Low-tech, high-tech art

A magnolia leaf, some seed pods from a money plant. One is large and leathery, the other translucent white and delicate. “They’d look nice together,” I thought, and pushed them around on a piece of canvas. The did look nice side by side. I chose a piece of handmade paper and slid them on it. I’d made the paper out of onion skins and abaca (a tough aloe-like fiber that produces a nice, rattley sheet). When I make paper, I don’t use elecrtricity. I beat the fiber with sticks, and use handmade moulds and deckles. Next, one of the nearly-indestructable pear tree leaves with its serrated edge seemed to ask for a smooth, creamy sheet under it.

leaf card 1When the leaf-seedpod composition looked right, I tacked it into place with an archival glue. After it was dry, I placed it on the scanner and scanned it to the Mac. From there I flopped the image, and discovered it looked better than the original. Then I added type over the leaf in one color, over the background in another color. I did it in PhotoShop. The irony of what I was doing was not lost on me. I’d made the paper without electricity, but found just as much pleasure in using a software program to apply the type.

The day wasn’t over. In the middle of this philosophical tug of war, my all-black cat joined me and blocked the light. “You are darkening my art,” I mumbled, then wondered what it would look like if the art really were darkened. You can do that in PhotoShop, so I began to color areas of the leaf and seed pods. It takes a steady hand–you actually paint with a brush tool–and some patience. I am new to PhotoShop, so this part took a long time. I made many mistakes. The joy of using the software was that I ruined neither the leaf, the paper, nor the seed pods in my dozen or so attempts to get it right. Finally, I liked what I had.

Looking at it, I thought of what people would think of the piece. Would it be considered “cheating” since I used a computer? Was it “OK” since I had started with handmade paper and leaves? And then I thought of the Talmud quote, “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” Perfect.dark card

As an artist, I’m a big believer in listening to what people see in my art . I find it interesting to discuss people’s opinion, even if they don’t like it. Part of my responsibility as an artist is to help people think through their feelings about my art. If they come to the conclusion that it doesn’t speak to them, then my art simply doesn’t call them. Ahhh, but if it does! I must admit that I love the look I see on people’s faces when they understand the art, and come hurrying into the booth. It’s a small rush for both of us. Often they drag back a friend, who looks at the work and says, “It’s OK.” And the person feels a tug between being loyal to her friend and exploring art. Never boring.

The Tagore quote seemed like a good addition to the other artwork. It took a little longer to get this right, that’s a lot of words for a small card, and the contrast of light and dark required some color work on the type. And there they were–low tech and high tech combined to make two notecards.

–To see Quinn McDonald’s art, visit QuinnCreative.com (c) 2007All rights reserved for images and text .