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Clint Cline: Visual Artiste Extraordinaire

Mansi’s Introduction
It’s hard to encapsulate in words what I feel for Clint.

His work is ethereal. Evocative. Other-worldly. And yet so grounded in reality. He is one of those few artists who can create images that are fantastical and at the same time relatable. A rare visual treat. An awe-inspiring journey with each image.

The longer you look at his work, the more stories it tells. Indeed, his art is a gift that keeps on giving.

I was first exposed to Clint’s work on IPA two years ago and have yet to find something he’s created that’s not absolutely mesmerizing. When I joined WeAreJuxt’s team a year and a half ago, Brad asked me for the top three people I’d like to interview. Clint was number one on that list.

A lot of e-mails back and forth, patience, trust and willingness have led to the interview you’re about to read. This isn’t going to be one of those “scannable” articles, so make sure you’ve made enough time, brewed a fresh cup of coffee (or tea), and enjoy this insightful conversation with Clint and yours truly.

There are so many gems he shares in this tête-à-tête. I’d love to hear your favorites!

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MB: What’s the story behind your handle/username “clix2020″? Anything to do with hindsight…?

CC: No, clix2020 is simply my shorthand for ‘seeing clearly’ – a combination of clix – for the ‘click’ of a shutter – and 2020 representing clear and focused sight. As for hindsight, I suppose all art is shaped by it. We lean on our education (whether formal or not) and our experience in life to form our expression as artists.

MB: Which three adjectives would you choose to describe yourself?

CC: Intense. Involved. Inquisitive.

Intense, because I tend to have a singular, almost obsessive focus when I’m on a creative jag…to the point I tend to shut out everything else – phones, barking dogs, people, etc. When my office was at home my wife would come in to talk while I was working and I swear I wouldn’t remember a word of it, or even that she was there. We finally had to agree that she wouldn’t tell me anything critically important, like “the kitchen’s on fire,” or “it’s your turn to pick up the kids,” unless I was looking right at her.

Involved…almost to a fault. I love solitude but only as a means to an end; that is to re-charge batteries drained by my constant engagement with family, my staff, my ministry work here and in Africa, travel (constant), and other creative projects. I don’t always manage it well. In fact, I have always had trouble saying, ‘No.’

Inquisitive. I grew up in a family where exploration was not only encouraged, but expected. That wasn’t limited to road trips with Mom and Dad every summer, but we were expected to explore with our intellect as well. Art, reading, music, history…they were all windows to our world and a purposeful exercise in shaping our worldview – “always looking means always learning means always growing.” Old habits die hard…and I’m still exploring. iPhoneography has merely become a new window among many others.

I think my wife would add a fourth – Incorrigible – but that’s a different interview…

Tell me the moon is shining

MB: Now, I know you are a writer, designer and a photographer – a lot of right brain activity there … could you tell us a bit about each of these roles?

CC: Well, I’m a writer because it was my first paying job, one that I’d never have had were it not for my father’s influence. I’m a designer because after meeting other writers I realized I’d need a way to make a real living. And I’m a photographer because I needed a hobby to take my mind off the other two.

My working career began in the military as a journalist assigned to cover everything from military mission stories to community events. My first “paid” story was for a NASA space shot across at the Kennedy Space Center. It was a freelance gig and the editor I worked for was a throwback type that I swear Stan Lee used to draw Jonah Jameson. When I got the assignment he yelled, “Bring me back a story, but make sure you get pictures. I need pictures!!”

So, I talked a photographer friend of mine into going by promising him to split my fee, pay for gas and meals, then drive him to Miami Beach after the launch (not my brightest moment…). We get to the launch site four hours before countdown and I was immediately immersed, poring over background material from NASA, doing interviews, and writing, writing, writing…you know, doing what writers do. I look up to see my shooter friend just wandering around, chatting up the female photographers, comparing lenses, drinking coffee…you know, doing what shooters do.

