No matter how hard I try, it always seems like one of my cultural identities is fading away. In the “Converging Cultures” studio challenge, we were challenged to use Adobe Photoshop to create a composition or a series of compositions that incorporated both secondary and primary photos to poetically display the cultures that are significant to us.
I’ve created a series of compositions to fully express how I view myself as a multicultural American-Chinese. The name of my first piece is “Sucked In” while the second piece is called “Rotating Moon”.Both pieces present the same message in different contexts. I am mainly trying to express the repetitive phases I constantly go through when it comes to my cultural identity. The phases mainly revolve around how my fading cultural identities will always eventually end up back with me because of my unceasing fondness for them both.
“Sucked In” description: “Sucked In” revolves around the themes of representative colors, language, and animals. My Chinese name is integrated with thy scales of a dragon. The Chinese characters are written in a calligraphic manner. With calligraphy being an extremely prestigious and difficult style of Chinese chirography, the style can convey that parts of me are extremely traditionally Chinese. The dragon scales can be alluded and compared to one of China’s greatest architectural buildings: the Great Wall. The Great Wall of China is commonly alluded to a dragon because of its length, stability, and power. Moreover, it signifies that I have a solid Chinese background. The cosmic image in the cup is made up of the colors of the American flag: blue, white and red. The black hole in the middle, therefore, becomes an important emphasis and focal point of the piece. Visually, the second character of my name looks like it is being sucked into the black hole. When put into the right context, it signifies the enfeeblement of my Chinese culture at some points in my life due to many surrounding factors. The gradient change of color of that character is there to help build the inevitable transition of my Chinese culture being lost into or overwhelmed by the American one. In the end, however, I will always “drink” both cultures back into me. This is a repetitive process that helps me better myself at being a balanced multicultural individual.
“Rotating Moon”: On the other hand, “Rotating Moon” revolves around the themes of traditions, holidays, representative animals, and beliefs. The moon represents one of the phases I’ve been through. Astronomically, the moon is forever rotating, going into each of its 8 different phases every once a month. This, again, empathizes on the repetition of my lost and gain of cultural identities as the ratio of dark to light changes through each phase change. Here, the moon is divided into two semicircles two represent the two different cultures. The black half represents my American identity while the lighter half represents my Chinese identity. Contrary to “Sucked In”, my American identity-mainly represented by the eagle silhouettes- is flying away in this piece. The sheep silhouettes that are both on the ground and the moon represents the 12 Chinese zodiac signs and the beliefs that come with it. Personally, I was born in the year of the sheep. In China, it is widely believed that you will be luckier and more successful when your “year” arrives. Therefore, this reminds me of Chinese New Year celebrations because it is the celebration that takes place when welcoming a new “animal of the year”. At the same time, the bright, spherical objects represent 2 things. The first thing is a lantern. A lantern strongly symbolizes Chinese New Year celebrations because it is what people would traditionally decorate their accommodations with in order to welcome the new year. The second thing is a pumpkin. This introduces a new aspect of the piece because the tree branches of the tree with red fruit gives people Halloween vibes. In brief, I love both Halloween and Chinese New Year, 2 very different holidays with very different traditions from 2 very different cultures. Moreover, the falling down of the red object means that these cultures are in a way, entering me, as shown by the growth of the tree on top of my underground head. This conveys that sometimes I am truly indecisive of which culture I belong to even if sometimes I tend to favor one more than the other.
These are the surreal devices that I’ve used in my pieces:
Scale: The cosmic galaxy is restricted in a small cup. In “Rotating Moon” , my head is almost as big as the moon. Furthermore, because the moon is imagined as a big object, it also makes the audience think of the sizes of the objects surrounding it. For example, are the birds and sheep just really huge or is the moon just really small?
Dislocation: The sheep and red objects are placed on the moon, an unfamiliar environment for those things. My head is also buried underground, a seemingly weird place for a head to be at.
Levitation: In “Sucked In”, the two Chinese characters on the side looks a little bit like they’re floating because of the shadows behind them.
Juxtaposition: In “Sucked In”, the words are combined with the scales, which is somewhat an impossible combination. The black hole is also unusually combined with the cup. The birds of “Rotating Moon” can also be described as juxtaposition because some are connected and combined with the dark side of the moon.
“Sucked In” was inspired by Victoria Siemer, otherwise known as Witchoria, and her placements of galaxies in coffee mugs. I thought that it was a very interesting idea that had a lot of meaning to it. Therefore, I borrowed her both her idea and technique from her. I integrated an American-styled black hole in a Chinese-style mug.
“Rotating Moon” was inspired by Jerry Uelsmann and his high-contrast, black and white themed pieces. I admired the way he was able to use contrasting values and shades of black and white to create focal points in his work. That’s why I made the majority of my artwork black and white, making parts of my work more contrasted to emphasize on more important symbols. The black-and-white theme was also able to bring out the only colored object in the piece: the lantern/pumpkin, which is an important symbol in my piece.
For both pieces, I began by brainstorming and planning out my ideas. For some extra inspiration, I looked at several other pieces of successful artists. Afterward, I started gathering primary photos for the sketches that my peers liked the most. I used a total of 4 primary photos. The first one was a picture of my hands cupped around the mug. I purposefully painted my nails red to further emphasize with the Chinese culture. My second primary photo was my Chinese name. I wrote my Chinese name on a separate piece of calligraphy paper using actual calligraphy ink and a brush. The third photo was that of my head. The fourth photo was a photo of bright, lit-up lantern fruits that I took over the Chinese New Year break. Next, I found all my high-resolution secondary photos. These included the moon, the silhouettes, the tree, the cloud background, the black hole, and the scales. The final touches for both pieces were spent trying to perfect the little details.
