Tweet Composition 101

Browsing some of my favorite tweets recently, I came across this and thought it too funny not to share:

I sometimes mark tweets as favorites as a reminder to myself to check something out at another time, to note something that might be a good retweet later on, or as in this case, just something funny for sharing somewhere.

What do you think? Are you active on Twitter? What is your favorite social media network (besides blogs, obviously)? Let us hear from you in the comments.

Surreal Photomontage Creations from The Everyday

In Spatium (Appear In The Distance)

Check out the latest additions to the RSMITHINGS.com portfolio of surreal photomontage creations. Three new works have just been added: “In Spatium” (pictured here), “Divination,” and “Only So Much To Learn.” Each uses elements from my recent travels, neighborhood snapshots, and otherwise ordinary objects or scenes. My site also features the source images that comprise the final creations.

What do you think? Do you create visual art on a regular basis? Are you a fan of surrealism? Who are your favorite visual artists? Let us hear from you in the comments.

Rob Zombie – The National – Richmond, VA

I recently had the pleasure of enjoying a performance by Mr. Rob Zombie and band at The National in Richmond, Virginia. I would describe it as a solid metal show: much headbanging, heavy grooves and loudness. Here are some photos and a crude video I shot about three rows back from the stage.

Online Video and Image Editing Tools In Action

I compiled the video from separate clips using the YouTube Video Editor, and found it a very handy, intuitive tool. In the case of the photos, the top and bottom pics have been cropped, bordered and given effects with Flickr’s photo editor (powered by Aviary). I found it a handy way to add some fun dimension to my shots.

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Couldn’t resist a quick selfie with the crowd. These goofballs behind me got in on the fun and we had a good laugh. I did the same thing moments earlier when the fellow in front of me snapped his own shot.

What do you think? Have you attended any good concerts lately? Are there any music acts you’ve been into for years but only seen recently? Let us hear from you in the comments.

The Dark Horse Project: Music Lives On

Here’s a band/artist I came to know by seeing them perform at The Garage in Winston-Salem, North Carolina a few years ago:

TheDarkHorseProjectThe Dark Horse Project

The gig was part of a record label showcase, and the band gave an very solid performance. The show was so good, I picked up the group’s debut CD, and I listen to it to this day, especially here lately. 

The music is perfectly balanced with the vocals, and the production is top-notch. Songs are emotional, yet understated. The lyrics hint at longing and romance, and have a expensive, atmospheric feeling while still being straight ahead rock. The band released a second album after touring in support of the first, featuring the following track:

Although the band was busy for a couple of years, they eventually parted ways. Singer and creative force Liv Mueller is still active and has since released a solo record. Here’s a video from a recent performance by Mueller, and I think you’ll agree it is excellent:

What do you think? Do you still listen to music that you were interested in 8 to 10 years ago? Are there any underground or independent acts that have made a lasting impression on you? Let us hear from you in the comments.

Fluster Magazine Features My Artwork!

Fluster

Fluster Magazine is an Italian-based publication covering art and artists worldwide. In this showcase with a very in-depth interview, they ask many insightful questions about creativity and my process. Fluster is a cultural creative project about personal expression, culture, reportage and recreation from the readers’ different perspectives through dedicated galleries and headings produced by the editors. The magazine is published both in English and Italian. I would consider this the definitive interview to date about my technique and thoughts on the surrealist photomontage medium. Interviewer Marinos Tsagkarakis asked some insightful questions, and I’m hugely grateful to have been featured. Here’s the article, with a few links interspersed to related rsmithing.com content:

Richard Smith explores unexpected interrelationships between everyday images through surrealist photomontage. Working with elements from nature, pedestrian objects, specially-commissioned photos, and scenes from his travels and neighborhood, he fuses these components into ethereal yet cohesive views that transcend their origins. A self-taught graphic artist with 20+ years of professional experience, Smith incorporates assimilated photographic techniques and modern photomanipulation approaches into his hand-crafted compositions at rsmithings.com.

Interviewed by Marinos Tsagkarakis
Up With The Sun - rsmithing

Hi Richard or do you prefer “rsmithing”? Really, what are the roots of nickname “rsmithing” that you chose to use as an artist?

Hello, and thanks for asking — just call me Richard. The “rsmithing” term is my quick online handle, giving some more personalization to my otherwise very standard name. It originated way back when Google rolled out Gmail. By the time I got on board, “rsmith” was already taken, so I added “-ing” as a concise means of personalization. In a metaphorical sense, I like to think of it as the verb form of my name, representing action. It also works for “Richard + Smith + Blogging = rsmithing,” which is my blog (rsmithing.com) and “Richard + Smith + Things = rsmithings” which is where I showcase my art (rsmithings.com). This is the most I’ve ever revealed in one place about the rsmithing handle!

Tree In A Moth - rsmithing

Richard, how did you come to photography and graphic art?

