Sunday, September 20, 2009

PDX Art: Interview with Nance Paternoster

Hi Nance thanks for doing this

Where are you originally from and what brought you from NY to Portland?

I was born in Queens, NY but grew up in Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island. A whaling town on Long Island Sound – which is why I have moments of fleeing to the coast here every once in a while :o)

I lived in San Francisco for many years and then moved to Portland to work as Flame Artist (Compositing and Special FX) on the FOX series the PJs at Will Vinton Studios.

What is Computer Graphic Imaging and who developed it?

To me, this term would imply creating & manipulating imagery on a computer.

For me this medium has never stayed just at that point. What I mean is, I have always taken the image from the screen and integrated other mediums with the printed image, whether it be film, collage, 3-dimensional collages, light sculpture, fabric, veneer, metal, paint, pastel etc. Anything really – but with a focus on mixing things in a way where the result is archival and 1 of a kind.

Check out this link for the History of the field. When I started, there was very little happening, so I was lucky enough to watch it all evolve. We studied programming, and traditional artists such as Miro and Kandinsky as we wrote software to emulate color and shapes as well as composition.

To me since my teacher Ed Zajec was from Europe, Slovenia – his influence was pretty international. He was a pioneer and developed his own approach to using Digital tools as fine art at such an early time (he started in the 1960s).

Since when is it accepted as a new Art medium or is it?

I would have to say that even though there was a group of us always believing that it was a fine art form of it’s own, this medium has always been questioned due to it’s inability to reproduce exactly onto paper what we see on screen until about the 90’s.
I have collaborated with other Digital Artists from around the world almost yearly since 1985 at Siggraph experimenting with other mediums.

The other issue was that since the file was on the computer, how could a Digital piece be of value since you could make as many pieces as you wanted. With the invention of Archival Inks by Jon Cone things began to change.
with the development of new inks by several people and the testing of achival inks by we now know that these inks if used on archival surfaces can last upwards of 100 years.

At this point, photographers began to be interested and created limited edition series of Giclee (ink jet) prints.

I now use many traditional mediums confidently with Digital printing onto all kinds of properly prepped surfaces to create one of a kind fine art pieces and not only do I see more acceptance but more people in the gallery scene understanding the terminology and use of digital mediums.

What tools are necessary?

Well the fastest Mac made is always the most pleasurable machine to work on, Photoshop, Painter, a Wacom drawing tablet for free form drawing & great pressure sensitivity so that the harder you press the more ink comes out, several hard drives for image libraries and backup, 1 large format printer (my preference being Epson – though I am excited to jump in with Canon and HP now that they have large format Fine Art printers). I own the Epson 9800 which prints 4” wide by 150 feet long and a small Epson 220 which is 13” wide and can take long rolls as well, and lots of fine art paper and fabric and other materials to work on as well as paint, pastels, gesso, molding paste and anything Golden makes, good brushes, and a good UV Varnish to preserve the final piece.

Of course, these are my preferences…keep in mind I started programming in Fortran and printing onto punch cards with computers that did not recognize color at that point…so really as long as a machine can comfortably run Photoshop with a file the size you would like to print – then you are set.

How does it feel to be one of the pioneers for digital Art photography and animation?

Well, I guess I would consider myself to be a Digital Fine Artist as that has always been my roots. I have always felt lucky to have chosen a field that blossomed before my eyes and continues to grow and be incredibly exciting as well as amazing in the yearly developments. I have witnessed so much and continue to imagine what will be in our future. I feel I have a lot to offer in teaching having started with such basic digital tools and in programming as it gives me a solid understanding of how things work.

And how has it progressed since its early days?

Well to start, I can remember when I got back from studying a year in Italy in 1984 and attended New York Institute of Technology to make up some Computer Graphic credits. They had at the time a paint system that was developed by programmers and scientists. This was before with had GUIs or any kind of user interfaces that made sense to artists. The menus were non intuitive and hard to use. We used a scanner the was black and white yet the paint system could understand color so we had to add color to the black and white images which gave the images a unique color sense.

If you look at the piece in the gallery on this page of my site on the top row to the right you will see an example of this. This piece is called “American Brunch” and started with a group of images placed onto a flatbed scanner in 1984.

From there, I took at job at a company called Genigraphics where we used a machine that used it’s own language – which is how I have come to title my pieces in a certain way. This machine was originally created to be a flight simulator. It was giant and had to be in a cold room so we all wore gloves with the finger tips cut off. These machines were vector based at the time. We had to create shading by layering multiple shapes of slightly varying color next to each other to make something look smooth in color gradation. When we exceeded our artwork space limit (didn’t take much at the time) we would create a digital mask and then use a film recorder to shoot part of the image and they go back to creating the other parts of the images with masks until on film we had several images with masked out areas that would be combined with an optical printer into one piece of 35mm film.
A single image would fill up a large Bernouli disk which looked like an 8 track but 8 times larger. Now we do this all in Photoshop and carry it around on a little flash drive that we could wear around our neck.
The photo-realism in Feature Films now with Computer Generated characters and worlds, the evolution is just amazing.

