So Long Studio

DSCF1342(Starting with an image of my daughter Maggie at Venice Beach, no studio needed!)

I’m writing this in the final few days of cleaning out my studio and moving everything back to my house.  It’s been a year since I had 24 hr access to a shared space in a fashion house startup in Tempe and I thought I would share some of the ups and downs, what I thought I would get out of it and the reality.

In 2016 I had a string of music video shoots and had germs of ideas for web series.  It seemed like having a space and employees and being a full business was the next step.  The opportunity came to have a former tv studio in the basement of a new fashion startup- potential to do work with designers, stylists, all sorts of industry types.  I hadn’t shot fashion in a few years but knew I could do the sort of weirder fashion that everyone says they like but no one will pay for.

One of the two managers of the space already knew a photographer, so I was brought in as the video guy, which wasn’t much of a significant difference except I wasn’t allowed to teach photography classes in the classrooms, which is something I’ve successfully done for 10 years.  The photography classes that were supposed to be offered never came about, making my inability to teach a topic because someone else was gonna do it pointless.  This was probably the first sign it wasn’t going to be a great fit.

The first 6 months of being in the studio meant a lot of clean up, painting, model shoots, filming myself, meeting new people and generally having a great time.  There were even a couple paid opportunities though nowhere near what I imagined.  Many scenarios involved me being recommended as  videographer to a company or person who didn’t have any interest in creative stuff, they were looking for a commercial for their video screens or whatever.

I think during this time I made pretty creative use of the studio- playing more with colored backdrops that we could totally trash, lasers, smoke machines, sets, nudes.  Since many of the models I like to work with are out-of-state, I thought it would be just as easy to bring people here and shoot in the studio all set up instead of my traveling, renting a car, booking a place, dealing with strict time limits etc.

Unfortunately there’s only a few people I shoot with regularly in the Phoenix metro, and when I looked into shooting with agency models I found out pretty fast that I’d be asked to do a bunch of trade and within a tight creative box.  Also I only ended up bringing a couple of my favorite model/ actress collaborators, and after I put a guest room in to do it more frequently, my sister moved in and STILL hasn’t left.

By the time summer hit, a variety of things changed.

I had started an art gallery job that, while it doesn’t pay much, was super convenient for me- 1 mile from my house and I do a lot of my computer work there (including writing this).

My car air conditioner died and the car itself was leaking oil, neither of which have been fixed, but that meant I wasn’t driving into Tempe if I didn’t have to.

I had a couple jobs through the studio that turned out to be a lot more trouble than they were worth, involving missed payments and chaos.

People in the building were asking me to come lecture for free and also to do big slideshow presentations etc.

Adobe was sending me to San Diego Comic Con to give a panel on their new mo-cap animation software, and the fashion head said it wasn’t going to be mentioned in the studio newsletter since it wasn’t fashion related.  That might not sound like a big deal but to me it was like “a cool thing that is related to the businesses here”.

By the end of the summer, I came to a few conclusions of what was working out and what wasn’t- based on

A. what I wanted to do

B. what I had an audience for

C. what people would pay for

D. what companies supported me

…and what I ended up with was

trippy Instant Film

Character Animator

dark video stuff

stuff I do with my daughter Maggie

stuff I shoot with like 6 specific models

As far as poppy, bright fashion stuff goes- I think there’s a lot of it out there, and people who build their entire portfolios around it, with Halloween masks and children’s toys etc.  And I think tonally it’s not something I want to pursue and I don’t think what audience I have is into.

But here’s the thing about that list- I don’t need a studio for any of it.  Or to be more specific, I don’t need a studio shared with others, where I have to drive a distance and deal with ASU traffic and pay for parking to get walked in on by a tour group and have $50 insurance come out of my account every month while owing a large $ of services to the building manager.

Oh, I’m not happy that I quit all my local art center teaching so I could schedule classes for a company that wouldn’t let me teach what I successfully teach and whose signup process is so difficult to understand that customers told me they couldn’t do it.

So it’s a mix of disappointment and relief that I’m moving all the stuff back to my 10×10 backyard workshop and in a couple weeks, room that my sister is soon to be vacating.  I still don’t know and don’t care about anything involving fashion and it seems the feeling is mutual.

But in the end – the aesthetic of Primordial Creative is to be very organic, even when glitchy; to have some involvement of the elements or nature, not be in some controlled box.

