Like most people I know, I’ve spent a lot more time on Zoom (and a couple of other similar web conferencing systems) this year than I expected. I’m writing this post between zoom calls. I’ve also spent a bit more time supporting people in their use of zoom – both professionally and personally than I expected. In fact at the beginning of 2020 I really didn’t have any expectations of zoom at all! But from what experience I did have I knew that the ‘viewing’ experience of being in a zoom meting was very different to the “viewing” experience of a face to face meeting. Non verbal communication cues change, you spend a lot more time looking at yourself and others. Your gaze changes, it’s tiring.
Like a lot of people I know, this week I read The Zoom Gaze by Autumm Caines. If you haven’t read it, I would encourage you to. It’s a really powerful piece about how technology mediates control and power of virtual spaces which impacts on behaviour, and expectations. It asks us to question just what the “zoom gaze” is.
“As Zoom shifts the nature of the relationship between viewing and being viewed, it also shifts our awareness of it: It makes us more conscious of how visibility is mediated by technologies in general. That is, it calls our attention to what theorists describe as “the gaze,” which analyzes the power relations in looking and being seen and how these are consolidated in a particular way of seeing that may come to seem natural. Right now, our new conditions call attention to the different power dynamics that come into play as face-to-face interactions shift to online video spaces — what we might call the Zoom gaze (though, of course, it would apply to video telephony in general). It is critical to understand the Zoom gaze now, before it becomes so familiar that it seems immutable — just the way things are.”
Over the past 3 weeks as my local area has been in stricter lockdown measures, my life drawing class has moved to a zoom version. I was quite curious to see how/if this would actually work. I like life drawing with a real model, in a physical space. I’m one of those people who can’t really understand why some of the artists on shows like Portrait Artist of the Year, work from a photograph and at times don’t even seem to look at the sitter.
Conversely, I do work from photographs quite a lot in my landscape work. My only defence, if I need one, is that they are generally reminders of places I have been, and I often have sketches too. The weather here in Scotland can be challenging for “plein air” painting. My camera phone photo roll is a kind of digital sketch book for me now. I have incorporated that aspect of technology into my practice, I feel I am in control of that view and it’s static, one way if you like. But back to the life drawing and zoom
My tutor Ewen, worked really hard at making the classes work and was really open to trying new things and upfront about his lack of experience of how “this would all work”. Week 1, we had 4 different camera views to choose from ( we all of course had to have the same view), week 3 it’s down to one. Automatically I had my mic on mute (hello behaviourism), the others in my group don’t use zoom as much as me so didn’t. There’s not a lot of talking when you are life drawing so it’s been fine to have mics on, and there were only about 6 of use each week. We did of course have a bit of “external conversations” and “why can’t I see the model on my screen” in week one but that quickly got sorted.
The experience has really made me hyper aware of the mediation of technology on my “drawing gaze”. My gaze was restricted by having to viewing the model through my screen (a 14″ MacBookAir). The camera was fixed, the model was clothed, the lighting again mediated through technology. I was sitting at my desk not standing behind an easel, I was using smaller pieces of paper. I could almost feel a cognitive crisis seeping throughout my body.
I found the drawing hard, I had to work my way through all these changes. It was frustrating, there was an emerging foggy idea of what/how to draw in this new technology mediated way, but what my hands were actually doing wasn’t quite matching up to what I wanted – even though I didn’t really know what it was that I actually wanted to do. I was very aware of how the the screen was framing my view. Last night though I had a bit of a break through, I started using oil pastels and a bit more colour. I felt a bit more at ease, a bit more in control of my understanding of what was going on and the “zoom gaze” I was working within.
I also realised last night that what this particular zoom mediated gaze did most was to remove my emotional connection with the sitter and their surroundings. Sometimes you just get a feeling when you are drawing which guides what you do. Even though it might not be an “accurate” drawing, the overall feeling that the lines, tone and shade present make the whole thing just work. In our last pose last night our two models wore their masks (in our f2f classes we all wear masks but the models don’t) and I think that gave me a bit of an emotional hook.
Anyway it’s been a bit of minor revelation for me being able to think about many of the issues Autumm raised in the article in this context, particularly about how technology can simultaneously enable and block emotional connections. It has made me think even more about the different aspects of the zoom gaze and the need to seriously consider they way technology mediates and controls human interactions. Thanks Autumm.
