An English teacher's blog about his travels and his digital art.

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Digital Art–Morning Lists

One of the suggestions that Sebastian Michaels makes on one of his Photo Artistry courses is that students take some time first thing in the morning, before reading any email or browsing websites,  to let your subconscious mind help you to write out a list of 10 nouns or phrases that pop into your head and write them down, one after another. What does that first noun lead to, the first word that pops into your head, then the second and so on. Don’t stop to think about what the next word might be, just free-wheel it, don’t analyze. Let your subconscious mind take over. After finishing your list, choose one of the items on the list that strikes you as being a good idea for a composition. Write down what the composition might entail and what elements you might need to include in the composition: photos, textures, etc.

When I first started the course, I did this almost every morning, but I haven’t been doing it lately. I recently thought that I should get back into this habit, so I did a list this morning. Here it is:

The items are in the order that they popped into my head: weather, symbols, tomb, sarcophagus, desert, statue, protection, lost and found, relic and shoe. Don’t ask me the whys or wherefores of these items–my brain just spewed them out.

The phrase that I picked that might make a good composition is “lost and found.”

How about a piece showing a lost and found office or booth with interesting, unusual, amazing items scattered around? That might be fun to create.

So, that’s a morning list and how it’s supposed to spark some creative ideas.

Here’s another one:

ticket, cashier, vault, money, coins, jail, time, clocks, pocket, hand

My composition idea word is clocks. How about a composition with lots of clocks signifying the passage of time and our inevitable passing on? Someone trying to push back the hands or to stop them. Symbols of time passing: planets in orbit around the sun, old age, tombstone or graveyard.

I might create another page where I add my morning lists. Stay tuned.

Digital Art–Boats Finger Exercise

Just did a quick finger exercise, a warm up, called Boats. I extracted a couple of boats from some of my old Dominican Republic photos, threw on a few textures, added some Color Lookups and played around with the blend modes and opacities. I might decide to try turning this into a full-fledged composition a bit later. For an explanation of what a finger exercise is, read this post.

I hadn’t been creating any digital art lately because Photoshop and Lightroom had become almost impossibly sluggish. I wasn’t sure what was wrong and after trying various solutions, I decided to reinstall Windows 11. It took me most of a day to get everything back to the way I wanted, but, voila, the fresh install (it was a reset, actually) was the solution. Both PS and LR now run very smoothly.

Boat Racing Videos

Here are a few videos of the 2023 boat races held in Vientiane on October 30th.

First is an over view of the course finish line.

This is a stylized ceremonial dragon boat that’s lit up at night, if my memory of past years serves me correctly. I didn’t go into Vientiane at night this year.

While I was standing around waiting for the start of the races, a traditional ensemble began playing right behind me. Very lovely at first, but they kept it up for about 25-30 minutes and it became annoying after a while. LOL

Next is the frantic start of one of the races.

Then there’s the exciting finish of a different race, not the same boats that are in the start line video above.

(When I get more time, I’ll go back and enhance these vids with my video program that I have to learn how to use. It’s called DaVinci Resolve and it’s a free, open source video editor if you’re interested.)

So, that’s it for the 2023 Vientiane Boat Racing Festival. If you’re ever in Laos around this time of the year, you really should check out the boat racing festival in Vientiane. There are also more races around the country at this time, including in Luang Prabang, so there might be other opportunities to take in this wonderful cultural event. Enjoy.

Vientiane Boat Racing Festival 2023

The Vientiane Boat Racing Festival takes place every year around the time of the end of Buddhist Lent in Laos. The finals of the boat racing competition take place on the day after the end of Lent, which this year was Monday, October 30th. Before the racing, there are several days of the festival where there are concerts, activities for kids and vendors, who start setting up booths, stalls and tables to sell various products, hand-crafted goods, food, toys, shoes and many other items. I try to go to the festival every year because there’s so much to see, hear and do. The highlight, of course, is the boat racing.

