Tag Archives: Graphic Design

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

Graphic Design, Web Design and Writing: How I Got Started

I’ve always been a creative person. I was always one of those kids who was excited about art class, always drawing, seeing my artwork on the fridge (thanks, mom). This turned into a love of music as I got older.

I decided that being a rock star was what I wanted to do. In fact, to this day, I consider myself not necessarily working a day job, but instead fleshing out an elaborate backup plan just in case the rock star thing doesn’t happen. Still dreaming.

 

Carvin Ultra V 24-fret Neck-through with Kahler tremolo

High school me, rocking the flying V. I designed the logo on the bass drum and the backdrop behind the band. This guitar makes the sounds in the clip above.

So I played guitar in bands, graduating later to bass, and I was always the one creating the flyers, coming up with the T-shirt and logo designs, and the banners behind the stage. The visual element to music and promotion was something that always fascinated me, and it was something that I just always enjoyed doing. I would cut words out from newspaper headlines, or pictures from magazines, then arrange them into the name of the band and the name of the venue. Little did I know I was teaching myself layout and typography. I was just having fun with it.

I’d kept on making flyers for my bands’ gigs and other bands’ shows, then I get into college. And that’s when I discovered I had a knack for writing. Turns out you have to write a lot of papers in college. In fact, I went to college to major in art, but the program, while good, had a way of breaking you down then building you back up their way, and I just wasn’t having any of that. It took the fun out of creating. But I didn’t know enough about writing to be put off, so I majored instead in English, and along those lines, I was hired by the university newspaper in the features department, reporting and writing a couple of stories each week.

I also minored in communications, which meant more writing. This was while also taking classes like creative writing and expository writing, while at the same time having a story or two due for the paper every week. I found it to be like working out – the writing mindset is a muscle to be developed.

Graphic Design Examples

Some examples of my early print graphic design work.

But amid all this writing, at the newspaper I saw how it was laid out: electronically. You mean you can just scan in a photo, scoot it around with a mouse, then arrange the text in just the right size all right there on the screen? Genius. This was the mid-‘90s, and this turned me on to the world of modern graphic design, using a Mac running Aldus PageMaker (ancestor of Adobe InDesign). And this opened up a whole new world for me, rekindling my love of layout, typography, and all the things I had been doing for years by hand with my gig flyers. Hello, career.

Behance.net Portfolio

My Web Design Portfolio at Behance.net

From there, I just taught myself. I had a passion for this. I would dive into software, using tutorials — that’s how I learned Adobe Illustrator, by going through the exercises on the application CDs. Also, I began recreating graphics and advertisements on my own just to understand their principles and build my portfolio. Gradually I built enough experience and projects to turn my passion into a professional career, including learning html and CSS for web design. And to this day I’ve had a great run as a graphic artist, web designer, and writer.

Just in case I don’t become a rock star.

What do you think? Has your passion led to a career, or the other way around? Let us hear from you in the comments.

Blog Post Artwork

This post is kind of about art, kind of about technology, and hey, there’s even a link referenced about music. But mainly… it’s about writing. That’s the great thing about having your own blog: you make the rules.

Beats Antique A Rosy Photo Edit Tutorial Contrasts Make Connectionss
Digital Ancestry - KITT Wallpaper Moth Drama Cheap Trick In Color 1998
Blogging About Blogging Photography, Technology, and Connections in the Name of Art Insect Photography Tips

Though I’m going to go on about these images, I consider this post to be about writing since all the above visuals were created specifically to promote blog posts (linked in the above images). One thing I enjoy doing to promote my posts, even though results are limited – but fun when they happen (see comments here) is to create images with text and visuals on my phone hyping the posts via Instagram.

iPhone Text Apps

I use the apps Phonto and Labelbox to overlay text onto images created using something from the posts. Having been a graphic designer for years, producing advertisements, brochures, order forms, whatever… it’s amazing to me to have not only such image editing capability at my thumbs via my iPhone, but now to be able to put together decent layouts with text as well.

It’s Like Flyers for Your Blog

I got my start in graphic design by creating flyers for my various bands’ gigs (more on that here), so whipping up these mini-promos comes naturally. I also like the limitations of the square format, the imprecise-yet-as-precise-as-allowable ethos of dragging text around with your fingertips, the instant gratification of working in such small file sizes, and the direct connection to principles of graphic design.

Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept…

I challenge anyone reading this who hasn’t done so to create a layout using these tools and not encounter considerations of space, hierarchy of information and typesetting (and maybe, just maybe, have fun in the process). If you do this for the first time, definitely come back here and comment with a link to your artwork and details on how you did it.

It’s part of my designer thinking to consider typography, negative space, flow and whatnot, so doing this as a complement to blog posts is a rewarding outlet. I’ve noticed a few others on Instagram doing similar stuff, and I nearly always check out the posts if the visuals are cool enough. Below are some more examples by Maddy McCoy, aka The_Real_McCoy of the MadAboutPixls blog. Great stuff there about mobile art; check ‘em out.

What do you think? Would seeing visuals like this leave you inclined to click through to a blog post? Have you ever created layouts with text and images on your phone? If so, what apps do you use and what has your experience been like? Let us hear from you in the comments!

Podcast Time! Make Your Own Website, Mobile Photos & More: The Less Desirables

Behind the Mic with The Less Desirables

Behind the Mic with The Less Desirables in Studio 2A

Busy days at rsmithing.com! I’m a featured “guru” of graphic and web design on this week’s podcast of Winston-Salem, NC-based The Less Desirables.

Click to Download & Listen (.mp3)

TheLessDesirables.com

The Less Desirables Site

I’ve had the great pleasure of working with these fellas to design their logo and website (among other projects), and they invited me over to Studio 2A for a chat about graphic design, websites, social media, and what goes into developing all of this (and more) for a business, for a blog, or just for personal enjoyment.