It was then I had an epiphany of sorts. This guy was getting a free ride to Miami Beach, free meals and half my cut to work for maybe all of thirty seconds (not counting the countdown). I thought, hmmm, there’s something to this photography thing.

Man at the corner

It wasn’t two years later that I left journalism for advertising where I could combine my love for writing with my art direction and design skills, and to have the ability to work with professional photographers – the kind who didn’t wander around and drink coffee and brag about their lenses.

I cut my writing teeth on the likes of Bill Bernbach and David Ogilvy, and learned my design chops emulating Milton Glaser, Seymour Chwast, and the creatives at Fallon McElligott. In all those years I never considered myself an “ad guy” but instead a creative problem solver. My job was less about advertising than it was about solving problems and telling stories. Then suddenly, I found myself involved in “art.”

As a creative director for a large Florida firm the photographers and illustrators I was directing began pushing the boundaries of advertising communication beyond design into more artistic expression, and enhancing the marketing equation in the process.

Synthetic notion

Glaser said recently,

“Every once in a while though, somebody who thought they were doing design, does enter into the realm of art.That happens because there are some things produced that go beyond the specific problem and somehow do something else, which in my view is to create attentiveness. Certain practitioners have managed to occasionally produce art. I have a very specific definition, which has served me over the past couple of years.I believe that art at its best is a meditation.If you look at something and it changes your idea of what is real, it is art. A glass or a piece of furniture can produce this effect. It is very hard to do intentionally. Then, every once in a while, something enters the world that goes beyond its functional requirement and gets into what you might call an experience.”

His reflections mirrored what I experienced as I came of age professionally. This was revolutionary thinking for those of us on the creative side…to employ the utilitarian nature of design at the same time pushing an artistic boundary in the process.

Hoping that you feel the same way

I suppose that’s why moving through writing to design to photography to art is somewhat of a seamless and fluid process for me. I’m almost thankful I was not classically trained in only one discipline or I may have been more resistant to the embrace of such an integrative concept and to the eventual reality with which we live today having seen the democratization of photographic-based imaging wrought by the iPhone and its ilk.

To be clear, I’m not knocking classical training, and I am poorer in many ways for not having my foundations poured there, but grateful indeed for the rich multi-disciplined experienced I’ve been blessed to have.

MB: What got you interested in iPhoneography?

CC: In a word? Apps. iPhoneography was a natural extension of the exploration process for me. I’d been shooting film, then digital and taking those images into Photoshop to develop, create, etc. When the first iPhone camera emerged, it changed that paradigm for me…I wasn’t too impressed with the limitations of size and quality from my first iPhone, but the apps available at the time opened an entirely new world of creative exploration. I could actually shoot, create, and output all from one device. It was nothing short of amazing.

Daydream believing

MB: When did you realize that iPhoneography was a “substantial form” of photography/art? From film to digital to now a phone that takes pictures … you’ve experienced it all – any favorite media?

CC: Probably when I heard otherwise respectable shooters denigrating early iPhoneography as something inferior to “real” camera work. I smelled fear and hypocrisy. Everyone knew pixel-to-pixel there was no comparison, but they were missing the point (or maybe avoiding it)…and the point was the creative expression emerging from that little phone camera was just as real and relevant as anything shot with a DSLR. I was hooked.

As for a favorite medium, that’s a tough call as each is unique in its application to my work. But if forced to pick one I’d have to say iPhoneography is a favorite for my personal work, and I’m finding more ways to incorporate it into my work world, too.

A man of letters

MB: How much time do you spend on your iPhoneography?

CC:  That’s also hard question to answer. The long answer is sometimes it’s too much and at others not enough. iPhoneography is a tremendous creative outlet for me and, truth be told, I’ve allowed myself occasionally to think about doing iPhoneographic art full time. But just at those moments I’m reminded of my professional calling, which helps me to keep it all in perspective.

The short answer is that I shoot everyday. Any subject. Any setting. I usually save processing and apping for later, which actually helps me get some distance from the original shot and to see it with fresh eyes.

