Wednesday, December 22, 2010

An interview with digital artist Michael Murray

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Photographer and digital artist Michael Murray was the featured artist on Cow Art and More for August 2010. Michael lives in Scotland and enjoys taking photographs of animals and manipulating them into non-traditional scenes. He has exhibited at numerous galleries across Europe and also uses his skills as a graphic designer for magazines and catalogs.

How did you get started?

I began to get frustrated with my job in London, constantly being told what to do, and not getting any recognition or appreciation for good work. I therefore decided to move back to Glasgow to create my own work for exhibitions, and work on commissions for people and companies. I do a lot of artwork as special gifts and it gives me great pleasure to know that my work has made someone's celebration a bit more special.

Why do you do photography?

I love the excitement/nervous energy I get from going to collect a large frame piece from the framers. The idea that the finished piece has grown from just a wee sketch in my pad is very satisfying. Even more so if it gets a great response from the general public at an exhibition or art event.

I've dabbled with a lot of art techniques over the years including oils and watercolors, but photography and digital work is the one which has really stuck and I find the most useful. I may even try mixing digital photography with painting and see where that takes me.

How do you decide what to photograph?

It really depends if its a piece for an exhibition or a commission piece. I've recently been asked by a private client to design an aerial piece of her house and surrounding neighborhood and add in a family of foxes as they are quite famous in her area. I therefore would only need to take photographs of model foxes, and similar textures (pavement, bricks etc) to her actual street. For exhibitions I'll go though my wee book of ideas, built up over many years, and pick one which I fancy working on, and would fit in with the exhibition. I'll then photograph anything I need for that design.

What is your technique?

I use toy animals for most of my pictures, which I photograph outdoors to benefit from the natural light for more realistic shadows and contrast. I then chose the best one to use, and using Photoshop remove the ground, enhance the shadow, and adjust the contrast, levels and colors until I'm satisfied. I then arrange the image according to my design and add any extra elements such as sports equipment and textures.

For the more complex architectural scenes I use Google or Bing maps as reference material, 3D software to create the buildings and shadows, and then Photoshop to add textures, colors and animals. The initial stage of sketching the layout and design is paramount as it saves a lot of stress and decision making later on in the process.

Finished designs are then either printed on the highest quality Kodak paper and mounted to be sold as prints, or taken to the framers who are very experienced with framing contemporary photographic pieces. I generally chose large impressive frames for maximum impact.

Where did you learn your technique?

I was very lucky to have some very talented art teachers at school, who taught me a lot about composition, technique, and color, as well as many other things . I've also picked up many different techniques over the years though studying product design at University, working as a games artist in London, and from working on many different commissions. I've also learned a lot about photography from my father, who is a great photographer. There are always new methods and techniques to learn so I try keep-up and improve myself by doing tutorials every now and again.

Where do you get your inspiration?

I get a lot of inspiration from advertising, from watching movies, reading books, walking about the city, traveling to other cities and experiencing new surroundings. I also like to go to museums a lot and study works by past masters. Some DaVinci's are coming to Edinburgh next year which I'm really looking forward to. I learned a lot at school about how to interpret a painting, and knowing the techniques really enhances a museum or gallery experience, and also aids with designing my own compositions.

How did you get interested in creating art of farm animals?

I've always loved animals as well as art so It makes total sense to me to combine the two. My ideal job would be to work for a zoo/farm taking photographs and creating artwork and maps etc. As my final year project in Product Design I actually designed a cheetah enrichment device which was a system designed to exercise a cheetah within its enclosure, so there have always been animals involved in every stage of my life, and everywhere I go.

Do you ever have goof ups or work you don't like?

Absolutely. I guess that's what I like about digital work, there's an undo button!

What else do you do besides your art?

I like to play table tennis (my girlfriend used to play for her country when she was younger so shes been teaching me a few things), as well as proper tennis, football, and ten pin bowling. I guess I find playing sports a good way to release any tension or stress I may get from working on frustrating exhibition pieces or commissions.

What would you like to do more of in the future?

I'm really trying to focus on doing highly complex aerial scenes combining 3D modeling and photography. These may be based on actual areas in the world or completely made up. Either way you can bet there will be some animals in there somewhere. I tend to feel far more satisfied with my art If I manage to complete a huge impressive piece which has many different elements to it, along with some subtle symbolism. These pieces are especially great for commissions in bars, restaurants or offices as they create great talking points. I just love watching people trying to work out the various elements. I'm also planning on working on non-aerial work such as a series of animal idioms, which should be a lot of fun.

What advice to you have for aspiring artists?

Try to work on subjects you're passionate about rather than focusing on trends.

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