Making Eco-Friendly Art with Digital Painter Zach McCraw

Gallery in D Emptyspace by Zach McCraw

Zach McCraw is one of those rare people who spends every moment fired up to discover and create. Since late 2018, he’s painted day in and day out, creating over 4,000 digital works of art.

“I’m pushing for the future. I have to be daring. I have to feel wild.”

McCraw lives in the woods, often choosing to immerse himself in his garden while painting. His love of the natural world pushed him to seek ways to turn his love of painting into an eco-friendly endeavor, and he now exclusively paints with digital media.

“My love of nature and its preservation inspires me to champion digital art as the most eco-friendly art form, especially for painting. The amount of waste that goes into traditional paint products is done away with in my digital process, especially at the rate I paint.”

Also, if you want to get a sense of how McCraw curates his galleries, experience them virtually on D Emptyspace:

Untitled Gallery in D Emptyspace by Zach McCraw / Untitled Gallery in D Emptyspace by Zach McCraw

Artist Zach McCraw

You’ve got so many artistic pursuits. Music, painting, video production… where do you feel like all this creativity comes from?

I always have to create, it’s like an obsession.

If I’m not creating, I’m thinking about creating and making each moment creative.

My creative drive is always working towards a unique approach to an original vision.

Gallery in D Emptyspace by Zach McCraw

As a digital artist, you are capable of creating artwork from absolutely anywhere, at any time. Where and when do you create your best work?

Great artwork can be made anywhere thanks to the mobility of technology.

Personally, I love to paint uninterrupted, free of distraction, in the forest around my home studio. I find that drawing close to a raw, natural state of being liberates the mind. To me, art is about liberation and freedom.

Although my work is exclusively digital, I am invigorated by the wild reality of the untouched natural world.

Untitled Landscape by Zach McCraw

You’re incredibly prolific, how many paintings have you completed to date? And what’s the psychology behind this mass of creative energy? Do you ever feel drained?

I began experimenting with video art and painting apps in 2015, becoming obsessed with painting the latter half of 2018.

Since August of 2018, I’ve made over 4,000 individual digital paintings. My style has evolved greatly. And in it, I’ve found and developed an original voice that I continue to refine.

Just looking at my own paintings inspires me. It’s a total experience to get lost inside of a painting, forming it to become a complete work. The process is an inexhaustible joy.

I don’t feel drained. But my painting goes through phases and the prolific nature of my creative habits occasionally produces work lacking dynamic power. A brief slump can be overridden by the divine creation of an inspired new work.

As it is, I continue to paint even if I’m not wholly satisfied with the outcome. I feel assured that a satisfactory — and maybe even great — work is yet to come.

Creativity can be channeled in many directions to escape the feeling of stagnation. Developing other forms of creative output like music production, sculpture, photography and film, fashion, or writing helps to diversify my ‘mode’ and creative ability.

Learning how to ride inspiration and funnel it into diverse creative outlets is a way to find balance.

Gallery in D Emptyspace by Zach McCraw

Let’s get into the specifics of digital art. How do you create it? What apps, programs, and tools are you using?

My primary tool at the moment is an iPhone 7+. Mobility is essential. I love to experiment with new apps and also apps not intentionally designed as art apps. My early digital paintings were made with ‘selfie sticker cam’ app Camera 360.

Recently I’ve been experimenting with D Emptyspace, a virtual gallery space where you can share finished works (and even create new ones depending on your perspective).

Tell us your thoughts on how we can make art more eco-friendly?

I made physical paintings in the past, but I can work much faster with greater results digitally.

Traditional painting methods can’t keep up with my pace of painting. It is through the process of making art digitally that I found my real mission.

What I truly want to promote with my art are eco preservation initiatives. Few realize it, but digital art is eco-friendly.

To produce the number of physical paintings that I make digitally would take a huge amount of resources. Admittedly at this point, I haven’t made any active measures towards eco preservation outside of my own daily practices. But that’s where it starts, at the individual level. Partnering with a preservation organization or a charity art auction with proceeds to an initiative is my next step.

