What do you know about Trees?

Turns out, even though I photograph trees all the time, I know next to nothing! I started to rectify that knowledge gap on Friday when I partnered with Oregon State University Professor Emeritus Ed Jensen to teach a workshop on tree identification and smartphone photography. 

It might seem like an odd combination, but it worked well! Trees brought Ed to photography, which he uses as botanical illustrations for his books. Photography brought me to trees, which are a fascinating artistic subject. So here we met in the middle, and shared our respective passions with a group of interested participants. Fun!

Here are a few things I learned about trees…

I learned how the Ponderosa Pine pollinates. They are a wind pollinator. These are the male pollen cones which are releasing their pollen right now. If you barely touch them, yellow pollen streams away.

 

I learned why the Oregon White Oak, one of my favorite trees to photograph, grows with space between them. (They are shade intolerant.) I also learned why I can only get the really green leaf silhouettes of this tree in the spring.  As the leaves mature, they grow thick and waxy, as a protection from drought. Later in the summer, no light gets through the oak leaves, but right now they make an wonderful silhouette.

 

I learned about the Dawn Redwood, also known as the fossil tree, which was thought to be extinct until China opened up to the West in the 1940’s. It’s a deciduous conifer, losing its needles in the fall. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as deciduous conifers! I guess I’ve only noticed the evergreen variety.

  
And did you know the Dogwood flower is really only the part in the center? Those big “petals” are really more similar to a leaf. Here is Ed, showing us the flower in the center.

  

Isn’t that all interesting? And that is just a small fraction of what he showed us!  It makes me want to learn more about the trees I photograph. Ed has a book, Trees to know in Oregon, which I will be studying. As I learn more about trees, I may find new ways to photograph them. At least I’ll be more aware of what to notice and observe, which is always a good thing for a photographer. 

So, what do YOU know about trees? Have you ever looked closely at the trees in your area? They are a fascinating subject, for both academic and artistic study. 

Where does art come from?

Is there a place you feel most like yourself? Where you shed the trappings of everyday life and the expectations of others? I have a place like that. Or places, I should say. It’s wherever I find a dirt trail winding among the trees. Wherever I can be surrounded by the forest – tall trees, filtered light, greenery. Just the sounds of the breeze, the birds, and my breath.

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It’s in the forest that I most feel like me. I’m not Kat the artist, or Katrina the engineer, or Trina the daughter, sister and wife. I’m just me, the core of me that doesn’t need a name. The forest reminds me there is this constant, consistent existence inside all of the outer trappings. This essential “me” that is the same no matter what direction I am facing in life, which name and role I’m taking on. I get to be that essential me, get in touch with that core, when I am in the forest. What a beautiful thing!

This lovely realization came through a couple of hikes I managed to squeeze in recently. It’s nice to know that regardless of how busy my life is or how many items on the “to do” list, there is a constant source of peace I can tap into. This realization has also led to an “aha” about my art.

Sometimes, looking at my work in the last couple of years, I’ve wondered how someone who is so busy can create art that is so peaceful and contemplative. I mean really, look at the work I create. It might make you think I live life in some zen way, full of meditation and awareness. Yet I am usually going a hundred miles an hour, filling most of my time with commitments and projects and goals. I have a full time corporate job, I create and sell art, I write and teach, I’m a wife and mother. Doesn’t sound very zen to me.

At times, I’ve wondered: Is the art I create a yearning for something else? Some simplicity that I can’t seem to achieve? But even though I’ve asked myself those questions, it’s never really felt this way. It doesn’t feel like the art comes from a place of emptiness or wanting. It feels like the art is just there. And I reach in and pull it out.

And that’s the “aha”… My art is there. It comes from that constant core, the “me” that’s me regardless of the name I’m using, the role I’m playing. The same self I get in touch with in the forest is the same self that I’m tapping in to when I create my art. It’s always there, always ready to be accessed. It just takes me finding a moment, finding ways to connect with it. Isn’t that brilliant? My art is from a place of abundance, not a place of lack. Because what I have, what I always have, no matter what else is happening in my life, is me.

I’ve always thought that connections brought through art are special. That when someone creates with honesty, you can see the true person through their art. I’m getting a deeper, more personal understanding of that. People who connect with my art are people who see me. The real me, under all of the window dressing of the different roles I play. It explains why I want to sell my art – because getting out there increases those connections. It explains why I love to teach about art – because it helps others find that connection to self too.

All of this has led to me rewriting what I think of as a “welcome” message, for the About me page on my website. Trying to capture who I am and what I do in just a few sentences is a difficult thing, but here’s my first draft…

My art is an expression of who I am, beyond the trappings of a modern, busy life as a mother, wife, engineer, teacher, and artist. There is a place of stillness, peace, and beauty that exists deep within me which comes out in the imagery I create. If my work resonates with you, then you have this special place within you too. I am honored to have made a connection with you. Nothing makes me happier than sending a piece of my art home with you to grace your space, or showing you how to create that kind of connection for yourself.

Welcome to Kat Eye Studio, my online creative space. Get comfortable, grab a cup of tea and make yourself at home here. Let’s connect through art.

What do you think? Does that capture it? Does it let you see a little bit of that real me, invite you to join me? I’d love to get your reactions to this new understanding, these new words.

How Silent the Trees

How silent the trees, their poetry being of themselves only. ~ Mary Oliver



I’ve been on a renewed Mary Oliver kick the last week or so, getting back into her poems after reading a couple of great articles on Brain Pickings. One of the articles included a fabulous interview with Krista Tippett from On Being

So instead of a lot of words from me, how about you listen to the wisdom and beauty of the words of Mary Oliver today? Grab a cup of tea and settle in. It’s worth your time.