I manage to ramble on about WordPress, apps, Instagram, photography, blogging, and how to use PowerPoint with MS Paint to give your website a professional look (seriously, not kidding). We also review some coffee, Paraguayan heavy metal …and even beer. What’s not to like? This show has everything!

The Less Desirables, In Their Own Words:

The Less Desirables is a weekly podcast by Tim Beeman and Brian Attridge recorded every Wednesday. We cover an expansive array of topics, ranging from current and non-current movies to new music to the latest sports news to doses of pop culture, complete with a “Beer of the Week.” The idea is to give our audience a recap of the previous week’s news, while simultaneously previewing the upcoming week. We have a local, North Carolina flavor geared towards a national audience, but we never lose sight of our community.

You can download the podcast directly from the TLD site, from iTunes, and from a few other places, too. My sincere thanks to Brian and Tim, and to Mr. Eugene Sims, for having me over. It was a great discussion and I recommend the show to anyone seeking a dose of pop-culture, sports, tech, movies, music and a plethora of other fine distractions.

What do you think? Do you listen to any podcasts regularly? Have you ever been on a podcast, and what was that like? If not, what topics would you consider if you were to be invited? What’s your take on the topics covered in this broadcast? Let us hear from you in the comments!

PhotoForge2: My First App Review

I’ve used plenty of iPhone apps, reviewing none. PhotoForge2 changes this. For anyone familiar with Photoshop, here’s your app. It’s as good as Photoshop for photo manipulation, and as a graphic designer of 15 years, I would know. It’s nearly all here: layers, masks, blending modes, undo, curves, HSL, freaking Unsharp Mask!?!? Yep, that, too.

Photoforge2 Screen Shot

Screen capture of PhotoForge 2 (credit: GhostBird): Layers, and masks, and tools... oh my!

If you’re a Photoshop user, you already know how to use PhotoForge2. It accomplishes in minutes with your thumb and iDevice what would otherwise require $1000+ in computer & software investment, certainly well enough for things like Instagram, and possibly even commercial work. It’s fast, stable, intuitive, and a steal at anything less than a full-on editing setup. As of this writing it’s on sale for 60% off and will set you back a whopping $1.99. That’s less than a beer.

Do note that PhotoForge2 is more for adjustments rather than painting or illustrating, (emphasis is on filters vs.  pen or brush drawing, for example), but so many of the built-in goods like vignette and frame effects should more than satisfy for basic edits, and set you up nicely for some pro-level results, even from a point-and-shoot camera.

You should also be aware that PhotoForge2 does not offer tools like clone or magic wand (hint-hint… next version maybe?), but you will still be able to execute your vision with what’s available fairly easily. I’ll often do workarounds that get me by, or use it in combination with other apps. The omission of some things like a free rotate or straightening seem glaringly odd, but these are very minor quibbles with an app of this one’s obvious prowess. (UPDATE, MARCH 2012: And, now it has this tool. Proof that Ghostbird Software is awesome)

I gave it 5 stars, but edited some out!

My PhotoForge work on app review. Click for full size.

Other apps specialize in color isolation and light effects, which is fine if that’s all you’ll ever want, but PhotoForge2 is The Mother Lode. Wired magazine says you’ll get $2 worth of entertainment out of it in the first ten minutes. I say two minutes. And they aren’t paying me to say that.

Funny, I remember with the iPad’s debut, all the sudden talk of tablets taking over for PCs. I thought, sure, but not for serious things like image editing. Um… yeah.

If you find this useful, share it on Twitter — thanks!

What’s your favorite photo editing app and why? Do you already use PhotoForge2? What’s your experience been, and what features would you like to see in the next version? Let us hear from you in the comments!

Getting Social, and a Bit About Instagram

So I’ve been making the effort lately to get more active in the social media space (hence this blog) for my own education and entertainment. Way back when (you know, like 2003), I was one of the first to rock a MySpace account with customized HTML. Remember having to plop some code in your “About me” field? Ha, you hacker.

The most-tapped area of my phone here, lately.

Anyway, most of my social activity lately has been via the amazing Instagram photo-sharing app for the iPhone (and maybe one day other platforms). Plenty has already been written about this, so I won’t go into detail for now, but just let me say that it takes smart phones to an entirely new level and is one of the most fun things to do with a phone camera. Having had a career as a graphic artist, and having always been driven to be creative — and now with the bit of social media Instagram integrates, I am continually satisfied and excited about this app. It’s like Twitter for visual thinkers, and social media for visual-creative types.

Back in the day I tried the still-excellent DeviantArt (DA) briefly, but after early photo manipulation experiments, lost interest. Instagram takes care of that almost completely with its built-in filters — and now apps like Photoforge2, Juxtaposer, and especially Noir (think dodge/burn/B&W made super-easy) let me do with my thumb in five minutes what would have otherwise taken hours in PhotoShop — and to the same net effect. This part is key. The most fun element of DA for me was the community interaction/comments, and it’s still there in Instagram, super-fast, and in the same spirit… while my creation tools are always in my pocket, ready wherever I’m at. There are a couple of DA browsing apps I might explore for inspiration, and I still recommend the site for all the same reasons (they have a solid mobile version), but I’m not going to be losing interest in Instagram anytime soon. Come say hi sometime; I’ll be over there as rsmithing.

Cats, flowers, architecture all figure prominently in my Instagram feed. Viewable here at Statigram.

What do you think is the most interesting aspect of Instagram? Where do you think it will be a year from now? Have you found yourself recently inspired or newly fascinated by/addicted to mobile photography? Tell us your experiences in the comments!