Untitled Landscape by Zach McCraw

How do you see technology changing the way we create and appreciate art?

There are so many possibilities to explore with VR and AR and virtual galleries like D Emptyspace.

In the virtual world, art isn’t limited to a 2D canvas or 3D sculpture. The rules can be broken and pieces can potentially escape the canvas and exist in a theoretical limbo between conventional and newly developed frames of reference.

I like to imagine fully immersive VR art experiences that take place in a jungle, ice cavern or condemned building on the verge of caving in. The virtual environment could inform the art and encourage deeper interaction with it.

Untitled Storm by Zach McCraw

With your paintings limited to the digital realm, how do you typically exhibit or sell your works?

I helped run a gallery from 2008–2013 and I’ve had at least two solo gallery shows every year since then. To sell my work, I typically print it out as signed limited edition works.

Right now, I’m preparing for a gallery show for the Arts Council of Winston-Salem at the Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts in the Art Nouveau gallery (September-October 2019).

For the show, I’m printing and framing 20–30 of my most recent landscape paintings. I will play music (that I personally composed) for the duration of the exhibition and pair the paintings with an animated slideshow video.

At the moment, I have a large stock of limited edition poster prints from my last show. I’m planning to sell these posters at this exhibition (and others) and donate a portion to an organization dedicated to eco preservation.

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Exploring Timelessness With Painter Freya Purdue

Exploring Timelessness With Painter Freya Purdue

Artist Freya Purdue next to her work “When there is no more”

This week, we catch up with the award winning Freya Purdue, a UK-based oil painter whose work draws from a wide range of sources — from the most obvious classical themes in painting to the subtlety of philosophical and mystical thought.

“From childhood I knew I was going to be an artist,” but it wasn’t until she was 26 that she enrolled in Saint Martin’s School of Art (now Foyles). She then earned an MA at Chelsea School of Art, and was awarded the Cardiff Junior Fellowship in Painting.

“It was the tail end of an era in art schools where students received grants for travel, living, and materials. Anyone who managed to get a place was able to go and focus wholly on study and painting”

Khipu by Freya Purdue

Her other grants and awards include the Digswell Arts Fellowship and the Boise and Villers David Travelling Scholarships.

Freya was fortunate to study under some of England’s artistic luminaries, including Gary Wragg, Jennifer Durrant, Albert Herbert, Henry Munday, John Hoyland, Patrick Caulfield, Albert Irvine and John Stessica in her undergraduate years and Ian Stevenson, Roger Ackling, Victor Willing, Paula Rego, and Patrick Heron during her Master’s Degree.

“This is how my story began and I have always felt grateful for those early formative years which were both a great life experience and a period of development, learning and experience in painting which enabled me to develop my own language and approach.”

Our interview with Freya Purdue picks up after those halcyon years and focuses on her career as an artist. And it’s a career that has been unquestionably successful. Along with countless solo exhibitions, she has exhibited with Gimple Fils Gallery London, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, Vimonisha Gallery, Madras, L.T.G. New Delhi, Galeria Stara Bwa, Lublin, and Christie’s, London.

Turning Point by Freya Purdue

Life as a fine artist (or any type of creative for that matter) isn’t often classified as ‘easy’… What’s the journey been like — have there been any memorable highs and lows?

Following my MA at Chelsea, I won the junior fellowship at Cardiff School of Art for a year which was a very rewarding experience. This was followed by a good range of excellent exhibitions, opportunities, and awards over the next few years.

Of course, there were difficulties along the way — mainly to do with earning money for studio and supplies as well as making a living and living life. Lecturing at Chelsea and Hertfordshire University whilst enjoyable but was both demanding and time consuming. I think this combination of difficulties is familiar to many artists.

Promoting artwork was very difficult and expensive before electronic media and it was difficult to exhibit work… due in part to this and in part to a lack of opportunities.

