Friday, February 16, 2018

Constant and Never-ending Improvement

I was recently reminded me of the time I heard the phrase "Constant and Never-ending Improvement (CANI)" from Tony Robbins. That was over a decade ago, and I have constantly gotten. While that had stuck with me. While I had never really done so, it's not hard to relate CANI to similar concepts: building a wall brick by brick, an apple a day, the 10,000 hour rule, perfect practice makes perfect, and so on.

These ideas aren't any secret, but I wanted to remind myself of how good practice can be. Because when I'm in the zone and doing just the right amount, the practice feels more like destiny than a chore. I learn a little more, I connect a little more, I notice a little more, I resonate a little more. I feel a little more. It's all just a little...better. 

I think I'll go practice something right now.

Enjoy your day.
- Benja -

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Force Awakens Final Scene Gave Me The Feels, Here's Why.

I like Star Wars, and I recently watched The Force Awakens again. I knew that I liked the final scene, but after seeing The Last Jedi, it made me realize how good of a scene it was. I confess that I was jolted a bit upon seeing how the shot was handled, but it made me go back and study what drew me in so much.

In doing so, I found myself going over this scene a few times, and decided to share some things that I saw. Refresh yourself by watching the video, and then follow along with my thoughts below:

Whew. That was great.

Okay. What follows is a shot-by-shot description of the scene and the major feels I got from this powerful scene. The rhythm and structure were extremely well done. This scene left a mark on so many people, that I felt I had to study it a bit. I won't dissect every possible interpretation and analysis, but I will point out things I thought were worth mentioning.

I view the trailer as happening in three parts: The Approach, The Arrival, and the Encounter.

1. Part I - The Approach. The Millennium Falcon enters from hyperspace with a high-tech visual shot, traveling from right to left.

2. We get Rey's face (on the right side) getting ready to see something of importance. This cues the audience to get ready to look at something like...
3. ...the natural planet Ahch-To. The entire premise of The Force Awakens has revolved around finding Luke's location, and after all this time, we are nearly there.
4. The Millennium Falcon breaks through the clouds, mirroring the revealing nature of the scene.
5. Not to be subtle, the Millennium Falcon roars in full view, giving us a shot of the most iconic spaceship in this space drama.
6. The descending shot is held long enough to give a sense of anticipation similar to that feeling of finally arriving at your destination after a long trip.
7. As the Falcon zooms down, we see shots of scattered islands. The idea of solitude is readily apparent.
8. We see Rey's face again. This time, a bit less anxious. She feels something. Slight musical notes of the Force are teased. More natural color now fills the screen.
9. Chewbacca takes a curious look at Rey in her moment. The focus is on him and his noteworthy reaction. He senses something about her.
10. The Falcon sprays water loudly as it makes its final approach and the music fades. We're left with a peaceful looking isle and cut to...
11. Part II - The Arrival. Nature sounds are heard. Rey turns to look back one last time.
12. R2 and Chewbacca offer a bit of a farewell/good-luck. They aren't meant to go any further in this story. Rey stands where the grass is greener.
13. Rey begins her climb. The music fully changes over from the previous part's music.
14. In a rare Star Wars moment, there is the first of a few longer crossfades. These slow the pace and change the tone. There is no rush. Breathe.
15. We see the long, winding path Rey must take. She's barely noticeable as she ascends. This reminded me of kung fu masters and ancient gurus found on mountaintops.
16. The ascent continues as she makes her way from right to left. Her exercised breathing can be heard. She's on a much higher level than when she started.
17. We are shown what looks like a bit of a peak. We are making progress.
18. Rey has come far. The sea is becoming more distant, and we see a bit of her struggle on her face.
19. Her precarious standing on the path she has chosen is made apparent.
20. At almost exactly at the halfway point of the scene, we are abruptly transitioned into a shot of Rey walking back to the right across a thin ledge of rock.

