This project has been an interesting one, you can go back and read the proposal here, and my early development here if you like. But I will be doing a quick summary of my inspiration and initial methods when building this project up here, so if you’re a bit lazy like I am, I got you.
This project was born of necessity in some ways. This semester has been like no other, I deferred school during the 2020 lockdown, so this was my first experience with total online schooling. While later on in the semester we would get some access to the studios back, for the most part I approached this semester and this project assuming I wouldn’t be back in the studios before the submission date. My plan was to create something totally online, an engaging experience, and something that could be built upon for years to come.
During the conceptualizing of this project, I tried to think about how a completely online art practice could uphold similar principles to traditional printmaking . A few principles stand out in particular, in reproduction, accessibility, and versatility.
Reproduction is easy to comprehend, if you frame your original digital work as the matrix, an arrangement of information that describes your image, much like a lino block describes your image. Each your website or hosted spaces becomes your press, for taking your original matrix and multiplying it as many times as it is called upon. Finally the end viewers screen becomes the paper the image is ‘printed’ on, each time a new instance is shown on a unique screen.
Accessibility was one of the aspects that originally drew me to print, while you can obviously create thirteen layer reduction woodcuts and run them through a three thousand dollar press with the finest inks and papers, you could just as easily cut some lino at home with cheap tools and hand print them on printer paper. I remember as a young man running a tumblr page, posting MSPaint drawings of my silly jokes that ended up reaching thousands of people, with work on the internet time invested and quality is not always what brings attention, it’s having a keen sense of the ever changing digital zeitgeist. This accessibility also applies to how prints are accessed, where paintings are usually unique objects, a print can be repeated almost indefinitely, meaning it is an artform for the masses, something the internet does almost too well.
Finally versatility, in the adobe suite alone there are dozens of programs we can use to make work, for this project alone I’ve used several programs, and taking the work online the amount of options can be dizzying. In the before times, I was a big fan of screen-printing and fine art digital prints, but have also enjoyed using lino, wood blocks and copper to create work. I think letting the work dictate the medium is the most enjoyable way to work, rather that tunnel visioning on a single medium, and I don’t think this project could be done any other way.
This all might seem like a stretch, or maybe even a bit trite, but I really think framing my work this way has helped me see the value in online digital work. A common hurdle in making work I think is not so much justifying it to an audience, but justifying the effort and time commitment to yourself.
Originally I was planning for this project to be a lampoon of cooperate art styles, the site even takes its name from the term Alegria, an art style companies often employ to make themselves seem more human and less like dystopian nightmare factories. But as is often the case, anger fades, you see flaws in your approach, and the project shifts. By the time I started working on the project, very little of this original inspiration remained, I no longer wanted to give my time and energy to talking about these obviously shitty companies and their practices. I wanted to make something that would reflect me and the world I live in, I wanted to make all those weird artworks I thought wouldn’t be acceptable in a fine art setting, to create without a sense of ego, or expectation.
So what’s left after you take out this lampooning? Basically an empty world ready to be filled! I started working without any real plan for how I was going to present my work online, except for the vague intent to have it function as a website. I started building each room as a single image, trying to account for the fact that I might want to revisit them. I did this by keeping my layer structure as clean as possible, something I think I only mastered with my latest work. Keeping everything separate and self contained allows me to rearrange items in the room, and even come back to this original linework file and add more items.
After the line work is done, I then move on to coloring. I’ve been using my own photos and free stock images as sources for my textures. It’s a nice throw back to working with collage, but also an art style that I find really appealing, like a kind of digital kitsch. The first way I started doing this was through illustrator itself, there are tools to combine the entire image and use a paint bucket with tilled textures. This is a really convenient way of working, but with my earlier rooms file layout, it became messy and unmanageable. I decided to take the finished linework into photoshop and finish it there, this is an environment more suited for this non-graphic work, but it does have the downside of being rasterized and therefore you really need to be sure on the layout before you commit.
These close ups give a better impression of how the textures interact with the linework, the project essentially becomes a coloring book for me to play around with, creating mask layers for each object and then testing several textures until I’m happy. Sometimes, as with the fern and books, adding straight up photographic images to the scene, creating a weird contrast between graphic and reality.
After having created several rooms, it became time to start putting the whole website together. From the start I had envisioned sort of a monkey island style point and click adventure, though very rudimentary, it was nothing I couldn’t learn. As I began looking into hosting a website and building something from scratch, I realized the time and financial investment would be just far too much. Luckily, I already had this WordPress site!
I decided to transition from a point and click to more of a text based adventure with accompanying images, videos and gifs. After deciding this as the avenue I wanted to go down, creating the layout only took a matter of hours, creating descriptions links and connections between the images, to give the impression of venturing through a strange world. Upon arranging the three main images I had made, I realized there was a lot of room for variations. For some pages I added zoomed in portions so people could get a closer look at certain items that are too small to see, especially on mobile. For the library shelf I used a whole stock image with slight variations to represent my writing, and for the hive I decided to quickly make some gifs as a fun little way to expand the world.
Not only is using WordPress easier, It’s also more accessible and recognizable. It already scales for mobile, works on every browser, is recognizable as a trustworthy site. I’m already trying to direct traffic there (here) to my blog, so win win! All in all it feels like an elegant solution, and allows me to test out this format/medium before committing hundreds of dollars in hosting fees.
Like a lot of people who spend a lot of time online, I have many complaints. I never expected to be a legitimate “back in my day” person, but when it comes to the internet, I was really just at the right age when it’s culture was being formed. In my late teens, thousands of bespoke websites catered too all kinds of weird and wacky things, you spent less time on centralized social media sites, and more time hopping from link to link on recommendations. In some ways, even though there were a lot less people using it, it felt a lot bigger. I know though that this is really just looking back at it with rose tinted glasses, it was also a horrible place that fostered some really terrible ideas, and if not for some good IRL experiences and people, I might have fallen down into some dark corners of the web.
Part of this project for me is bringing back that feeling of stumbling across something unique online, an organic experience not perfected or refined, but something as close to handmade as you can in a digital landscape. Another equally important part is my obsession with that scene in Jurassic park where the girl is hacking the dinosaur mainframe through that bizarre 3d interface.
Streaming has been part of this project from the point I began actually making the rooms, though I did all the busy work of connecting the pages offline. Below I’m going to post a video of my most recent stream, you can skip through and get the vibe, the whole stream is 3 hours with a handful of breaks, some light conversation and a bit of me being flustered when someone called me handsome.
Creating work with an audience is something I’ve talked about in previous posts, but since then I’ve had some more populated streams, and have been able to talk to strangers while working. I’ve found it is not only really comforting, but also increases the amount of time I’m able to stream and the speed at which I make work. It really is like a simulation of the studio environment, albeit one narcissistically revolving around me. I can absolutely see how some people would dislike having people pull apart their work, give advice on how something should look, or talking about unrelated topics as a distraction. For me it’s the perfect environment for my mind to let get into that flow state of creating.
Do blog posts have conclusions?
I’ve said in other posts that I don’t really like to describe a lot of my thoughts behind the imagery in my work, I think once you do you kind of ‘solve’ it for people, and it becomes less interesting. What I will say, is some of the content is very silly, and some of it very serious, but I’m not going to tell you which is which. This project is a reflection of my life, and I hope to build on it for years to come.
In conclusion I did it, I finished a semester during the largest, strictest lockdown in the world, and I didn’t go insane 🥚