Please indulge me as I share some news from the “other” side of my professional life. I am launching a newsletter to share updates about my artistic practice, with updates on I’ve been doing, work in progress, exhibitions etc and where and how to buy my work. So if you would like something in your inbox that isn’t about managing 27 zoom calls a day, or how to keep students engaged during 3 hour live online lecture, then this is the thing for you.
The first edition will go out over the weekend. To get your copy, all you have to do is subscribe to the mailing list on my art website (obvs all GDPR compliant).
Just a short post to highlight, Love in the Time of Covid, a community driven and crowdsourced project developed by The Alchemy Project in Glasgow. This digital and physical zine shares a wide range of diverse responses the the lockdown caused by COVID-19. It’s a powerful exemplar of just how lockdown has affected a diverse set of people, and also how central community and our localities are to us. Many of us (re) discovered our own surroundings during lockdown.
I first heard about the project in early June from Joe Wilson, and was intrigued by the idea and by the thought of being included in a zine. So I was delighted when my submission was included in the final version. As well as giving a platform for local creatives, the project is raising money for two really fantastic local projects; feed the nation in isolation from Social Bite and the Black Scottish Business Fund. If you would like to help out with the fundraising, donations open until 12 August.
My contributions are my a couple of my responses to lockdown and my growing fascination with images of the covid-19 virus, its structure, patterns, and colour and the patterns I was seeing in nature around my – particularly along the Forth and Clyde canal as I took my daily walks. You can find out more here.
I’ve also just issued a limited edition set of notecards featuring six of the images from my “covid canal” series. I always knew that the artistic side of my working life would have to be subsidised by my consultancy, but I do want to try and share my work a bit more widely. One of the images is part of a work featured in the current Thoughts are Free exhibition at the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts.
I was deeply saddened this morning to hear of the death of the author and artist Alasdair Gray, undoubtedly one of the most significant English-language authors of the last century. I have a strong personal connection to Gray’s writing as in some obscure way it’s bound up with my decision to come to study and live in Glasgow.
I first came across Gray’s writing in one of Penguin’s Firebird anthologies in the early 1980s, when I was about 14, then the following year my partner’s brother, who was studying Scottish Literature at Edinburgh University, came home with a copy of Lanark and gave it to me to read it. I was completely captivated by everything about the book and pestered my friends to read it, most of them did and were equally enthralled. (Dragonhide was a condition we recognised well.) After Lanark, I went on to Unlikely Stories Mostly and 1982 Janine. I know 1982 Janine is a divisive book, and I certainly read it at an impressionable age, but I still think it’s an incredibly powerful work, and one that comes frighteningly close to capturing the disorienting reality of mental breakdown in words and typography.
When I had left school, I had hoped to go to Edinburgh to the School of Scottish Studies, but although I was successful in securing a place, the university didn’t offer me a place in halls, and, as I couldn’t afford to travel to Edinburgh to find a flat, I had to turn the place down. Instead I went to Glasgow, which offered me accommodation and a place to study Scottish Literature and Archaeology. I wasn’t exactly keen on going to Glasgow at first, but in an odd way it was through the writing of Alasdair Gray and Edwin Morgan, and an anthology of Glasgow poetry called Noise and Smoky Breath, that features Gray’s artwork of Cowcaddens on the cover, that I warmed to the idea of moving to the city. I say odd, because Gray’s vision of Glasgow in Lanark is very much a dystopian one, but it’s a very human dystopia.
When I first read Lanark in Stornoway as a teen, I had no real experience of Glasgow, it was a city I’d visited only once as a child, so re-reading the book at university while I was living in the city was a real eye-opener for me. I saw Gray reading several times while I was a student, most notably at Felt Tipped Hosannas, a Mayfest event in 1990 to commemorate Edwin Morgan’s 70th birthday. He read an excerpt of McGrotty and Ludmilla and he was hilarious.
I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve read Lanark since then, at least a dozen probably. It’s a book I go back to time and time again and every time I read it, it becomes more relevant.