21. Rey slows slightly to take in her stark surroundings. These are remnants of dwellings and some artifacts

22. In the center of a cradled valley, we can barely see a figure moving into a larger clearing. This is the final passageway leading into a life fully engaged with The Force.
23. Rey ascends with a concerned and determined look as the wind blows and the music swell to announce that we have reached...
24. Part III - The Encounter. The camera pans past Rey to focus on a drab and cloaked figure with Rey at the far right.
25. The scene dances flawlessly with our perceptions. The Force-ful music builds ominously (not joyously!), and we center on the muted frame of Luke Skywalker.
26. To bolster the situation, we are given a balanced ying/yang shot of young, vibrant, lively Rey on the right, and the older, stoic, calm Luke on the left.
27. Luke slowly turns to see what has found him after all this time...
28. And we haven't seen his face for a long time, so the reveal takes its time. We are given the gravity of the situation by being set up to feel the intensity on his face.
29. Rey has nothing that can be communicated with words.
30. She reaches for her belongings to grasp his lightsaber. The music drops and we get a slight rest from the reveal of this mythical figure.
31. Rey is having feelings.
32. Luke is having feelings
33. The Force Music is heavy and we see Rey with her earnest presentation.
34. Now Luke has serious feelings. The nature of the previous static shots is about to be broken because we're all about to realize something ...
35. This is a major shift from one...
36. the other.

Now go back and watch the left to right progression.

Hope you enjoyed this scene as much as I did. Let me know what you thought! 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

New Years Is My Favorite Holiday

Happy 2018 Everyone.

So yes, New Year's is my favorite holiday, and I don't even like to go out and party like that. I mainly sit around and meditate while sorting out the four actions I'm going to take in different parts of my life. That is, what I plan to Build, Acquire, Maintain, and Release. The last time I REALLY went out was way back in my Rockstar Games days, when in one night I became an expert on no less than four different types of tequila and drunken freestyling. Although fun, things are different now.

Now I take the time to plot out actual changes.

I don't plan on speaking on specifics, because it all works better when I just *do* the thing, and let the universe respond as it may. Favorable or not, I learn and grow for the next year. Also, my resolutions aren't a marketing platform for me or a discussion piece, but they represent a way to grow. As I introduce new things into the world (month by month), you will see an evolution. If I am ever talking about something very publicly, the process is already in motion. I used to think this was a bit of a cop out, but it's a process that works better for me. Think of the process as a form of personal prototyping.

So with this post, I just wanted to let you know that I'm still around and will be pushing new things in the new year. And no, blog posting isn't specifically one of my resolutions, but I suppose it helps me achieve my goals. And that's the important thing to me. Hopefully, you've got some challenges for the year that you're ready to take on.

Let me know what's going on in your 2018 and if you have any things you're looking to manifest. Alright! Let's go!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

He Said He Didn't Like Cartoony Art, I Went Full Toon

Most modern artists will end up having to talk to this special class of people called gallerists. They are the gatekeepers that get you in and out of the art scene. Here's a brief discussion I had with an LA gallerist:

Gallerist: "I like your art."
Me: "Thank you."
{fifteen minute (or more) art networking jibber jabber ensues}
Gallerist: "Hmmmm...well...we don't do cartoony art."
Me: "Well thank you for your time." *

My art has been called many things "fun", "colorful", "whimsical", "saturated", "odd", "anime-like", and so on, but this was the first guy that ever used the word "cartoony". At the time, my work wasn't *that* toon-like to me. So the gallerist's statement stuck out. If the cartoon label was the sticking point for this person, it could also the focal point for other people. By pushing my art even further in the cartoon direction, I would attract more people that would recognize the pop art influences.

For my purposes, I'll call it "toon-shading".

While it makes sense to me, I actually have to be more careful about making sure that I I'm communicating that I have more that surface visuals going with my art. This isn't just eye candy or something "fun" to me. People's gut reactions are to be expected, but I have to be careful about falling into holes I can't get out the bad pop art hole.

Anyway, maybe the toon-shaded look won't work out and I'll have to go with something else. Maybe it will work out, and I'll suddenly be that cartoony guy. Either way, the art isn't having the desired conversation, then I have to change what I'm saying with it. Such is the way.

- Mr Benja -

*Note on talking with gallerists/galleries: 
The quick back and forth is basically how a good portion of art meetings with galleries go, and that's okay. You can replace "cartoon art" with whatever sticking point they have. They want to keep people interested and they want to have a stable of artists around that they can use, but they usually don't envision a use for you right away. It's a timing and numbers game. I'm not mad at it, but it can be annoying.

Also, it's not that I wouldn't work with that gallery guy in the future, but there were more promising opportunities to pursue at the time. Anyone looking to get into a gallery or museum situation should  build a relationship with that gallery and take their time. Leave doors open for working with gallerists, but don't waste time going on a fool's errand.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

When? Every. Fucking. Day.

The Everyday Minis

Every. Fucking. Day.

