Monday, February 28, 2011

I Like Where I'm Going

I made this tonight. And I'm quite fond of how the layers upon layers of textures turned out...I think I'm heading somewhere with this, and I can't wait to see where that is...

Sunday, February 27, 2011

It Starts...

I'm starting. I started to put together the title page. Holy crap. What have I gotten myself into?

From There to Where?

It started through a happy series of coincidences. I used to actively participate in Second Life, a virtual reality game where the only goals are the ones you set for yourself. My goals tended to be to escape reality for a while, to look fabulous and to complete scavenger hunts.

Having gotten a virtual apartment, I was completing a scavenger hunt for home furnishings. (I refused to spend real money in a fake world, so scavenger hunts provided me with high quality items for free.) 

I was hunting in a store called {what next}. Then, I saw it. A beautiful print for the wall. A beautiful, distressed sky. A single, bare-branched tree. Birds flying through the sky. It was amazing, something that I wanted in my real life home.

I "purchased" it, nearly breaking my meager bank. And then I emailed the store owner to tell her how beautiful the print was and ask whether it could be purchased in real life. She told me about the artist and gave me her website.

That's how I discovered the work of Distressed Jewell. I was amazed, and I wanted to know how she created her work. Looking through her website, I saw a mini-tutorial. I was ecstatic!! And I tried it (along with one of her free-use textures) right away:

Well, I thought I was fabulous! Ha ha! I was like a little kid on Christmas, squealing and clapping, calling my husband over to see the picture.

And a new world of photographic manipulation opened its arms to me. Now, as much as capturing a great shot excites me, processing the shot excites me, too. I love pure photography. And I also love photography that is transformed.

Do I think I'm the best ever? Hah! Not even close! I have so far yet to go! I'm learning new techniques every day; I'm seeing inspiring works of art from fellow photographers and yearning to yield similar results; I'm interacting with photographers whom I adore and idolize (my favorite Flickrites).

I just feel like I'm on this amazing, creative journey. I feel like, step-by-step, I'm getting closer to some that's so amazing that I can't even imagine it yet...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Photo Manipulations Make Me Happy

There was a time when all I knew of PhotoShop was that I could use it to put people's heads on other people's bodies, a task I did with glee. Beyond that? I didn't really know how to use it.

Over the past several months, I have learned so much more about PhotoShop. It has helped this new found creativity absolutely explode within me, at a time when I was searching for some sort of meaningful outlet.

One of my new found joys is the art of photo manipulation. As I said, I had always just used the program to move people's heads around. Since joining Flickr and since further joining groups that post manipulation challenges, I have progressed as an artist. I have learned new techniques, stepped outside of my comfort zones, and made some good friends along the way.

Let me show you what I mean...

A recent challenge began with this image from Marcus Ranum. Beyond "manipulating" the image, there are no real parameters. As I looked at the model, I envisioned a vintage-esque print, and I really envisioned using her feet as a backdrop. Using resources available for free on Flickr (hooray for stock photos and textures), I created the image below.

And voila. Two images and two textures blended together. Through this challenge, I learned a little more about blending layers of photographs, of how to merge them together in a way that isn't too obvious. More on that with the next picture...

Another recent challenge involved this starting image by "ihave3kids" on Flickr. Looking at the picture, I wasn't sure that I would be participating in the challenge. I had no idea what to do with it. Finally, I just let my instincts take over, and I pictured a woman on the far shore, beckoning toward the camera. I couldn't find an image that matched my vision, but I did find more models by Marcus Ranum. Bingo! I pictured the Lady of the Lake from Arthurian legend. Doing some quick research, I put together the story in my mind and got to work.

One of the things that drives me nuts about photo manipulations (possibly because it's a mistake that I always used to make and sometimes don't know how to avoid), is when it is obvious that the parts were just put together. Like someone just cut out some pictures and plopped them together. It has become very important to me that my pictures really blend together and that they look like a solid image, like I was really there taking the picture. 

 I'm kind of proud of elements in this one. I like that the shadows on her robe mirror the colors in the picture. I am thrilled with the reflection that I put in the water! I love that it's pretty realistic, and on a deeper level, I like that the darkness of the reflection is in contrast to the start light of the main figure (it mirrors the beautiful appearance of the Lady of the Lake and her dark intentions to "steal" all of Merlin's magic).

I realize that these photo manipulations aren't wholly my own, original work. Sometimes that gives me a pang. But overall, I'm thrilled that these challenges offer me an opportunity to refine my skills and create images that I would otherwise be unable to create.