I’ve always loved art, and I remember getting a thrill from when my mom would post my drawings on the refrigerator. Come puberty, I discover rock ‘n’ roll and take up music, and I also get into producing flyers. Little did I know I was teaching myself graphic design. Finally in college, it all comes together at the university newspaper when I discovered Aldus Pagemaker — the digital way of doing what I’d been creating by hand with photocopiers and cutouts from newspapers. From there, I decided on a career in graphic design, and it’s been great. Along the way I continued making music and writing, but graphic art — and more so these days, photography, is the passion that sets me on fire.

The Aha Moment - rsmithing

Please, tell us more about the special technique you have developed for the composition of your images.

My technique is this: I constantly snap photos of whatever’s around that I find interesting. Once the urge to create strikes, I then start a synthesizing journey. Sometimes I know exactly where I’m headed; other times I’m just along for the ride, letting magic from the universe do the driving. 

My process is like carving a sculpture, with the edges of my fingers forming lines to define shapes and reveal serendipitous relationships — not unlike physically placing individual elements as in a paper collage — except I do this through masking, blending and mimicking established photographic techniques like solarization or vignetting. Each piece is meticulously crafted with these and other ingredients, using direct touch to form a hierarchy of narrative. A final composition is the culmination of fusing disparate elements into a kind of empyreal abstract union.

From a technical point of view, I mainly use a now-extinct app called PhotoForge2 on my iPhone, which functions much like Photoshop with layers and masking, only in what I see as a more personal manner. With a smartphone app, your fingers become the brushes; your movements become the brush strokes, and you literally cradle a creation as it comes into existence. Far from being impersonal through a degree of technology, I believe art created this way is extremely intimate. The end result taken in by viewers is something the artist has stared at, in hand, literally touching over and over as the elements come into place.

Star Power - rsmithing

Your images are constructed in many different levels, composed from multiple images. What is the visual message that you want to pass to the people who see your work?

I want people who see my work to understand that beauty is everywhere and that we should take time to notice it. Art surrounds us, whether in architecture, words, music, or just in nature. And having an appreciation for that can make life more meaningful. Through surrealist juxtaposition and taking artistic license with the limits of visual reality, I aim to slow down viewers’ processes of perception enough so that a “wow” moment can happen. Maybe I do that at first with something that’s just visually striking on an initial level, but then layers of meaning can emerge and previously unexplored connections can form. That’s really the most exciting thing for me about any art — experiencing meaning through new connections.

Reverse Ghosts Afloat - rsmithing

Do you prefer to create color or B&W images and why so?

I prefer creating and viewing black and white images. While there’s nothing wrong with color and I greatly respect many artists who use a full range of hues, for me working strictly in black and white is part of distilling intent and message down to the essence. Also, blending stuff happens faster when there are just two colors. =)

Reflection Two States - rsmithing

Richard, how long have you been practiced on this special technique?

I’ve incorporated collage and photomontage in my professional (non-artist-day-job) work for at least a decade now. Much as I do these days for personal expression, I would work montages into advertising materials wherever the fit was right for the client and project. But I’ve been in love with surrealism and, specifically, the photomontage format ever since I was a teenager.

Oneness - rsmithing

Are there any other special process/composition techniques that you have practiced, too?

Sometimes I experiment with rules. Working within a set of restrictions can be oddly liberating and extremely satisfying. What can you do in only one hour? What can you do only with photographs from this weekend? What can be done with photos only from one certain location? I’ve often thought, “why do anything if you can do everything?” So the idea of working within limitations and then pushing myself to do all I can in those paramaters is a process I enjoy and recommend.

On The Verge Of Something Of Course - rsmithing

Are there any specific photographers or artists who have inspired your work?

I owe everything to Jerry Uelsmann. He is the undisputed master of photomontage and my ultimate inspiration. I’ve even done some recreations of his work in my format just to grow my understanding of his vision. I always want to acknowledge Uelsmann wherever possible since his work has been such an inspiration. If anyone reading this likes my work, I recommend immediately seeking out Jerry Uelsmann. It was a mind-blowing experience when I first saw his creations, and hopefully others will have that experience as well.
My direct visual inspirations also include fine artists such as Dalí and Escher; photographers Man Ray, Francesca Woodman, and Minor White; along with contemporary creators like Sion Fullana and Tommy Ingberg.

Momentary II - rsmithing

As I know, you are a musician, too. You play guitar and sang. Do you think that your relationship with music has influenced your work on photography and how is that?

Most definitely, music influences my art. It’s as obvious as the occasional song title or lyric being adapted as a title of one of my visual compositions. Personally, I feel creativity comes from one area in the soul, and it manifests itself in different ways — be that visual art, writing, music, dance… or whatever captures your passion. I loved art before music as a child; I loved music before writing as an adolescent; I loved writing along with art and music as a young adult; and I’ve managed to make a living as a creative person as an artist and writer who also plays music for fun. Inspiration and expression can come from anywhere — you just have to be open to the experience and do what you can to get it out there.