I'm making a commitment. Right now. To release a painting every day, ad infinitum. This blog post is going to be my accountability metric. These little things have gotten me places I didn't expect, so I'm just going to keep doing them. They've turned out to be a better investment than I initially thought. But how did this all get started? Most every art advisor has told me to "go big". While that's not generally bad advice, I've learned that it's the small things that count. 

I didn't really set out to create pieces of diminutive art, but they were started as a way to form habitual painting practice. I got the idea after seeing how heavy some artists got for Giant Robot's Post-It Note show, where all art is created on a 3x3 inch Post-It. After wondering how much (or how little) work it would take, I created a few pieces, and it was cool! And since I'd already created a few powerup styled paintings that were relatively small, this wasn't that far of a leap for me. So the next art event that came around, I displayed the notes, and they sold! Huh. 

That was nice, but it wasn't enough to get me cranking them out. I was more interested in selling larger paintings and needed to feel like an artist creating his latest masterpiece. "GO BIG!" kept ringing in my head. But I was trying be more habitual, and with the minis I saw the opportunity for a good habits to be built. So far, it's been working.

Here are some results I've seen from working on the minis:
  1. Ideas manifest more quickly.
  2. Concepts are explored without a heavy investment.
  3. Public reactions to ideas are gauged/measured.
  4. I remain in closer contact with the audience.
  5. Processes are refined and developed faster.
  6. The older ladies tell me, "They're fun."
  7. Break through artists' block easier.
So while I'm doing these, I'll continue creating larger paintings. They have a feeling all their own, and I won't screw with that dynamic, but in the meantime, you can see them as they're posted:

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Pixel Aesthetic

I never liked pixel art as an aesthetic. For the most part, I felt the look was a bit kitsch. It felt like an odd throwback to the days of retro video gaming and bad graphics. (Because it was.) And that's not to say I disliked pixellation, I just didn't have a strong affinity for it. I feel the same way about polka-dots and most electronic dance music. In the 2000s and the early 2010s, I'd seen many uses of the form on Etsy, on Tumblr blogs, at conventions, and in indie games. 

My own venture, The 8-Bit Cubist, attempted to be something interesting in terms of art that respected people that came from that era, but was not "geek" in the traditional sense. We strove to be more than kitsch. In fact, We heavily restricted the use of pixel art as a way of expressing ourselves. The 8-Bit referred to where we came from, not a definition of a visual or stylistic period. So in that sense, using pixels (what are literally 8-bit graphics to people) would have confused the message.

But recently, I've rethought what the look means to people in 2017. I believe that we're far enough away from the hipster-retro aspect of pixels, that I can confidently present the look without communicating the wrong thing. The hand-painted pixels can be seen as representing art created traditionally in contrast to computer generated images that no longer maintain such a primitive look.

It's a continuing study into a complex conversation about the reality and the fantasy, the timeless and the temporary, the organic and the synthetic, and of course, the medium and the message.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

I Just Hit The Reset Button

While I was working on moving to a new station in life, my parents, Earl and Shirley, passed away. This occurred around the time when I was starting to play with pixel art, so this happened:

Creating their images was honestly the weirdest creative feeling I've ever had. Most other projects are just jobs, but this was the first time I'd tried to recreate family members. I would move a pixel to the wrong spot and feel frustrated or disappointed. Then I'd move another and feel happy because I could actually feel when I was getting closer to their likeness. Moving the mouse was like operating a ouija board as I felt my way around. *shivers*

I was happy with what I'd created, but I started to become aware that these pixels weren't just a thing to do. They were reflecting my thoughts and feelings. These images made me think of my parents' life teachings. They often expressed that I should always do what I think I should be doing. Sound simple? Yep. You're right.

Recently, I'd noticed in my art and life is that I wanted extraneous factors to be removed. That included what I ate, scheduled, drew, posted, created, etc. I wanted to do more, but I needed to remove unnecessary friction. To accomplish this, I made simple guidelines. For example, I decided to avoid high-fructose corn syrup. Just avoid HFCS, and you'll live a better life. And it worked for me. There was a little bit of work when reading labels, but that part was easy. The hard part was figuring out a good rule that makes sense for a given position in life. You can also view it as avoiding bullshit.

With pixels, I have found a way to make my art communication easier. It's a simplification that provides a stronger message. With this new outlook, I feel like I can face the day with a new outlook. I feel like I just hit the Reset button.

Thanks, Mom.
Thanks, Dad.

