MontanaRon

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

Finger Exercise-Autumn on River

Here’s another finger exercise. For an explanation of what that is, click on this link to go to an earlier post about the subject.

This one is a photo of the Blackfoot River in western Montana (or a tributary of the Blackfoot-I seem to have forgotten) that I shot back in 2007. Here’s the original photo:

And here’s the quick exercise I did, along with the layer stack in Photoshop:

Layer Stack, from bottom to top:

1. Original image, which I duplicated and made into a Smart Object. Then I ran it through the Filter Gallery—Palette Knife.
2. Added an orange colored Overlay and lowered the opacity to 51% with a soft light blend mode
3. Added an orange colored Texture and lowered the opacity to 50% with a lighten blend mode.
4. Then I merged all the layers (CTRL-ALT-SHIFT-E) and ran the composition through Boris FX and used a neutral density filter at the bottom of the comp.
5. Back in PS, I merged the layers again and ran the comp through ON1 Effects, but I didn’t care for the results, so I came back into PS and added a Color Lookup adjustment, using the Filmstock look.

And that was it. The whole thing took about 30 minutes and though the result certainly isn’t great, finger exercises don’t have to have a professionally perfect (whatever that is) look. They just have to get the creative juices flowing and they should be fun to do. I’ll put up some more of these exercises later.

Vientiane Graffiti, Bars and Signs

I’ve done a few photowalks around Vientiane lately, mainly down by the Mekong, and found a few new signs outside various businesses that I haven’t photographed before. I also found some new, interesting night life spots that were interesting, so here are some of the shots that I took.

Graffiti

 

“Weed” spray painted on a door leading into . . . hmm. No idea. I didn’t try to open it. Marijuana is, of course, illegal in Laos, so this is probably a statement of some kind.

Weed spray painted on a door

There is quite a lot of graffiti in Vientiane, but never on walls that are part of businesses, only on abandoned buildings, and there are a lot of abandoned buildings if you look for them. Here’s one; I’ve got more graffiti photos which I’ll put in another post soon.

graffiti

Bars

 

“Oh My God.” Quite a name for a bar. I looked for it on Facebook, and there was a nighttime video of the goings on there. It was quite busy with a good number of patrons partaking of their favorite beverage. It looked like a fun spot, so let me know if you give it a try.

Oh My God bar in Vientiane

Interesting name for a bar.

Another view of “Oh My God.”

Oh My God Bar in Vientiane

Another view. Are you lost? Just follow the appropriate signage.

Here are a couple of shots of another establishment near the river. I couldn’t get the whole place in because of security bars, as I recall, so I had to shoot between the bars. Looks like another fun place. Again, let me know if you visit it.

Photo of a bar in Vientiane

Philip Bar. Looks like it might be an interesting place to enjoy a quick beer.

And the other half:

Photo of a bar in Vientiane

Here’s the other half. I had to take these shots viewing through some security bars, so I couldn’t get a complete photo.

Here’s my potential favorite spot. This reminds me of what an improvised beach bar might look like, except there are no beaches in Vientiane that I know of, but I suppose you could find a small, sandy spot along the Mekong that might be a poor substitute.

Ramshackle put-together bar in Vientiane

This might be a fun place when it’s open. Or not.

Signs

Finally, here are a few business signs that I find interesting. I’ve got many more that, again, I’ll post later. Don’t want to inundate a single post with too many photos.

Sticky Fingers is a good restaurant near the river, but their name is rather evocative of other activities. Maybe this sign would go well with the “weed” door above.

A restaurant sign in Vientiane

Sticky Fingers restaurant in Vientiane. Good place to eat.

This is part of the signage around “Tully’s Irish Pub,” a now-abandoned building since Tully’s moved to a new location. I don’t think I’ve ever drunk stout, so I looked it up. Wikipedia states that one of the variations is oatmeal stout. Hmmm, maybe it’s OK to drink for breakfast. What do you think?

