Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A trip to London, the NPG, and the BP Portrait Award

I took a trip to London this weekend to meet up with some old school friends and celebrate our 40th birthdays by going to the last day of the O2 Wireless Festival at Hyde Park.

Before meeting up with them, I had to take some time out to go to the National Portrait Gallery, which I love to do whenever I get the chance. As always, the visit was worthwhile. I think portraiture is one of my favourite "forms" of art. In terms of a painting's emotional impact on me, I think I get more from a portrait than from almost any other subject, much as I love all forms of art. People often mistake portraits as being about the subject, but this is only telling at most half of the story. For me, a portrait is at least as much about the artist as it is about the subject, often more so.

Although it's only about 3 months since my last visit to the NPG, a lot has changed there. In particular, most of the Ondaatje Wing is taken up by the BP Portrait Award 2006, which you can see thumbnails of by clicking the title of this post. I was blown away by this exhibition; the depth of work, the intensity that many of the pieces had, and the quality were quite stunning. Of course, the thumbnails do the exhibition no justice: with exhibits ranging from a few inches square to 6 feet or more in height, the range of pieces on display was enormous. I spent a happy hour looking at this exhibition, basking in the talent that was on display, feeling both inspired and inadequate at the same time.

If you're in London any time before 17th September, do yourself a favour and go and see this exhibition.

And for anyone interested, the Wireless Festival was great too. Treats for the eyes, ears, and heart all in the same day. (Though my feet weren't so happy. I hate my feet.)

Friday, June 23, 2006

Scots Pine

I had intended to post this as an entry for this week's theme at Illustration Friday, which I thought was "Jungle". Well, I must have been going mad, because it's "Dance" -- "Jungle" was some while back. I'd written the post, published it, and everything. It was only when I came to add the link at the website that I discovered my error. Hmm, what went wrong with my brain there, I wonder?

It's actually a tree in Cumbria, right outside the caravan that we stayed in a few weeks ago. A Scots Pine, to be exact. I painted it from inside the caravan on a lovely sunny, but cold, Spring afternoon. I've been looking for the excuse to post it, and here it is.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Flickr resolutions

Well, finally my Flickr account has been un-NIPSA'ed, so my public photos will now show up in searches in Flickr. It works: I've tried it.

I had a nice reply from the support group at Flickr. They still didn't actually tell me I no longer have a NIPSA on my account (what is their problem with that?), but they did at least answer my original points by assuring me that they are looking at a different site model which will allow different types of images, with the aim of eventually doing away with NIPSA altogether. We'll see.

I can't fault the support group in this instance. My query didn't drop into a black hole as I was worried it might. They answered my questions -- albeit with their hands tied due to a restrictive policy, and sorted my account. Was this because I blogged about the experience? Who knows. My site has certainly attracted a lot more traffic recently as a result.

I received my invite for Picasa web albums, by the way, and have been trying it out. Some more details soon.

Picasa web albums

Following Google's announcement that there's a beta version of Picasa that publishes to the web, I've managed to get myself an invite to test it out. My initial impressions are all pretty good. It's very easy to use, especially from Picasa itself, they give you a pretty generous 250MB to use for your photos (with a reasonably priced option to upgrade to a massive 6GB), and photos load very quickly, allowing smooth transitions between different photos when you're viewing. It all looks very pretty, if perhaps not quite as pretty as Flickr.

There are a few things that are missing. You can't add "post-it" type notes to pictures like you can with Flickr. While captions are uploaded from Picasa, tags are not. They have a "favourite users" feature, but it's not easy to find other users unless they share the URLs of their public gallery. Also, most tragically of all given that this is a Google product, you can't yet search across the whole of Picasa web albums for something. This is in stark contrast to Flickr, and I can't believe they're not going to address that.

But, for a beta product, it's already very stable and usable. Which, to be fair, has been my experience with most beta products from Google.

In the meantime, you can view my public gallery here. There's not much there at the moment, but I hope to change that reasonably soon.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Creative Commons License

I've decided to apply a little licensing to the stuff I publish on this blog. Nothing heavy, nothing that will change what you can do with this stuff (in fact, it may encourage you to do more), just enough to make sure nobody takes any of my images and does something that I don't approve of.

To that end, everything published on this blog is now covered by the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.

What does this mean? Simple. You can take any of these images and use them however you like. Take copies, publish them on your own website, even include them in your own works -- go on, mash 'em up, I encourage you. So long as:
  • You make it perfectly clear that I am the original artist of any images you use
  • You don't make any money out of what you do
  • You license any derivative works of your own using the same Creative Commons license.
I did wonder for a while about the last of these clauses. I did think perhaps it was a bit restrictive, but then I thought about what would happen if someone else mashed up your derivative work. For instance, it's not unknown for musicians to sample other musicians. But what if the bit they sample is itself sampled? I want to make sure that my rights to my own work remain in place down the line as well, hence the restriction on you using the same license in any derivative works.

Flickr fixes?