Tightrope

MB: How many apps do you have in your arsenal — any favorites? For favorites, could you also please elaborate what you like about them?

CC: At present I have 203 (installed) on my iPhone and 319 on my iPad. I have a few basic go-to apps I use regularly. The others form a kind of creative cupboard I use for experimentation and to work with different combinations.

For shooting, my regulars include: Hipstamatic; Lomora; ClassicPAN: ProCamera: ProHDR; SlowShutter; Camera+; and 645Pro.

I love Hipstamatic when I know the effect I’m trying to achieve. Likewise, Lomora is a fave but generally only for the RedScale film. ClassicPAN is great because you not only get a strong horizontal crop, but clean 4:3 images as well. For my landscape work I love the 6×17 mode that 645Pro features. The others I press into service less frequently but they’re still in my top drawer.

My apping regulars include: Iris; Snapseed; Pixlromatic; Superimpose; iColorama; Photofx Ultra; PhotoEditor+; KingCamera; GrungeHD; Noir; MiraCam; BlurFX; AltPhoto; Glaze; PhotoCopier; and Retouch. I’m trying to learn Procreate at the moment in order to add it to my regulars.

Sail on, oh ship of fools

I’m a big Superimpose fan as I work so much in layers with blending and masking. I’ve practically abandoned DXP, Juxtaposer and Blender for the simplicity and intuitive nature of Superimpose. Snapseed is increasingly eclipsing Iris as my crop and sizing tool, in addition to its selective features for contrast, brightness, etc. iColorama has become a favorite recently because of its texture options and color tools. Most every one of my works in recent months has used those three apps at some point in the workflow.

The other apps are applied when I’m looking for a specific effect. I love Retouch for the ability to clean up an image. KingCamera, Pixlromatic, AltPhoto, MiraCam, Grunge HD, and PhotofxUltra all afford specialized filtering and textures that I use for backgrounds and to add unique detail. Glaze and PhotoCopier (which is oddly named, don’t you think?) are so useful when I’m layering and want a painterly feel.

The remainder of my app cupboard I review and test every so often. I usually bunch a few lightly used apps together and try a short series with them to see if I discover something unusual.

MB: How often do you install new apps and delete others?

CC: I used to update every time I saw a notice. But now I take care to read reviews or comments before installing updates (kissed too many frogs…). I’ve also become much more selective about adding new ones. Marty Yawnick’s Life in LoFi blog is helpful with his on-point reviews so I’ll generally check there first then read reviews in the AppStore before installing new apps.

Sweet the rain's new fall

MB: What do you enjoy most about iPhoneography? Anything you find challenging?

CC: Much of my day job entails designing or shooting to a specific message for a client. In that work I usually begin with an end in mind. iPhoneography, however, is in many ways more akin to writing fiction where the character in the story emerges and grows during the creative process then tells you when they are complete.

The challenge for me is two-fold: First, to avoid creative ruts where technique can overwhelm the art and secondly, to listen for the ‘character’ in the work to tell me when it’s done.

MB: Where do you find inspiration?

CC:  There are any number of amazing artists whose work continues to inspire me to push beyond my own limitations and to explore new ways of seeing and expressing the ideas and concepts in my art. Perhaps that’s why the glue that holds my own gallery together comes from the jar labeled “Eclectic.”

I’m also influenced by the word-pictures in poetry, and by writers like Cormac McCarthy and Max Lucado who paint images with words in a way few can. And as a student of the Bible and faith I’d be remiss to not mention how what I glean there influences much of my conceptual work.

Light into dark

MB: Being a writer and now an iPhone artist, I have experienced creative blocks many a times. Have you, too? If yes, how do you get out re-energized?

CC: Yes. I think blocks come with the territory in the creative arts. However, I don’t fight it, at least not anymore. Sure, I have practical techniques I use at work when I’m on a deadline. But with iPhoneography I’ve come to look at creative “block” as a kind of natural pause button and I welcome it.