A sign advertising "stout."

“Stout” is available at the former, now empty, site of Tully’s Irish Pub.

I haven’t bought any bread from here. Wonder if it’s really good. I like the bread “emojis.”

Good Breadshop sign

Hungry for some “good” bread? Try here.

Lastly, this text on the wall near the entrance to 2sister restaurant and bar. Words to live by? More later.

Writing on wall of restaurant

2sister restaurant and bar near the main entrance.

Digital Art–Dominican Republic Cathedral

Here’s a piece that I’ve worked on that reflects some ideas I learned in one of my Photoshop Artistry courses. The key takeaway on this one is that the artist, Doris Seybold of Austria, goes through her enhancement of a piece by not adding any additional elements and having to go back to keep adjusting them, and adding more and readjusting, etc. It is a straightforward approach, going from one step to the next, not worrying about going back to adjust all the different elements. This is supposed to help foster a speedier workflow. You can read an interview with Doris by Sebastian of Photoshop Artistry, and you can check out her work on Behance. She’s really a wonderful artist, so give her a look.

I tried it with this piece, which probably could have used a bit more work, and mostly embraced the concept, but I “cheated” a little by going back to make some adjustments. So, below is the original photo, unenhanced, that I took of the Cathedral of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, finished around 1540 and the first cathedral in the Americas. The second image is my final version of the cathedral.

P.S. I did add an additional element, sort of, by replacing the sky of the original with something a bit more dramatic.

cathedral

cathedral

Relaxing in Nong Khai

I spent a few relaxing days last week in Nong Khai, Thailand, which is just across the border. My house is actually closer to that town than it is to Vientiane, since the bridge across the Mekong River is about 8km away, whereas the distance to downtown Vientiane is 16km. Nong Khai is a fairly small town that many tourists probably bypass if they’re heading to Laos, but there are a lot of expats who have retired to the area.

Nai came with me and we stayed at a small hotel, the Baan Mae Rim Nam, located on the banks of the Mekong and right on one of Nong Khai’s chief attractions, the Walking Street, a river walk that runs for several kilometers next to the river. It’s a great place for strolling, jogging, bicycling, or relaxing. I especially like it at night when it’s gently lit by streetlamps, and families and joggers are abundant. There are quite a few bars and restaurants along the walkway, and the one we frequented, Macky’s Riverside Kitchen, puts a few of their tables out in the evening next to the river’s edge. It’s so nice to sit outside, when it’s not raining, and dine or have a beverage and do a bit of people watching. It’s also great for viewing sunsets:

sunset

walking street in Nong Khai

Walking Street at night

dining outside

Outside Macky’s Riverside Kitchen

sunset

sunset boat practice

A crew practices for the boat races that will take place in a few weeks or so

Down a bit from Macky’s is the Irish Bar, which also features a decent restaurant and a good view of the river and the walkway. The owner, Mick, an Irish expat, of course, is a jovial fellow, so stop in and say hello if you’re in the area.

Another highlight is the Saturday Walking Street market, which has a number of food stalls, handmade crafts, and a stage area where bands entertain the market goers. Usually. Unfortunately, it rained quite a bit on the Saturday we were there, and the market was washed out. Oh, well, next time.

We also went to the former Tesco-Lotus shopping center (I think it’s just called Lotus now) and replenished our wardrobes. I needed some new shirts, jeans, socks and other types of clothing, and Thailand is cheaper than Vientiane right now, since the inflation rate in Laos is quite high.

All in all, it was a relaxing time in Nong Khai, but even better, it was a chance to get out of Vientiane and visit Thailand after being stuck in Laos since December of 2019, mainly because of the covid virus epidemic restrictions that had been in place. I’m looking forward to December when I have plans to get down to Bangkok and perhaps to one of the beach areas, like Phuket or Koh Samui.