Photo manipulations make me happy.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Dream of Bathrooms...

More often than not, sleep eludes me.

I drift off to sleep with no problem. Some nights, I barely say my last prayer before I fall asleep. But then the wee hours arrive. I sit up at 12:30, bleary eyed and groggy, glancing at the clock before settling back in. I know that I have five more hours of sleep...

But then it's three or four in the morning, and suddenly, I'm wide awake. Alert. Ready to get up. I resist it; it's too early and I want more sleep. But my brain resists. It starts to think, sometimes about the larger aspects of life, but more often than not, it thinks about inconsequential things. I can't shut it off for a while. When I do, my alarm goes off and I have to wake up, start my daily routine with the zeal and zest of a zombie.

Some nights, however, are like last night. I woke up once to roll over and readjust my pillows. That was it. I was still sleeping when my alarm went off. I'd say it was nice, but my body needed to keep sleeping.

While I slept, I dreamed. I'm a very vivid dreamer, and last night was no exception. But last night's dream was far too familiar.

I have dreams with recurring themes. I can't say they are recurring dreams because that, to me, denotes a rerun of a dream that you've had before. No, these have a recurring theme, the same idea just played out in a different way.

I dream of bathrooms. The bathroom is never the same. The events are largely different. But in each of the dreams, the following occurs:
  • The bathroom's conditions are abhorrent. Utterly disgusting. As I go from stall to stall, I can't find one that's even close to fit for use.
  • There's no privacy. Stall doors do not exist. Locks don't work. People always come in while I'm in the midst of what one does while in bathrooms.
Last night, I dreamed of a single bathroom. I went in and locked the door behind me. There was a sink, a toilet in the corner, and a long shower stall across from them. The sink and toilet were fine. Fairly clean for a public restroom. As I sat on the toilet though, I was appalled at the condition of the shower: shredded curtain, horrendously dirty tiles, toilet paper clogging the drain.

As I did my business, people began to enter. A man and several women. I was scolded for not locking the door though I remember doing it. The man left, razzed by the women for being in the wrong restroom. As I tried to pull my pants up, the door opened and more men entered. I left, amused and flustered.

Paging Dr. Freud...

Monday, February 21, 2011

Barns: A Love Affair

Some of my fondest memories take place in the barn that belonged to my family when I was growing up. Yesterday, getting organized for The Fiction Project, I was looking through old photos to find pictures of the old family farm. I found some decent shots, but I largely lamented that digital cameras weren't around twenty years ago.

Our barn was very different from this one. Faded brown boards and more roof than wall. Rustic and beautiful in its own way.

I spent hours in the upstairs of that barn, playing and working in the haymow. In the summer months, wagon after wagon stacked with hay bales would pull up to the barn door. We would clamber up the stacks and start tossing bales. I got pretty good at it: grab twin, position against hip, toss. Depending on the year, some of those bales weighed as much as one hundred pounds. Proper leverage and necessity meant that you tossed them off the wagon as easily as you did a forty pound bale.

I always tried to get a position in the wagon. Otherwise, you were in the mow, catching bales and stacking them in rows as tightly as possible. As the hay got stacked higher and higher, the temperatures would rise and the sweat would pour off you.

It wasn't all about work, however. I built so many forts in the barn, taking bale after bale of hay and arranging them into caves and houses and mazes. I would spend hours in there, either with my siblings or with friends, playing house or Scooby Doo or Nancy Drew depending on who was there with me.

I remember a time when we tried to build a suspension bridge out of the twine we used to bind the bales. To say that it was a monumental failure would be an understatement.

I miss those days. I never thought I would. But I miss them...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

It's Here! *gulp*

It's here.

And I'm sort of freaking out.

I recently signed up for the Fiction Project with the Art House Co-Op of the Brooklyn Art Library. They send you an empty notebook; you fill it with words and pictures based on your chosen theme. I chose "Happy Thoughts" and decided to write about my happier memories of growing up on the farm.

And now that the notebook has actually arrived, I'm excited and nervous. I don't want to just start the notebook. If I made a mistake and screwed up a page, I'd probably cry. So I'm fleshing out a rough draft of sorts. And I think I'm going to pre-draw all my images and then trace them into the book. At the very least, I'll draw them in pencil before tracing over them in ink.

And then there's the matter of the cover. What do I do with that? I'm taking the notebook in to my graphic artist friend to pick her brain for ideas.