This year, I went on Saturday and on Monday. Saturday was spent just walking around and taking a few photos, while Monday I took in a few of the races and also did some more walking in the area, which is right along the Mekong River. I didn’t take many pics of the festival area this year, but here are a few. Included with these are some photos I took last year and a few I took in 2020, none of which I have posted before. The reason I put them here is that they are very representative of the festival from year to year, like the one in 2015 and another in 2014. Looking at my photos from past years, it’s easy to see that as far as the vendors go, nothing is ever really different.

There are always many different kinds of Lao food for sale, so you’ll never go hungry at the festival. Plenty of eats at this vendor’s stall.

Lots of sweet goods also.

If you prefer home cooking or just getting a pet, you can try to win one of these ducks. See the bright red rings on the ground? Apparently, you try to toss a ring around a duck; if you’re successful you get to keep it. It costs money (I don’t know how much) to toss the rings, but you might get lucky right away..

You might work up a powerful thirst walking around in the heat, so you could always slake that thirst with a bottle of Lao-distilled vodka. (No, thanks.)

Lots of clothes for sale too.

And stuffed animals for the kids.

Though the animal isn’t stuffed, these children are enjoying the goings on anyway.

So, it was a fun day at the festival. I had taken the bus into town because I knew the traffic around the site would be extreme, to say the least, but when I was ready to leave, after stopping for awhile at one of the local watering holes, it started to rain, a very heavy rain. The last bus back to my neck of the woods was going to depart pretty soon, and I had about a half kilometer walk to the bus stop, but I didn’t have an umbrella. I could get drenched or try to find some place that sold umbrella. I found a small mom-and-pop market close by, and, yes, they had some umbrellas. Not exactly my favorite style, but it kept me fairly dry on my walk to the bus. Whaddy’a think? Cute, eh.

Next post I’ll have videos of some of the boat races, so check again later.

Photoshop Virtual Summit 5

If you’re reading this now, you’ve probably missed out on the newest Photoshop Virtual Summit (PSVS), #5. The Summit takes place once or twice every year over the course of five days, and it’s comprised of various Photoshop tutorials and videos, including all the new features in Photoshop. In the past there have also been Lightroom Summits and a Creative Summit. Some of the experts who are presenters include Colin Smith, Khara Plicanic, Lisa Carney, Matt Kloskowski, and many more, including my favorite, my mentor in the various Photo Artistry courses I take, Sebastian Michaels.

Some of the topics that are being covered this year are “Artistic Photoshop Compositing with AI-Generated Content” with Sebastian, “Design Like a Pro: Unleash the Full Potential of Photoshop’s Tools” with Theresa Jackson, “Bridge Doesn’t Suck!” with Matt Kloskowski, “Using Generative Fill for Compositing” with Colin Smith and about 40 more. You can view the entire class schedule here.

There is no charge for the Summit if you join in on time because it’s free to watch live and up to two days after the individual presentations began. However, if, like me, you don’t have the time, you can purchase a VIP pass, which gives you lifetime access to all the presentations, plus class notes and some extra bonus videos and other goodies. It’s $99 ($89 if you’re a former VIP pass holder) and it’s very much worth it. Give the Summit a try, but if you’re too late for this one, I’m sure the next one will probably be in March or April next year. Enjoy!

Buddhist Lent

Sunday, October 29th was the day that Laos people celebrated the end of Buddhist Lent. Here’s a short summary of the day from an informative website that has a lot of information about the day. The site says the day was celebrated on Oct. 28th, but the 29th was the actual day in Vientiane.

“End of Buddhist Lent Day is a celebration that typically falls on a full moon day in October. This year, the day will be observed on October 28. In Laos, locals call it ‘Boun Awk Phansa’ where they perform traditional rituals and engage in festivities. The ceremony marks the end of a three-month hiatus for Buddhist monks who return from meditation retreats. During this time, monks aren’t allowed to leave the pagoda under which they meditate. As they are bound to be indoors, locals bring them food in the morning along with daily necessities such as toothbrushes, towels, soap, and slippers.”

Many folks will make or buy small banana leaf boats with lit candles on them and float them on the Mekong River or other bodies of water. For those not near a lake or a river, lit candles are placed on shrines or porches. We did a bit of candle lighting on our front porch. (If you can make out the neighbors’ porch at the upper left, it looks blue. Clicking on full screen, you can see it better. That’s an artifact caused by my phone cam. I could’ve color corrected it, but I think the blue is pretty, so I left it as is.)

