Learning How To Draw Again

One of my fave artists (she made my custom Shepard portrait) is helping me become a better artist and has been sending me really helpful tips and exercises to do that will help me relearn how to draw while dealing with arthritis (it’s been really hard on my hands). Her name is Cheyenne and she’s wonderful (you can find her work on Tumblr and her words over on Twitter). First step: gesture drawings to focus on how my hand moves.

Since I can’t stop watching Yuri On Ice (I’m watching it for the fifth time now), all my gestures are based on figure skating poses. These are each quick 30 seconds sketches to loosen up my pen flow. I’m still pretty slow and rigid, but I’m getting there and it means a lot to have the guidance of an artist I admire so much.

I’ll keep getting better every time I draw. One sketch at a time!

The Natural World: Interview with Lee Jaszlics

Lee JaszlicsWhen I was 14 years old, my family got our first computer and the internet. As a very antisocial kid who lived in the country away outside of any town limits, the internet caused my social life to bloom. More than 15 years later, some of those people I met in the beginning days of my online life are still with me. Including my best friend Lee Jaszlics, who has been stuck with me since that first giant desktop Dell computer. We met on an art forum – they were in Colorado and I was in Wisconsin – and we’ve been in each other’s lives ever since. We even ended up going to the same college for a short time, living in the same city, and they stood up for me at my wedding. That’s an internet friendship that’ll go down in the history books.

Over the years, Lee has grown more amazing and more talented than ever and I’m so proud to show off their incredible photography for everyone. If you follow me on twitter than you’ve probably seen me promote their photography a lot. It’s for a good reason. Lee is a constant source of inspiration to me which is why I asked them to do this interview with me.

So without further ado, I’ll let Lee do the talking.

01. Boring intro question! Tell us about yourself and how you got into photography in the first place?

I got into photography purely as an accident – I actually bought my first camera to collect research data as an undergraduate, and after I’d finished digitizing several hundred photos of crocodile skulls, I decided to keep the camera, and started shooting on class field trips and around my campus, and I discovered that I loved it.

My first attempts were very, very bad, of course, but I was able to connect with the insect photography community quite early on. I attended the very first BugShot workshop, and that really opened my eyes to a lot of the tools of the trade: how to work with light, think about composition, and even how to put yourself into the right mental frame to take photos of wild creatures.

I’ve sort-of been slinking away from macro and insects over the last few years, but the frame of mind that I took from that – thinking about environment, and light, and how to showcase things from unique and perspectives, has stayed with me through the years.

02. You take pictures of a lot of subjects – spiders, reptiles, birds, landscapes, etc. What are you favorite things to photograph, and, probably related, what are the hardest things to photograph?

I don’t know that I necessarily have a favorite species to photograph, but I do like to focus on capturing personality and mood. Jumping spiders are great subjects; they love to cock their heads and admire their reflections in my lens. I’m also very fond of shorebirds, who are often shy and reserved, so getting a good photo is always a challenge. And I love snakes and monitor lizards – it’s probably the forked tongue.

I actually find that the hardest things for me to photograph are landscapes. I have very strong emotional reactions to places, but, for me, at least, a lot of that is tied up in unphotographable things – temperatures, smells and textures (I have a horrible habit of touching every plant I pass) – and communicating those feelings through color and light is quite challenging for me. I also find landscape compositions much trickier than compositions that are centered on animals.

03. What do your photographic process look like, from start to finish?

I’ll usually start by location scouting. Sometimes I have a good idea of a particular species that I want to capture so I’ll try to find places where it’s been seen. eBird is a really good tool for this. For things that aren’t birds, I usually go through geotagged photos or talk to people who might have some ideas. If I’m not after a particular animal, I’ll aim for parks and wilderness areas, and try to get an idea of what they look like and what the local biodiversity is like so that I know how to prepare for the things I’m likely to find.

Once I have a good area in mind, I’ll usually hit it relatively early. Morning light is good for landscapes and birds, and as the day heats up, I’ll switch over to insects and invertebrates. I do occasionally photograph in the evening or at night, but only if I’m specifically looking for reptiles or want to take sunset photos. But I usually find that working in the morning lets me stretch out my day and get wrapped up in what I’m doing without worrying about running out of daylight, which is nice. I’ll usually have some ideas of the shots I want, so I’ll try to get those done, and while I’m working, I’ll take a lot of photos of things that strike me while I’m working. I hike at a snail’s pace, because I tend to stop every three feet to take a photo. Most of these never see the light of day, but they get me into the right frame of mind to appreciate and focus on everything around me.