So I'm on my way and have ideas, but I'm all kinds a freaking out! I guess that just means I have to channel my nervous energy into the project!

Wish me luck!!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Good Night, House

The tired sun lay down its head and quietly went to bed.
The sleepy moon stretched and yawned and rose up from the great beyond.
She cast her spell across the sky and on the clouds that drifted by.
She weaved her cloth o'er the land and calmed it with her gentle hand.
And with a sweet and gentle kiss, the tender words she said were this:
Good night, house, so full of love,
I send you kisses from above
That all who rest and dwell inside
Will not be tossed by the tide
But will weather any storm,
And will stay snug and dry and warm.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

You Think You Know...

Today's Prompt: Be open. Reveal ten things about yourself that may surprise the people who think they know you well.

1. I grew up on a dairy farm, and in my childhood I threw hundred pound hay bales, got stampeded by cows, shoveled manure, helped a cow give birth, and dug trenches in torrential rain to keep the barn from flooding.

2. I have a very wicked temper, sometimes even to the point where I long to be violent. People laugh when I tell them that because I'm so mild-mannered. They have no idea how much self-control I have...

3. I used to be very afraid of the dark. I'd run from lighted area to lighted area, and I would jump into bed lest something was lurking under the bed. Then, one day, I just wasn't afraid anymore.

4. I initially went to college to become a forensic psychologist. I planned to work for the FBI as a profiler. I gave that dream up because I went to the wrong school for that major and because I knew it would keep me from a life from my now-husband.

5. I hate my job. Absolutely despise it on some days.

6. I believe I lived a past life in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, during the Civil War. When I go there, I feel this incredible sense of familiarity, of being home.

7. I sometimes feel like I give too much of myself away by being overly generous and giving to those around me. There are days when I feel like I have nothing left for myself.

8. I love going ghost hunting. I very, very rarely get to do it, but I love ghost tours and such when we go on vacation. I always hope to catch something completely irrefutable on film.

9. I am addicted to Bravo TV's reality shows. I like to watch and imagine what it would be like if I were on the show.

10. I love, love, love food. When I watch "Man vs. Food" and see him participating in various food-eating challenges, I am a little jealous. I also think that I could very possibly out-eat him.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Murphy's Law states: "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong."

It's been that kind of day. Not just for me but for many of the people around me. I'm having a bad day. My mom is having a bad day. My son is having a bad day.

It's just pretty crappy all around.

Here's a picture I call "Storm Approaching." I'm pretty sure today will get worse before it gets better...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Giving Mother Nature Her Due

I love textures and I love adding textures to photographs. It's my "thang" I guess.

So, last night I worked with this picture. I tried at least a dozen different textural overlays. I tried blending and merging them. I added different colors of textures to try to enhance different areas of the photo. Then, I looked at the image and started all over again.

Finally, I removed all the textures. I acknowledged that sometimes you just can't mess with Mother Nature...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Time to Be Still

I married a man who has what borders on ADHD. He has to be constantly busy. Whether it's at work, at home, or even on vacation, he must be doing something. The icy weekends of winter drive him nearly insane because he's stuck in the house; luckily, he's in the middle of building an elaborate train layout in the basement. If he didn't have that to turn to, I think he'd explode.

The same cannot be said for me. I like to be still. I can sit and daydream or read quietly. Often, I prefer quiet activities to busy ones. I would love to vacation in the mountains, sitting on the front porch of a rustic cabin, reading a novel and watching the wildlife in the woods. My husband said he would go insane.

I think it's important to be still from time to time. Sometimes, we try to fill every moment with activity, try to experience and do everything so that when we come to the end of our lives, we can say we did it all.

But did we enjoy it? Did we savor it? Or were we already looking for the next big adventure? Already forgetting the pleasure we'd just experienced and frantically searching for the next fix?

No, thank you. Let me savor the moment. Let me bask in the pleasure. Let me just be still.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sweeping Out the Creepy Corners

Ever since my first episode of Scooby Doo, I have been drawn to horror and the macabre. I love the racing heartbeat that comes with reading a frightening story or watching a truly scary movie. Perhaps part of it is that it's nice to fear something that is unlikely to harm you in real life. Whatever the case, I love horror.

A couple of weeks ago, an image popped into my head. It wasn't entirely an image of horror, but still a little to the left of the typical images I create. I started searching for stock images that I could use to create it, and I stumbled across the work of Marcus Ranum. He has an extensive stock, and as I looked through, I didn't find the image that was in my head, but I found these other images that just said "horror" to me.