When I’m dry for ideas or don’t shoot for a period of time, my original instinct was to panic. But I’ve learned that it’s healthy to stop and use the time my brain is giving me to re-calibrate and invest myself in other creative pursuits like cooking or carpentry or writing. They each invariably enrich the process of visualization, of seeing and expression, and I count each “block” as a blessing, a kind of building “block” for creativity.

MB: What are some challenges of working with an iPhone vis-a-vis a traditional camera?

CC: Oh, all the usual suspects have largely been identified by others: lower resolution, single focus lens, the form factor, etc., etc. There are times I see a shot and think how good it would look if I had a long lens and could push the DOF or had a fast lens to freeze motion. But those are generally moments when I wouldn’t have had a traditional camera with me anyway and I find I’m thankful at least to have something with me that allows me to capture the scene regardless. It lets me interpret it in a different manner, and that allows me to appreciate the iPhone less for its limitations (relative to traditional cameras) than for its availability.

Walking with Lomora | Sapphire

Then there are the process questions. Each shooting platform involves a different level of preparation. I find the iPhone is, of course, more in the line of “see it/shoot it,” where a traditional DSLR or film camera requires a bit more preparation.  Because photography is a second language for me, I tend to default to the easier process.

When I carry both an iPhone and a traditional camera, I find a kind of schizophrenia can set in at times. I know for resolution purposes that I’m needing the DSLR to get the shot, but wishing I had a similar lens array to capture it on the iPhone knowing the app path I want to take to enhance the shot in post.

MB: You are the master of abstractions that evoke emotion and deeper thinking. They are almost intellectual art pieces – how do you compose those pieces? What’s the process … do you start out with a vision and work toward it, or do some things just come alive during the process?

CC: I’m flattered by your characterization of my abstract work. Thank you. The irony of that is I so desperately want to shoot images of people, but have the most difficulty with that. Abstracts and surreal imagery, then, are a kind of salve to my creative yearnings.

Most every abstract I do is a result of a creative process that has grown out of my creative writing. When I write I use what I call a “percolation” method. I ingest as much information as I can find on a topic, a place, an issue, a concept or theory, etc., then let it all percolate and distill before writing the first word. In the same way that writers see a character develop and even speak to them, or find that point in a story when it begins to tell itself to the writer, I find that my images eventually begin to define themselves and their own story.

Occasionally I’ll set out to interpret a concept or work against a theme (as in my most recent abstract series on minimalism inspired by Roger Guetta’s Appstract FaceBook group). At other times I’ll begin with a freshly taken image, or several pulled from my “never-throw-anything-away” archives, then use them to build a visual.

For a case in point, I’ll highlight two recent images that demonstrate each process.

The first is “Anatomy of a Murder,” developed shortly after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary.

Anatomy of a murder

Immediately after the shooting, many images were created as a tribute to the children killed there and some vented rage directed to the gunman. However, though I grieved with the rest of the country over what happened, I didn’t feel particularly led to follow suit with an image in the same manner as the others. I followed the news reports and the national conversation that ensued over the cause of the shooting and the renewed debate over guns and control. But I really had no intention of reducing that dialogue to an image.

During this time I had begun work on an image using a side profile of a man’s face. I’d snapped the image from a Twilight Zone episode (because it happened to be on TV at the time) and was planning to experiment with some multi-exposure techniques on which I’d been working. Meanwhile, the Sandy Hook percolator was bubbling and a particular story about the guns the killer had used struck me as irrelevant to the entire tragedy. In that instant the multiple-exposure experiment became a commentary on the motivation for murder.

In the same folder where I kept several of the background textures used in this image was a shot I’d done last year of a hammer. I masked the hammer’s head, made it a stamp in Superimpose and laid it into the image three times, oriented as if it were descending and striking something.  I added to that a hand and a red texture that introduced the concepts of participation and of bloodshed. I blended in several other layers to create more texture, and then set the image aside for several hours.

