IEEE Q&A Editorial

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IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications

Dressing It Up Vol. 29, No. 4
July/Aug. 2009
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4 July/August 2009 Published by the IEEE Computer Society 0272 - 1716/09/$25.00 © 2009 IEEE About the Cover Nine years ago, a flyer for the Digital Vision stock image collection arrived in Paul Cooklin's mailbox. The Suffolk, UK resident perused the images and decided he wanted to embark on the creative path.

[front cover image]

"Flicking through the pages, I was touched and inspired by the creativity of the images," he recalled. "They were abstract in nature but had a sense of order and balance which appealed to me. I had never seen anything like it before. I knew at that moment that I wanted to be a digital artist."

Nowadays, Cooklin divides a good portion of his creative output between digital imagery and analogue fine art photography. He has no art degrees and harbors mixed views about whether art can even be taught at all, a position cemented by his formal training as a hairdresser, of all things. He originally left school to train at one of London's prestigious hairdressing academies - he won't say which one - where he was infused with the school's preferred theories, principles, and views. "They had a very distinctive style and methodology and used their own systems to teach the art of hairdressing," he recalled.

Cooklin then went on to become creative director of a hairdressing academy in Hong Kong, teaching his own methods, which he says were laterally based rather than literal.

"I didn't want to teach a ‘right and wrong' way of doing things," he said. "It took a long time to try and ‘unlearn' the methodology, which ultimately influenced my lectures and demonstrations, to find my own style."

As a result, Cooklin believes art is an expression of one's self that cannot be taught. The tired cliché, "knowledge is a dangerous thing," rings true for him. "What I have achieved to date with my imagery is solely from my own experimenting and many years of finding my own style, which is constantly evolving," he claims, adding that if he had been formally taught, his direction and imagery would have become something very different. Not better or worse, just different.

"I think my naivety towards art has mostly been of benefit to me," he says. "It's certainly influenced my style."

Symmetry or Not This issue's cover (Abstract Architecture IV) is part of an ongoing series of images resulting from Cooklin's travels. He shoots a particular building and uses the image either as is, with no digital manipulation, or eventually as source material for another collage. For Abstract Architecture IV, Cooklin used a Fuji Fine Pix camera to shoot an image of a suspension bridge in Budapest, which he later combined with another photo taken at the Eden Project in Cornwall. His main goal was a symmetrical, sci - fi look. The colours, for all practical purposes, are the same as from the raw image format. Cooklin says this image is one of his simpler ones. He put both source photographs into Photoshop, duplicated them four times, and aligned them to create a symmetrical finished product, after tweaking some layer effects. Usually his images contain multiple layers that might or might not include photography, scans, and free - flow drawing. "This is where I find most of my creativity," he says, "having a table full of pictures which I carefully piece together to create a single image. The precise order of each layer and its effect can have a dramatic impact on the overall piece. Choosing which pieces to put together and in which order to put them in, combined with their layer effect, gives an almost endless outcome."

Figure 1. An image from the Abstract Architecture series.

Figure 1, part of the original Abstract Architecture series, is another variation of this approach. Cooklin says he just intuitively reaches a stopping point. "Knowing when to stop and which order to use are something I judge by my own feeling about the piece," he explains. "I get a sense of 'that's it!' This feeling can sometimes be very strong and clear, while other times a few variations work very well together that I then use as a collection of images."

Figure 2. Untitled.

As with the cover image, Figure 2 (Untitled) is a symmetrical composition derived from one shot duplicated four times. "I find the simplicity in symmetry to be very comforting," says Cooklin. "Our minds seem to like it and continuously look for it."

Space Station (Figure 3), on the other hand, is completely different from the others; Cooklin created it for his stock image collection, Brand X Pictures (Getty Images). Unlike his free - form abstract work, Space Station was more deliberate and methodically created. Cooklin considers it closer to "design" than "art."

"Creating imagery for stock as opposed to purely for art purposes uses a very different process," he says. "Designers have a brief to follow, an objective, whereas artists follow their own rules and feelings and aim only to fulfil their own artistic expression. However, similar skills can be applied to both."

In the Groove At the moment, Cooklin's creative life is a busy one. In addition to being signed with a few commercial fine art publishers for whom he's constantly submitting work, he has a book project in the pipeline.

In about a year he hopes to publish a collection of both digital art and photography. Digital art, he believes, will eventually have its rightful place in museums and galleries alongside conventional photography. After all, he says, digital imagery can take as long to create, fuss with, tweak, manipulate, and finesse, as with any other art form. "There was a view that art needed to have taken X amount of time to be created, like the great masters, who worked on a piece for months or years," Cooklin says. "If that were true, then photography would be at the bottom of the list as it's generally created in a fraction of a second. Personally, I don't judge art by how long it took to create or the methods or even skill involved." No matter what happens, Cooklin says he will continue plugging away in both the analogue and digital domains, although these days digital imagery is something he does only when he's in the mood; otherwise, it just doesn't come together. Sometimes the creative juices just don't flow.

"Currently I'm exploring photography and I'm really enjoying the journey," he says, adding that he'd like to get involved more with macro photography (close - up photography). "There's a whole world in miniature most of us don't get to see and appreciate. I'm also looking into the idea of hooking up a microscope to my camera to get an even greater look at the microcosm. From huge architectural structures to tiny micro worlds, size is simply a matter of perspective."

Words by Paul Cooklin
Edited by Gary Singh who lives and writes in San Jose, California.
Contact him at
© 2009 Paul Cooklin