Monday, March 19, 2012

Practice Makes Picture Perfect

Art School. There is so much to say. It's the best and the worst. Fun and humiliating. Easy and unbelievably difficult. In short it prepares you for adulthood and parenthood more than it actually prepares you to be an artist. And for this I am quite grateful.

I graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1998, which feels like a million years ago to me now. I was an Interdisciplinary major, which I'm not even sure if they still allow. It was fantastic! I wrote my own curriculum and could take classes from any and all departments, as long as I exhibited a cohesive body of work based upon the multiple disciplines at the end of each semester. I studied print making, sculpture, painting, drawing, photography and anything else that struck my fancy. While it may seem like a jack of all trades approach, having a good sturdy skill set in all these disciplines enabled me to get a lot of great teaching gigs when I graduated. And get paid, which really helped!

Photography was by far my favorite and by the time I graduated, most of my classes were in the photography department, and I was studying under Hank (Henry) Wessel. I think my gravitation toward photography was in part due to interest, but also due to Hank. I can't think of anyone at SFAI who doesn't adore Hank Wessel. He is a brilliant photographer and also happens to be a wonderful instructor, and those two rarely go hand in hand. For those of you not familiar with the work of Henry Wessel, here's a great video from KQED.

Hank's work can also be found in numerous galleries in San Francisco and among the permanent collection at SFMOMA. I encourage you to check out his prints in person. Hank is very much ahead of his time. While most photographers were shooting picturesque landscapes, Hank focused on finding the interest in the everyday. I'd love to know what he thinks of Instagram!

Photography in the 90's was with a camera and film. I spent most of my time in a dark room and the other part smoking cigarettes on the balcony outside the dark room. I know how to use film. Actual film. Developer, paper. Yeah it's crazy! Standing in a tiny completely dark room removing a roll of film and winding it around the spools of a developer canister, a thing of the past. It is safe to say I don't know a thing about digital photography. Sure, understanding the basic aesthetic of photography is the same, lighting, composition, and depth, but all the really cool stuff you can do to a photograph with the swipe of your finger....holy COW!

In an effort to get with the program, I signed up for an Instagram account a few months ago (my handle is zelmarose is you are so inclined). I was very hesitant, because I have not really taken a picture in what seems like forever. This being said, I take all my own product photography shots for Zelma Rose and sure I have a ton of photos on my phone, but none were taken with purpose, considering the composition, lighting, etc. Just snap shots. My hope was that, if I take enough pictures, I will renew my interest in photography, and also by practicing, I'll get better, and maybe, hopefully, get close to where I once was skill wise. Hank would say, just keep shooting.

Let Them Eat Cake

So yeah, that's what I do. Sarah posted some of our Photo a Day shots on Friday and I have found the Photo a Day assignments to be a great way to practice. At least I am taking one shot a day. I'm learning about filters, apps and all that cool stuff from pros like Sarah and Instagram stars like my friends Linda @maplesyrup and Tammy @punkrawkpurl. I miss the paper. Especially the really nice silver gelatin expensive kind. The paper was nice, but all this new stuff is really really cool!

A corner of my house

People are usually surprised when one mentions the word practice in a creative pursuit. Like creative people don't need practice. We are just a bunch of lucky gifted people running around being lucky. Guess what, that is true. Just kidding, it's true for very, very few. The rest of us practice and practice and practice and make a ton of bad art and mistakes that no one ever gets to see!

Sidewalk Tree

For me, really looking through the camera again has been a reminder of the discipline of practice. The more photos I take the less I have to think about each shot. It is kind of like muscle memory and the more I practice, the more I learn. This is great news! It means that the medium can change, and in the case of photography it has changed drastically, but it does not erase my longtime relationship with the camera. The love is still there and so is the learning.

What do you practice?




  1. Wonderful post, Lisa. I totally practice my photography! Using Instagram is a great practice to do so. The only way I've seen myself grow as an artist is to shoot as much as humanly possible!

    1. Thanks Sarah! I don't think we talk enough about practice. Maybe because there is enough hustle in living this creative life, but a lot of it is about practice, discipline and determination.