Tuesday, May 20, 2008
I haven't gotten around to read Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, but when Dreamer Idiot asked me if I could make a picture for a poster he's making I jumped at the idea for a weekend project.
I started with making a few sketches, the aim was to make a composition showing both Billy and the flying saucer (which is 100 feet wide), some with pencil, some with neon ink on black paper... this one here with an inkbrush:
I had wanted in the end to try an extreme angle shot from the ground, but couldn't get my head around the distortions I'd have to do on the background elements, much less draw it, so I used this composition to make this drawing with a software called Corel Painter Essentials 2:
I've had CPE-2 installed for some time now -- it was packaged with the Graphire pen I am using now -- but have never liked it enough to use it. The interface is clumsy and I'd rather be play on paper with real materials, but after spending so much time with Graffiti with its tiny canvas I'm ready to grok some new tools. So I decided to try it out for this picture.
It wasn't as easy as I had thought it would be, and I'm intrigued with the set of challenges the software has. I think that drawing software are a medium in themselves, and I enjoy taking them apart (I also still enjoy making them of course). Despite its small drawing space Graffiti gives a lot of freedom to blend colours and cover up mistakes while CPE-2 has limitations which would make any Photoshop user throw up their hands in frustration and express disbelief that a piece of drawing software can be so recalcitrant — limited undo levels and rudimentary layering for a start — it is actually closer to a natural system. I still don't like it but I can appreciate that it's as tough as paper!
Friday, May 16, 2008
While the tree is a reasonable representation of one that exists in my backyard, I do not remember having ever seen a real hummingbird, which is disappointing. I am not even sure if there are any to be seen in Malaysia, but a friend told me that she had seen one before, nearby her house in Bukit Damansara. This friend has also told me that she had seen many other highly improbable things and I am not inclined to take her word (it was more likely to be a moth); nevertheless I am hoping that one day I would see one of these wonders of nature dance into my view.
There is much poetry that I associate with hummingbirds. The first is a much-loved poem by poet and friend, Sharanya Manivannan, published in Istanbul Literary Review. I still hear her velvety voice—dark, thick and as jolting as a cup Jamaican Blue [listen]—as she rehearsed these lines in my car on the way to a reading some months ago. Sharanya is herself a diminutive lady, fond of dressing boldly for the stage, and such is the confluence of subject, voice and body that made this poem resonate in such a way that I could not separate my thoughts from its words as I made this picture.
This Hummingbird HeartIt seems unlikely that I would ever be able to hear the beat of a hummingbird's heart, even if I were in some way able to capture one and press its breast to my ear. A hummingbird is scarcely larger than a thumb, and its heart the size of a baby's fingernail. Among birds, whose demands for cardiovascular efficiency to support their metabolic needs for flight makes for larger hearts pound for pound—or literally gram for gram, as it were—compared to other mammals, hummingbirds have the largest hearts, corresponding to about 2.4% of their body weight. Consider a blue whale, whose heart is roughly the size of a car yet only 0.5% of its body mass. Consider the size of our own hearts, only 0.4% of our body—if humans had hearts like a hummingbird's, our hearts would be eight times larger!
There are gods in drums, just
as there are gods in ankle
bells and gods in the fine
reeds the women of the village
gather to weave mats out of.
But what god convulses
in this body of mine, driving?
She will love or she will die.
What god implodes in her
personal chaos and
seizes me in its storm?
A god like an artery,
who leads me, possessed,
further and further away from
the dark flame
of my interior.
And what god, out of what
time, is it who lives within
this drum – this hummingbird
heart – this undimmed undammed
untamed beast that beats down with
the hooves of a thousand horses,
floods my veins with
the blood of a thousand mercenaries.
I will love or I will die.
I could imagine the sound it would make though. A hummingbird's heart ticks at 500 beats a minute at rest, up to 1,200 beats a minute in flight. It is the frequency range of a four-stroke engine at idle, and when I sit in my car waiting for its engine to warm after having cold-started it, I feather the throttle slightly and imagine hearing the thunder of a hummingbird's heart.
Then, of course, I think of its desperation. I think about Brian Doyle's description of these marvels:
Hummingbirds, like all flying birds but more so, have incredible enormous immense ferocious metabolisms. To drive those metabolisms they have race-car hearts that eat oxygen at an eye-popping rate. Their hearts are built of thinner, leaner fibers than ours. Their arteries are stiffer and more taut. They have more mitochondria in their heart muscles — anything to gulp more oxygen. Their hearts are stripped to the skin for the war against gravity and inertia, the mad search for food, the insane idea of flight. The price of their ambition is a life closer to death; they suffer heart attacks and aneurysms and ruptures more than any other living creature. It's expensive to fly. You burn out. You fry the machine. You melt the engine. Every creature on earth has approximately two billion heartbeats to spend in a lifetime. You can spend them slowly, like a tortoise, and live to be two hundred years old, or you can spend them fast, like a hummingbird, and live to be two years old."No warm-blooded animal on earth uses more energy, for its size. But that puts them at great peril. By day's end, wrung-out and exhausted, a hummingbird rests near collapse," wrote Diane Ackerman in "Mute Dancers: How To Watch A Hummingbird" for the New York Times (who also, in her book Cultivating Delight, wrote some fascinating passages about the hummingbirds who visited her garden, including an astonishing factoid: some hummingbirds hitch rides on other birds when they migrate; they nestle in between the bigger birds' feathers on their backs for warmth and sleep throughout the ride.) At day's end, hummingbirds literally switch off for sleep: their hearts, so frenetic when awake, slow to what is effectively a mere tremble at 36 beats a minute, and it is with considerable effort that they must wake every morning for another frantic day of feeding once every few minutes. If a cold snap had come in the night, or a hummingbird was somehow denied its nectarean nourishment by an invader, they simply could not kickstart their hearts for lack of energy, then die in their sleep.