Gallery in D Emptyspace by Freya Purdue

Things are so different today. It’s so easy to publish work online and instantly communicate with people.

It is easy to get more information about galleries and all kinds of exhibition spaces — everything has speeded up including the procurement of material and for me, it makes more time for painting.

You form such vivid details and wonderfully complex juxtaposing shapes. Do you have a general process you follow? How long does it take for you to complete a work?

I have no set formula, I would have to say there is a range of processes I use to start making a new painting after having established the main idea for the work.

Taijasa by Freya Purdue

I work in response to the nature of the idea.

So that means either drawing directly on the canvas with a brush, or wash on a colour. Sometimes I make a little drawing on paper (but I don’t make sketches) to work out the structure or format, or make monoprints to look at possible colour combinations.

I look for the atmosphere or spirit of the idea as the core of the work begins to form. I often start working on the painting first and then explore the possibilities by doing some visual or cultural research to support the expansion of the visual aspects of painting.

Sometimes an idea can lead to a clear method of making and the painting reaches conclusion relatively fast (2 or 3 weeks, which is fast for me).

As for the time it takes to complete a work, this varies immensely.

Some work is clear from the beginning and it can just be the time it takes to make it.

Some visual decisions can take a long time to percolate before the next stage of development is decided, so the time it takes me to finish a work ranges from a week or two or sometimes up to a year or two.

Do you prefer to work in series rather than on stand-alone pieces? How many artworks do you have in progress at any given time?

I don’t prefer to work in series. I do work on a range of paintings at the same time, but they are not always a series. Most of my work is on standalone pieces with an occasional series when a specific idea needs more than one work to fulfill its potential.

I can have up 20 paintings on the go at any one time, all in different stages of development and this is mainly due to my research process and sometimes and slow visual decision making. I take time to discover the right visual aspects or components.

My artistic decision, coupled with the practicalities and the time consuming aspects of the oil painting process mean my work can take a long time to complete.

The Edge by Freya Purdue

You’ve said that when painting you’re “absorbed in the discovery of an energized sense of connection and consciousness”. Has the ever-growing prominence of technology threatened or enhanced that connection?

I think the developments of technology have in many ways speeded up the painting process — it’s so much easier to research visual ideas, to order materials and to promote the work online. These are all big positives!

Painting takes a new place in relation to technology.

In many ways, painting is an old art form that is much challenged in this current digital climate, but there’s still a lot of people making paintings — why is that?

Painting remains still! And it promotes quietness, reflection, and even meditation. It takes the consciousness into a different space. It retains its mystery and although the image of the painting can be communicated online it is always a surprise to see them in the flesh. There’s almost always so much more to the work than the digital image. The true power can only be experienced when standing directly in front of the work in real life.

Gallery in D Emptyspace by Freya Purdue

Usually, I pick a work and ask artists to give me a breakdown behind what they were thinking… but every single one of your artworks is so evocative that I just can’t choose! Is there a trick to building in such a deep sense of fascination in the viewer’s mind?

Each of my works is about attaining clarity in relation to a source idea. As I see it real ideas are living energy and can be translated infinitely.

Ideas are timeless and have been explored by human beings since the very beginning of time, from the very first known human marks right up to today’s creators.

Of course, no one has a prerogative over these ideas so people working in all the arts and sciences are using them everywhere.

This is where each person must find their own identity and creative voice, their own special vision, their unique magic that can be shared with others who may have affinities with the spirit of their work. Every moment is a mystery and is different from the last, so why not take advantage of it and create something new!

For me then, each painting is the expansion of my own voice that builds a connection with who I am and with my fellow human beings, past and present.

Nemet by Freya Purdue

Creating magnificent artworks is only one piece of being a successful artist. How have you navigated the more commercial side of the art world? And in particular, do you do any sort of online marketing of your work?

‘The art world’ — whatever that might mean — is an anathema to me and I have never really entered it. The commercial side of things is another world and not one I wish to spend my precious time thinking about.