And, as always, the day after the end of Buddhist Lent in Vientiane means the final day of the Boat Racing Festival takes place. More on that later.

Rain, Rain, Go Away

It’s monsoon season in Laos, when the rainy weather is prevalent from May to the end of September, so wet days are to be expected. However, if I recall correctly, last year I only had to ride my motorbike in the rain for just a few times during the entire season. This year, though, has seen me put on my rain poncho more times than I can count, and it seems that it’s been raining whenever I go to work in the early afternoon and when I ride home around 8:30 at night. During the last four days, including last Saturday, that has been the case, and the rainfall has been very steady all day and night, though only heavy for just a few periods; it’s mostly been moderate or light. Luckily, the front yard hasn’t flooded (yet) like it has in the past. This photo is from August of 2018.

flooded front yard in 2018

The view from our front porch is quite different now. The house in front of us was torn down, and this past January and February a large, warehouse-sized building was constructed, though it hasn’t been rented out yet. Here’s what the view is now.

view from the front porch

Yikes, looks like the grass needs to be cut; I’ll pay the neighbor to do it when it’s a bit drier.

[Edited on Aug. 9] Here’s a shot of the grass that the neighbor cut today.

the grass in my yard has been cut

Then, lo and behold, the sun came out!!! It’s been quite awhile since we’ve had any sunshine. This is looking at the neighbors’ pond to the side of my house. Notice the blue sky.

sunny pond with duck

[End edit]

The rain has stopped for now, but more is forecast for later. This is the last day of the second term this year at Vientiane College so now we get a month-long vacation, and guess what? I won’t be riding my motorbike in the rain for awhile!

Of course, it hasn’t been only Vientiane that has had a lot of rain, and many areas are much worse off than us. Landslides and floods are prevalent throughout Laos, as reported in these Laotian Times articles: Provinces hit, Vietnamese Nationals Stranded and Landslides. Unfortunately, there’s still a ways to go in August, and September is also quite wet. Hopefully, the fatalities, and landslides and floods will stop.

Digital Art–New One Coming Soon

Oh, yes, I’m still involved in digital art, though somewhat infrequently, for whatever reasons. Here’s a preview of one I’ve been working on, though I still want to do more with it, so it’s not final yet. The tentative title I have for it is “Ladies Night in at La Boutique Paris.” Hope to have it finished soon. Enjoy the preview.

Unfinished digital art

Pride Month in Laos

You might think that recognizing Pride Month in a somewhat repressive, but mostly benign, communist country would be a no-go. That’s not true, though. First, there is an LGBTQI group in Laos with a presence on Facebook, Proud to Be Us Laos, that participates in quite a few public events (see the Facebook page above), and recently the government allowed for the celebration of International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT Day) for the first time during Pride Month this year.

Also, the U.S. Embassy showed its recognition of Pride Month by decking out part of their outside wall with the Pride colors. Here’s a photo I took when riding my motorbike to school last Saturday (sorry, it isn’t the sharpest of shots).

Pride colors on U.S. Embassy wall in Vientiane, Laos.

In addition, Vientiane College is also celebrating Pride Month with colorful streamers adorning our reception area. Here are a few shots I took on Saturday morning after classes had finished.

Pride streamers at Vientiane College, Vientiane, Laos.

Pride streamers at Vientiane College, Vientiane, Laos.

So, it appears that things are looking up for the gay, lesbian, etc. population of Laos. Let’s hope that more acceptance is forthcoming!

Digital Art-Dragon Sorceress

Here’s my latest piece, entitle “Dragon Sorceress.” It’s by no means finished; I have some other ideas I want to add to the composition. When it’s completed to my satisfaction, I’ll post it on a separate blog entry. None of the images that make up this piece are mine. They all come from various bonus content that I receive from one of my digital art courses (the Kaizen course). I think there are around 30 layers, so far, in this creation, but I could have done it with fewer, so I have to work on being more efficient. Still, it’s fun to play around with various effects.

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