What is digital painting?

It is the process of painting on a computer. You can do this with a mouse as people did before there were tablets (myself included) or you can use a Graphics tablet so that it feels like you are really drawing. It is a device that has a flat surface to draw on and a pen the interfaces with it to draw with. You have to ability to make custom brushes in Photoshop such as a Calligraphy brush, a chalk brush, a oil pastel brush etc. You can make brushes that look like leaves by scanning in a leave and create a photorealistic tree that way. You can set up various airbrushes and paint a person’s face with realistic shading as you would with traditional tools.

In what forms is it printed out?

Well that depends on the Artist. People in business who sell prints print from the computer onto papers or film and now some fabrics. The papers can be fine art paper commercially prepped for printing so that when you print on them (as long as you have you profile and settings set correctly and you machine calibrated) you will see on paper what you see on screen in terms of color matching.

I print onto anything that will fit through my printer. I prep surfaces of found materials myself with archival coatings that have been tested to allow the colors to print correctly and to keep the inks archival. For example in the show I had at ANKA I started with Arches 88 which is not a commercially prepared paper, I then painted a bunch of texture onto the surface with a big brush, I then covered that with an iridescent acrylic for reflectivity in the final print, and coated it with a rabbit skin glue which allows you to print onto that surface. I think I ran the print through the printer and when complete coated the entire print with a UV Varnish.

What is Synergistic Preservations?

It is a new company I have started which allows me to make custom artwork in collaboration with a client. It starts with them having a feel for what they would like, what color, what materials, what subject matter etc and what size and we go from there. Here is the blurb from my site and a link to my blog which shows an example of work I just completed for Chief Media in New York city.
What is so satisfying about this work is that the client is part of the creation process and they are very happy with the result because they helped design it. Since my work is one of a kind this also gives them a valuable piece of art in the end.

Collaborative Artwork between Artist and Client

• Synergistic Preservations creates unique, original and archival artwork through an energetic, exciting collaborative process between the artist and the client. This process makes you the client central to the outcome, so that the final piece reflects your aspirations and visual interests. Each custom piece is an archival, original work of art.
• Synergistic Preservations works with interior designers, architects, curators and independent art buyers, creating original fine art with a range of custom media for all environments. Working one on one with me, the Artist, allows you to obtain the exact visuals that you want on your walls , and to invest in Fine Art that increases in value over time. Created with archival materials, these one of a kind pieces make for a quality investment.
• Your original piece will always be a unique creation: in this cutting-edge process, I integrate several media with the Digital Print using all archival materials so your piece can never be reproduced.
• I am a veteran Digital Fine Artist, having approached digital media as fine art since 1980. In addition to my many years as a Digital Fine Artist, I have also worked in production for many years.

You teach at PNCA what do you teach?

I teach Compositing and Motion Graphics as well as advanced Photoshop which includes Photorealistic digital painting and photo illustration.
Compositing has to do with combining elements from many sources and making them look believable in the final composition. In the compositing class, we work with motion based elements and in Photoshop we use still images. For Motion Graphics we usee the same tools After Effects, Photoshop and Illustrator and our focus is more about Graphic and type design in motion.

What are the carrier options of your students?

Does this mean what options do they have when they graduate ?

If so, I would say that they would feel comfortable working as a Compositor or a Motion graphics artist in production if they took those classes. If they took the Photoshop class, they should feel comfortable color correcting images and compositing them into scenes, as well as how to approach a photorealistic painting, restore a photo, or create a certain look or style from a certain period. Many new questions come up each semester and since they do a final project of choice they all have a different goal with a professional output.

You work has been featured in different kind of magazines
How did you approach them and are their trends you have to be aware of ?

Well, I have been fortunate to have started in this field so early so the magazines that still exist from years ago for Digital Art such as Computer Graphics World and know who I am because they have published my work and they pursue me.
The New York Times reviewed my work a few times when I was younger and the field was so new. Now there are so many talented Digital Artists that I would be more interested in showing them something that I felt was a new an innovative process or series.

You also worked for film and television what are the differences between commercial Art and fine Art or is this old fashioned way to look at?

Well again, I feel like I have been lucky because even though the Film and Television world have a commercial focus there are so many incredibly talented artists in this field. I have learned so much from working in production at this level and this has made me more efficient and skilled in my Fine Art work.