I like working towards putting on solo exhibitions because it’s a chance to really take in what I have been exploring in one go. It’s also an opportunity to let others catch a glimpse of my vision. Selling work is fine, but it’s not my focus.

I am always keeping my eyes open for venues to show work, but exhibitions take a lot of energy so I don’t want to do too many. I have one at the The Yellow Edge Gallery in Gosport in October and two coming up; one at the Quay Arts near where I live on the Isle of Wight and one at the New Cut in Halesworth. That’s quite enough, I need my quiet time in the studio most of all.

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The Science of Abstract Art with Daniel Stuelpnagel

The Science of Abstract Art with Daniel Stuelpnagel

If Thou And Nature Can So Gently Part by Daniel Stuelpnagel (2019)

One of the most incredible things about art is how it connects people.

This week we’re talking to Baltimore-based artist Daniel Stuelpnagel. Working abstractly with acrylics, he’s created over 850 pieces and participated in more than 100 exhibitions.

Stuelpnagel studied with Herb Jackson at Davidson College in North Carolina. He now works from a studio near Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Throughout his career, he has practiced philanthropy and donated some of his best works to causes and communities in need.

Experimental D Emptyspace gallery. Images and curation by Daniel Stuelpnagel

What led you to decide to be an artist? Was it something you knew from a very young age or did your passion develop over time? Tell us your story.

I decided to become an artist to discover all the things I never learned in school.

What led me to the decision was a combination of frustration with working an office job for eight years, mixed with a vision of a life in art. I’ve been painting for twenty years, and the past ten years with even more technology immersion. I create images in my paintings that evoke a neural network, or a surreal dream space, or an architectural vector space. So my broad interests in the sciences have informed several facets of the artwork I’ve been producing.

“I love being able to create original paintings that enable me to articulate a non-verbal conversation about science, tech, architecture, emotionality, and human psychology.“

I love how these themes relate to the ways in which we humans have adapted our brains to the latest tech toolsets of the new millennium.

Tech is a really new trend in our society that only goes back one century or so. We’re fostering so much change, yet always struggling massively to “keep up” with the intellectual and emotional and even physical challenges of tech.

I think if you’d ask twelve people about tech, you’d get twelve different answers. But all of them would say that they’re immersed in tech and their working lives are characterized by full days of interacting with computer systems.

So in my work as a counterpoint, I actually use kind of quaint, mid-century modern, “traditional” painting techniques and materials. But the hyper-stylized paintings I’ve been sinking my teeth into for the past two years are a synthesis of my own styles driven by influences from contemporary narrative surrealism, street art, and other movements.

Daniel Stuelpnagel’s art studio

So you can see my passion has developed over time. In my mind, the non-verbal nature of abstraction makes it a perfect arena for exploring intricate emotional, psychological and social forces.

Your process is unique. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Can you walk us through how you create your pieces?

I layer acrylic on wood panels and use tape to compose many layers of geometric structure. It delivers a collage-like effect but it’s all thin layers of paint. This sequential process is contemplative and also dynamic, it gives me a lot of room to experiment with color and the psychology of composition.

I’ve been sanding down the surface texture and then painting additional layers to yield some fascinating textural yet subtle effects. An interior designer purchased six paintings from me recently — she was thinking of photographing and enlarging the images, but as soon as she saw the originals, she said that the texture made such an impact, she would only buy the originals.

I usually work in series. Sometimes with a dozen or two squares of various sizes, but more recently a landscape format where the land mass is comprised of geometry implying a built environment. This inevitably shows the implications of climate change and the confrontation between human civilization and the natural world. It means the mood of some of my most recent paintings is joyful but tragic.

Now The Fleeting Moon by Daniel Stuelpnagel (2019)

I’ve done about 850 artworks now. My artistic eye and decisiveness that I’ve nurtured for twenty years have brought me to a place where I actually trust a lot of my decisions and choices in the studio.

