Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Building a Composite Image

Ride the Gator by Sara Harley
Ride the Gator, 2024

I often have to supply an artist statement and struggled with writing one. This is the current way I describe my process:

Using my photographic library to illustrate visions I have in my mind, I include elements from many different photographs to make a composited image that is open to the viewer's interpretation. Predominantly using elements of nature, I create painterly and surreal pieces that deal with a range of subjects to help promote emotional healing. 

Quite a mouthful.

Basically, it boils down to this:

Something triggers an idea in my mind. It could be a dream (as in the case of Ride the Gator, above. More on that if you keep reading) or it could be a concept that I'm struggling with, developing a theme I want to work with, etc.

Once I come up with my idea, I decide on a setting and take a look through my photo library for something suitable. I build the image from the background, adding and subtracting details as I go. 

Ride the Gator started with a dream I had two years ago.  I had been diagnosed with lung cancer, a real shocker as I had never smoked and they found the cancer quite by accident, and I was waiting for surgery. The dream was so vivid, I wrote in down in my workbook the next morning:

After my surgery and recuperation, the idea of creating a "riding the alligator" image never left me. However, my artistic drive seemed to leave me for quite some time and I felt unable to work with photographs. The idea transferred to my 2023 workbook, then my 2024 workbook, and finally came to fruition in February.

I started with the background and created it with several layers using elements from different photographs:

I added a moon from another image, created some stars, and blended them to get to this point:

Next came the alligator. I purchased this alligator on Amazon in 2022 and photographed it in September of that year. Then he sat on my shelf, and the photos sat on my computer, waiting patiently until 2024. I took photos from many angles, and you can see by the one I chose to use that the photos were quite terrible:

I flipped the gator and inserted him into the image:

Now, who was going to ride the gator? I tried a couple of things...a ceramic dog, a real dog, and settled on a raven. The balloons were added while giving the first rider a trial:


Satisfied with the raven, I added some layers of texture and colour, and fiddled with the lighting and position of the balloons for the final result:

Ride the Gator by Sara Harley
Ride the Gator

The whole process takes quite some time, usually some time working at the computer and searching for images to use, then a lot of thinking time, then back to the computer for changes and tweaking. Sometimes images get abandoned, with me not knowing how to "fix" them, but this one was smooth sailing. Probably because I had a specific idea in my mind.

Is it a strange image? Probably to most people. Am I happy with it? You bet! It was worth the two year wait to create.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Minimalism vs Maximalism

Minimalist versus Maximalist

I am intrigued by home design, and confide that I used to be an addict of the many home renovation programs on HGTV. I recorded the shows, and most often just watched the beginning and the end...skipped through all the middle parts...to see the "before" and "after". I have become quite tired of the repetition and similarity of all the programs and seldom watch anymore. I do, however,  subscribe to a couple of home tour channels on YouTube. I prefer the "real people" episodes and not the designer features. Designer home tend to look the same to me. I like the comfortableness of the thrift store, antique store sourced homes.

How does home design relate to the artistic process, you ask? The extremes in home design are minimalism and maximalism. I love watching homes where maximalists live. Not hoarders, but people who collect things they love and fill up their spaces. I would love to spend time visiting those places and hearing the stories behind the collections. But I can't live like that. I lean towards a comfortable-to-me amount of things that other people may describe as more minimalist.

My photography and art are a contrast as well. When using my camera to capture what interests me, I am definitely a minimalist. Simple subject, simple background, minimal colour. (see left, above)

When I create composited work, using elements from many different photographs and blending them together into a new piece, I am definitely a maximalist. (right, above)

Advice from professionals stress that an artist should have "a look", a portfolio should be consistent. I have often struggled with this concept and have come to the conclusion that there is room for more than one way to express myself. 

As I am currently not striving towards creating an exhibit, or looking for representation, that approach seems the right approach for me. Creating art should be fun!

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

A different kind of travel photo

England Street Art Mosaic by Sara Harley
England Street Art Mosaic


I was so fortunate in 2023...I had not one, but two getaways. I has been 10 years since I've been on a plane, and over 30 years since I've been overseas. I traveled to Toronto in August to have a reunion with 3 high school friends. Although I have seen all three friends over the years, it has been over 20 years since the four of us have been together. Then in November I flew to England with my daughter-in-law (and friend). We visited London, Brighton, Oxford, and London again over ten days. It was a whirlwind! 

I put together the mosaic above as a first step in gathering my memories from my England trip. It's a compilation of mostly street art, signs, and window displays from all three cities I visited, with a few photos of flowers thrown in...72 images all blending together into one memory. 

Art in this compilation was done by, or featured in the following stores: (my apologies if I've missed someone)

@bodleianlibraries @casimiramostyn @themoominshoplondon @heavenforbirds @thegardenofoxford @lukeadamhawker @hairbyfairy
@bighugbrewing @patrick.tulloch.art @hanningtonsbrighton @hugoandgreen @tinadavies70 @scriptumoxford @blackwellbooks colinruffell.com @boushamgallery harbourlightsgallery.com/ben-pritchard/

 It was great fun to put together, and a good reminder of how much I love mosaics.

Friday, October 13, 2023

Commissions - are they right for you?

Sanctuary by Sara Harley

Years ago, when I was creating and selling glass art, I adopted the policy of "no commission work". I found it very stressful to create someone else's vision. I was much happier creating what felt right to me.

Earlier this year, I was approached by someone putting together an exhibit to create an image with a specific message. The project involved many different aspects of nature, soil, information and artworks. I came up with my creation Sanctuary

This was not at all what the person who approached me had in mind, and I was asked to create something totally different. This turned into quite a dilemma for me. I was asking myself... why did I say yes when I was approached with this request? Should I attempt what this person wanted? (keep in mind, this was an unpaid assignment). 

I spent a couple of days working on various ideas to accommodate this project. In the end, I decided that creating something that didn't resonate with me was not of benefit to anyone. 

However, I do have a happy ending after all. This image was published by Forget-Me-Not Press in their Bloom issue. This is also an unpaid gig, but having something published provided me with some much needed validation.

Forget-Me-Not Press Bloom Issue

Friday, April 7, 2023

Time Marches On

Time Marches On by Sara Harley
Time Marches On

The past 10 months have been challenging for me creatively. Dealing with my own health issues, as well as being a caregiver to my husband, has taken a toll.

This is not to say that I have not been creative, just that I didn't feel I had the energy to create the way I had been. I turned to a different hobby and spent months using my hands. I sewed quilts by machine, a quilt by hand, many, many small slow stitched pieces, and have started on a few larger slow stitched wall hangings. 

My mind seemed to need a slower process...I found the stitching therapeutic. I could turn my mind off and feel calmness settle in as I pushed the needle in and out of the fabric. I enjoyed the tactile sensation of the fabrics in my hands (all second hand clothing purchased for how they felt just as much as how they looked).  

I made the above image in February, and it was my first post surgery photography based creation. Using photos I took with my phone, I layered shadows on the wall with a walking crow, a still shot of a watch and various textures to come up with Time Marches On

In retrospect, I believe this image was a message to myself. It was time to resume doing what I love...creating images to express my feelings and emotions. I still haven't done that, but I now feel that I am ready to take a step back on my creative path.