Business, Writing

Life into Digital Clay

Some people don’t like the digital.

Digital is my medium. More than that, it’s my home. In my traveling lifestyle digital spaces are the only constant I share with family, friends and readers.

Digital space is an extension of geographical space. It is no longer just a tool. It’s a meeting place, a dwelling place, a location as real as any coffee shop, art museum or suburban house. Like any of those places, the value of what happens there depends mostly on the company you keep.

Draft of a scroll for altmagic.

Mixing Media

There are people who feel they’re missing something by meeting online, by reading or creating or consuming online. People felt that way about the written word once, too.

There are artists who miss the sense of manual creation.

I feel the opposite. Is it fair to say that creating something digitally is just as satisfying as creating something by hand? No. That doesn’t go far enough. It’s far more satisfying to create something digital.

For the past two years I’ve moved toward almost exclusively digital work. My first book was digital-only, my blog is digital, even my freelance work is digital. But now I’m moving backwards. I decided to start a business that is very much physical.

Two weeks ago I opened the doors on a new website, altmagic. The purpose of the site is to sell beautiful handmade scrolls enchanted with real magic. It’s fun. I’m the kind of artist who works in fits of inspiration: a few long nights are better than a lot of measured mornings.

You can check out these magic scrolls yourself.

Is it satisfying to work in a physical medium again? Yes and no. I enjoy the process of making the scrolls. I love the challenge of choosing the right figures, the thrill of sketching the designs and planning the rituals. I get artless with it.

But it’s also deeply frustrating. There is no copy and paste. No ctrl+z. You can idealize that in any sepia-tinted way, but it translates to: unnecessary work. Wasted effort. Spoiled materials.

But then I made the altmagic website. It’s the second blog I’ve started, and the only one where I knew what I was doing.

As I went live I could directly see the impact my creation has. It shows in numbers on a graph; more importantly it shows in conversations. People contact me. They teach, praise or slander me. They react.

Unlike any other medium, their living reactions are included in the work itself. The twitter feed and the comments embed human moments in the digital work. At its most basic that means that any emotion I provoke can be part of the work I create. But that’s nothing. My audience can actually provoke my creation itself, changing its shape.

Birthing a website means seeing those vital signs start. It’s breathing life into digital clay.



9 thoughts on “Life into Digital Clay

  1. I’m of two minds on digital versus manual creations. While I enjoy and appreciate what can be achieved digitally, I prefer and have “manual” created artwork surrounding me in my home. There is an energy to the “manual” that I do not receive from the “digital”.

    • I can’t argue with that. I definitely love physical artwork to pieces. I used to work in museums and it was such a joy to just take a break and walk through the galleries. I think both have their place.

  2. Great post drew. I hadn’t really thought too much about digital vs. manual creation. Working at the Renaissance Festival here in MN I have had a deep appreciation for the work that the crafters do out there. No two pieces are alike. They are all unique in some way. Their flaws included.

    The same could be said for digital creation as well. I have seen some amazing work that people have done with photos, graphics, logos and software. There are some truly amazing things that one can create or un-create in a short amount of time and effort.

    While I am not of the artist breed myself, I can definitely see the benefits that could come of being a digital creator versus a manual creator. Looking forward to see what you create with altmagic.

    • Yes, they definitely both have their values. It’s true, when I think of highly tangible places like the Renaissance Festival it brings out the value of physical crafts. It is such a sensual setting and so much of the fun is the touching, seeing, smelling. And of course the musicians playing live right there and joking with you.

      It’s a shame we didn’t know each other when I was still in MN. If I happen to be around when the Ren Festival opens this year I’d love to stop in and see what you do. I fear my walk will have already taken me farther south by the time it opens though.

  3. I’m studying to be a digital artist. I’ve heard comments about how much easier and faster it will be when I work. The truth is, it is still a lot of work and not much easier than working manually.

    Though I still work manually (easier to do at work) I appreciate that digital work in all mediums takes just as much creative and physical effort, but the output is more fluid. It can be put anywhere for people to see. It can be shared further than work could be shared before. It can be sold to larger audiences than ever before.

    As an artist and writer, I believe that there will always be manual and digital activities in all mediums and that each is just as much work but what is done with the outputs will make the difference. I feel energy from things I have on my walls, in my hands or that I wear as much as I feel it from what I see on my computer.

    It will be interesting to see where you go with your work. Looking forward to seeing more.

    • Otter this response is really great. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

      I agree with everything you say. What really fascinates me though is not just that digital work can be sold to larger audiences than ever before, but that it can be sold to smaller audiences than ever before. The internet has made it possible for tiny niches to thrive and be lucrative where before only super-hits could make it. To me that is one of the most optimistic aspects of digital creation. It means pop culture doesn’t have to be just about the lowest common denominator. It can be nuanced and fractured and mobile. Of course that may mean there eventually won’t be a pop culture at all… just armies of meme clusters.

  4. I love mixed media! Whether it is digital or manual or whatever, art is art. However, I have found my talents seem better suited to 2-D studio art; drawing and painting. I dabble in digital art, typography, and have digital photography as a serious hobby, and I find that what I’ve learned from getting into other mediums like that augments what I already do well.

    I especially love designing with CSS and I miss doing that. Sometimes when I get online, I see pages in “layout vision” and restructure them in my mind’s eye, wishing to make them easier on the eye, or wishing I could try out a new design because I am sick of seeing the same kind of themes and templates used over and over again. On other blog host sites, I got to create a LOT of themes that spread throughout the internet. I never got paid for them, it was just something I did for fun, even some of those themes were upgraded and changed here. I would do completely unique themes for free and for premium sale same here at WordPress but it requires an upgraded membership I cannot yet afford. Perhaps someday…

    I did not mean to make this a long reply. May you continue to find joy and success in whatever medium you choose!

  5. Oh, I wanted to add that I am ALL for mixing digital with manual. I have seen more artists do that in our time. Especially with photography. I remember twenty years ago how difficult it was to use public dark rooms to complete printed work, especially the process of color photography (all those chemicals!). I had to wait in line or make an appointment ahead of time, or get special permission to be in the university art building after hours to spend all night slaving away in the dark (quite romantic). Printmaking was another romantic chore. Yet with digital, the best thing about that now is it is so portable…

    The only thing I worry about it is, what if something were to happen that could wipe out all the work? Sure, the same could be said for paintings and prints that could be lost in a natural disaster, but what about a natural disaster involving a solar flare or some kind of magnetic force (okay, my imagination is wild here, but, hey, it’s a possiblity!) were to kill our digital resources?

    How would we save our work during a digital apocalypse?

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