I feel really galvanized into action by the dynamic zeitgeist of the time that we’re living in. There’s no room for complacency and being prolific helps me grind under constant scrutiny without hesitation to turn things upside down when a new idea emerges.

Do you see technology changing the way we appreciate art?

Tech has absolutely redefined art and continues to expand the boundaries. It’s a force to be considered in every facet of the arts now.

For example, with the D Emptyspace app, I was skeptical at first, thinking “What does it do? Oh, it looks kind of simple.”

But after two days of using it to display and curate photos, I was totally hooked, and having a vision of this enormous virtual museum, or San Francisco gallery, or an art fair exhibition hall, or warehouse, or whatever, right?

It’s a kick in the ass for an artist to have access to tech that encourages you to take a fresh look at your photos of art and nature. It’s a great way to reframe a whole conceptual photo shoot, or storyboard, or take any kind of visual documents into a different scale and context.

Some Innocents Escape Not The Thunderbolt by Daniel Stuelpnagel (2019)

People often label successful artists as ‘talented’. Do you feel like your art comes from a place of talent or hard work? Or do you see art like your TedX collection, always Under Construction?

Ah, for sure you can see both sides of this. On one hand, you have to consider the continuous nature of practice; some type of hard work intellectually and emotionally to figure out the central design principle to focus on. Building the physical skills, the craft and improv, and the techniques and processes of painting.

On the other hand to compare with talent… where does that come from?

I spent much of my school years daydreaming, so I guess being pensive and in solitude gave me a very vivid imagination. I also inherited a ton of intellectual and analytical talents from both my parents.

But that raw talent had nothing to do with painting until much later when I did decide to pursue it as a way to express myself.

Art really inspired and enabled me to travel more also, so that was super important in expanding my world view. I found it’s mostly persistence and determination. Which they call being stubborn when you’re a kid.

You often mention that you work on collections simultaneously, how does that affect your process? Do you consider if the artworks will fit together or do you let the moment guide you?

I guess it’s just like writing a book and having plenty of blank paper or a proper space to work in.

“We’re products of our choices, and by choosing to be prolific, I’ve certainly made some bad paintings, but I also have given myself room to pursue lots of exciting opportunities and variations.”

Some paintings want to spin off ideas for other new paintings, so there’s plenty of catalysts in the process. But it’s only later on that I look at them together and interpret the themes and implications.

When you work on series, the best work sometimes comes first, sometimes later, but invariably I enjoy the visual conversation and curatorially it gives me a lot to select from, which is helpful.

Images and curation by Daniel Stuelpnagel

I would say the D Emptyspace app kind of takes this to a new level because it helps me take a fresh retrospective of some new work in the context of earlier work. The virtual galleries I’ve uploaded have given me a better sense of dynamic interplay, sparked fresh ideas to bring into the studio, and developed my ability to continually think about color and contrast. The app is a great theoretical workspace to analyze the visual characteristics of your photos in a new context.

Click here to visit Daniel’s D Emptyspace gallery “Vector Space Paradise.

How do you know when a work (or a collection) is finished? And do you have a favorite work?

Haha! I do have a ton of faves, almost every series happens because I keep working and feel inspired and encouraged by recent paintings that really took off! That’s another great reason to be as prolific as possible — you kind of have to be self-motivating.

I have a favorite painting from a recent show that is called “Nature Teaches Beasts To Know Their Friends.”

Nature Teaches Beasts To Know Their Friends by Daniel Stuelpnagel (2019)

It’s a return to a dreamlike landscape with some quirks, beautifully saturated colors, and makes me think of a theatrical stage as the psychological arena of the mind for an AI algorithm or something; but it’s still about climate change, human nature, and the post-Anthropocene moment.

“I’ll say a piece is finished when I think it’s doing what I want it to do. When I feel the continuity between the process of creating it and the act of viewing it.”

