Gregory Noblin is an exceptionally talented artist with works that send viewers off to far away lands to dream a little. His winning photograph touches the surface of how deep each individual image from his collection is. Today Gregory shares his story, interesting tips and a pool of useful thoughts about the creative process.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative journey.
I grew up in a small city in North Central Ohio. I often played with toys as a child and invented worlds for those toys to exist. As I progressed through school, I became involved in band and played music throughout high school. I went to college for music, however, a position opened up for me to work for General Motors. I dropped out of college and went to “work”.
I always wanted to do something creative with my life and I’ve always been drawn to those activities that require some creative thinking, such as cooking, music, photography, etc. I eventually transferred to a GM assembly plant in Atlanta, Georgia. After a couple of years there, General Motors offered buyouts to quit. I took that opportunity to fully embrace being creative, I used that money to go back to school to get a BFA.
Shortly before attaining my BFA in photography, I realized I wanted to do something more than commercial work. I had also fallen in love with Photoshop. I wasn’t very good, however, I realized the potential the software allowed me. I understood I could utilize the photography skills I had gained to photograph things in ways that would allow me to create those worlds I had dreamed up as a child. I found a creative process that could allow me to create the impossible.
How did you start your career? What were some of the hurdles when you encountered in the beginning?
Once I had graduated college I sent artist submissions to every gallery in Atlanta. Several replied, all but two were rejections. The work I created for my graduation show was too large for one gallery, however the other asked me to bring two pieces for them to review. Upon seeing the two pieces I was in the next show. Luck. There’s a quote by someone I cannot remember, but it says, “Luck is where opportunity and preparation meet.” That’s what began my career.
I had work on hand and a gallery needed one more artist to fill a show at the last minute. I also got some sales from that show, and because of that the gallery offered me representation. This happened in 2010 and I’ve been with that gallery, Kai Lin Art, ever since. Over the past 7-8 years, sales have been up and down but gradually increasing, yet it’s been a struggle. I’d say one of the most difficult hurdles, well it’s like this:
I initially came out of school with 15 pieces of work. My illustrative images had been printed and I mounted them to wood panel and put encaustic wax on them. They looked great, however I didn’t know what I was really doing. Having some issues with the wax, them being incredibly fragile, and me also not being any good at making wood panels, I decided to ditch that idea and went strictly with self printed giclées.
Eventually I found myself unhappy with the size and still loved the idea of larger pieces with a physical texture. This began a journey of getting better with making wood panels and finding the appropriate materials, such as gel medium. This process was loaded with failure and frustration. At times I’d have to make a whole new piece because of not completely understanding the process I was trying to implement or create. It was also during these times when sales would lag and I would immediately question if I should continue. Somehow I stuck with it.
How would you describe your style and approach to photography and photo manipulation?
I kind of fell out of love with photography and in love with Photoshop in college. I also feel that being in school at the time when the DLSR revolution was occurring really aided in the workflow process. It took a while, but I eventually came to understand it’s not so much the tools you use, but the image, message, or story being told.
People use cameras to document some moment in time, the reality of an event or location. I dispute this concept entirely. Even people on vacation alter this reality to get a better photograph. They move family members around a monument to get better lighting, tell the grumpy person to smile just for the camera. These little things are changing the reality of that moment. This makes me question the reality of any photograph. Are we really capturing reality, or our perception of that reality? Or are we completely changing reality to suit our desires, in this case, a more pleasing vacation photograph?
My style was a departure from that. My goal quickly became to take photographs and exploit the concepts of not being reality made from real things I photographed. When combined with my desires to create worlds or situations that can not exist I discovered I was able to create fantastic scenes.
I am also fanatical about texture. Textures are a visual and tactile expression of nostalgia to me. They create a history of sorts, whether real or imagined. Because of this calling back to childhood memories of imagination, I include heavy use of textures in my work, both in the digital image as well as the physical panel pieces. I am constantly photographing and building a catalog of textures to use in my images.
My aim is to, hopefully, achieve images that look distinctively not like photographs but are completely made up from photographs all while holding a vintage and nostalgia quality to them. I want them to appear as though they are found bits from a lost story book.
Among your projects, which series or a single image is your favourite? What’s the story behind the project or image?
This is an interesting question. I certainly do have favorites and I like some for different reasons. By title I prefer “The View Is Wonderful”, “War of The Roses” “Misbehavin’” and “Mr. Penguin Goes On Holiday” and “Set Sail”.
