Napping Commuter is a a digital painting for Instagram. I created this piece with the intention of exhibiting in pieces on Instagram over the course of a week. Once completed I broke the piece into a grid of 12 squares then posted each in order to my Instagram account such that viewing my profile would reveal the full image. Each post revealing a bit more of the image. Some posts stand alone as works, some are strange and cryptic.
With this piece I wanted to capture some of the feeling of riding the train to Seattle - with this poor commuter as the viewer's avatar. Above him are concrete walls with windows and blotchy paint. Something you'll see a lot of as you cruise through Puyallup and Sumner. The number "2" came from a photograph from years ago. On the side of the train one morning I noticed the number two - in bright white Helvetica and right next to it, the dark blue ghost of where another "2" once was. I snapped a photo. Those two 2s have come to graphically represent the train in my mind - something about the faded space where a decal once was, next to a bright fresh decal of the very same thing says something about repetition and pattern and commuting.
I follow a lot of artists on Instagram and I use the “discover” feature regularly to find more. Unless I’m missing out, I don’t think that artists are deliberately using Instagram as a medium itself. It looks like artists are using Instagram strictly as a social image network - to share and promote their work. This is fine of course - Instagram is a tool and users should use that tool how you see fit (or not). Traditional painters will post a gallery of detail shots of their most current work - or perhaps they’ll share photos of work in process in their studio.
I don’t think that it’s a stretch to claim that most people who use social media publicly treat it like a performance. People perform as their best selves living their best lives. Artists perform their best version of being an artist. Artists don’t share photos of their day job, pictures with their accountant, or buying materials at the art store. I don’t think this is negative - art is never not a business and artists are never not business-people.
But, I think there’s some creative potential in thinking of Instagram as a visual medium outside of the performative and promotional.
Navigating time and space on Instagram
First there’s the obligatory joke about how social media is a black hole and sucks up all of your time.
But after that, ignoring Facebook’s shitty algorithmic feed (everyone hates you Facebook; no one likes you) Instagram captures visual moments in time ordered from the recent to the past. Scroll through your own profile page and you get a sense of your own shared history with others. This is the first dimension of Instagram - time.
Of course the primary interface for browsing Instagram is the vertical timeline scroll. Up and down - but mostly down - Instagram has a sense of gravity pulling you down the feed. This is the second dimension of Instagram - height.
Secondarily, Instagram has a grid interface - the 3 x 3 layout of images on a profile or a search tab. There are clever tools which allow spreading a large photo across these grid views so you can get a linear presentation of details and a wider “full size” view of the big idea on a profile page. This is the 3rd dimension of Instagram - width.
Finally, stories and galleries present content in “stacks” - when you tap into a story or swipe left and right on a gallery - you push deeper and deeper into an idea. This is the 4th dimension of Instagram - depth.
On Instagram time is the first dimension. Time, or timeliness, is the most important. In my own experiments regular posting on a schedule yields more views and more quote-unquote engagement. This is what the mysterious, shrouded algorithm appears to prefer.
Starting at the end
Creative work intended for Instagram take two directions. Each post can be a singular moment at a time - the traditional approach to social media. Each post builds upon the last creating a broad theme or idea (or maybe a brand). Alternately - one can use the many dimensions of Instagram to build multidirectional ideas.
If you wanted to post a linear narrative on Instagram - you’d have to start at the end - your first post is the punchline. Each subsequent post leads up to this punchline but must be captivating. Your last post is the first post in the narrative. In this example your followers would follow each post (missing a few because algorithms) and then find themselves at the beginning of a narrative. If they are curious - they can now view your profile and read the timeline in reverse order.
Alternately - individual images may stand alone - but viewed together on a grid on a profile page becomes something together different. Or further, each post is a gallery - a cave to be dived - but again can grow in context when viewed on a profile page or contributes to a them viewed linearly.
I want to automate posts to Instagram. You can do this - but only if you have a “Business” account on Instagram and only if that business account is linked to a Facebook account which also has a facebook “page”.
This, combined with the fact that there are certain people who cannot be reached by any other method has convinced me to give up and reactivate my stupid, horrible, Facebook account.
I’m not going to let it get me down however. I’m treating Facebook as paperwork that I have to do in order to use Instagram in the way I want. (That Facebook is driving people away from a beloved platform because they just can’t stop meddling is another issue entirely…).
I downloaded the shiny new version of the Firefox browser and installed their new Facebook Container extension to keep things isolated for the rare times when I need to log in to Facebook and perform maintenance.
Now, with my blogging tools to Facebook I can use it as just an output format - a shitty form of RSS which I don’t use myself, but make available for the poor souls trapped on it.
Sharpie and fountain pen drawing of the Hood River bridge from last week
Quick photo study from the train. Sometimes I borrow faces from Uniqlo marketing emails for practice.
Foggy Mirror is a web app which recreates the experience of drawing in a foggy mirror using your device’s front-facing camera.
It should work in Safari and Chrome on up-to-date platforms. Firefox appears to be a bit dodgy and Android browsers are perennially out of date. In theory Chrome for Android supports these features as well.
The effect is weirdly fun and intimate.
I achieved this by using the new
MediaDevices interface to capture video from the device camera. This video is composited into an HTML5 Canvas element, mirrored, then blurred to create the fog effect. This video is composited into a “stage” canvas which receives mouse or touch events. These events are converted into a blobby drawing. The clean video is merged with the drawing then layered on top of the foggy video to complete the effect.