It could be an abstract story but my imagination connects and enjoys exploring what’s there… it’s evocative. Also, it needs to be elegant and well-crafted, subtle, effervescent, or alternatively raw and dynamic and painterly.

If it has the “wow” factor I know it’s done, which is one reason I love exhibiting: It’s great to get direct feedback from people.

What happens before you share a new collection or open a new gallery? Is it something you enjoy?

I do enjoy it — it’s partly social immersion, part performance art and part trade show (in addition to all the artistry and business functionality behind the scenes).

Artist Daniel Stuelpnagel pictured at Superfine NYC gallery opening

I’ve done shows where we have plenty of lead time before the opening and many others where we’re always installing a day before or the day of the opening, so every experience is different. Before it opens there’s an exploration of the work in juxtaposition with the space and that’s an artistic process in itself.

Before any show opens I generally collaborate with a number of people, clarify the concept, and run down lots of checklists to make it happen. But it’s usually pretty improvisational and that keeps it exciting.

I love showing work in Washington, DC where there’s lots of wonderful architecture. Baltimore is famous for having tons of vacant warehouses and lots of room for alternative venues which tend to be really spacious with high ceilings. I install my work for corporate buyers in office spaces as well.

The title of this piece “Most Good Scientists Are Romantics, “ plays into some very deep subcontext. The point at which science and romanticism meet is fascinating, and to some, conflicting. What does it mean to you?

Most Good Scientists are Romantics Daniel Stuelpnagel (2018)

That title was a phrase I saw in a great book by Alanna Mitchell called The Spinning Magnet, it’s about possible shifts in the Earth’s magnetic poles.

It stayed with me, maybe it’s a deep dualism that is part of my world view; I think the age of supercomputing has forced many different scientific disciplines to work together and collaborate as never before and the results have been amazing.

So I think the romanticism is partly this moment of expansion for so many in the sciences that may have invested decades pursuing a particular narrow specialty, so in a sense, I think their optimism has been rewarded and I find that romantic.

This painting is pretty upbeat but still reflects a lot of consideration and discernment.

Navigating the art world can be baffling for artists, how has your time as a TedXJHU artist changed your career?

Daniel Stuelpnagel’s banner installation at TedXJHU

That particular experience two years ago was me getting to team up with a dozen students at Johns Hopkins University. They had so many great ideas, we did a collab for about two months where I came up with a large banner for the stage, a sculptural display installation for the atrium of the building, another dozen paintings and a wall collage, and four separate installations all for a one-day event. They had to provide, like, three dozen students to help install and load out everything!

I met so many international students, so I think it acquainted me in a fresh and direct way with the kind of energy level that makes a world-class artist.

Daniel Stuelpnagel pictured with students and installation of his works at TedXJHU

Almost the greater challenge with navigating the art world is that we actually have to create it ourselves. So if it’s baffling, it takes us back to the studio and back to the process of self-examination, which brings us to create work that is so distinctive that the sentiments behind it are felt as universal.

It helps to discover a unique connection and find out who can really appreciate your work the more distinctive it is.

I find architects, designers, and corporate clients especially appreciate my paintings for the lengths I go to in order to create an aesthetic durability, and a piece that will continue to intrigue the eye for a lifetime, yet also rewards a quick glance with a clear feeling and unified aesthetic.

A painting in progress by Daniel Stuelpnagel

What advice would you give an aspiring artist who’s just getting started?

I’d say how important it is to find ways to contribute to the community. I’ve been doing philanthropy by choosing to donate some of my best work for charity benefit auctions since day one.

It’s been about fifty or more pieces so far, and it’s connected me to a global community of artists and philanthropists that made me realize I could have an immediate and continuous positive impact in the world.

You’re using D Emptyspace to curate galleries now. What do you think of it?

It’s like an ideal multi-million dollar museum space built in Minecraft. It’s so specific and useful yet so versatile and adaptable as a visualization tool.

It really has great implications and I believe this app could even inspire a whole new generation of curators.

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Android version coming soon!

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