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Creative Working Habits

I love hearing on podcasts or in person how other artists work, so I decided to write up my work schedule and put it out in case anyone else had interest.
Maggie (30 of 31)
Some set up: I have 2 kids, 9 and 10, who are in 4th and 5th grades. Currently they are on a fall break but generally you can expect them to be out of the house 830am-3pm most days. I also work 19 hours at an art gallery in my local City Hall.
The creative week begins Sunday when I typically go to my photo studio around 8 am and film myself for YouTube, Skillshare/ Udemy tutorials, Patreon videos etc. One filming session is around a month’s worth of content. If my wife takes my kids to hang out with their cousins, I have the rest of Sunday to edit; otherwise I do stuff with the family the rest of the day, but film b-roll on my phone or shoot stock images if we go somewhere interesting.
Sunday night I write up a to-do list for the rest of the week, with “big goals” and “small goals” and parsing out even the tiny steps like “go make copies” or whatever. This is the only way I get anything done.
What I am working on changes, but in any given week I may need to film + edit + market tutorials/ YouTube content/ my own video art pieces, do beta testing for Adobe, try to wrestle up some freelance stuff, sell old work on Ebay or wherever, put music and images and footage into Shutterstock and Pond5, write blogs about all of these.
I also need to make new work- new music, new illustrations and animations and photo shoots for personal stuff. I really only schedule “make new work” when it involves other people, like filming for a short or a model shoot; otherwise, I do it randomly and pretty much on a daily basis. A lot of my music is done sitting in a car waiting or laying in bed, illustrations for animations done while watching tv at night w the kids.
6 out of 7 days is powered by either coffee or energy drinks, with a nap in the afternoon. I give myself 1 random day to not get caffeinated and don’t expect to do much art.
Monday and Tuesday I am super aggressive in meeting the needs of the list. I put in around 12 hours of editing/ creating/ marketing. By Wednesday, I need to get out and go to a museum or something else fun. Thursday, back to 12 hours, Friday is “anything goes” day where I just do creative things and forget about business/ marketing. Saturday is usually the full day off.
In total I spend about 65 hours a week doing artist stuff, a lot of that is done at my art gallery job (where I am writing this post before I edit another tutorial), as well as whatever I can do on mobile while out with my family.
Unless there is an immediate deadline, I usually spend only 2 to 3 hours focused on a particular project. For example, a short film project will have about 2 hours of sound editing done on it before I put it aside for the day/ week. This is a “chip away” philosophy that helps me not get bored or frustrated.
I also have to change my location- creating at home is the worst and most distracting, but if I’m at my gallery job, a library, my studio, a coffee shop, even a McDonald’s with headphones on- shit gets done.
The general creative output, per month:
4-5 pieces of music
20 content-type videos (YouTube, Skillshare/ Udemy, Patreon)
2 freelance gigs
2 pieces of video art/ short films
Part of the strategy of creating so much stuff is that I can recycle material in other forms – something I did for a YouTube video can be repurposed as a tutorial for a pay site, or music I made 15 years ago finds new life in a video art piece. There’s a constant strip mining and recycling of work.
Everyone’s creative week is unique to them, but I think an artist of any kind needs to have it be a constant, ongoing thing- you cannot just work on your creativity on weekends, or every so often. Even within family time, dog walking time, working out at the gym- there’s ways to work in creativity even if it’s just sketching or going to museum or getting inspired at a movie or letting your mind drift.  

Art, Advice + Setting

Earlier this year I saw Cheech Marin talking about his painting collection, how art experts were always saying “painting is a dead art” and he said he would go into museums and galleries and see endless paintings.
 
This was a bit after Photolucida where one taste-making reviewer told me “museums and galleries don’t currently care about images with models or any kind of planned setup in them, they only want real life” and that anyone can shoot fashion without knowing anything about it- then a very established top-tier “planned portrait” photographer told me the exact opposite.
 
Then there are the endless calls to “brand” your work, be an expert at one thing and work that thing into the ground so you’re the “go-to guy” even though it’s likely there are many “go-to guys” and that singular style will get real stale real quick.
 
I think if you’re a creative person any advice to be given or received is very lifestyle-specific to the point that it’s barely worth seeking out. I know a lot of what I make is stuff that can be organized around my kids’ school schedule, and a lot of my ideas come from the things they are interested in that align with what I liked at their age. The idea of spending months away from home working on a film set or shooting nightlife or making a truly violent horror film or documentary on junkies is absurd to my lifestyle, and even if I tried it would be half hearted, but other people can make it work with ease.
 
David Byrne talks about how music is setting-specific in his book Music, like punk rock in a small club vs choral music in a cathedral, booty bass in a jacked out car, etc. and I’m starting all art is setting specific as well, not just the final destination like a gallery or vimeo, but the setting your life is in.

Closing Up Shop

A brief announcement that, coinciding with my shift to Primordial Creative multimedia, I’m closing this blog.  Tumblr, Instagram and Vimeo have become my primary social networks and it’s difficult to feed all these beasts and still do the work I need to do.  If you enjoyed my work and tutorials and want to keep up, please do so at one or all of the above!  Thanks for sticking around and happy holidays!