Let Love In - rsmithing

A common characteristic of your images is accuracy and symmetry. We could say that this is mainly a special characteristic of European photographers and artists and that American schools of art are more liberal. As a man who has grown in an American thinking environment, how do you explain that?

Having a formal understanding of graphic design is now in my DNA, so I naturally consider grids, the rule of thirds, white space, contrast, and other traditional elements in my compositions. I employ elements of symmetry and accuracy in my own art as one more way of drawing a viewer in. The human eye generally seeks to understand and organize information, so things like balance and detail help make this happen — part of what I do is to establish this foundation, then take the mind’s eye even deeper through subtle deviation. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time in Rome, Florence and Paris, and have a deep reverence for the masters, so maybe that figures in my art at a subconscious level. I would sure like to think so.

Find What You Love - rsmithing

Do you thing that your images as a work of art, are closer to photography, painting, graphic design or something else?

It all starts with photography, but I certainly don’t consider or bill myself a photographer at all. I have a sense of what makes a good photo or interesting subject, but I’m always thinking in terms of ingredients for photomontages. It’s certainly not graphic design, since that implies a more formal structure than what my pieces have, and also implies missing elements like typography, lines, or mainstream commercial appeal.

My images are closer to painting or even sculpture, since forming the compositions is such a physical act of moving things into place, bending reality into new shapes.

Dream Catcher - rsmithing

If you had the possibility -only for one day- to photograph one famous person, one object and one place in order to compose an image, what would you choose?

My famous person choice would be Dalí just so we could hang out. Or maybe Jimi Hendrix for the same reason, and to see him play with my own eyes in the same room. An ultimate object photograph for me would be Stonehenge, right up close, really taking in the textures and incredible angles from inside and around the rocks. If I could compose an image in one place, anywhere? That’s easy: Hawaii. It’s paradise.

(Images © Richard Smith)

More about Richard Smith’s work here

Twitter PR Win For Sainsbury’s

This is a particularly good Twitter PR moment from a while back for UK grocer Sainsbury’s I happened upon lately. It works because of the follow-up, and also for the brief interjection of personality and humor:

And then…

But what really counts is that Sainsbury’s followed up the comedy moment with direction for the customer to call them directly.

SainsburysThis has all the makings of Twitter being done right for customer service and PR:

  1. The brand shared an actual human-like response
  2. It was funny
  3. But they take it seriously; hence the phone redirect
  4. We’re talking about it

I noticed this via a LinkedIn discussion from Twitter for PR Communicators about PR Daily, who noticed it through AdWeek.

Also, rest in peace, Ultimate Warrior.

What do you think? Is this use of humor appropriate? Have you ever experienced a humorous interaction from a brand via Twitter or some other channel? Let us hear from you in the comments.

How to Automate Tweets

For the past several weeks I’ve been experimenting with auto-populating my Twitter stream through RSS feeds and automatically tweeting updates. RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication.”

Automated TweetsYes, I know social media is about interaction and connections, but here’s why I’m OK, philosophically, with this approach: I normally share news items I find interesting all the time. I’ve just set up a way for that a happen automatically, and with more frequency than would be happening if I were doing so manually, and I love it.

I still manually tweet, retweet and reply to tweets, of course, but now I’ve also set up a way for other things to come in that I wouldn’t ordinarily have the time to share.

In fact, I’ve noticed that engagement is on the rise for me using this approach. I’m getting more favorites and retweets, as well as comments and conversations. I feel this is just as good, if not better than if I were scouring my sources for this content by hand.

Automate your Twitter content

This is possible through the magic of IFTTT.com — which stands for “If This Then That.” Here’s how to make it happen:

  1. Sign up with IFTTT.com
  2. Find some RSS feeds of sites with content you would like to share. For example, here are some I use from The New York Times, The Atlantic and CNN Tech.
  3. Set up an IFTTT recipe that posts a tweet each time there’s a new item in the feed. It should look like so:
  4. iftttRepeat this for as few or as many RSS feeds you like. In my case, many of the blogs I follow automatically provide links to their feeds, which are generally in the format of http://nameofblog/feed.

That’s it! Your Twitter stream is about to be hopping, with all the news you see to include from the sources you select. Just don’t let it replace your actual interaction on the site.

Curated Content? Curated Sources.

The stories I share are of interest to me, covering such topics as art, photography, technology, and humor – all things that I would be sharing anyway. So it’s still curated content, since I’m in effect curating the sources.

And I’m on Twitter as much as I was before experimenting with automation. I still respond to mentions, and converse with other Twitter users just as I always have. The only difference now is that instead of five tweets a day, my stream has about 50, many of which I never would have discovered Just in my own web browsing, so it’s also a reading list generation for myself.

This is not to say this approach will work for everyone. Or that flooding your Twitter stream with the same exact headlines as BuzzFeed will make you a Twitter superstar. I’ve just found something that meets my goals of expanding what I would already be doing, which includes more interaction — and isn’t that the point, after all?

What do you think? Have you experimented with automating content before? Have you followed the above steps, and if so, what have your results been? Let us hear from you in the comments.
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