Well, maybe "alternatives" is more appropriate than "fixes", because with my Flickr account still NIPSA'ed, I greeted the news that Picasa is soon to support publishing web albums with enthusiasm. I'm a big fan of Picasa (no other web album software, either free or paid for, comes close in my opinion), and have been using it for quite a while now. The new functionality is still by invitation from Google only, but I signed up for an invite. Fingers crossed that one will be dropped in my mailbox soon!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Flickr Frustrations

You may have noticed the new widget on the right hand side of the page: a little moving mosaic of pictures. This is a toy from the Flickr website that lets me display a random selection of pictures that I've uploaded to my Flickr account, for your viewing pleasure. Just click on one of the pictures and you'll be taken to that picture in Flickr.

For those that don't know, Flickr is a photo-sharing website, allowing you to upload your own photos, and explore those that have been uploaded by others. You can tag your photos according to subject, and search the whole of Flickr for photos based on the tags that other people have applied. As well as making photos available in several sizes, you can add descriptions, captions and, most fun, "post-it" style notes to individual pictures. I've had a Flickr account for about 18 months now. There are free and paid-for versions, and I opted for the free version.

Until recently, I haven't made a lot of use of Flickr. When I first joined, I only uploaded a few pictures. To be honest, cool as it was, I just wasn't that taken with it. I wasn't particularly impressed by the interface, and I didn't think that I was going to make a lot of use of the additional features it offered beyond a service like Blogger. It was great for finding photos, but for uploading my own, I could take it or leave it.

Skip 18 months, and quite a lot has changed at Flickr. They were bought by Yahoo (which you may or may not view as a good thing), and a lot of improvements have been made to the interface to let you organize and upload your photos better. I liked the new interface much better, so I started to use it more. And here began the problems.

I noticed pretty quickly that the photos that I was uploading weren't searchable by anyone else. If I searched my own photos, I could find stuff based on the tags I knew I'd applied, but if I tried searching the pool of everyone's photos, mine didn't show up. Thinking that my account was still "pending" because I hadn't uploaded enough photos, I uploaded some more. Still no joy. Having searched the forums and the online help, I threw in the towel and contacted Flickr support. Hats off to them: they answered my query within 12 hours, identified the problem correctly, and gave me a solution. Unfortunately, the answer wasn't particularly encouraging.

My account wasn't "pending", it was "NIPSA", which stands for "Not Included In Public Search Areas". In other words, what I was uploading was marked as unsuitable for general viewing. Why? Because some of the pictures I'd uploaded were not photos, they were pictures. You know: the kind of pictures I upload to this very blog all the time. And this decision had been made without even the courtesy of informing me. If I wanted the "NIPSA" label to be removed from my account, I had to set permissions on the offending non-photos so that they were only viewable by friends and family, or I had to mark them as "potentially offensive". Excuse me? Hands up the first person who has ever, I repeat, ever, found anything genuinely offensive in any of my pictures?!

So, a picture of one of my daughters is to be considered potentially offensive by the powers that be at Yahoo? Well, excuse me buddy, but I'm potentially offended by that idea. I can understand that Flickr is a photo site, and I can understand that they are very keen to avoid copyrighted works being published there, but there has to be a better way to do it than by employing this sledgehammer policy.

So what should I do? My immediate reaction was to stop using Flickr altogether, but then I decided that was cutting off my nose to spite my face. If all I want to do is upload photos, then there's no doubt that Flickr is a whole lot easier than Blogger, and gives you a lot more functionality.

I could just remove all the non-photos from Flickr. After all, I post them all here, so what's to be gained? Well, at the moment, very little, but you could potentially visit Flick to download larger versions of the pictures, if you so wished. I could also use their cool "post-it note" functionality to add notes to specific areas of pictures, for those of you that were interested in the more technical, geeky aspects of what I upload.

I could mark them as visible only by family and friends, and then require that all readers of this blog ask me to be added as one of my friends. Which, for all I know, may require you to sign up to use Flickr yourselves. That sounds a bit steep to me, and a bit of an administrative chore for me.

Or I could (and this is what I've chosen to do for the time being) just mark my non-photos as being "potentially offensive". But sorry, as a long term solution, that just sticks in my craw. My pictures are about as offensive as guinea pigs, and I object to them being lumped together with porn.

To be honest, I'm erring towards the option of removing the non-photos. There aren't that many anyway. But I'm interested in hearing your thoughts. I'm also interested in finding out exactly what you can see by clicking on a picture in that little widget on the right as things currently stand: do you just see photos, or do you see my pictures as well? Please let me know via the comments button!

Currently, my account still seems to be "NIPSA". I've no idea how long it will take to be reviewed, but I await the change with baited breath.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Illustration Friday: Portrait

This week's theme at Illustration Friday is simply "portrait". So here's one that's quite old, though I don't think I've ever posted it.

This is my youngest daughter, taken from a photo of her at the age of four. It's painted in acrylic on canvas paper. I've always liked this painting, because it was the first piece I ever attempted in acrylic, and only the second portrait I had done. I really had very little idea what I was doing (like I have any idea now, when I start a piece!), but I liked the end result. Posted by Picasa