In Your Hand You Hold a Magic Wand
Alice laughed “There’s no use in trying,” she said, “One can’t believe in impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen, “When I was your age I practiced for an hour a day. Sometimes, I believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” - Lewis Carroll
In your hand, you hold a magic wand. You may know it as a pencil, a pen, a paintbrush, or a stylus, but it is an instrument of magic. You can conjure anything your imagination can hold and bring it into reality on a piece of paper or canvas. Nothing is impossible in the world of imagination… world peace, talking rabbits, singing fish, dragons, unicorns, interstellar travel…
Even the word “Impossible” can be reframed to say “I’m possible”.
What would happen if you use your art to practice believing in the impossible possible every day? Quantum mechanics has torn away old constraints. Science has proved that attention makes the difference between existence and non-existence on the level of tiny particles. The more you study reality at this granular level the more magical it becomes.
How free it is to be an artist of the imagination. If we want a pink elephant to dance pirouettes wearing a tutu we wave our magic wand and there it is. If you want a miracle to occur - make it so! Dance with the flamingos, soar with the butterflies, drive a racecar through space - why not? On the world we create on our page anything goes.
Imagining a future we desire in great detail actually calls it into existence. When we can feel, touch, smell, and taste our desires the dividing line that separates us from it dissolves and our desires magically begin to manifest for us. I think we can even heal our souls and bodies with this process. Try it out. Try writing, drawing, painting, collaging and envisioning any sort of magic - experiment to see what happens.
One of the differences that distinguish a photographer from a visual artist is that the photographer must discover magic in the physical known universe. They need to be present at the right time and in the right place to witness the miraculous. They are limited to capturing things created by nature and the rules of the physical world.
It makes me wonder why I painted so many portraits, still life, and landscape from photographs. What caused me to dull my thinking in this way? When I was a child I painted magical unicorns and talking animals.
At some point around puberty, I constrained myself to paint a world of beauty without magic. The world of imagination became separate from me and I could only visit through books and movies created by other people. For a long time, my thinking fit into a small box of externally accepted and approved behaviors. My world was limited to things I could actually document, hold and manipulate.
Did this happen to you too? Do you limit yourself and your art to what’s possible only in this realm? Don’t get me wrong, the physical world is pretty miraculous and filled with beautiful incredible things that are fascinating in their detail and structure.
But what if we could 10X our possibilities to the supernatural limits of our imagination? Glinda the Good Witch said to Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, “You’ve always had the power, my dear, you’ve just had to learn it for yourself.” In my search for my personal and unique voice, a magical door opened recently and welcomed me back into the powerful world of imagination.
When we add a touch of magic to our creations it makes our work unique, expressive, personal, and powerful. You will invent impossible details to add to your work that would never occur to me and together we can expand the range of possible worlds.
Last month in my workshop one student created the most lovely snowman skiing over a spray of crocus popping out of a snowy mountain scene. Another student painted a delightful little monkey on a tricycle being lifted above the ground by fruit-shaped balloons. I am going to add whales that fly with mermaids through the clouds, magical deer that have trees for antlers, and more as the images pour into my mind. Work like this is rarely mistaken for someone else’s.
One of the things that holds me back from fully expressing my imagination is the detail I would like to include in my fantasy realms. Castles, towns, mythical animals, and the like take a long time and extensive research to draw. I often wish there were an easier way, and now it looks like that easier way has arrived.
Have you kept up with the new developments in Artificial Intelligence? Arthur C. Clarke said that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Magic is definitely happening at this moment.
Revolutionary pattern recognition software has been created and released in the past year that allows us to generate complex writing and images from simple prompts. ChatGPT can now write your college essays, blog posts, and book summaries in any writing style. It does so without plagiarizing anyone else. However, since the writing is based on patterns from its reading not all facts are sourced reliably so don’t let the computer do all the work on its own.
MidJourney, Stable Diffusion, Craiyon, ArtBreeder, and Dall-E are image generators now available for you to experiment with. These new (Artificial Intelligence) AIs produce stunning, never-before-seen pictures. Users do not need to be professional artists. They do not need drawing skills. What appears on the screen is astounding in its realism and depth of detail. More than 20 million new images are being created every day.
