends left without me. I had to take the subway home by myself, which was an anticlimactic conclusion to a special evening.

It was August of 2001. 9/11 was soon to follow.

 

 

 

 

 

14. Image Ideas

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                                 Federal Reserve 

A Challenging Project

It was one thing to make a scene for myself and another to be given an assignment by an art director. One day I got a call from The Federal Reserve Bank of New York. I don’t know how they found me, or if I found them, but they asked me to do their annual report cover and gave me a theme. It was something like “the past emerging into the present”, or “the present emerging into the future” – and I thought I had a decent idea. I envisioned a wire frame train going though an arch and coming out looking like a real train. The more I worked on the rough however, the more I realized how hard it would be to create a final. In fact, I soon felt it would be impossible. Thankfully it was rejected. I was relieved, but I drew a blank on what else to try. Minor panic set in. I tried everything. I scrambled. You might say I went a little nuts. I figured I was going to loose the assignment and the only recourse was to go into what I sometimes call: “Jerk Mode”.

Let me explain. I’ve done this with music where in the middle of trying to flesh out a melody I allow myself to get really, really silly. Its a safe place, in that anyone within earshot knows to run the other way. Being a jerk gives you some freedom and it can take you to new territory.  Its the realm in which some of the best ideas happily run free. You just have to catch one by the tail, by its furry foot or any way you can.

That’s what I wound up doing. I threw my figurative paint against a wall and came up with the image above. Zeros and ones represent the language of computers going off toward the horizon. The half Earth/half wire frame brought back my original idea of the train in a much simpler way. The Federal Reserve people loved it and it became their annual report cover. It was rendered in Bryce, the landscape program I mentioned in my last entry.

Curios From the Closet: Science

When I was a kid there were two closets in my bedroom: one for family clothes and a smaller one with my stuff: my clothes, model airplanes and a small battery driven wooden motor boat I loved. The closet had my microscope, telescope, rock collection and chemistry set too. Given that every month I had to come up with an new image to email my clients, I decided to reminisce a bit and revisit the companions of my youth that lived in the closet.

I still had my microscope, so I took it out, measured it and left it next to my computer. It was like a model posing for a painting class. It took me two weeks to build the microscope in 3D. I also had the small rock collection my father brought home from one of his business trip out west. That was on my desk too.  I loved my telescope so much, I probably could have built it in my sleep, but I kept it out as a reference anyway. The rest, save for the arrow heads on cards, I made up. The birds were scanned pictures from Brehm’s Tierleben (Animal Life), a German science book my father had. It was first published in the 1860’s.

“Curios From The Closet: Science” was one of my most complex 3D sets. Apart from all the models and “texture maps” used in it, the lighting was critical. I wanted to give the scene a dated sort of feel, like the science room in my elementary school which was, as I remember it, musty and cluttered. The room was jammed with all sorts of science related things: a stuffed seagull (among other taxidermied creatures), and book shelves filled with shells, rocks and various botanical specimens.  It was like as a wonderful old museum. That was the atmosphere which inspired: Curios From the Closet: Science.

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                Curios From The Closet: Science