I kept going back to those images, trying to figure out how I could use them. Finally, last night, I thought, Why not revamp that previous image in my head?

So, I started piecing it together, part by part. The initial image was...ugh. I played around some more, adding some motion blur and some textures. Then, it happened. That glorious moment where you look at something you have created and you feel that release of tension. It is complete.

Now, this image is out of my head. One more creepy corner of my brain has been swept out, creating space for new images and ideas and creations. I can't wait to see how I fill the space!

Friday, February 11, 2011

I'm Lovin' It!

I think I say this all the time, but I'm having so much fun putting these together! The problem? I am running out of photos to use! Eek! Guess that means I had better get out and get some pictures taken!!!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Finding My Wings

Blackbird said to Crow, "You don't let me fly."

Crow replied, "That's because you dream too small. I want you to spread your wings and soar."

It's a slow process. Step by step. Attempts and failures. Giving up just before renewing my efforts.

When I put the last touch on this image last night, I sat back and said, "Wow." Since a collaboration with an amazing artist (Yes, I'm talking about you Laura), I have a renewed love for creativity. I have a renewed sense of my strengths as an artist, and I have a better understanding of the areas that need improvement.

One of those areas? My willingness to soar...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Here's the thing. I'm a once-and-done type of girl. I rarely write rough drafts. I write it once, get it out of my system, and I'm done.

The same notion applies to photography. I process it once and I'm done. I don't go back and tweak. I don't start over. I work on it once, get it the way I want it. And then I'm finished. Time to move on to the next image.

Is this the right way to go about things? Probably not. But it's how I work, for right or for wrong. And it generally works for me.

Yet I broke my own rules....

Version One

Version Two

I liked the first one just fine. But then I just had to try it again. And now? Ugh. I like the first one...sometimes. I like the second one...sometimes. Maybe I should've just left well enough alone once I finished the first time.

Or maybe I should have just merged the two of them together...

 Version One + Two


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Hooray for Mistakes! And What Mistakes Were Made?

This wasn't the effect I was going for. I wanted a completely look altogether. Still, I'm kind of happy with the results! Can't help but like it when a "mistake" works out in your favor!

Today's Prompt: "Living as he did..."

Living as he did raised the eyebrows of his nicer neighbors and suffered the disdain of the snootier ones. He shrugged it off with ease. He had what he needed: a roof over his head and somewhere to store his meager belongings. Among these were a quilt made by his great-grandmother, a faded picture of his parents on their wedding day, and an engagement ring in a little velvet box. Not one to be wasteful, he used the quilt as a blanket on his cot. The wedding picture was his sole decoration in the entire house, placed carefully on the center of the main wall. The engagement ring he kept on the windowsill, occasionally opening it to allow the sun's rays to filter through it and cast rainbows of color on the wall. He would admit it only to himself, but he sometimes prayed that the ring would act as a beacon and bring her back to him... 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Something Spring

I have tons of winter pictures to process and post. I've given up on actually stopping to get a shot, and I have just been snapping out the moving car window. Turns out, this is a pretty good method for me! I get to take pictures I'd otherwise miss out on; Hubby doesn't have to stop the car; and I get some fairly decent shots!

Still, they're all winter, and while I love them, I needed a break from blue.

So here's a shot of my former bleeding heart plant. It got pulled out when we had our yard landscaped a couple of years ago. I wanted it to be saved, but it wasn't possible. [insert pout]

Gee...I avoided a winter picture but I still have the doldrums. Ha ha!!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

On a Mission

It drives me nuts.

I hate when I don't know something. I hate even more having to ask. That's not the way I'm wired. I read too much Nancy Drew and watched too much Scooby Doo as a child to just ask for the answers to things. I'm an investigator (which is why I initially took a college path that would have taken me to the FBI). I want to figure things out for myself; that is where I find great satisfaction.

I'm on a mission. I see amazing photographic artworks and I want to try the same techniques. I don't want to copy other people's work, per se. But I think a wonderful method of learning is through imitation. Try someone else's technique, see how it works, and then incorporate it into your own unique style.

I'm struggling with this one, though. I want to know. I refuse to ask (I don't know that the magic secret would be revealed anyway....I probably wouldn't....Well, yeah, I would, but it's my nature to please others).

So I plug away. I try again and again. I hit "Ctrl+Alt+Z" so many times that those keys on my keyboard are starting to take on a lighter appearance than their fellow keys.

