Discovering new worlds

Conference celebrates the power of mobile digital art

Carolyn Hall Young has spent a lot of time in hospitals. Diagnosed with advanced stage non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 1989 and given six months to live, Young has beaten the odds for the past 26 years, although not without a fight.

Today, her health remains a concern. But despite the many hours she spends in waiting rooms and medical centers, Young says she doesn't waste a minute. The key to making the time count? Art.

In a photographic self-portrait, Young appears in multiple, as if seen through a drunken haze. She gazes back at the viewer, holding up a painting as if to assert her role as the creator of the image. In a painting, she appears again, this time propped up in bed, her hands at once covering her eyes and placed on her shoulders, crossed at the wrist in a pose suggestive of death. Yet the outline of her eyeglasses, the light falling across her face and her upright posture affirm her status among the living. The works are arresting and powerful, inviting the viewer to linger and absorb the raw emotion and evident artistry. Just as startling as the works themselves is the fact that Young created both of them on her iPad.

The lifelong painter and designer with degrees from New York's Pratt Institute and the Rhode Island School of Design is a devotee of apps like Procreate and iColorama: programs designed for drawing and painting on tablets and mobile phones.

"I never feel like a victim waiting in hospitals and cancer centers," she explained over the phone from her home near Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she lay in bed at the end of an oxygen tube. "I can zoom in on works at the Met and see the cracks in the paint. I can create my own stuff and discover new worlds. I get so much joy out of this."

Young is among the award-winning digital artists honored at the third annual Mobile Digital Art & Creativity Summit, held next weekend, Aug. 7-9, at the Palo Alto Art Center. The exhibition and conference draws international speakers and participants together for a celebration of the ways mobile digital technology can support artistic output. Beginning with a showcase of some of the best mobile paintings and photographs in the world, the weekend includes panel discussions, workshops, seminars, master classes and more.

Organizers Sumit Vishwakarma and Caroline Mustard are Silicon Valley-based artists who met online through their art. Together, they founded the Mobile Art Academy for anyone interested in learning more about how to make art on mobile devices. Their first international exhibit, held at Palo Alto's Pacific Art League in 2013 with the support of then Executive Director Seth Schalet, garnered public interest; last year, they expanded to a two-day conference and sold out. This year, they've relocated to the Palo Alto Art Center to accommodate the anticipated crowd of 500 to 600.

Vishwakarma is a young electronics engineer with a passion for painting who now teaches mobile art workshops part-time; Mustard is an English-born painter who adopted the iPad later in life as her preferred artistic medium and who now teaches mobile digital painting at area studios and schools. They both speak about the art form with genuine and unbridled enthusiasm.

"I used to buy canvases and paint, but being a Silicon Valley professional, I was so busy that all my colors got dried up," Vishwakarma remembered with a giggle. "When I bought my first iPhone, I discovered doodling apps. Then with the iPad, I had a bigger canvas, and I could really see that this gives you a lot of power. You can zoom in to work on finer details. You can always undo. And your art is made up of layers, so it's very easy to create complex pieces of work.

"It's also affordable," he continued. "Digital art used to require expensive hardware, software and complex tools, but now all you need is an iPad and some free apps. We call it a studio in your pocket."

"We say it's art for the masses," added Mustard. "It's very easy to get people started, and that's my passion: I love to help people find their creative side."

Although mobile technology can make art accessible to beginners, both Vishwakarma and Mustard emphasize that mobile digital art is a fine art form, not just a way to doodle. When Mustard saw that renowned artist David Hockney had included iPad paintings in his retrospective exhibit at the de Young Museum in 2013, she felt the form had been vindicated.

"We want to encourage people to use their mobile devices not to consume but to create," she explained, articulating a distinction that was echoed by Young.

As for how, exactly, one creates a painting on a phone or tablet, it's all about finding the right app. Vishwakarma and Mustard rattled off some of their favorites, noting that many of the companies that create them are also sponsors of next weekend's event. Bay Area-based Autodesk is the creator of SketchBook, one of the best-known painting and drawing software programs. Autodesk representatives will be on hand to chat with participants at Friday night's opening exhibition, which is free to the public. While Procreate is another popular app used by many mobile digital artists, Vishwakarma praised New Zealand-based ArtRage for its ability to emulate traditional painting effects. Mustard particularly likes New York-based FiftyThree's free app, Paper, which she called "lovely and fun," adding, "I can sit anyone down with Paper, and within an hour I can get them painting."

Among the weekend's keynote speakers is Brian Yap from San Jose-based Adobe, who will give a talk about digital painting using software, including Adobe Illustrator.

In the world of iphoneography (yes, it's now a recognized genre), Pixelmator is a popular photography app that in 2014 was named the No. 1 iPad app by Apple. Mustard also likes the image editing app iColorama: "The pieces you can create with it are phenomenal." Some apps are only available on Apple products, but the exhibition and conference also include programs for Android users.

For the first time this year, the conference and the exhibition will fully incorporate mobile digital photography as well as painting and drawing. Among the breakout sessions offered at the conference are workshops on using mobile devices to create paintings and photographs, comics and caricatures, animation, videography and even music. The exhibition includes 71 paintings and drawings selected from more than 700 entries, and 43 photographs chosen from a pool of more than 500 submissions. London-based photographer and journalist Joanne Carter, best known as the voice behind photo blog TheAppWhisperer.com, served as judge for the iphoneography competition, while digital artists Roz Hall and Susan Murtaugh were the jurors for the digital painting competition. The chosen works come from around the world, including those from Italy, Russia, Australia and India. On Sunday evening at the culmination of the conference, the top three winners in each category will be announced, and prizes will be awarded.