After I’m done, I process my photos. Almost everything is done in Adobe Lightroom, but I will break out Photoshop for things that are particularly knotty. While I’ve worked hard to be able to take a good photo straight out of the camera, I think that the ability to process photos well is very important, and just another tool for photographers. I’m not aiming to show you what my camera sensor saw, but to capture the feeling of a place or an organism and what it was like for me in that moment. (At the same time, I do think it’s important for me to disclose when I’ve done anything really egregious in my photo process, like compositing images or photographs of captive animals instead of wild ones.)

04. If you could photograph anything or anyone from history that’s not around anymore, what/who would it be?

New Zealand pre-human colonization, definitely. I love New Zealand, and it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited, but I think it’d be even better with moas and giant eagles. I mean, everything’s better with giant eagles, right?

05. You travel A LOT – where is your favorite place to take photos and what is your favorite photography memory?

Well, if I have the choice to go anywhere in the world, I’ll always go to Australia. Far North Queensland is probably my favorite region of the country – but ask me again if I ever have the chance to visit Western Australia – the bird life in the rainforest there is incredible, and there are these wonderful giant stick insects that smell like peppermint when you pick them up …

My favorite photographic memory is from there, actually – I was on the road to Cape Trib from Port Douglas when I saw a young cassowary crossing the road. Obviously, I had to pull out and get a photo, and while I was doing this, the young bird got curious, watching me, and coming closer to investigate. I don’t know if you know anything about cassowaries, but they’re huge and they’ve got this massive, dinosaurian claw on one toe … I was a little nervous, especially because cassowaries are raised by their dads, and I though this one might be young enough to still have a full grown, overly protective parent nearby. So, there I was, pressed up against my rental car, trying to give this bird the space and respect he deserved, and trying to get pictures at the same time …

I got the photo, and wasn’t disemboweled by an angry cassowary, so it was a pretty good day.

06. You are, by trade, a digital photographer. What are your thoughts on traditional film photography?

Well, for what I do, let me just say that I am so, so glad that the digital camera exists! I take a lot of shots, especially when I’m trying to catch an insect that’s scuttling around, or a bird in flight, and if I had to pay for film, I’d be really, really broke. I don’t actually understand how people took wildlife photos before the advent of digital cameras, but I admire them immensely – clearly they were far more patient people than me. Plus, the immediate feedback of digital is really nice – taking a photo and then immediately being able to check to make sue your exposure is good and your composition looks nice is hugely helpful.

But film photography is an important art form, and the skillset that goes into it is vast and impressive, and there are a lot of things to recommend film as a medium – you can often get better noise performance and better colors … plus you have a full-frame sensor for relatively cheap! Sometimes, I’m a little jealous. At the end of the day, as long as you get the photos that you want, the tool that you used is unimportant. (But knowing how to use the tools that you have? That’s critical.)

07. AND FINALLY! You take tons of SUPER colorful photos – but what’s your FAVORITE color and does it photograph well?

I love oranges and greens, and they’re both awful colors to photograph. Oranges tend to the gaudy and artificial, while greens tend to turn weird and yellowy. I fight a constant battle with my camera calibration and color balance. One of these days, I might even win.

You can find Lee & their photography elsewhere on the web:
SnakePhotographer.com
SmugMug Print Shop
Timelapse Gallery
Flickr Gallery
Twitter

Crossing Off a Bucket List Item: Iceland 2018!

On March 1, 2018 for one week, I will finally get to visit the birthplace of my husband. That’s right. Jake and I are finally going on a honeymoon and we’re going to the place he first called home: Iceland. It’ll be the first time I’ve ever left the country and one of my biggest bucket list items. (He’s happy because it’s been a few years since he was last there and he really wants me to try the hot dogs — I’m really happy because I want to see my Northern Lights and March will be the last good month for them.)

We’ve been doing a ton of research to make sure everything from the hotel, to the public bus service, to the tours and the flights are wheelchair accessible (I may have failed to mention it, but I’ve been in a wheelchair since January of this year). Everyone I’ve talked to, including accessibility travel experts and the tour agents, have been so incredibly helpful and have reassured me that none of this will be out of my capabilities. We are staying downtown, the flight there isn’t too long, and we’ll have a comfy hotel for me to take many naps in. I am so excited that we’re making this happen and it’s giving me something to look forward to outside all of my medical issues. And Jake is excited he finally gets to share his favorite place with me.

In honor of this little excursion, I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite photos of Iceland that my best friend Lee Jaszlics took on their recent trip there. Lee is an incredible photographer and I’ll be sharing more of their work in an upcoming post (think of this as a preview).

If you like any of these photos, prints can be purchased on Lee’s SmugMug Iceland gallery and you can see more of gorgeous Iceland on their Flickr page. Make sure you also follow Lee on Twitter!