Winterrupted (A Mobile Tutorial)

I invented a new word with the title of this piece: Winterrupted. I bet I don’t even need to define it, and you could use it in a sentence like this…

We are traveling for the holidays and I hope our trip isn’t winterrupted.

See? I’m liking this word.

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I’m liking this piece too! I spent waaaay too long on it Tuesday morning, with a lot of false starts. I thought I would share the sequence of the final edit, and also give you an idea of how unrealistic it is to expect to just move through an edit directly, in so few steps.

First, it started with this image, captured in ProCamera. Hello bare trees! It’s so good to have you back. Now we can have some fun with editing.

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I cropped it in Snapseed, and also increased resolution in Big Photo.

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Next, into Mextures for a color filter.

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And then into Autopainter for an artistic effect. Remember, in Autopainter you can stop the process before it finishes, which is what I did here.

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I’m loving the colors at this point! I want to get the detail of the branches back in, so it’s into Image Blender to blend back with the cropped version above.

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I’m enjoying Decim8 again lately, I think it’s the combination of the geometric effects on the organic lines of the trees. I played around with a few effects, finding two I liked:

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These two were blended in Image Blender, to get to the final image: Winterrupted.

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Looks like a straightforward sequence, right? Of course, when I’m at the end and can trace the steps backward, it is clear. But look at how many steps were really in this process. Each image is something I tried, something a little bit different:

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The same image, the same apps, but lots of variations in sequence. There were problems with the image in the original sequence I tried. As I got further along in the edit, the upper branches became too dark and muddy and there were some blobby spots appearing in other locations, both of which required me to go back and try again. And again. I loved the colors and how they varied with the effects, so I knew I was onto something good. I kept working it until it came together. Good thing I was able to work without winterruption. 😉

Don’t ever get to thinking that mobile photography and editing with apps is a slam dunk. I’m not just tapping a button and getting a finished result with this kind of process. It’s messy and experimental and can be frustrating at times. But the mess is part of the fun, and getting a finished piece you are happy with in the end, like this one, makes it all worthwhile.

From Mechanics to Understanding

Do you want to know the best way to learn about your art, your process, your self? About why you do the things you do, the philosophy and motivations behind your work? It’s a very simple answer: You explain it to others.

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I’ve discovered this secret quite by accident, through writing and teaching myself.

I always tell people that I teach because when I love to do something, when I’m enthusiastic about an idea or a process or an art form, it just bubbles up outside of me and I have to share it with others. I love the “a-ha” moment when someone gets it. When I see the enthusiasm catch in someone else and they run with it, in their own direction, I stand by with pride.

I thought that’s why I teach, but I’ve recently realized that is the second payoff in teaching. The first comes in the creation of the materials. In the process of distilling the ideas, of determining how and what my students need to know to move forward, I learn about myself. I learn why I do things the way I do them. Why my process works for me, what the important pieces are and how they work together.

For me, the time and effort I invest to clearly explain something to others is also time invested in understanding myself.

Last week, I finished the first draft of my upcoming book. (Woohoo!) It’s rough, needing a lot of editing and examples and work, but it’s enough for me to see myself more clearly already. You would think that writing a how-to book on iPhone photography is all mechanics, but it isn’t. You can’t teach without a framework, a reference philosophy that guides the intent and organization of the materials.

I had mechanics before, now I have understanding. That understanding will feed more ideas, more creativity, stronger connection to heart and soul. I already feel them brewing.

Have you found the same thing? Maybe it’s not through teaching specifically for you, but the simple act of explaining your ideas to others. In communicating about your art, you gain a deeper understanding of your self. Try it and see. Don’t worry if it’s awkward at first. It gets easier with practice. You refine your thoughts through the give and take of conversation, of question and answer.

When you understand your self better, you create and communicate from a place of confidence. You can say, “This is who I am, what I do and why.” You are less shaken by the criticism of others, less prone to periods of self-doubt.

Want to practice? Explain why you create the art you create to me in the comments below. Link to a blog post if you need more space for gathering your thoughts. Let’s get your conversation going, so you can improve your understanding and confidence too.

Paris, anyone?

Hey, will you by chance be in Paris today or tomorrow? Yes, I mean Paris, France.

If so, you can catch my art in Création (Photographique) Mobile, a digital exhibition being presented at L’Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, (Paris), during the international symposium “Arts and Mobiles.”

I am very excited and honored to have been included in this curatorship. The show includes a wonderful range of creative art from mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets and even drones. I encourage you to review the selected work here.

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“From one season to another” is the piece on display. It’s really funny to me how these things sometimes happen. It’s all in the timing… I just recently created a new technique, combining apps to get this interesting painterly outline/bleed effect. I just happened on the call to artists when I was looking around for something else. I just happened to have a few minutes to send off an application.

And now my work is being shown in Paris! I am a bit floored by the whole thing.

I’ve continued to explore this technique, trying it with different types of images. You can see a few in my Flickr Photostream. I like it with these specific autumn tree images best. There is something about the beautiful color variation that is achieved, the vibrant combination of yellows, greens and reds, along with the delicate structure in the leaves which really clicks for me.

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I look at this recent work and think how far I’ve come in my art over the past few years. If my three-year-ago self ran into this piece, she wouldn’t recognize it as her own. I could not have foreseen this direction, this work. I could only experience it along the way; observe it real time.

Too bad I can’t observe it from Paris this week! :)