Catherine McIntyre is a computer-based artist, illustrator and graphic designer, living in the north-east of Scotland. She uses photography, drawing, collages and found objects together with Photoshop CS to create beautiful striking images.
We wanted to speak to Catherine not only about her work, but also about the processes involved and the
part technology plays in the creation of her work.
The images you create are stunning, in their originality and creativity, also the use of Photoshop gives you almost limitless possibilities to manipulate and alter images, how did you start to use Photoshop and other technology in this manner?
"Thank you! Before my illustration degree, I'd been doing my own collage work for several years. I used traditional collage techniques – pasting layers of papers, then painting and drawing over the top, using enamel, oil and watercolour paints, charcoal and ink pens. I'd shown several collage pieces in my first degree show, and my Masters work comprised a series of photographic books, many of which were collaged. I think this was why I realised Photoshop was for me when I first tried it.
I was lucky to be a computer graphic designer for a while, in a completely digital working environment (I had previously worked as a graphic designer, using old techniques such as bromide and scalpel). The studio was entirely Mac-based; there was a very steep learning curve. I learned Photoshop for a particular job; I had been convinced that the digital was an illustrative rather than artistic medium, but soon saw that it suited my working methods. End of leisure time – from then on, I worked all the hours I could making my own stuff."
Without giving away any trade secrets!! How do you start? Do you have an idea of what you want to create, or does the world about you inspire?
"No trade secrets! I use very basic techniques actually. If it's a commissioned piece, I'll read the brief and start going through my archive of photographs for things that will be useful – I have more than fifteen years' worth of stuff now, so there's always something useful! Then if I need anything specific for the job I'll go and photograph it. I do like to have everything I'll need before I start. If I'm working for myself it's a more fluid process, finding and adding things as the mood takes me and as the pictures leads."
Can you talk us through a little of the process you would go through to create a piece?
"The technique isn't revolutionary; standard Photoshop practice, no filters usually, lots of layers, masks and blending modes. The images start off as a series of photographs or scans; original material can be photographic, digital or silver negatives or positive film; drawings or collages, or things found on walks – anything from a shred of wallpaper to an old crisp packet. I often work at the ‘macro’ end of the lens – close up, the textures and lack of scale of abstract images, which are important to a lot of the later work, take precedence over the subject. An Epson Perfection photo scanner imports other textures and images.
Photoshop then brings all the elements together. The standard collage techniques are all here. Any number of elements can be pasted into a picture, in layers one on top of another; the order in which they are placed can be changed at any time. The elements can be trimmed and rotated, just as with a paper montage. However, Photoshop goes much further. The scale of the various parts can be altered, and distorted, for example to create a perspective effect. Then, opacity can be varied, either across an entire layer or in parts using a layer mask. Contrast, hue, and saturation are further variables. Each layer can also interact with the ones below it by using layer modes. The luminosity mode, for example, makes the layer it is applied to take on the hue of the layer below, while retaining its own tonal and contrast values.
To make a picture, I start with a Photoshop file of the planned finished size, usually at a resolution (or detail) of 300 dpi. This picture is often an abstract texture, a good background on which to build. Then, I open the other files which I plan to use for the image, and drag them into the working file in separate layers. At this early stage, the rough scaling and orientation of the elements is established.
The precise placement of images in relation to each other, and the command over the exact attributes of the parts of the whole, allows total control of the finished piece. Things can be blended into each other, either literally or pictorially, to make a consistent, cohesive result. Experimentation with inversions, changing colours, opacity and modes, and so on begins to establish the ‘feel’ of the new picture. The mood is not something you can plan – it develops just as with more traditional ways of making pictures, in a very intuitive and spontaneous way, reacting to the resonances set up by the interaction of the elements. The image is finally ‘flattened’, to remove the layering and fix the parts together, and printed.
As for inspiration – anything and everything! I always take a camera with me, even when walking the dogs; you never know when a shot will turn up. I obviously look at a lot of photography. Reading will inspire ideas too, and browsing bookshops and antique shops. Exhibitions, poetry, museums, car boot sales, my extremely beautiful greyhounds… As for found objects – I can find these absolutely anywhere; I am very opportunistic."
Some work created using a digital process, could be seen as being soulless perhaps, by losing the physical touch of the work. However, I don’t think this is something which could be leveled at your work, some of which seems almost spell binding. How do you ensure you remain in creative touch with the art you create, even after you surrender it to the computer screen?
"I'm very glad you see the human touch in my work. I am careful always to use real, found texture, rather than using filters; I think this keeps the work grounded in some kind of reality. I prefer old things to new as well; evidence of use and wear links us to their past and to the people who made and used them. The most important thing, though, is always to tell the truth. Honest art will always have soul, no matter in what medium it was made. Your artwork seems to encompass many themes, what inspires you? Is there one single thread running through, or you do you bring together a myriad of ideas?
This has changed over the years. I've always loved working with the nude, and Photoshop can make it more than simply descriptive. The earlier work was often about finding relationships between the nude, or other natural objects, and the manufactured. Living as I was in a city, emotionally the work was about being hemmed in, isolated and threatened. Since a move to the countryside a few years ago, the pictures are opening up and becoming lighter.
There are several themes…most importantly, communication, its difficulties and rewards. Lies and the truth, sharing emotion, and belonging to a society. Which is what all art is about fundamentally, of course. Also our environment, originally man-made surroundings, and the textures of decay and layering of time, and then the rural – organic forms and textures, the natural world both animal and plant, and nudes and therefore man's place in the natural world. I am now trying to reconcile these almost conflicting ways of living in my artwork."
The internet brings uncountable benefits, not least the fact that an artist is able to bring their work to an audience of not only their peers, but also those who will stumble across and be captured unexpectedly. Do these benefits in your mind outweigh the fact that you have to fight against a global market of anyone being able to do as you do, and showcase their work to the world?
"There is no doubt that it is a crowded market place these days, and everyone is trying to be heard. The commercial outlets are hotly contested, and life for an illustrator is getting tougher all the time as people use image banks more and more. It's understandable in these straitened times. However, as for personal work, it's wonderful; sites such as Behance showcase work where any interested person can find it without needing to know about you beforehand."
Finally, if you could go back in time, to that shadowy world before were all connected 24/7 to the internet, and keyboards and screens were not the way so many of us now view and communicate with the world. Do you think you would have still found a way to create your work – is an artist an artist in whatever time or place they are?
"Most certainly! I'm getting on a bit, and was working in many other media before I found this one suited me so well. I think people always find a way to express themselves with whatever is to hand; I'm just fortunate that Photoshop was invented in time for me."