About the artist

iphoneographer and digital artist, Robert H King

This week we have an interview with an artist whose Invisible Soundtracks series of images we previously published in our features section. Visual storyteller, Robert H. King is a photographer/iPhoneographer and digital artist currently living on the outskirts of Glasgow in Scotland. His background is in the independent music industry, where, in the 1980s and 90s he ran both a cassette label and a record label.

Over the last twenty years, he has worked as a freelance graphic designer with arts organisations, record labels, magazines and artists. He is also a mobile photography workshop tutor and has delivered events including Flower Photography as part of the Tate Artists Rooms Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition, Creative Post Processing and A Mindful Approach To Photography.

Robert describes his image work as storytelling. He creates the basis of the story and leaves it to the viewer to use their perception of where the story goes. In 2014/15 his exhibition, Seeing The Unseen, was the first of its kind in Scotland to consist of work created entirely on mobile devices.

Find links to more of Robert’s work in his entry in our Artists’ Directory.

How did you first get into digital art?

Graphic design and photography have always been an interest. My record collection was my inspirational reference library, with so many great designers — Vaughan Oliver\23 Envelope, Peter Saville, Malcolm Garrett, Barney Bubbles, to name just a few.

I ran a record label myself, and I used to design sleeves using galleys of type, halftone images, scalpels and spray mount so when desktop publishing and Photoshop arrived, I embraced the new possibilities with open arms. Everything changed in 2012 when I got an iPhone 4S, quickly followed by an iPad; it’s been upwards from there.

Why did you choose digital art as your medium?

With my sight issues, making art has always been a challenge. Working with screen-based software is easier for me. I can zoom in and out in Photoshop and Quark Xpress on a desktop, and I can also use a magnifying glass, but I was finding it all so cumbersome and limiting.

As mentioned above, getting an iPhone and iPad means that I can now create anywhere at any time. Pinch to zoom is a wondrous thing! The ability to retouch an image moments after taking it and then to create and share artwork globally is a whole new world. To use that phrase again ‘it’s a game-changer.’ It still feels limitless.

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

Generally, I will have an idea for a new piece based on something I’ve heard – this might be a song, a phrase, a snatch of conversation, a line in a book, a scene in a film or inspiration from an artwork that I’ve come across. I keep these ideas, along with lists of quotes and song titles, in notebooks, both analogue and digital; this is the reference material that I can go back to and work on when time allows.

I take photos whenever I am out and about to add to my own stock library. These photos can be anything from frost on a spider web, a rusty gate, textures on walls, graffiti, a man in a hat, reflections on windows, birds on walls, damaged bus shelter windows, crowds…you get the idea. My source photos are organised in a folder structure on my iPad, so when the moment strikes I can find what I am after. I also use stock/Creative Commons images in part but I edit these highly for one element, rather than use the entire image.

I use Pixelmator for creating my layered works; starting with a base image and adding elements to it using blend modes and masking. These elements are usually processed outside of Pixelmator with apps like SKRWT for perspective correction, and in my case for distortion. I use ReTouch for removing parts or cloning and Snapseed for general corrections and for prepping prior to importing. As the work in Pixelmator progresses, I will often export it to another app like Skylab or LensDistortion and then reimport it to continue; I’ll finish the work using Mextures or VSCO.

What artistic styles are you particularly drawn to?

There are no particular styles as such. Whether it is photography, digital art or lens-based media, it has to have depth, meaning and substance. I am always drawn to something that makes me stop, makes me think and spend time with it.

What inspires you?

Art, music, photography and finding beauty and intrigue in the seemingly mundane.

What is your artistic motivation?

The need for selfexpression and with it the need to convey the ideas and imagery that fill my mind on a daily basis. The need to be doing something creative is a constant in my life, it can bring meaning and direction.

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

Usually the most recent work. There are two images in particular, however; one of my son as The Mad Hatter from Alice In Wonderland and an abstract portrait of my wife. If I could only rescue two works from a fire, it would be these.

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

Layered. Liminal. Stories.

What memorable responses to your artwork have you had?

I’ve had extremely flattering conversations with people who have described my work as having a profound and moving effect on them. Others have been touched enough by the images or found that they resonate with them and they have purchased framed prints.

The majority of responses are generally that of surprise that the works were all created on mobile devices by someone with serious sight issues. I recently gave a talk and presentation to a photography collective and they were amazed that this kind of work can be achieved on mobile devices. Several attendees said they felt inspired to explore creating for themselves.

Name three artists who inspire you.

Selecting three is a challenge; I hope you’ll allow the extended list! David Bowie first and foremost. He was the first ‘artist’ to take me out of myself to somewhere ‘else’ in his storytelling. His inspiration still continues even after his sad passing. The second is the filmmaker, writer, painter, photographer, activist, gardener Derek Jarman. He lived such a creative, colourful, self-assured life whether that was writing, directing or working in his garden at Dungeness.

The digital artist Daniel Reeves. I worked in a photography gallery many years ago and had the pleasure of meeting him, a very charming man. He was one of the first artists I came across using Photoshop in an entirely new way. His digital paintings sometimes contained over 100 layered images. That was at a time when the software and hardware were struggling to keep up with the demands he was putting on it. Seeing the works printed to a huge scale on glass was a gamechanger. He gave me a gift of one of his prints which I still treasure.

Also, the photography of Anton Corbijn, Richard Koci Hernandez, Roger Ballen, Bruce Chatwin. I could go on…inspiration strikes in many ways.

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

Knowledge and skill of how the apps work and of the possibilities available. It all comes down to practice, patience and persistence. I am able to explore ideas more now that I know what is achievable. I am also gaining a better understanding of who I am as a creative individual and after all these years, slow acceptance of my visual condition.

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

Take it slowly, don’t rush to find your style; it will come. Become an expert with a few apps and techniques, not a novice with many. Don’t worry about people liking the work; as long as you feel it is good and that you have achieved something that is ultimately what really matters. To quote David Bowie, “Never play to the gallery.” Andy Warhol had this to say, “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide whether it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they’re deciding, make even more art.”

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

I started with a firstgeneration iPad and iPhone 4S and progressed through other models. My current setup is an iPhone X and an 11” iPad Pro with Apple Pencil.

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

My ‘essentials toolkit’ has to include: Pixelmator, Snapseed, Touch Retouch, Mextures, Skylab, LensDistortion and VSCO. No favourites as such. I still love Hipstamatic and Jazz, and I miss ScratchCam.

Do you find that people dismiss digital art as a valid art form?

Sometimes, but that is usually by those who don’t create themselves or have little or no understanding of the processes or methods involved. Who is to say what is valid and what is not. ‘What is Art?’ is a perennial question that will never be fully answered.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas with us, Robert!

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