Sunday, September 23, 2012

Ability to catch a likeness & inherent facial recognition

I read an article in New Scientist about super-recognizers. People with a freakish ability to recognize faces. Useful in law enforcement, such as matching blurry survalence screencaptures to mug shots or recognizing persons of interest despite their wearing a Mets cap and purple lipstick.

While I am not a super-recognizers, I suspect I am closer to the top of that bell curve. When my husband and I attend events or watch TV I'm constantly recognizing people and he can't. But he frequently recognizes voices while I rarely can.

I've been drawing portraits a long time. I love looking at faces. People, including other artists, will  say it must have taken me years of practice to be able to capture a likeness. I nod in agreement, not wanting to hurt their feelings, but it just isn't so. Yes, it has taken time to get comfortable with the materials, such as watercolor, ink, pastels, and now digital. What I don't tell them is this, I was able to do it the first time I tried.

When I was nine years old my mother, at one time a dabbler in art, sat me down and put a pad of good charcoal paper in my lap and handed me a stick of charcoal. Up to this point I'd only drawn the usual princesses and horses with crayons in a style that would be universally recognized as uninfluenced by observation of reality.

"Draw me" she said.

I remember that first portrait so clearly, gauging the widths and planes, the way some parts of her face seem to repeat themselves in style—a signature pointiness in ears and nose wings...what I now think of as fractals of facial development. I am back in our den, in our fine small house in West Hartford, the scratch and slur of my lines echoing my mother's face.

20 minutes later she demanded to see what I'd done.
She looked startled and then pleased. It looked like her. After that, I got extra art lessons.

I don't know if this ability is a genetic gift or oddity of development, but my father, Elof Carlson, as a young man, before he pursued a career as a geneticist, was able to draw portraits that also captured a likeness.

Unlike the super recognizers I do forget faces and almost always names. I'll walk by someone and get a flash of recognition...if you see me on the street and I'm staring at you while alternately looking off to my left it isn't sleepwalking or lack of meds, I know I know you and cannot approach because your name is a blank. However, your nose or chin will stay with me, until next time then.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Reading, poetry self-help column and diversions

Since I've been working too much and creating too little lately, I wanted to inspire myself now that the BIG freelance job is over (sounds of cheering).

I bought a paperback of Ted Kooser's The Poetry Home Repair Manual. So far, I like it. He explains clearly, based on a lifetime of writing and teaching. For instance Kooser says he may revise a poem up to 40 times "to revise toward clarity and freshness, and I hope that after I have labored over my poems for many hours they look as if they'd been dashed off in a few minutes, the way good watercolor paintings look." More to add when I finish the book.

I took out Mary Oliver's Rules for the Dance from the library. She covers prosody just perfectly and has a short but lovely collection of older classic poems to illustrate her points.
And just in case you think I've stopped reading my usual YA fantasy books, here are 3 quick reviews:

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen: first in a trilogy, a group of orphan boys are secretly trained to impersonate the lost prince. I found it totally engaging, the narrator Sage is clever and mischievous, and faced with awful choices if he wishes to survive, for only one boy can claim the throne. Engrossing, went on a bit too long in spots. The climax no surprise. I'd give this one an A-

Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl. Kindle has kept this fan waiting 10 years for her next book and this is a Jane Austen homage using a Pride and Prejudice meets Emma as an armature. It is funny, lively, and not very true to the historic period, but hey, it is a fine diversion. I loved the first person narrator Althea who must force herself to marry a wealthy man in order to literally keep the roof over her head. She is in fine form when it comes to manipulating her stingy and heartless step-sisters who jealously hold the purse-strings since they inherited all the wealth. At times the 21st century poked through too much, but it was amusing all the way. I laughed out loud. B+

Cinder by Marissa Meyer. Cyborg Cinderella in a dystopia that faces plague and possible invasion from the nasty folks on the moon. I know it sounds nuts—in a Flash Gordon way—but this is a delightful revamping of the familiar fairy tale. The partially human heroine is a mechanic and must obey the whims of her stepmother in a society that disenfranchises cyborgs (and augmented humans). At times the plot seemed to take too long and some of the secondary characters are under developed. We feel for our plucky self-abasing Cinder. More books to follow and I am hopeful this author will improve, this was fun, original, and I look forward to the next installment. B+

Paintshop Pro, from iPad to iMac

I saw great reviews for the new Sketchbook Pro (version 6) drawing program for the computer. Introductory price of $29. Since I've been using the pared down version on my iPad, I knew I liked it. So, yes, I got the full version for a full computer. Sketchbook Pro is so much cheaper than the industry leader Corel Painter 12. I know Sketchbook has fewer features, but hey, at 1/15th the price... deal! I can bring the files into Photoshop for the things it can't do.

There is more you can do of course on a program designed for a full operating system and plenty of memory, and I also used my Wacom tablet and took advantage of pressure sensitivity. Two hours later I had done a self-portrait, graphic novel style, a tough as nails version of me (yes, a bit younger looking), influenced by watching the movie The Hunger Games the night before. The middle aged Catniss Carlson? Except for a bow and arrow, I'd have to cut contestants down with my number 11 blade X-Acto knife.

Jim suggested a great article at Lifehacker about practice, the kind that only helps a little (mindless or overly repetitive; such as how I did piano lessons: start at beginning, make a mistake, stop, start over and repeat--so only able to play beginning well!) and mindful (working out problems and trying multiple solutions).  With this study, I thought about how to balance line with color so that it didn't get too finished, I wanted to keep a sketchy loose feel. I have plans to illustrate a picture book and want to develop the level of skills to do it. I was also dealing with a light source that had no strong direction and wanted to see how much of the purple shirt I should reflect back into the face.

What should I do next? I am frightfully bad at doing whole scenes, if I take it piece by piece, try this, try that, I may finally get the level of abstraction I need to do a landscape with a narrative event, i.e., an illustration.

Self portrait Sept 3, 2012, 1st Sketchbook pro attempt.