Trying to Keep Up

I’ve been going through all my digital art resource files, trying to add them to Lightroom or to Photoshop. Such things as textures, photos, actions, patterns and others, ad infinitum, have been accumulating and haven’t been processed. In addition to adding these items to my large main laptop, I’ve been trying to get them added to the new smaller laptop. It seems like I’ve got hundreds of zip files from various sources that I’ve downloaded but haven’t unzipped them to put them into their relevant software locations. It’s a Herculean task that appears will never end. But, you know what “they” say: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

However, I have made some time for creating at least the beginnings of some new digital artwork. Here’s one that is just the germ of an idea. I don’t yet have a title for it and it’s probably only about 20-30% finished, but it’s been fun to work on so far.

More coming later. (I’m hungry–time to take a bit of “elephant.”)

Unsuccessful Digital Art

Not every digital art composition is successful. When I post a piece, I’m usually satisfied with the results and ready to throw it out there for others to see. Though it may not be as artistic as it might be, I’m usually OK with “less than perfect,” whatever perfect means. (I don’t think there really is any such thing as perfect.)

But, there are compositions I’m not satisfied with and that I have resigned to the basement corner, so to speak, for whatever reason. Maybe the work has no focal point or it doesn’t tell a story or it just doesn’t suit me for a myriad of other possible reasons. So, I don’t post them. Below are a few that I began working on and then stopped, giving up on them. For now. I will probably revisit them at a future date.

Here’s one I kind of like, a nighttime desert scene. In fact, it’s posted on my blog and I may have put it up on Facebook, but I’m not satisfied with it. It’s pretty nice, I think, but there’s no focal point, no story in the making, nothing to really capture a viewer’s attention. I tried adding some figures to it, like a camel caravan or some marauders preparing to raid the city, but they just didn’t work out so I abandoned the piece. This is one, though, that I’m sure I’ll come back to eventually.

I once read an internet site that had photos of some amazing nighttime gardens from around the world. I thought I had bookmarked the site, but I can’t find it now. Anyway, I got inspired by the photos and decided to create my own night garden. Here it is below. It features a Van Gogh-style impressionistic sky and a weird looking, but actual, building in Bangkok. I got frustrated with it and stopped, but I’m sure I’ll get back to this one, too.

The next one has potential, but again, there’s no real focal point. It’s from a photo of some artwork for sale on a sidewalk in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic. I tried to add a tourist taking a photo, but that didn’t work out. I might come back to this one, too.

Finally, here’s one I probably won’t come back to, not without some extensive rework. It’s some buildings from Vientiane with an elephant walking in front of them. What’s the point, the story? Hmmm, probably won’t come back to this one.

The upshot is that not every composition is satisfactory to me and I have to learn why that might be so. Can I make them better, but not “perfect?” I’m sure I can. I’ll let most of them sit a while back in that dark corner of the basement and bring them out into the light later, dust them off and give ’em a go.

New Laptop

I found that I’d have some extra time at the school this term because a couple of my scheduled classes were cancelled due to low enrollment in those particular classes. The number of students we have in all classes is up a bit from last term; it’s just the luck of the draw that these two classes lacked students. I still have two classes to work, from 6:45-8:15 in the evening M-F and at 10:45-12:15 Saturday morning. But, because I’m still receiving my standard salary I have to act as a cover teacher, filling in if someone calls in sick for the early class from 5:00-6 and 9-10:30 Sat. If there are no absent teachers, then I have that extra time to do whatever.

I tried hauling my big laptop back and forth from home to the school so that I could work on digital art or whatever else I wanted to do, but that laptop is a bit too heavy and bulky to run around with, so I purchased a new laptop a few weeks ago to use at the school and keep locked in my office desk. It’s a Lenovo Yoga Slim7 and it’s a nice portable rig, with a 1TB SSD internal drive, 14″ screen, and a few other nice features. Cost about $1300, which, of course, is more expensive than buying the same outfit back in the ‘States. Naturally, after I got it, teachers started calling in sick, so I haven’t had much opportunity to make extensive use of it, but I’m sure I’ll get the opportunity now and then.

