Thursday, November 17, 2016

Wagging the Dog: Vincent Pidone Melds Technology, Mechanics and Art

While in residence at VCCA, Vincent Pidone built an automatic drawing machine that he hopes to program to draw using animation software. Normally, with stop motion animation, you would make drawings and then photograph those drawings individually putting them together to form an animation. Its a laborious process when you consider that Vincents animations are composed of 300-400 individual drawings on file cards to yield about thirty seconds of animation. Thats why Vincent is attempting to get the animation software to do the drawing for him. Ideally, he will end up with a short animated film and a stack of physical drawings that are essentially one-offs.

“Im basically grabbing the tail and wagging the dog instead of doing it the way its typically done,” says Vincent. “What Im doing is very challenging. If it were easy, someone else would have done it by now. This is why I need a few weeks to work on this stuff.” The VCCA residency funded by the NEA for military veteran artists finally made it possible for him to do something hes wanted to do for a couple of years, but never had the dedicated time and space to do it. Vincent works full time at R & F Handmade Paints in Kingston, NY. They were very supportive of his taking the time off to come to VCCA.

Vincent came to drawing as an adult. “Im self taught, but not naive. Ive spent a lot of time looking at art, so Ive got a pretty good idea of what works.” This explains his sophisticated minimalist style. He uses silverpoint, which he discovered years ago while working in a factory where silver rod was used for welding. The shop floor was littered with little pieces of the silver rod. One day, he happened to pinch one between the machine he was moving and the melamine top of a table leaving a mark, which he found interesting. He started drawing on the plastic tabletop with the rod fragments and then researched how to translate the medium to paper.

Unlike drawing in graphite or ink, the silverpoint mark is very faint. Pressing down on it doesnt make it any darker, but repeated trips over the same line, darkens it. Thats where the automatic drawing machine comes in. “The computer is much better at this than I am; it doesnt care how many times it does it.

“I want to get me out of the process. The mechanical elements are pretty well under control, but Im banging my head against the level of coding thats necessary to get the software to work like I want it to. Eventually, it will make a little bit of a drawing, stop, pull the drawing arm out of the way, take a picture, bring the drawing arm back, do more of the drawing and then, repeat.”

The path the silverpoint follows is not programmed; its shape is dictated by the shape of the drawing arm, which holds the silverpoint stylus. However, Vincent tells the motor to turn this way and that at a particular moment. When he moves the motor, the pattern changes just slightly.

Vincent has made the machine intentionally loose. “If I made it tighter and more precise, the drawings would be a lot less interesting. You need that wobble in there. If everything were made like a German machinist had made it, the drawings would be dull. Part of what Im doing is to get computer results without a computerized look.”

Once Vincents gotten all the various parts integrated to work, his plan is to find a drawing he likes, teach the animation software to make that particular shape, altering it ever so slightly between photographs so that he ends up with an animated film. It will start with a white screen and then the drawing will start to appear out of nowhere, becoming progressively darker until it is fully realized.

In a bit of synchronicity, an animation he created recalls a murmuration of starlings darkening the sky. During his residency he experienced the phenomenon. Every evening hundreds of birds flocked outside the Studio Barn around 5:30. There would be 500 to 1,000 of them chirping en mass. Suddenly they would all stop and fly off creating those distinctive swirling patterns in the air. The dotted line in this animation, which suggests individual birds, is achieved by speeding up the machine so that the line becomes choppy. Vincent was determined to record the birds for the soundtrack on the animation. This proved challenging as the birds didnt flock in the same place or at the same time each evening. Eventually, he was able to assemble three minutes of useable track from nearly four hours he recorded. He also plans to incorporate into the soundtrack, the high-pitched tone the drawing arm makes.

Vincent uses the same animation software as Tim Burton. The software is not expensive—its the hardware that is. But this isnt an issue for Vincent as he knows how to make it himself. Motors have interested him since he was a child and as a member of the military during the Vietnam War, Vincents training was in electronics.

“I applied to VCCAs NEA supported veterans fellowship on the promise of what I might do, not, okay heres my work and Im going to make more of it. My feeling is, I can paint at home. Coming to VCCA, I wanted to do something I hadnt done before. And it is better than nice to have gotten the support to try something new that I might not have been able to deliver on.”


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Guest Blog: Kelley Swain

I have the great fortune to be a Fellow at the VCCA for twelve days at the beginning of November. This is only 14 miles from Randolph College, my alma mater, but I’ve never been to the VCCA. So, I’m particularly happy to be back in Virginia, surrounded by amazing autumn foliage, expressly for dedicated writing time.
Perhaps it is because I laid the foundations of my writing career in this very setting – the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains – but it is both familiar and sweet to be sitting out in the morning sunlight with my laptop (fortunately, not the same laptop,) breathing fresh mountain air and the smells of dry, sun-baked grass.
The colors here astonish me. I’ve just come from Bath, that oat-biscuit-coloured city of seamless beauty. But to drive through fall leaves in every color of the spice cupboard – paprika, saffron, cumin, turmeric, nutmeg, cinnamon – brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges – makes me feel at home. Even the birds are bright: when I first drove up the winding road towards the VCCA, the flash of a red cardinal, and, moments later, a clamorous blue jay, startled me. Everything is bright, even the browns, so it is fitting that I’m here to work on a writing project that has to do with colors.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Apply for a VCCA residency in Southwest France!

VCCA offers an opportunity for VCCA Fellows to work in the beautiful village of Auvillar in Southwest France at its Moulin à Nef Studio Center.  This residency program provides a private studio, a private bedroom and one meal each week for four Fellows at a time.  

VCCA Fellow and poet Susan Gubernat was in residence in Auvillar  just last month. Of her residency, she says, "I had a wonderful experience at Moulin à Nef–not only were the serenity and many beauties of this lovely little village conducive to the solitary work of poetry, but also, whenever I needed to come up for air, so to speak, there was such a sustaining community both of VCCA staff and fellows and of the villagers of Auvillar themselves. It's a magic place."

In 2017, residencies of any length of time are available from April 10 - May 10; from June 14 - June 21; and from July 10 - December 15.

Apply for this wonderful international opportunity.  The application deadline is December 1.