Updating my website in 2021 involved looking back on years of professional work as well as the personal projects that preceded my career. I liked reconnecting with some of my earlier artwork and seeing how -- even when completely analog -- there were obvious signs of leaning into visual effects, communicating ideas through images, etc.
Before I had an email or had even "surfed" the internet, I was an art student weaving meaning into my colored pencil drawings. Opening Photoshop for the first time at age 19 unleashed an insane power. For the first time with my art I had an undo button, allowing me to experiment without fear. Instead of drawing a face I could start with a photo, allowing me to focus more on meaning and less on craft.
This paradigm-shifting event my junior year in college -- switching from analog to digital -- was eclipsed a week later by news that I'd soon be a dad. Looking back and connecting the dots years later, it appears serendipitous that these two events dovetailed so nicely... resulting in my career as a visual effects artist, and the passion to express myself via digital art.
I was a young artist with an insane new tool and an avalanche of emotion in need of expression.
But I'm skipping ahead...
You can't connect the dots looking forward.
In 9th grade, I was a huge Michael Jordan fan. At the time, this was my favorite drawing. It was one of the first times I had done a collage or used colored pencils.
The ring of smaller Jordans reminds me of the ring of Eroses in Gaea.
THE EFFECT OF DRUGS
I submitted this in place of a written paper for a social studies class project on drugs. I got a B.
I was a junior in high school and wondered if, at any point in my life, I'd try drugs. I didn't have a strong opinion one way or the other. But I wanted my future self to know that I was always a bit weird. In other words, don't blame drugs. Not sure if that makes sense, but that was what I was thinking.
I also wanted to remind my future self of who I was at that point in my life, a bit of a time capsule. I don't remember all the details, but I remember that it has some of my favorite items from the time... A Pink Floyd album, the book Joshua, a Bible.
Looking at it with fresh eyes 30 years later, I see a few parallels to some of the art I enjoy doing most today. Using "visual effects" (the cross-sections of the tree and the cross, drop shadows, reflective spheres, a water drop morphing into a hand, upside-down skull in the top right, etc.).
These each had deeper meanings... the hand pulling back the veil and revealing the nature of its reality—an awakening.
Parallels between Jesus reaching out on one dimension and (what I later learned was called by the Greeks...) Gaea on another.
Using the chessboard to form her face, the teardrop morphing into another form... funny how I've always liked doing those sorts of things.
Reminds me of parts of Rebirth of Gaea.
Unfinished still life. My favorite part to work on was the saddle.
Ahhhh... poor Erin. I wanted to create a fish-eye lens effect, and Snapchat didn't exist yet.
POV. Sitting at my dining room table and drawing a tea kettle.
My first digital artwork, using a program called KidPix, created by Craig Hickman.
There were few colors to choose from, hence the "stylized" version of my dad's skin tones -- to add shadows, I could choose a darker color, but it wasn't necessarily the same hue as the others.
Nice water glints! :)
A colored pencil drawing I made for my girlfriend at the time.
This is a colored pencil self-portrait from the summer I pivoted from being a college kid to a dad, not knowing what the future held.
Lots of symbolism throughout.
The tree in the top left represented my fear that my daughter wouldn't know my side of the family. I felt like a shell of my former self, heart bruised, my daughter in the reflection of my eye as I look forward.
The foot piercing through the contours of the confining wall is an homage to Dali’s “Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man.” I painted this entirely within Photoshop; for example, using the smudge tool to create the clouds.
At the time, Photoshop had no layers, so I would paint the eyeball in a separate doc, cut and paste it into the final layout. Similar to what I did with Rebirth of Gaea and precomping in After Effects.
Side note: back in college, most of us didn't have computers (I never even had email). So we'd go to the art building and have to take turns on the computers there. And while we were using "Photoshop" on a "Mac" it was quite different than today's experience.
Whenever I had to go back and forth between illustrator and photoshop, because the hard drive was so, so small and only one of those apps could fit at a time, I'd have to uninstall Photoshop, install Illustrator, uninstall Illustrator, etc. These weren't downloadable from the internet, but rather on a series of several disks. Good times.
An infant girl somehow managed to make it into each of them.
The first time I did that was with Violent Femmes. She's body-surfing the massive wave in the background. The flames spell her name below. My head is in the clouds, lightning in my eye.
Hanging around campus were these personalized Where's Waldo posters. :)
While working on those posters one night, I was flipping through a MacMall magazine and came across an ad for "Morph." Michael Jackson's "Bad" had just come out, and I was mesmerized by the effects in Terminator 2.
I was no longer interested in majoring in Industrial Design. I just wanted to morph stuff. So, I created a new major called Digital Imagemaking. :)
Here is my senior thesis Green Corps.
After college, I was thankful to get a job at Computer Cafe, a boutique visual effects studio.
My personal projects continued as a series of 3 short films which culminated with my head on fire.
Through work, I started teaching myself After Effects and diving into motion design. And there may or may not be a frame in Flubber where the highlights form my daughter's name. :)
Here are 2 montages I made for friends.
Teaching myself some basics of CG. I thought it would be cool to have some batteries dueling.
A good example of how personal projects are great for inspiring you to learn something new.
Hard for even me to believe, but at the time, I didn't have a computer or TV at home.
Analog continued to be something I enjoyed.
I started making artwork for my daughter so that she'd remember me when I wasn't able to be with her.
Over the years, the projects got more complex. They had more layers, contained greater meaning.
This is a montage of her 2nd year.
It started off with me meditating with a skull in the desert. I'd imagine her in the clouds. She'd be running in my mind. The spinning globes representing the months, lit up if we had been together.
I collaborated with my daughter to create the artwork for this CD packaging, combining her watercolors with other Photos in Photoshop.
This image of my daughter inadvertently became the basis for an effect for a Gillette commercial.
My family began expanding, and soon I had a son. :)
There's more to it, but I know this is already a long story. It hopefully helps lay a foundation for my art. Soon after my son was born, I did some of my first sketches for Rebirth of Gaea, which I continue to this day...
© Jesse Michael Newman, 2021