Among the 100 or so works on display will hang the above-mentioned works by Young and works by both Vishwakarma and Mustard as well as paintings by two of Mustard's young students from the Midpeninsula: Catherine Linetsky and Max Austin.

Linetsky, who recently turned 14, was away at summer camp and unavailable for comment, but her father, Gene, was happy to talk about the honor.

"The most amazing thing is that this was her very first work on an iPad," he said.

A recent graduate of Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School, Linetsky will attend Gunn High School in the fall. Her work selected for the exhibition depicts a barn owl perched on a branch, a deep blue star-studded sky and a rising crescent moon behind it.

Austin, who is 16 and described her work as "realistic abstract," works in both oil paint and mobile digital media. A high school student who also takes university classes, her work in the exhibition employs a bold, graphic style, with bright green and blues framed by dashes of pink and purple. Austin plans to attend the Friday night reception and said she was "looking forward to seeing the art work at the show and meeting the other artists, learning more about mobile digital art and learning new apps and techniques."

Exhibition attendees will quickly notice the impressive variety of works created on phones and tablets. In the painting category, there are impressionistic landscapes, photo-realistic portraits abstract and figurative works that show the influence of artists from Chagall to Miro. Similarly, the winning photographs span an enormous range of styles, from misty romanticism to gritty urban scenes, works of documentary-style crispness to works given such painterly treatment, it's hard to pick out their photographic origins.

That variety is part of what Vishwakarma and Mustard say gives the genre its richness and makes it so exciting. To emphasize the diversity and possibility of mobile digital art, Mustard has printed the exhibition works on a range of substrates, including metals, papers and even wood. By combining apps, she said, mobile digital artists can push the limits of what's possible in traditional artistic disciplines to create unexpected, original works of art.

That power to create something new -- and the journey of discovery along the way -- is what Young says keeps her going.

"Mobile art is blowing my mind," she said. "I'm focusing on what is possible. I focus so hard that I don't feel any pain at all until I stop."

What: Mobile Digital Arts & Creativity Summit

Where: Palo Alto Art Center, 1313 Newell Road, Palo Alto

When: Exhibition opening: Friday, Aug. 7, 5:30-8 p.m. Conference: Saturday, Aug. 8, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 9, 8:30 a.m. to 5: 30 p.m.

Cost: Exhibition: Free. Conference: $149 for one day, $199 for two days. Student and family passes available.

Info: Visit mdacsummit.org or email info@mdacsummit.org.

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2 people like this
Posted by Diana Nicholette Jeon
a resident of another community
on Jul 31, 2015 at 1:43 pm

Congratulations on getting press for the show. Itʻs always challenging to get ink these days. A lot of work goes into the PR effort, so I think you for that. Yet, I find myself once again feeling disheartened at my experience with this exhibition, this time at the hands of a reporter in a city where I once lived and worked…

I realize MAA is a training academy, but lumping artists with experience and in many cases, high degrees of achievement and reputation with a teenʻs first iPad work? REALLY? As a full-time, working artist, one who spent years earning the terminal degree in my field of digital imaging, 8 years teaching new media arts at the college level, and more years proving myself out in the art world one exhibition at a time, I find having my work lumped in with a 14 year oldʻs FIRST iPad painting extremely disheartening at the least, as well as disrespectful to all of us artists who undertook the process of entering their work and having it successfully accepted by jurors who have high standards and great tracks records. All the artists who applied and went successfully through the jurying process deserve better.

Does the 14 year-old deserve a pat on the back? Of course! All artists grow from somewhere, start somewhere, on their path to become recognized for their art work. ALL the MAA trained kids deserve a place in the show, as well an article about their work. Yet, a separate room in the show, and a separate article. And, one work from each child participant-no special treatment for one or two of them

Finally, the article did not due justice to the jurors. The jurors MAKE or BREAK any given exhibition. The names and reputations of the jurors attract are what artists to enter their work in a show. I know that I would not have entered if Joanne Carter was not the juror for the Photo Art side (and I know others who feel the same.) Her years spent working in the mobile photo area via her work on The App Whisperer, and her reputation as a journalist in the photographic field are important to me. Roz Hall and Susan Murtaugh are equally well respected in the area of iPad painting. All the jurorsʻ exhibited willingness to spend great amounts of time and effort for little to no fee to select a show that will reflect well on all concerned, including MAA/mDAC, the artists and themselves. The jurors are them most important part of the jury exhibition equation, and they got little more than a lineʻs worth of ink. It’s disturbing they were not better recognized in the article as well. I want to personally thank all of them for their efforts for this exhibition. I know it wasn’t an easy job.

2 people like this
Posted by Caroline Mustard
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 31, 2015 at 7:59 pm

As one of the organizers of mDAC 2015 I am extending my congratulations to Palo Alto Weekly for a really informative article that I feel covered the impact mobile digital art has on people's lives—of all ages. I'm sorry Diana felt offended by the fact two winners were in their teens. But my personal opinion (and PASSION) is that this amazing medium, because of its digital nature, transcends differences in race, religion, color and, yes, age. We had no age limit for entries, and neither ourselves nor our jurors had any idea of the race, color, creed or age of the hundreds of artists who submitted work. They selected work on its artistic merit. I feel the writer captured the spirit of our exhibition perfectly. We welcome everyone to come see what we have to show you. As members of our wonderfully creative community that has so much influence on the world, you have MUCH to be proud of and can see the power of the work you have done to create these digital platforms for human expression.

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