AI generators combine deep learning neural nets that generate coherent realistic images with a natural language model that serves as an interface to the image engine. Human users enter a string of words - a prompt - that describes the image they are seeking and the AI generates a series of images based on that description. If you ask the AI to create in the style of Van Gogh or Joseph Stella, the results are remarkably similar.
A neural network learns skills by analyzing data. By pinpointing patterns in thousands of photos of houses or young girls, for example, it can learn to recognize and create several versions of a house or a young girl. AI's are not allowed to use images of actual people, the faces they produce are eerily familiar portraits of people who do not actually exist.
“They can extrapolate,” said Oriol Vinyals, senior director of deep learning research at the London lab DeepMind, who has built groundbreaking systems that can juggle everything from language to three-dimensional video games. “They can combine concepts in ways you would never anticipate.” They have learned their art from scanning billions of pictures made by humans so their art looks like what we expect but over time they will restructure new pictures in ways no human is likely to think of, filling in details most of us wouldn’t have the skills to execute or the ability to imagine.”
This summer Jason Allen won first place in the digital art category at the Colorado State Fair Fine Art competition for a large space-opera-themed canvas (above) that was signed “Jason Allen via Mid-Journey” It’s a canvas that would have taken some effort to make no matter what tools were used. Images in this category are usually produced from digitized objects, textures, and parts which are then collaged together to form the scene using Photoshop. They are not drawn by hand. In this area using AI is a natural evolution.
According to recent power users, the best image results come from long conversations between humans and machines. The human artist and the machine artist are a duet. Progress for each image comes from many iterations, back and forth, teamwork, and collaboration. It requires not just experience but also lots of hours and work to produce something useful. It is easy to get the AI to surprise you but it is difficult to get the AI to obey you. If you have a specific image in mind and want to command the AI to shade this area and enhance that part or tone it down, such commands are obeyed reluctantly.
AI bots are able to generate unlimited variations in whatever style we want in seconds! There are many ways these bots are superior to you and me. They do not get tired. They do not let emotion cloud what they are trying to do. They can instantly draw on far larger amounts of information. And they can generate text, images, and other media at speeds and volumes we humans never could.
AI generators are opening a possibility for a new art form in the space between photography and painting. Behind this new magecraft is the art of prompting. The process of teasing out a great prompt is an emerging fine art skill exercising taste and curation. If this interests you or if you know young artists who are excited by this art form now is the time to jump in with both feet. Current versions of image generators limit prompts to the length of a long tweet, any longer and the image turns into mush. There are now prompt sourcing sites, books, and courses for you to investigate and contribute to.
You will hear a lot of noise that AI Image Generation is the end of art as we know it. The same thing happened when the camera first appeared, when Photoshop arrived, etc.
However, it is more likely that most AI-generated images will be used to create unique personalized, and copyright-free images for reports, slides, blogs, or newsletters. Most will be used to enhance places where there were no previous images. Many will probably be used, as on the internet, to create entertaining images of cats and pornography.
Eventually, you will see super personalized AI-generated movies on social media or elaborate worlds and images that help us process whatever is going on in our lives - envisioning animal heaven, or the home of our dreams.
This circles back to our magic wand and creating and sharing the world of our imagination. What if drawing skills were not required to be an artist? What if there were a tool that enhanced and expanded the drawing skills you already have? What if all you need to be an artist is your imagination and an AI collaborator? Would you welcome that?
Will there be more artists creating work to open our hearts in a profound way? I certainly hope so. Could we use AI to envision the world we would like to create in more detail? I think so. Will AI keep people from wanting to learn to draw and paint? I doubt it. There is so much joy in the act of creation that I can easily see using AI to help me to add detail to my images more than I can see handing over the reins entirely to a machine. I am curious to know your thoughts on this.
Please reach out to me if you would like help in adding more imagination joy and magic to your art. I welcome the opportunity for conversation, collaboration, and commissions.
With Light and Delight
If you would like to read my February 2023 newsletter in its original form please follow this link: https://conta.cc/3HFcsRZ