It goes without saying that I love Gray’s art as much as his writing, as it’s really impossible to separate the two. For a short time, while I worked at Strathclyde University in the early 2000’s, we were privileged to share our Cetis office with some original prints of the Lanark illustrations from the University’s art collection.
I’ve lived in Glasgow for over 30 years now and somehow my experience of the city is still inextricably bound up with Gray’s work, whether it’s his artwork in Hillhead, Oran Mor, or The Chip, or his words that are woven into the fabric of the city.
“Glasgow is a magnificent city,” said McAlpin. “Why do we hardly ever notice that?”
“Because nobody imagines living here…think of Florence, Paris, London, New York. Nobody visiting them for the first time is a stranger because he’s already visited them in paintings, novels, history books and films. But if a city hasn’t been used by an artist not even the inhabitants live there imaginatively.”
Lanark ~ Alasdair Gray
As an eighteen year old teenager from the Outer Hebrides, I was able to imagine living in Glasgow because I had already visited it through Gray’s art, and never once have I felt like a stranger here.
However busy I am, I try to make time for two daily rituals – one the DS106 Daily Create, a daily challenge open to anyone to participate as they wish, the other a Daily Doodle prompt I’ve been following for some time with my CLMooc friends. I glory in all my tools – my pens, my crayons, my paper, my inks. Old friends and new friends, as Terry says. Micron pens to outline (sometimes with a pencil first). Crayons for familiarity – I have so many sets of crayons. Here I try to take a picture, but my helper wants in on the act:
Quite right, why take pictures of Sharpies, when I can stroke a cat.
PicCollage – much more than the name might suggest, PicCollage is a free app which works on multiple platforms including iPads, Android, Windows and Amazon devices. Yes of course it can create collages of multiple images but it can do much more! And it has uses to support across the curriculum in different ways.
At its most straightforward you can create a collage of multiple images in one single image to illustrate an aspect of learning in an overview.
And PicCollage provides a range of grid templates from which to choose. Simply open the app, choose “grids”, select your images from your device, select the outline shape/proportion from the size tab, then from Grid tab choose from the range of grid types – note that you can choose from overlapping freestyle or from different numbers of images and relative sizes.
In addition, for any selected grid template, you can click on any single image at a time and adjust the relative proportions/size of each image to reflect how you want the complete collage of images to appear.
The size of the gap between each image (the background), as well as the outline of the entire collage, can be adjusted by using the slider (you can adjust it so there is no background or gap between images). Click on the third tab, background, to choose the colour or pattern which will appear between images and around the outline of the collage.
The Tweet by @MPS_Primary6 used the app to select images to illustrate mood and diplay in a grid template and overlay with text
— MPS-Primary6 (@MPS_Primary6) January 8, 2019
For any collage you can add stickers, from speech/thought bubbles to smiley faces to thumbs-up and more. These stickers can be handy if you have a need to obscure elements of an image, such as to hide faces or to blank out names or other text details. Once placed on a collage a sticker can be moved, rotated or resized.
You can add text to any collage, choosing from a range of typefaces/fonts. You can choose the colour of the letters as well as the colour of the text box (or choose to have no background colour or text box visible). You can choose how to align text within a text box if you choose to show the text box, and choose whether or bot to display an outline in each letter.
See the Tweet below from @MrsOrrCPS for examples of how this app has been used by learners choosing an image or background, then overlaying their self-created poetry text which the image reflects.
P6/7 have been learning about onomatopoeia (& know a sneaky song to spell it!) They used onomatopoeia to make their poems more effective & then redrafted them on @PicCollage #literacy #litchat #writing #poetry #ict #DigiLearnScot #digitechlearn @digitechlearn #ukedchat pic.twitter.com/novSvElIxf
— MrsOrr&P6/7E (@MrsOrrCPS) April 24, 2018
Web image search facility
The inbuilt web image search provides the option to easily find images, including animated gifs, to add on top of your collage.
@P7PWPS chose images and backgrounds in the app, and then used the text tool to overlay descriptive words in French
— P7PWPS (@P7PWPS) January 28, 2019
The doodle option lets you choose the size of the drawn line and the colour of drawing tool. Then you simply draw freehand on top of the collage. Once drawn this drawn image can then be moved, rotated or resized as required.