Announcing Primordial Creative

I’ve spent most of 2015 producing videos that build upon my photographic style while incorporating original music, graphic design and animation.  Having my business name “David Miller Photoworks” isn’t relevant at this stage, and “David Miller” is a name so common I have had multiple times where I’m mixed up with another photographer.  This brings us to Primordial Creative- a multimedia production studio focusing on video shorts, sound design, animations, and still photography with a surreal pop flavor.    primordial more lite

In 2016, PC aims to open a physical studio space and bring on other local creatives. It’s been a lengthy transition from basic still photography of an indie artist to this monstrosity of production so I hope anyone following my work enjoys what’s next!

http://www.primordialcreative.com

Photographer without a camera

My beloved Fuji X-T1, which I shoot the majority of my still and video work on, went into a coma in Los Angeles last week and had to be sent off for repair- likely a 6 week ordeal that will cost hundreds. November and December are also the time when I need the camera the most for family shoots, so I’m asking friends to consider helping out by shopping my Etsy site for art. Any sales will go towards getting a new camera/ repairing the old one. I also have my e-book “Capturing the Face” available on Amazon, and for people in the East Valley I have 2 classes running at Tumbleweed in December, Making Manga and GoPro Fundamentals. Thank you in advance to anyone able to help out!

Excerpt #2 from “Capturing The Face- A Guide To Creative Photographic Portraiture”

Capturing the Face coverOver the next few weeks I’ll be posting excerpts from my new e-book on creative portraiture, “Capturing the Face”.  The book is subdivided into the 10 considerations we need to make when we approach a stylized portrait shoot.  The full 44 page, $2.99 e-book is available for the Kindle here, and if you enjoyed this I encourage you to check out my image transfer workshop video tutorials on Skillshare!

This particular excerpt is a discussion of “Styling”:

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Styling was one of the most difficult things for me to get down in my own portrait photography, because I don’t know the names of particular fashions or hairstyles, and google image searches are a real crapshoot if you don’t know specific names.  I will work with stylists and send them inspirational imagery but that’s no guarantee that they know how to achieve the particular look, or if the model we are using has the right hair length/ size for whatever is available.  

The styling crew (hair, makeup and wardrobe) are the people who get the least out of any photos you take, so this is likely where some money is going to be spent.  Because I like a particular amount of production in my images, a hairstylist is top priority for a shoot- people generally cannot do their own hair as well as an actual stylist can, who has 360 degree access to the subject’s head. 

Makeup is something most men do not need for creative portraiture, and the majority of women I’ve worked with can do what I refer to as “going out on a date” makeup- stuff that looks great in real life but doesn’t communicate well in a photo.  An actual makeup artist can do film/ photographic makeup with astronomically expensive supplies and it’ll actually show up in the images.  Makeup artists are generally more costly than hair stylists, and if you have both hair and makeup on set, you’re easily adding an extra hour or two to the shoot time.  It’s a frustrating scenario to have a studio and models booked for 4 hours and hair and makeup eats up the majority of that time while the photographer stands around.

Beyond makeup is fx- bodypaint, gore, fake scars, adding jewelry, making people look frozen or cartoony.  The more specific the look, the more it covers, the longer it takes to do.  The bodypaint shoots I’ve done have ranged from 1 hour (a chaotic mess which still looked cool) to 6 hours (elaborate designs involving words).  Each time I work with an fx artist, I leave thinking it was worth it, but the process of getting it done is quite tiresome for all involved.

I don’t have too many words for wardrobe and prop styling- but one can see how budgets could spiral based on the styling alone.  It’s said that setting a film as a period piece makes the cost skyrocket in such a way that Hollywood does its best to avoid them.  If you do choose to create something that is period specific and requires styling, then there should be a lot of extra research to make sure everything fits the way it is supposed to.  A few years ago I came across a fashion shoot based on the D-Day, with a bikini model among  a platoon of soldiers who were all holding modern weapons but dressed in 1940s GI outfits.   

There was a time when my photoshoots were really over complicated.  Lots of patterns and textures and accessories and unique styling, and at the end of all that effort, I maybe got one portfolio piece out of it.  

The problems with a “busy” look are:

1. it’s expensive to get everything right and looking good, and if you start cutting corners (like getting stuff from the Halloween store for wardrobe), the whole scenario collapses like a house of cards.

2. the less versatile the look, the fewer outlets the final image has- unusable as gallery images, unusable as stock or mixed media pieces or anything really.

3. Busy compositions are overall less appealing than simplicity.  Think of “Norwegian Wood” by the Beatles vs. “Master of Puppets” by Metallica.  What song can you actually hum?  Or to put it another way:  who wants to live in a house full of junk?

This takes me to shooting things very cleanly in an almost “generic” sense.  It’s a lesson I learned from Richard Avedon, Man Ray, and other photographic heroes with a strong sense of design, and movies like Drive or Pacific Rim or Jaws.  Start simple, and build it up, rather than get super complex and have it fall apart like a house of cards.