For “Sucked In”, I first started off by selecting, fixing and placing the first two primary photos on a 76 cm by 55 cm canvas. To make the background look nicer, I altered the brightness, colors, and saturation of the background. I used the warp tool to pull certain parts of the second Chinese character into the black hole so that it seems like it’s being sucked into it. Then, I masked my black hole picture under the circle I’ve selected on the cup. Then, I placed another red galaxy like the photo on top of the black hole and blended in it so that it had more color and meaning to it. I did this by lowering the opacity, erasing certain parts, and using the blend and blurring tools. Then, I masked some dragon scales underneath the two Chinese characters on the sides through the same process. Next, I masked 3 different photos of dragon scales underneath the second Chinese character to convey transitional change. I blended, blurred and erased the areas of intersection for the 3 different layers to make it have a smoother transition. Finally, I added shadows to the 2 characters on the side so that it would look more realistic in terms of the light source and have a floating effect.
(Process Photos of “Sucked In”^)
Similar to “Sucked In”, I also began “Rotating Moon” by selecting, fixing and placing the picture of my head on the bottom of the canvas. I drew a black rectangle underneath it and used the eraser tool to randomly and roughly erase the top of it to make it look more like an earth ground. Next, I made the head black and white. I also made brightness/contrast, hue/saturation and such small changes to it. Following that, I placed my cloud background underneath everything while the moon is placed on top of the background. Later, I used the dispersion effect on the dark side of the moon. I did this by using a scattered/dotted brush that I’ve previously downloaded to erase the dark side. To add dark spots outside of the moon, I had to liquefy the dark side and stretch it out so I had something to erase with. I used a variety of brush sizes for different spots to make it seem more realistic. Eventually, all the eagle silhouettes were selected and all carefully placed into the right positions. To make the dispersion effect more realistic, I changed the opacities of the silhouettes. The ones near the center of the moon were lighter while the ones further away were high in opacity. As for the rest of the objects, I went through pretty much the same process of cutting, selecting and placing them in the right positions. The red objects’ brightness was lowered and placed as some of the top layers so the black and white effects of the head won’t affect its natural, bright redness.
(Process Photos of “Rotating Moon”^)
My final pieces ended up looking very different from my original plan because of all the challenges and changes that I had to go through. One huge challenge was the loss of my previous work in photoshop because my computer suddenly crashed a few days before the due date. However, I think that this challenge has given me an opportunity to improve my piece even more because I had to redo it. Another challenge that came up was that I was lacking cultural representations in my work. It wasn’t clear what I was trying to convey with my piece. I overcame this challenge by adding more symbols and details to my work.
(Completed project photos^)
I think that I grew a lot with this studio challenge because a lot of effort was put into it. I mainly challenged myself in 3 different ways. The first way was the dispersion effect. I had to go online and watch several tutorials to find the one that would work best for my piece. The dispersion effect that I’ve used in my piece is harder than the normal one because the normal one only asks for the first part of what I’ve done, which is the erasing and liquefying part. On the other hand, I have to add birds on top of that and change the opacity of every single one of the eagle silhouettes to get the desired effect. Not only that, I also had to restart the whole process with my moon several times to see which brush would look the best. I believe that I’ve also challenged myself in terms of creativity and ideas. With how I would’ve usually chosen very cliché objects to represent my message and thoughts, I think that I’ve really challenged and improved myself on that aspect. I think that these 2 pieces are my most un-cliché work because they incorporated very unoriginal symbols of the two cultures that can give the audience space to think and comprehend it themselves without having the work itself directly tell them the message. I’ve also challenged myself in terms of colors. The majority of my second piece was based on a black-and-white color theme. I think I’ve really stepped out of the box because I’ve never worked with such a color theme before. I think that this has better taught me how to use different values and shades of the same colors to create emphasis and focal points. With that said, I think that I’ve definitely put in a lot of effort and has made the work the best it can be. I spend the majority of class time learning from tutorials, which was quite useful in the long run. Looking at my complete work, I definitely think I’ve grown and matured as an artist. One example is my desire to try new ways of creating art. This studio challenge has taught me that new ways of creating art can greatly benefit my understanding of art. For example, the black and white theme of my second piece has shown me that art doesn’t need many colors to be great.
Understand Arts Community: I’ve more or less interact with the artists that have inspired my work because I’ve incorporated their styles and techniques into mine. For example, the “black hole in a cup” idea was inspired by Withchoria while the black and white theme was inspired by Jerry Uelsmann.
(My work in comparison to the inspirations of my piece^)
Envision: Planning and envisioning what the next steps were for the piece were a crucially important part of this project. It was important because it leads to the preparation of primary and secondary photos. I’ve done this with my brainstorming and sketches in my sketchbook so I could bring in class the things I wanted to take pictures of.
(Final Plan Photos to plan for primary photos^)
Express: These pieces express how I view myself as a multicultural individual. Therefore, it conveys a personal meaning. I think that I’ve successfully expressed myself because I’ve fully expressed the complexities of how my identity is constantly changing with several symbols imagery.