About the artist

Portrait of James Hurley

This week we meet James Hurley, a digital photo artist from Huntingdon, near Cambridge, UK. James is a self-taught photographer and learnt Photoshop from online courses. Much of his work embodies his emotions and frustrations, which he transforms into dark and mysterious images from landscapes and portraits; either in the comfort of his home or on location.

His work has received several awards from the Heaven art gallery in the USA during September and October of 2017. Since then his artwork been on display in a new conceptual virtual art gallery created by Curat10n Open Art.

As well as making art for himself, James runs a business using his photographic and artistic skills to create unique images for people. He also runs an online magazine for digital artists, My Creative Images.

How did you first get into digital art?

I’ve always been a creator, either using a pencil or a hammer and nails; photography was an exciting new step in my creative path. From my teens, through until my late 20s, I cut my photographic teeth taking ‘snaps’ on a fully manual Zenith 11 camera.

I reluctantly hung up my camera in favour of raising a family and only started exploring my creative potential again in 2017, when my wife bought me a Canon EOS1200D as a 50th birthday present. From this point, I was eager to learn as much as I could about photography.

While researching courses, I came across an advert for a grunge photo artistry course; after a few days of getting to grips with the layers and blending modes, I was hooked!

Why did you choose digital art as your medium?

I suppose you could say it chose me. I had always wanted to tinker with Photoshop but could never justify the cost of the software. Once I saw what you could do with it, I just had to have a go myself.

What artistic styles are you particularly drawn to?

I love dramatic landscapes and surreal and painterly portraits, and I’m drawn to bold, brash colours, and heavy textures. Recently, I have discovered encaustic photography; the potential to add a physical effect to my finished digital pieces is fantastic!

Tell us about the process you use to make your art.

My processes are fluid; I might be wandering around at lunchtime and notice the way the trees and sky reflect on the river. This wakes up my muse, and I will plan out some work based on an iPhone image or a photograph. Other times I will sit and scroll through my photos; I’ll experiment with textures, colours and composite in other images to build something with an underlying message. Much of my work stays hidden away, as it was created out of pent-up emotions and frustrations; I use this as my way of managing stress and anxiety.

What inspires you?

Nature: the raw power of the thing we take for granted. Moving water, light and shadows, facial expressions. My inspiration can also come from music and colours. Sometimes it’s my muse, or inner self, whispering ideas to me.
I also draw on personal emotions, especially anxiety, pain, panic, confusion and emptiness. I have a real fear of my mind exploding from the sounds and sights that fill my mind and refuse to leave until I find a release.

What is your artistic motivation?

Mainly it is self-expression; a way of releasing the emotions that buzz around inside my mind. Creating art makes me smile, it relaxes me, and the simple act of making something makes all the difference between a good day and a bad day. A day when I haven’t taken a photograph or been working until midnight on Photoshop feels wasted.

Of all your images to date, which is your favourite, and why?

That’s hard to answer as I love all of my work. The pieces I don’t like are either deleted or stay in a folder, waiting for me to go back to and rework. I just love my art and photographs and pour a lot of myself into creating each one of them.

The images that give me the most pleasure and make me smile every time I look at them are Darkness on the Fells – I guess this is a key image for me, as I based it on landscape photographs that I took in Ullswater – Red Lady is my first encaustic work. The Captain is my photograph of the singer from the band Captain of the Lost Waves, which I completely transformed with textures and colours.

Which three words or phrases would you use to describe your work?

Dark and compelling (and in some cases angry or confused).
Mysterious and humorous.
Bold, brash and passionate.

What interesting responses to your artwork have you had?

Until recently, I never showed what I do to anyone outside of my direct family. Now I share virtually everything I create, either on social media, by text or printed and framed artwork and showing people at work images on my phone. Generally, people’s responses are wow and amazing, but they are most likely just being kind!

I totally get that what I do won’t be liked by everyone, that’s fine. I create for me and me alone, and if someone else likes my work, then that’s an added bonus, and another reason for me to smile.

How do you think you’ve improved as an artist compared to when you first started?

Again, a difficult question as I learn a new skill each time I pick up my Wacom stylus or take a photograph.
I’m continually trying to improve myself and try not to only look forward and not back. I suppose the answer would be that my confidence and self-belief are the main areas that I have seen noticeable improvements over the last two years.

What advice would you give yourself if you could go back to when you started making art?

I would say “Don’t wait until you are 50 James, get your backside in gear now and start creating.” If I had started in my teens, it might have made a massive difference to my artistic journey. If I had, though, I wouldn’t have been working in the town where I met my wife. Perhaps I have already been back and told myself it’s time, which is why I picked up the camera again when I turned 50.

But seriously, I would say just go with the flow, don’t feel pressured and don’t feel the need to justify your work or compete with other artists. Whatever you create, if you are happy with it and it makes you smile, that’s all that matters.

Listen for your muse whispering in your mind, let her take control of your hands, and just let your feeling and emotions pour out into your artwork.

What devices/equipment do you use to create your art?

My main tools are my imagination and my eyes! I use a camera to capture images, of course: a humble EOS 1200D with an EFS 18-135 IS STM lens – that’s the primary lens I use for everything. I have three flashes, three light stands with various modifiers, and a black, white and textured green backdrop for when I take portraits. The PC I use, I built myself, and I have a second-hand Wacom Intuos Pro tablet.

Which apps/programs do you use to create your art and which are your favourites?

I use Photoshop CC for my editing with Topaz AI Sharpening and De-noise as add-ons. I have also started using the free Topaz Filters, but I prefer to use my textures, as it adds a personal touch to the artwork.

Do you use images from stock sites and if so, which are your favourites and why?

I do, as I don’t have the luxury of being able to hire models for specific pieces of art (one day soon, I will!). I use two sources when I’m creating art: Envato Elements and Shutterstock.

And finally, do you find that people dismiss digital art as a valid art form?

Yes, but that’s fine by me because everyone is different and allowed an opinion. Art is subjective, just because I love what I do doesn’t mean everyone has to.

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and insights with us, James!

Discover links to more of James’s work in his entry in the Artists’ Directory

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