For example, when I was hired to be a photo realistic paint artist on Starship Troopers, I had to paint a photorealistic bug (since the film was about bugs) to land the job. This caused me to figure out how to do this digitally. Now I can confidently paint photo-realistically on the computer and teach students how to do this. Production also teaches you to be fast – which gives you more time to make art – always a good thing!
Right now I am happy to be teaching and creating. When working in production it is extra hard after 12-14 hours on a computer to want to spend even more hours to do something creative on a computer –though I did it. I prefer this schedule right now.
With the group of people involved in these project being artists there is a lot of creative ideas that go into a final product, but ultimately the designs are make by directors, producers and writers so there isn’t very much creative freedom vs. Fine Art where it is all about that.

How involved are the Art pieces time and process wise?

They all differ. I am definitely a collector of images, textures and materials as well as concepts. I carry things around with me for years. With the show at ANKA, each stage was a challenge. The piece are mounted onto a brushed aluminum frame and attaching the acid free foam core to that frame in a way where the acid free element remained in tact was one challenge with integrated the advice of the tech support dept at Golden Art Supplies as well as Art Media’s framing team here in town. I am always at Winks or some hardware store to find the perfect way to frame or hang some of these pieces because I integrate some many materials that aren’t straight forward. That to me is part of the excitement

It sometimes will take a year or two to complete a series and sometimes it is faster than that, but the idea and the concept is usually something that I’ve had in my sketch book for a while.

Synergy 11:11 do you feel your life is guided and is there a higher purpose
How do you align yourself with this purpose?

11:11 is such an interesting thing for me because I have always felt that this number was in some way guiding me to where I was supposed to be in life. When I did the 11:11 series in 1992, I was blown away to find that many other people feel this way as well. Which led to the Angel portraits. It has to do with the fact that if you were to follow your intuition in life you will end up in the right place and when you see this number it is a reminder that you are doing that.

There is an explanation on my website and links to other 11:11 sites that are informative about the whole idea.

I find that when I follow my intuition things work out. I was excited to know this was true for other people as well and the great thing is that once someone begins to see it , they keep seeing it. To this day, people still email me and let me know that they are having this experience as well.

How can one use Art to inspire others to do likewise?

Art, to me is such a nourishing element to have in your space. It feels good to look at and it feels great to make. I am always interested in trying to create art where people wonder, what is that and how was that done. Something that holds their interest conceptually, visually or texturally. If the concept is something that they can relate to that’s even better. Art is a language they we are all free to interpret as we wish so if it can be moving in any of these ways, than to me, that is inspiring.

How important is funding for the Arts?

Receiving a couple of RACC grants has not only propelled my career, but has given me an incredible amount of inspiration and motivation. They are a wonderful organization with people who really seem to care about Artists advancing in their work.
Art is something that allows our society to have insight in a different way as well as pleasure. It is essential that we not only continue to fund Art but that we also try and find even more ways to do so that our community as a whole can benefit and thrive.

Do you feel connected to an Art community here in Portland ?

I absolutely do. It’s funny I’m not sure if it is the size of Portland or the fact that it rains so much that we have such an eclectic community of people in not only the Fine Art still world but in the Animation field as well. There is such a great collection of artists in this town for how big it is, it’s very exciting. The greatest thing is that people are really nice and also open to collaboration and support each other.

What is your next or current artistic project and how do you find time besides teaching?

I have several and thanks for your interest!

I am working on a series called “MADE IN CHINA” which integrates Silkscreen and Digital Printing. The series takes a look at how we got to where we are today with consumption. I started with ads from the 1940s advertising to buy many pounds of butter since it’s only 3 cents a pound, as well as scans of hand made shirts from when I was a child, with the lable made in the USA, to a child’s plastic pacifier – made in china. The silkscreen prints also include a giant golden pacifier, a pink plastic hula skirt, plastic army soldiers as well as oversized bar codes, made in china logos and made in Japan logos as well (there was a period where we imported a lot from Japan).
The silkscreens will have digital imagery as well as statistical quotes of how much we actually import, how much is inspected etc integrated into them. I am sure other mediums will be used in the final prints as well.

Another series I am working on has to do with Americana type environments, like camping. I have photographed people camping for about 4 years now in the same campground. My idea was to combine these representative images in a way where they had a feeling of stills grabbed from a running film so they are layed out in rows cinematically with occasional close-ups for emphasis.
In conjunction with the Camping series there is also a Swimming series where I used an underwater camera and photographed people partially underwater and partially above in pools, hot tubs and other bodies of water in the US and in Denmark. These images are then woven into each other so the viewer can see 2 scenes in each image both under and above water. I am working with weaving on-screen as well as weaving with the printed images on either paper, canvas or fabric and potentially building a lighted enclosure.

With my experimentation with printing onto Veneer I have started a series of Woodland creatures that are made up of parts of peoples faces and elements you would find in the woods. They tell a fairy tale in the compositions and are printed onto Veneer in a way where the wood grain is part of the composition.

There are a few more…but I’ll save that for next time ;O)

contact at

also check out my interview with Nance
and Julianna Paradisi
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