Sigh. Back to the drawing board...

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Establishing Mood

Words. Images. Processing?

Mood is as important in fiction as it is in photography. The composition of words and phrases creates those feeling of joy, sorrow, and dread that ripple through us as we read. The composition of colors and light accomplish the same emotional effects.

I thought about this as I processed two images of the same shed. It sits just off a road that we travel fairly often, but last night was the first opportunity I've had to snap its picture. I processed the first one (seen below), was fairly satisfied with the results, and began to work on the second one (seen further below). I tried the same process but it just didn't work. I tried another one, and there. I saw the drastic difference that the three elements can make...

Karen skated around the edge of the pond before gliding inward, spiraling in the slow loops she had learned to do as a child. She heard clapping, and she smiled and waved at her husband who had already removed his skates and who was standing in the open door of the small cabin. He raised the red, plaid thermos full of hot chocolate in her direction, and she nodded, skating toward him. Even across the frozen pond, she could see the warmth in his eyes as he watched her draw near. God, how she loved they loved each other...

Caroline sobbed as she stumbled and slammed into the icy ground. Fresh scrapes covered the palms of her hands, and she cried as she pulled herself to her feet. Even as numb as her hands were, she could feel the edges of pain from her raw nerve endings. Blurring tears sprang to her eyes, and she wiped them away with the back of her hand. The shed was only a hundred feet away. She could hear Cecily's screams ripping across the frozen field. Renewed horror gripped her, and Caroline tried to run. Bright, red blood ran down the palms of her hands and added itself to the blackened blood already splattered across her ragged and dirty clothing. She gripped the open wound in her side and ran, desperately praying that it wouldn't be too late, that she could somehow rescue Cecily from them...

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Request

Dear People,

Please move. I have wanted to live in your house since the first stages of it being built. I watched each wall rise and come to completion...much like a mother watches her child grow up.

And now, I would very much like to live there. So if you could see it to just move out and sell the house to me at an unreasonably low price, I would be much appreciative.

Thank you for your consideration in this matter.

Nichole Renee

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Filling My Big Shoes

 Explore #1: "The Farm"

Explore #2: "Too Cold to Fly"

There's a reason they say to be "careful what you wish for." A while ago, I joined the photo-sharing site Flickr. I posted various types of photos, but lately I seem to have found my preferred style of processing, and I'm becoming more pleased with the quality of my work. I still see vast ways to improve, mind you, but I feel like I'm heading in the right direction.

For a while, though, I've longed to have a picture make it into the "Explore" section of Flickr. Sure, it's not like a Pulitzer or something, but to me it's a pretty big honor and a nice form of recognition. Every week, I would go through the Explore pages, hoping to see one of my pictures, comparing my work to those of others...

Then it happened. A comment from a stranger on one of my pictures. A congratulations on being "Explored." I could barely contain my excitement! I reloaded the Explore page at least 75 times before finally seeing my shot. I squealed. I took a screen shot and saved it. I made my husband come look at it.

And I was satisfied.

Then, this morning, another image on Explore.

I was excited! I called up to my husband to tell him. But then the enormity sunk in. People are watching my photostream, people beyond the small circle of supportive Flickr friends whom I cherish and trust.

Expectations are being set for each image I post. At least, that's how I feel. And while this is partly good because it will make me more critical and careful, it's also a little stressful. I don't want to disappoint anyone, even an anonymous stranger sitting in front of a glowing computer screen.

Sheesh. Who knew my year of creativity would kick off like this?! :o)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

II: The Coming

As I watched, more and more birds filled the sky. Their winged acrobatics, at first a mass of confusion and panic, became more structured though no less violent. Standing at the window, watching them with a mix of awe and fear, I could see the glass rattling in the pane. The thunder of so many flapping wings was creating a current of wind that, I was certain, would soon shake my house to its very foundation.

Suddenly, en masse, the birds flew upward, more and more of them disappearing from my view. The few remaining leaves on the winter trees were pulled upward with them. One snapped against the window before being pulled away. I gasped and jumped backward.

In seconds, I was back at the window, my hands pressed against the cold panes, my eyes wide.

I had been so consumed in the Saint Vitus' dance of the birds that I had forgotten about the four ravens who had initially captured my attention. They had moved; all were now sitting on the same wire, lined up in formation. As I stared, they all turned in unison, their heads cocked as if listening to a sound only they could hear.

As one, they flew upward before spinning off toward the lane behind my barn.

My eyes widened and filled with tears of abject terror.