Digital imaging for beginners
John Clive

What elements of your formal education have you found most valuable?
I went to Ealing Art School in London in the early 70's. Ealing was a famously radical college - you weren't really taught in the conventional sense, you were forcefully enouraged to find things out. Years before I arrived Roy Ascot had set up the very first art course in the world informed by cybernetics. Some very interesting people had taught at Ealing, Ron Kitaj and Bernard Cohen. A strong theme at the college was "process-driven" art. Which I think is a misnomer, because what process-driven art is actually about is allowing the original idea to manifest itself with minimal interference from the artist's ego. Sol Lewitt in one sense is a process artist, but he's known, quite rightly, as a conceptual artist. He sets off a process and allows it to run its course. That has always fascinated me and still informs what I do today. The short answer to your question is: my formal education was valuable because it didn't impose notions of what art must be.

Have you found yourself influenced by a specific artist or movement?
I'm not sure about "influenced" but since I was a child I have always loved the early renaissance, Uccello, Fra Angelico, della Francesca. Turner means a lot to me because he demonstrated that reality cannot be separated from perception. Later artists include Cezanne, Kandinsky and de Kooning. Also early Japanese calligraphy. I am affected by all of them and I suppose that must unconsciously influence my work. As I have said, Sol Lewitt is very important for me because he validated the idea of letting the original idea run its course. I'm sure if he were born a couple of decades later he would have used digital processes. The real influence on my work is nature. If I had to choose, I would rather spend a day in a wood or a geological museum than an art gallery.

Other than the media you currently employ, what else have you worked with?
I've worked as a professional film and commercials director. My knowledge of cameras, composition and lighting has certainly influenced my digital image making . I also used to draw in pencil and paint in watercolours, though not particularly well. However, I really believe that my work as a digital artist is the result of my lack of experience in other fine art media. Why? Because I haven't developed conventional expectations for my art. I do not try to make my work conform to the aesthetics of another medium. I am exploring what the new medium is capable of doing in its own right, what is unique about it.

What qualities do you look for in other artists?
I want to be amazed, so I really don't look for definable qualities.

What qualities do you look for in your own art?
The work must create an emotional response in myself. It's only then that I know that it might have the power to create an emotional response in other people. I suppose I'm old school in that respect, I want to feel first and think second.

What can we expect to see from you in the near future?
I am working on a series of moving images. My still images use the new technology to explore form, colour, light and texture. The moving images explore transformation, pattern and, of course, movement. I believe that there is a new visual art form waiting to be discovered. It will combine the aesthetics of dance, sculpture, photography and painting without any of the restrictions of the physical world. I find that very exciting.

What should beginners of digital art know?
Firstly, that anything is possible - nobody is an authority. The medium is only just forming and no one should think that there are any rules they have to stick to.

Knowing how to use the tools is another thing. Learning the various paint programs and 3d programs is very important. And there is an awful lot to know. Beginners tend to allow the software to dominate the work. When you look at the finished image you feel that they just used that filter or pressed that button a few times. That's okay when you're starting, but it doesn't make for interesting work.

The best way to learn the software is to play, but you have to play seriously, passionately and obsessively. By play I mean try things out. If you don't know how to do something you should find out. Even if it's not there in the help files it'll probably be out there on the web. And if it isn't then you have to work it out for yourself. Now, having said that, you don't have to know every aspect of the software before you can do interesting work.
You can't know it all anyway, nobody does. The capacity of the software is growing all the time. The important thing is to keep learning.

Beginners shouldn't approach digital art with the attitude that this is an easy way to create art. If you are attracted to digital as a medium to create art because you think it's easier than other media then just forget it. Real innovation comes with extremely hard work. Continuous experimentation, riding the software and the hardware - not being ridden by it.

That comes by not settling, rejecting something if it's only O.K. Never being happy until you've amazed yourself.

How should one go about beginning the creative process?
I can only speak for myself. When I start work on a piece I have a semi-conscious intention. Not a specific image in my mind that I am trying to make manifest, but a feeling. It may be a texture or a palette of colours that excite me, or a shape. Sand dunes, a bird's plumage, a reptile's skin, a piece of jasper, a microscopic image, a cabbage. I don't try to reproduce this - it is only the starting point, something that energises me. I look for the processes that cause these appearances, though not in an analytical way. The interesting thing is that this starting point usually gets left behind as I make unexpected discoveries. The best of my work comes as a surprise to me. I will try this and that, I'll combine this palette with this texture with this form, and maybe nothing interesting happens. It's all an act of faith really. I just believe that something will emerge that will be worthwhile. When it doesn't, I try to keep going until it does. It's really absurd when you think about it. It's like building a bridge without knowing if there's another bank to the river.

How did you begin using the form of media that you use?
I started using computers to create images in the early eighties. I was in a privileged position as a commercials director in London. We were just about the only people who had the budgets to use the very expensive early equipment. Later I used 3d to make images for film and TV. At first I directed others to produce the work, then later I learned the software myself.

What is the most important thing to remember when creating an image?
For me, as I've said, it's that you have to create an emotional response in yourself.

Do you have any specific tips for students interested in digital art who have no previous experience?
Don't worry about making mistakes. This is one of the greatest strengths of digital media, it is unprecendented in the visual arts: mistakes only cost time. No materials have been wasted. Use this unique advantage to experiment. Be obsessive, play, discover.

Is there anything overall that one should keep in mind in regards to this digital world that you are a member of?
I believe that this medium will completely dominate the visual arts this century. As artists discover its potential they will tend to choose it over other media. The great attraction of digital art is that it frees the artist from the constraints of the physical world. This is also its greatest danger. By working with real world materials the artist has always been physically connected to nature. He/she has had to be conscious of the order as well as the constraints of nature. The challenge that digital art has to meet is to bring the artist and the viewer closer to nature not to further separate us from it.