(From "Joyas Voladores", The American Scholar, Autumn 2004. The complete essay is beautiful, worth reading in full, and fortunately archived by other bloggers... or get this book!)
How much louder do I hear the drums of the poet's "hummingbird heart", feel the determination of her deceptively simple final line: I will love or I will die — thence primed, my complete immersion in the rhapsody of Diane Ackerman's "Beija-Flor", from Jaguar of Sweet Laughter, with which I will leave you tonight.
Beija-Flor (Hummingbird; Portuguese, literally "flower kisser")(I fear you will now know that I am not thinking about hummingbirds at all.)
When you kiss me, moths flutter in my mouth;
when you kiss me, leaf-cutter ants lift up
their small burdens and carry them along
corridors of scent; when you kiss me,
caymans slither down wet banks in moonlight,
jaws yawning open, eyes bright red lasers;
when you kiss me, my fist conceals
the bleached skull of a sloth; when you kiss me,
the waters wed in my ribs, dark and pale
rivers exchange their potions-- she gives him
love's power, he gives her love's lure;
when you kiss me, my heart, surfacing, steals
a small breath like a pink river dolphin;
when you kiss me, the rain falls thick as rubber,
sunset pours molasses down my spine
and, in my hips, the green wings of the jungle flutter;
when you kiss me, blooms explode like land mines
in trees loud with monkey muttering
and the kazoo-istry of birds; when you kiss me,
my flesh sambas like an iguana; when you kiss me,
the river-mirror reflects an unknown land,
eyes glitter in the foliage, ships pass
like traveling miracle plays, and coca sets
brush fires in my veins; when you kiss me,
the river tilts its wet thighs around a bend;
when you kiss me, my tongue unfolds its wings
and flies through shadows as a leaf-nosed bat,
a ventriloquist of the twilight shore
which hurls its voice against the tender world
and aches to hear its echo rushing back;
when you kiss me, anthuria send up
small telescopes, the vine-clad trees wear
pantaloons, a reasonably evitable moon
rises among a signature of clouds,
the sky fills with the pandemonium
of swamp monkeys, the aerial slither
and looping confetti of butterflies;
when you kiss me, time's caravan pauses
to sip from the rich tropic of the heart,
find shade in the oasis of a touch,
bathe in Nature carnal, mute and radiant;
you find me there trembling and overawed;
for, when you kiss me, I become the all
you love: a peddler on your luminous river,
whose salted-fish are words, daughter
of a dolphin; when you kiss me, I smell
of night-blooming orchids; when you kiss me,
my mouth softens into scarlet feathers--
an ibis with curved bill and small dark smile;
when you kiss me, jaguars lope through my knees;
when you kiss me, my lips quiver like bronze
violets; oh, when you kiss me....
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Two new entries from the graffiti gallery, the first made today, the next made on Sunday morning.
Both the original pictures above from Graffiti were tweaked in some way before I present them here. In fact, the original graffiti for "Doodle Fish" was actually quite dull until I tweaked it in iPhoto, then it became the much more lively picture you see above.
I question myself when I do this. It is an issue of authenticity. Am I being dishonest with my art if I take the original and then post-process it to make it look better? Of course, in my studies in digital art I have come across many arguments debating this, but I am not about to marshal them today—in my view, it is enough that I question, and by deciding either way I am indelibly the author of my work, however I derive it.
How far have I come now? This was a journey that started when I was making software-generated art (i.e. I "composed" programs that could in turn compose their own art, a field called generative art) for my degree. As a student I wrote my own drawing software, a kind of rudimentary graffiti, thence programmed it to draw on its own canvas automatically based on words that I fed it; a kind of computer-generated calligraphy.
I dismiss this work now as juvenilia, but the word, "alethia" — Heidegger's "first truth" — has stayed with me; I have stayed with Heidegger, seeing the world by a darkening light.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
Sunday, May 04, 2008
Again and again, however we know the landscape of love
and the little churchyard there, with its sorrowing names,
and the frighteningly silent abyss into which the others
fall: again and again the two of us walk out together
under the ancient trees, lie down again and again
among the flowers, face to face with the sky.
Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. Stephen Mitchell.