The new laptop–kind of looks like this.

Photoshop Virtual Summit 4

Yes, Photoshop Virtual Summit 4 is here, running from May 2-6. This is a great event, loaded with Photoshop tutorials, tips and tricks, and it’s free. You can access the videos for 48 hours after a particular video, free of charge. But, I don’t have that much time to sit and watch everything, so I always purchase a VIP pass ($89, if you do the early bird special) that gives me lifetime access to everything, plus some extra goodies that only VIP holders get. It’s a great deal, really. Some of the tutorials offered this time around are Tips, Tricks, and Techniques for Working with Layers in Photoshop; The Art of Sharpening; Essential Techniques for Realistic Composites; The Power of Smart Objects, and Dramatic Lighting and Realistic Shadows in Photoshop Composites with Sebastian Michaels, who is the creator of several of the Photoshop Artistry classes that I take.

There are 40 tutorials in all and you can check out the event here. It’s a great deal, but it’s almost finished now, so hurry if you want to watch them. If you can’t, there will probably be a Summit 5 later in the year. And, if you’re interested in getting started with Photoshop Artistry, Sebastian is running a Summit special of the main Photoshop Artistry course for only $87, and believe me, it’s an awesome course and well worth the money. (It’s usually almost $400!) Here’s the link [Note: offer expired] to that special offer. I don’t know how long that offer will stand, so check it out now if you’re interested. You’ll be glad you did. More later.

New Term at School

I’ve had the last month off after the first term at Vientiane College finished on April 9th, but we start our next term on May 9th. While the school had enough students during the first term to keep the doors open, so to speak, we’re all hoping that registration increases this time around, though the admin people don’t expect to reach pre-pandemic levels until next year, probably. But, everyone has their fingers crossed.

For the upcoming session I’ve got three classes so far out of my usual four. I’m teaching one class for middle-school aged kids, one adult class and one class in our Diploma program. That one is a Creative Writing class, something I’m looking forward to. I taught another writing class just as the pandemic hit back in 2020 and we had to cut the term short, so we didn’t quite finish our classes. Since then, the writing class has been revamped by the teacher who taught it last term and it looks like it’ll be a lot of fun!

For my fourth class time slot, I’ll be a cover teacher, covering for others who might be out sick or can’t make it to class for whatever reason at that time. Hopefully, the classes will fill up so that I can have a regular class then, but being a cover teacher is fine with me. It doesn’t affect my pay or the time that I have to be at the school.

Anyway, only a few days left until it’s back to work, though we have a mandatory workshop this Friday at 2:30 p.m. More later.

After a Long Time

Whew, it’s been a while, hasn’t it. Well, I’m still here, but a bit lazy (as usual). There’s really not a lot to report on; I won’t go into recent events around the world-you can read about those almost everywhere else.

Here in Vientiane, most schools have reopened after students not having classes for almost a year. At Vientiane College, we’ve been having face-to-face classes since January and everything appears to be running smoothly, though student enrollment has been down, as expected. The term finishes up just before the Laos New Year (Pi Mai), which runs from April 13-17 (that includes a weekend) and starts again at the beginning of May with Term 2.

I haven’t put up any digital art lately because I’ve been absorbed with my two favorite online RPGs, Lord of the Rings Online and Eve Online. I’d been keeping up with the subscriptions to both of them, so I thought I might as well play them for a bit. Naturally, I got sucked into them and began to spend way too much time with them, especially Eve. I’ve been spending less time with them lately, so I’ve kind of been getting back to digital art, learning and creating.

Here’s my latest composition, which I’ve titled “Homeward Bound.” I thought of the title before I remembered the Simon and Garfunkel song, though it was probably in my subconscious. Anyway, here it is:

digital art composition

Well, that’s it for now, but I’ll try to keep this blog updated more often (seriously). More later.

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