When I returned to it, the words of the title emerged and I wrote in the description the following:  “Murder, it is said, begins in the heart. Only then does the hand grasp an implement to break the whole of another’s life into the pieces of tragedy.”

It pointed to the fact that murder is an idea first and an act second, and that any implement, be it a hammer, a gun, a rock, or whatever, is only a means to the execution of that idea.

Another hour and several more layers helped to break down definition in the man’s profile in order to present him as an “everyman,” and the image was complete. Total time on the image was about 5 hours. However, the much longer ‘percolation’ process that took place over several weeks had clearly informed it.

The second image is “Being Alive,” and is one of an on-going series on “Being,” the purpose of which is to illustrate different states of being.

Being Alive

This piece is an example of beginning with an idea then finding parts and pieces to help the image tell a story. All of the images (more than 20) used to construct “Being Alive” were elements in whole or in part from other images I’d created, most for entirely different purposes.

Central to the series is a circle, as the representation of existence. The other elements are used to suggest the nature of that being.  Total time on this image was 14 hours and utilized 8 apps (though more were used in creating some of the other parts but which are lost to time and memory).

I began with the central fractal image over the background and split it to capture a sense of symmetry and balance. Everything else was layered in and masked from there, once again using Superimpose. I continued adding elements sporadically over the space of a few days in order that I could reflect on each stage and whether it was accurately conveying the larger meaning.

Meanwhile, I was saving each layering stage in the event I wanted to scrap one and go back (I did on two occasions).

Once I felt the image reflected the essence of the theme, I ran it through Pixlromatic and King Camera to add a bit of grain and a slight edge.

MB:  With all the effects that can be applied to photographs now without ever needing a computer, manipulation of images has become that much more universal – it’s not just professionals with Photoshop who can alter the way reality is presented … in essence, anyone can now be an artist. Any thoughts on this evolution/transformation?

CC: This is a provocative question whose premise suggests that only professionals with skill or high-end tools could be considered artists, but that apps have enabled the great, unwashed masses to now be able to join their ranks. There are a number of landmines here so I want to tread lightly.

First, image manipulation alone does not an artist make. I’ve seen too many bad Photoshop images to think that anyone who can use the program is by virtue of that fact an artist.  When Photoshop and page layout programs first became available to the mass market, many of us in the professional world were alternately excited and mortified. Excited because we could more easily converse with our clients, share files, and be on par with them technologically. We were mortified, though, at its unintended consequence.

This great democratization of software was now allowing clients (or, more specifically, their administrative staffers), uninformed by design principles of readability, legibility, eye flow, composition and form, to produce very much bad work more efficiently.

Winter Morning

All one has to do to witness this same phenomenon in the world of iPhoneography is to spend a few minutes on IG, Tadaa, EyeEm and other un-curated posting sites, to see the echo-effect of software democratization via apps. Seeing tongue rings, and kittens, and bedroom mirror poses rendered with lo-mo filters and light leaks, doesn’t rise to the level of art in my opinion.

That said, professional training itself also doesn’t make one an artist, either. I’ve seen equally bad art created by people trained in how to use the tools of art but without an understanding of it.

I believe art is not a thing. It is a way; a way of seeing, of expressing, or interpreting. No, that does not qualify everything as art. If that were the case, then nothing would be art. But I believe there must be some objective standard for what constitutes art and differentiates it from, say, mere visual expression. And isn’t that the tension inherent in the question of “apps for all makes artists of all.”

The upside of this, however, is that the opportunity to experience and explore and to ultimately develop an ability for art is much more accessible than ever before because of apps. And that’s a good thing.

MB: I was stoked to share the same art space with you in the online Dreamscapes exhibit. Could you share a little bit about your image that was handpicked for this exhibit: “The Splendid Color of My Day”?

CC:  That was such a great collection of artists and I was incredibly honored to be included with you. That image was one of a series that emerged from the same Hipstamatic shot, one of which ended up in a French exhibit in 2011.