- Mr Benja -

Bonus Note:
I wrote this blog post and several others numerous times before deleting them many times over. I couldn't figure out what was wrong with what I was doing. Then I realized that the hosted Wordpress blog on my site was bugging me for quite a few reasons. I have now jumped over to Blogger to create a fresh start. Heck, I'm even using the free 'Simple' theme. It says so at the bottom of the page. 🙂

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Empowered Up

(Note: This is an older post republished for this blog.)

From "Mr Benja's Ice Cream Social" in North Park, San Diego.

Hearts, hats, weapons, tools, fruit, candy, icons, symbols, … I use all of these to empower life through art. Just a little push to get through the day. A focal point for the thoughts of the month. A reminder that this year will be better. In general, as a way to empower myself and others. Might sound goofy, but it’s true. I realized the power of ar when I was younger and traveling with my parents. They took me to the Picasso museum in Spain so that we could all experience something great. I didn’t know what I was really looking at, but they patiently informed me that I was viewing really important artwork. I took their word for it, but I didn’t get it. I just guessed he was famous.

At the end of our art day, we found ourselves inside the museum cafĂ©. I noticed a napkin with an image of a house on it and wanted to know who’s drawing was on it. It was an extremely adept sketch and it was on a disposable cloth! Wait. It was an early Picasso work? You mean the SAME guy with the grotesque paintings we’d seen all day did this as a kid? Everything changed. I felt like I knew nothing about how the world worked.

That small work of art shifted my entire paradigm. Everything I thought I knew about life had changed in one brief moment. That may sound like hyperbole, but these artists and their weren’t exactly real to me until then. The context in the art had now been made clear. I was now connected to the most primal forces of the universe. I was connected. Hell, I felt like the food critic in Ratatouille. (You know the scene I’m talking about.)

So to this day, the lesson of the napkin still sticks with me. It was a symbol of learning, travel, skill, misinterpretation, abstraction, wisdom, guidance, and so much else boiled down into a microcosm of lines on paper. Ever since that moment, I started making a conscious effort to keep things in my environment that powered me up and connected me in some way.

Art is functional and important to me. It can touch lives. So as pretentious as it may sound, I want to invigorate the observer with tangible sensations. Or maybe it’s just halfway decent wall candy. Hopefully though, when you walk past a piece of art, you get powered up.
– Mr Benja –

Sunday, January 1, 2017

My Favorite Holiday

(Note: This is an import from my older blog. It wasn't working for me.)

The 2017 New Year is here. I hadn't thought of it before, but this is my favorite time of the year.  Not like the partying or celebrating, I mean the resolutions and change part. A new year is a great time to enforce internal growth and change. There's something about the it that makes it easier to move forward. It starts from sometime after Halloween and goes all the way through the first week of the New Year. I find myself thinking about where I've been and where I plan to go. (Huh...that's about 20% of the year thinking about what the other 80% will be.)

For those that don't know me, I make plans, but don't speak on them very often. I've usually got something in motion, and talking about it doesn't do much for me. I've never been very good at getting much support from people by simply speaking. I'm just not good at it. I prefer to let  results move the needle. Unfortunately, this strategy can be frustrating in this blah-blah-blah era. Action as communication also has the benefit of forcing me to create actual assets that can be publicly released.

I've been talking about a blog for a while, but it was time to actually do it. I'll figure it out. I like to think of it as my own slice of Internet real estate that's uniquely mine. I had a blog a long while ago, but deleted it in the face of such tools as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc. But things have turned out a little differently than expected. Those outlets have a strong bias to what their audience expects. Because the message ends up being the medium, right? (I mean anything is possible. I read a book publishing article thoughtfully written up on Imgur, but I can't go around suggesting that it's the best place for you to post such work.) In the end, my own webpage is the only place where I can reasonably keep things in improper working disorder.

And before I go too far with this, I'd like to list some credits to people that I've picked up some positive cues from: Seth Godin, Chuck D, Mike Rowe, Tim Ferriss, Elizabeth Warren, Boyce Watkins, Bobby Hundreds, Guy Kawasaki, Shaun King, Kevin Smith, Rachel Maddow, Robert Greene, Scott Adams, Philip DeFranco, Beyoncé, David Choe, Kevin Kelly, Micah White, Cenk Uygur, Shane Smith, Tariq Nasheed, Kaws, Colin Kaepernick, Ries & Ries, Robert Scoble, Shepard Fairey, Eddie Huang, Joe Rogan, Lil B, Pharrell Williams, Earl & Shirley, Big Mal, Elijah Mobley, Lisa 'n' Lori, and others.
As for the plans for 2017?

They'll manifest when it's time.