2018 is going to be a good year. 💙❄️

Sometimes you come across an artist whose work just takes your breath away. That’s what happened when I was introduced to the paintings of Gregory Thielker. And yes, these are paintings. Probably the most realistic oil paintings I have ever seen. The detail is just incredible.

Gregory Thielker is an artist currently located in New York City.

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The road acts as a physical and philosophical guide for many of our experiences within the world. In the United States, nostalgia for landscape created and fueled by Manifest Destiny has perpetuated a desire for freedom and newness with each journey in the car. We are encouraged through automobile advertisement to believe in the transformative power of driving and motion to transport us beyond our everyday circumstances towards a better life, or at least a way to literally leave the past in the dust. ~G. Thielker

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MORE PLACES TO FIND GREGORY THIELKER

My Dream Loot Crate: Fierce Space Women!

Monthly treasure boxes are pretty awesome. I love them. My husband loves them. We both get our own every month. Some people get nature boxes or dog boxes or make-up boxes. I get a geek box. I love Loot Crate because every month has something I’m excited to get. I’m also a big fan of their Firefly Crate because… because Firefly. There’s no other reason. It’s Firefly. But I often wonder, if I could make the ideal box, what would it be?

I mean other than the Mass Effect Crate they already created.

Well, oddly enough, friends from Loot Crate wondered that same thing! What would people love to see in a Loot Crate of their own making? And I’m happy to give them an answer. I know exactly what I would want in a Nikki-themed Loot Crate: FIERCE SPACE WOMEN! Yeah. I said it. Fierce Space Women. Are you surprised? Here are a few examples of what I’d have in my Fierce Space Women Loot Crate.

Garnet Funko Pop

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Garnet is my hero and my favorite of all the Crystal Gems in Steven Universe. Steven Universe has quickly become my favorite show in TV. Every theme, every story, every character has been built with love and affection and a deep understanding of human nature and kindness. And Garnet is the epitome of Love and healthy relationships and there is no equivalent in the Universe to who and what she is. I love her with every fiber of my being. She is (they are) the fiercest of all Space Warriors.

Princess Leia Socks

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I think when most people think of a fierce space woman, they immediately think of Princess Leia. Or General Leia. She is incredible, strong-willed, and stubborn and doesn’t take no for an answer (unless she wants it). She is and always will be Leia the Huttslayer. (A little off topic, but have you read Bloodline by Claudia Gray?? Best version of Leia to date! It was so good! Please read it!) Anyway, I freakin’ love this illustration and to see it on a pair of socks?! Yes please. What a great way to ground yourself in the reminder of what a great woman can be.

Jaylah Beyond Poster

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So I have a lot (A LOT) of feelings about the new Star Trek Beyond movie that I should probably make an entirely separate blog post about, but suffice to say that my FAVORITE thing about the whole movie was Jaylah. I was so in love that directly after we got out of the theater we ran over to my comic book store and I got the Jaylah funko pop (which is why I chose Garnet instead of Jaylah for that one). She is just so perfect. Independent, intelligent, loves loud beats and shouting. She’s just so badass and I definitely wanted to make sure she was on this list somewhere.

Liara T’Soni T’Shirt

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Like Garnet, Liara is a fierce female-esque alien from outer space who loves humans (and the whole Universe) and has dedicated her life to saving the galaxy. I have blogged many times about my love for Mass Effect it shouldn’t come as a surprised that I would include someone from the game series on this list. Actually I’m totally fine if we replaced Liara with Tali because I love both so much, but this Liara shirt has been on my list for awhile so she won out. Plus that whole Shadow Broker thing is pretty fierce.

SPACE JEWELRY!

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I love this necklace so much and since this is my dream crate, I’m adding it here. Cuz I can. Isn’t this just beautiful? I think every fierce space woman should have some fierce space jewelry (or not if jewelry isn’t your thing, that’s totally cool too!). So even if my loot crate doesn’t have this particular piece of finery, I’d love to see SOMETHING that represents space that I could wear. Maybe a meteorite rock or something? I don’t know. Just something pretty.

Wonder Women Book

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Hey, did you know that there are REAL fierce space women?? Yeah, not all of them are in movies or video games. AND THAT’S SO COOL. My awesome friend Sam Maggs wrote this book called Wonder Women that is coming out in October (but you can pre-order it now) and in this book she talks about a bunch of amazing and talented women who have changed the world, including some crazy fierce space women. I think it’d be super important to include something that will remind everyone that women really are kicking ass in space and STEM-related fields.

And there we go! Those are just a few things I would include in my dream Loot Crate box.
What would you include in yours?