The splendid color of my day

It was taken in my design office of a silk iris against a taupe wall with a mix of natural fill and incandescent light. I then applied a color treatment on the iris (coincidentally in the app Iris) to introduce the reds, and then applied one of the hundreds of textures I have collected. That was it.

The title was drawn from the description I added to the image, “Happiness is an accident of circumstance. True joy awakens with you each morning.” Its intent was to differentiate mere happiness from true joy for a fellow iPhoneographer who was struggling with what she lamented as “the emptiness of happiness.”

MB: You’re a relatively new Instagrammer: How are you liking the IG community thus far? On a related note, how do the various iPhoneography social sharing communities compare? Do you like some more than others? Why?

CC:  I was loathe to leave the friendly confines of the iPhoneArt (IPA) site to explore IG for fear it would draw me away from the genuine community Daria and Nate have engendered at IPA. At the time I was only exhibiting at IPA and was curious to explore IG as a secondary outlet.

Overall, my experience with IG was good until the FaceBook sale and the ensuing dust-up over image use and permissions. I have since left IG and not looked back. Besides IPA I am, at present, involved in several FaceBook groups (though to a lesser degree than before), Flickr, Tadaa, EyeEm, iAMDA, and 500px. I also regularly submit to Knox Bronson’s curated site P1xels. Of them all though, IPA remains my “home” in the iPhoneography universe. It is unique in that it is largely self-curated, community policed, and has established an ethos of artistic excellence and respectful engagement.

MB: What distinction do you make between iPhoneography and iPhoneart? Any examples you’d like to share?

CC:  As terminology they are really one and the same to me. I suppose one could say iPhoneography is about photographs and iPhoneart is about art, but I’ve blurred the lines between the two so often that I’m probably the wrong person to ask. I probably have an allegiance to IPA for the term iPhoneart as that was the first place I encountered it.

Oh, Winter's Day

MB: Any words of wisdom to those of us wielding our iPhones on the streets, in our houses, everywhere we go in order to capture the here and now? 

CC:  Like anything worth doing, iPhoneography is worth doing well. The availability of apps and short cuts and instant imaging should never replace education, thoughtful reflection, and intentionality in the creative process. I have learned that the iPhone, just as the DSLR, the brush and the chisel are only implements that reside in the hand. True artistry resides in the heart.

MB: Any other thoughts?

CC: I’m so very grateful for this opportunity, Mansi and for your thoughtful questions. I also want to acknowledge the influence you and other iPhoneographers have had on my own work, and how your creative leadership has moved this nascent art movement ahead so quickly.

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Other places where you can view Clint’s work: Flickr | iPhoneArt

Twitter: @ClintOnCollins

Juxt thanks you for your words and your art!

8 Comments

  1. Wonderful interview Clint! I’ve been a fan of your work for a long, long time…

    One of your statements regarding creative block really resonated with me: “But I’ve learned that it’s healthy to stop and use the time my brain is giving me to re-calibrate and invest myself in other creative pursuits like cooking or carpentry or writing. They each invariably enrich the process of visualization, of seeing and expression, and I count each ‘block’ as a blessing, a kind of building ‘block’ for creativity.”

    Thank you for that insight… :)

  2. great interview, clint! there were so many insights that inspired and touched me as you shared your journey here. as i take my first steps into the apping / photography world (other than hipstamatic), i was particularly moved by your words… “true artistry resides in the heart.”
    your images have and continue to astound me in their depth, creativity, and beauty… thank you!

  3. Excellent interview with the very creative Clint! The depth and intensity of his work is captivating. Thank you Mansi for revealing so much about this artist!

  4. What an amazing opportunity to look within the mind of such a talented Artist. I feel honored to know you, be influenced by you, and I strive to create work that may someday approach a level that you continually advance as the standard.

  5. what gorgeous work thank you for the thoughtful interview

  6. Bravo Clint! Stunning work!

  7. Great interview Clint!!

  8. A great interview of one of my favorite artists. thanks for sharing.

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