I’ve noticed my images fall into three categories. First, there’s this overarching narrative of overcoming something and finding freedom or seeking freedom on an individual level. I believe we all share this desire to find freedom and happiness on the individual level, however we also recognize those things may require others to attain and other times are not completely up to us to decide what that freedom looks like. Sometimes it’s deceptive and not entirely free as we think. This reaches back to that perception of the reality idea.
The second is more tongue-in-cheek and either ironic, such as in Bear Dance where a balloon bear dances with pins, or humorous like in Harvest where a Cow in a UFO is abducting hay bales.
The third category are the images that are usually devoid of animals. These are, I think, more about playing with the more surreal and often have a hint of Art Deco influence.
What technology/software/camera gear do you use that makes you productive and helps you deliver your best work?
For image capture I use a Nikon D610 with a 24mm-85mm lens. When I’m photographing the elements such as pillow stuffing for clouds, or toys and other small objects, I shoot them in a more traditional studio way, like one would for catalog work using strobe lighting on a table with the object surrounded by white mat boards / fill cards. The idea is to get the lighting as flat as possible so I can add the shadowing later in Photoshop. My strobes are 500w/s with softboxes and a wireless setup.
I use Photoshop and Bridge, I do not use Lightroom at all. My image library sits in an Atikio Thunder 4 bay box attached to a 5K iMac. The thunder box allows me to hot swap hard drives for backup purposes. I have two 4TB 7200rpm mass storage drives and everything else is Samsung 850 EVO solid state drives. Also, and most importantly, I use a Wacom Intuos 4.
Who were your biggest influences and where do you seek inspiration?
Easy question, Maggie Taylor is by far my biggest influence. Her use of nostalgic and vintage sensibilities were unquestionably influential. Also, her use of the square format, something I’ve recently departed from, influenced me a great deal. I was interested in the challenge of building compositions in a square constraint.
Other main influences are Rene Magritte, Robert ParkeHarrison, and Mark Ryden.
Have you ever been in a creative rut/artistic block? How did you overcome it?
Oh my, YES. All the time. I think this is the natural state of any artist. There are only a few sure fire ways I’ve found to get out of a rut or block. Number one for me is to look at work. This is such an important thing. It’s when I look at other people’s work that I get more ideas than when I’m sitting in neutral. Something happens in the brain when we visually or audibly consume the creations of others. The work doesn’t necessarily need to be in the same direction but it triggers my creative neurons. I’ll also listen to music in the same genre of the image I’m trying to create. This sets up a soundscape for me to invent new situations or story vignettes in my mind. The third thing is to create work, even if it’s bad. Getting in there and just making stuff makes things happen. Waiting for inspiration will create long droughts of ruts and blocks.
What are some of the themes you explore in your works that are personally very close to you?
Throughout my life I’ve had many struggles. Some were near catastrophic others minor setbacks. If there’s anything I’ve learned in this life it’s that I am not unique and feel we all share common experiences through the course of our journey. I also believe we all have a base set of common desires. These are the topics I like to delve into with my pictures. I also typically use animals as an allegory of the human desire or experience and attempt to present these vignetted stories in such a way where the viewer has as much to decide what it all means as I do.
When it comes to editing, you have a very distinct style. How long would you guess you spend on average editing a photo?
I’ve completed an image top to bottom in as little as four hours. Other times I have to take a break from looking at what I’m working on and come back to it. Some images have taken several days to complete or get where I’m happy with it. The quickest images to complete are the ones that just hit me in my mind. Every now and then I suddenly, and usually out of nowhere, get this mental image of a complete scene. Then it’s just a matter of gathering all the elements, photographing them, and putting it together.
What makes a good picture stand out from an average one?
First and foremost it has to have central idea, location or subject that stands out. There needs to be an eye grabbing component to the picture. Secondly there needs to be a strong sense of design, and the elements implemented in the design must have purpose. After the eye grabbing thing, I feel a successful image should follow the golden rules of composition; rule of thirds, steelyard, high or low horizon, triangles to guide the eye through the image. There also needs to be something inquisitive about it, maybe a why or a where type of question about it. Just something a bit out of the ordinary to maintain interest and to keep the viewer looking.
What is one question nobody has ever asked you about your work that you wish they had?
Why do you create?
What kind of skills do you need, outside of being really talented at shooting, to make it in the industry?
One of the most difficult things to teach or learn – vision.
Everything else can be outsourced or hired to perform. But without vision to see compelling concepts, the work will struggle to be convincing.
How do you market your work?
I don’t do nearly enough promotion as I should. I utilize the typical fare of a Facebook Page and Instagram, although my posts are sporadic. I have a website as well. Other than those things my gallery representation takes care of all the other things.
If you’re feeling inspired, check out our selections of international photography contests for 2018.
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