Selecting “animation” gives you the option to select from various animations, including moving from side to side or moving into the centre, wiggling or spreading and more. The animation applies to all of the elements of the collage. These animated collages can be shared online via website or social media where the animations will then be seen.
PicCollage has a Teacher’s Corner area of their blog full of ideas about how this app can be used in the classroom to support learning. Head over to https://blog.piccollage.com/category/teachers-corner/ to check it out.
So how have you used this app? Do share in the comments here how you have used the app in your classroom
The first milestone was choosing my icon. Tatiana, our teacher, had brought some illustrations for those of us who had not already decided what they wanted to copy. I had downloaded a few versions of the Christ Pantocrator icon, as well as a photo of one I'd loved when I saw it but felt unequal to trying - one of the Noli me tangere moment, all facial expressions and sweeping robes. But when I saw the A4 sheet with a totally striking Pantocrator image, I was captured. Tatiana saw my face. "That is your icon," she said.
She explained that it was very old - probably 7th Century - and came from St Catherine's Monastery in Sinai. And right now the less ignorant reader will visualise what I'm talking about, because it's famous. But I didn't know this. I only knew that the face was really two faces - one the stern judge, one empathetic, looking right at ME. I took the sheet away to my room. By the time I went to bed, I was aghast at what I'd taken on.
Work on an icon begins with tracing - at least, that's the way I took. Another person at my table, an artist in a way I could never claim to be, drew hers freehand with her original only for inspiration. Me, I was out with the carbon paper, trying to trace significant lines from an icon that was far more naturalistic than any I'd ever seen. And I didn't make very many lines.
Then we had to etch the lines onto the white surface of the prepared board. Hindsight tells me I didn't etch enough - too few lines, too lightly scored. By the time I'd done the gold leaf halo and bible cover and "puddled" paint onto the garment and the face, I couldn't see any of the facial features. At all. "Leave it to dry,"said Tatiana. It'll probably be clearer in the morning - and the light will be better..."
I spent that evening chatting to an old friend who'd turned up - a musician, from my other life as a singer. I told him how Tatiana had brought 3 eggs in a bowl for us to paint with - she broke them, separated yolk from white, took the whites back to the kitchen and left us the yolk with which to mix our pigment. I told him about the pipettes, the brushes, the feeling of being 14 again. Jonathan took my mind off my impending struggles, made me laugh - and I went to bed much later than I'd intended.
The second full day began with rain, less sunshine than I felt I needed - and only an eye visible on the face of my icon. By some miracle I managed to draw more or less freehand, with a hard pencil, the lines I was going to need to guide me. Then I returned to a more orthodox way of icon-writing, with brush and egg tempera and a plate to mix my pigment on. I felt like a real artist, in a terrified sort of way. But I was on my way, and during that day, and evening - for some of us returned to the studio to continue painting after dinner - I began to see the face of Christ emerging under my hands.
And it was that last realisation that grew throughout the third full day, by the end of which Titus, Tatiana's partner, had sprayed two of the necessary three coats of varnish - outside, in the gathering dusk, because of the fumes - on my icon, and it was almost finished. That day was spent on the background - which further research on YouTube has taught me shows the domes of the monastery of St Catherine, but which I modelled on the honey-coloured stone of an Italian town as I tried to realise what on the original was too blurred to be distinct - and on painting the border, and the sides and back of the board. Every now and then, as I'd been warned I would, I wailed for Tatiana to come and help me with an intransigent line, or the miraculous effect of painting a wash of unadulterated egg yolk over a whole area of my icon and leaving it to dry. And all that time I felt those eyes on me, boring into me as I stroked pigment over the cheeks, highlights on the sleeves, shadows under the palm of the raised hand.
The final morning was busy with varnish, photographs of each other's work, packing, paying - and praying. We took our finished icons into the cathedral, where they they were individually blessed with holy water before we took them up to the altar and left them there during the Eucharist.
Now my icon sits in an alcove in my house. I look at it every day. It has become a part of my life. And I can't wait to do another one.
A great daily create today, imo (disclaimer: I submitted the idea). I took a photo of a daffodil that I took a couple of months ago and put it through an online app that turns photos into drawings, and messed around for a few minutes till I had an outline I liked.
Then I printed it out and got out my pencil case. I could already see the makings of a beak and a scruffy body, and this is what appeared.