August 29, 2017

On the Joy, Necessity and Importance of Mistakes

Where would we be without mistakes?  Probably still living in trees:

After making some mistakes and accidentally discovering that hacking the pano function on my iPod Touch can lead to striking and dramatic images (as shown in the above video), I began to make this practice purposeful.

Riding the Wave

I am so glad to have discovered this approach.  Since anyone with a smart phone can document an inherently beautiful scene, such as the Cape Cod National Seashore, I am always on the lookout for ways to take capturing life to the next level.

Any Value Added?

Tranquility - Provincetown Harbor

Sailing is one of my favorite things - yet with a simple image it is hard to capture the plethora of sensory inputs.

Sailing, Sailing
The Cape Cod National Seashore is no doubt an incredible place.  I am so grateful to the visionary people that preserved this natural jewel.

The Cold Ocean Promotes Health

I am also grateful for the mistakes that led me to capture the beauty in this manner:

Shoreline and Stairs
Professor John Nordell directs the Visual and Digital Arts Program at American International College in Springfield, Mass. He blogs about the creative process at  

June 25, 2017

From Chinese Scroll Paintings to Cubism - Making Spiritual Connections at Kripalu

A 24 hour visit to the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health was a transformative journey.

Multi-Pointed Awareness
I arrived stressed and distracted and left relaxed and renewed with a deeper spiritual connection. This in-camera multiple exposure of Shiva strives to convey a cosmic realm, the place of connection beyond words.

The statue presides over the main hall.  During yoga class, the teacher said, "Thousands and thousands and thousands of yoga classes have been taught in this room."

Bread, Vegetables, Spices

The healthy food offerings contributed to the health of mind, body and spirit.

Accidental Orange

In a past part of this life, I worked as a photojournalist.  At many events, navigating around important people or protestors, I was rather obtrusive.  My photographic skin has become thinner, I guess, as while darting around the dining hall taking images I felt very self-conscious. Accidental Orange is a "mistake" due to my rushing.

Raw Material

Nestled in the Berkshires overlooking Lake Mahkeenac, the beauty of the grounds further fed my spirit.

Lake and Trees
I knew immediately that the misty day necessitated homage to Chinese scroll paintings. Pondering a title for this work, I searched for titles of scroll paintings and found that many where plainly descriptive, such as Bamboo and Rocks or Spring Landscape.

This sparse approach evokes that of Cubist painters:  Girl with Mandolin, for example, or Violin and Jug.  These pioneering painters not only inspired my way of photographically seeing the world in multiple planes, but also prompted the use of simple titles that clue viewers into the basis of my abstractions.

I want to go back.

May 28, 2017

How Do You Define Heaven?

I prepared for an afternoon of art by picking books off my shelf and looking at images for inspiration.  The artists included photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and my hero, painter Lyonel Feininger.  Then, off to the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum.

Partly baffled, partly moved by the Museum's displays, I consciously overexposed this triple exposure of the parking lot:

2D Collage
I then drove to the top of Mount Holyoke, where I found the Mount Holyoke Summit House:

Manifold Histories

In my Cultivating Creativity class we closely examine Thomas Cole's painting View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm - The Oxbow, so it was a thrill to take in the same view as Cole in 1836.

Some believe that Cole's painting with storm clouds, snapped trees and forests leveled for farmland allude to human encroachment on nature.  I wonder what Cole would make of smartphones, or this antenna located near his painting perch:

On the Grid

All of these images are in-camera multiple exposures.  The images come out of the camera rather flat and lifeless.  So I work on them in various computer editing programs, usually listening to music.  I hammed it up a little, moving the sliders in time with the beats to create this light show:

I "mixed" this in-camera multiple exposure in Lightroom while listening to The Interlude - A Trip Hop Mix.  I shot the images during my visit to the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, combining a hundreds of years old wooden Chinese bodhisattva (Guanyin) with Andy Warhol's screenprint of Sitting Bull.

How do you define heaven? This process is a start for me.

Professor John Nordell directs the Visual and Digital Arts Program at American International College in Springfield, Mass. He blogs about the creative process at  

March 3, 2017

The Joy of Carving Out Creative Time for Myself

How do they do it?

Older Couple
How do teaching artists find time to regularly create their own art?  I finally had a day off.  In between watching La La Land (gorgeous light) and Hidden Figures (resilience), I had a 15 minute creative photographic spasm. The results here.

Likely due to the wondrous creative output of my visual and digital arts students, I found myself inspired as I worked with Lightroom, Photoshop and Topaz Adjust on these in-camera multiple exposures.

Father and Son
Up until now, I have been fairly tame as far as pushing my images to the edge with filters and extreme settings.

Sketch - Calm Before the Storm
 Above: A slice of the world before I used 3 exposures to create a fuller version of reality:


I began laughing at my self-imposed aesthetic rules.   I must always maintain my reserve.  Colors should not be too bright or garish.  How tacky!  Adjustment sliders should not be pushed to the extreme.

After Charles Sheeler (Hadley, MA Cinemark)

But today, listening to Sade, and working on these files, I broke through self-posed boundaries. Convert to a negative film look?  Add a fake filed out enlarger negative carrier frame?  Why not?  So what if I draw attention to the technique?

Sketch - Raw Material

Above:  Before.  Below: Four exposures later.

Open Air

Speaking of aesthetic rules, on Instagram (@professornordell), I never use filters.  Probably has to do with my photojournalistic roots.

Would love to hear from any teaching artists out there how they fit in their creative work with the demands of teaching.

Professor John Nordell teaches courses in the Visual and Digital Arts Program at American International College in Springfield, Mass. He blogs about the creative process at  

October 15, 2016

"Pop Life" Exhibited Online and In a Gallery

This is an in-camera multiple exposure.  The Cubist painters inspire me to utilize multiple views simultaneously to portray a subject’s essence.  Shortly after the musician Prince died, I created this piece.  The bright colors evoked his song Pop Life.  I borrowed the title in tribute.

Pop Life
I donated a print of Pop Life to the In-Sight Photography Project (Brattleboro, VT), for the non-profit's annual benefit auction.  The organization provides photography classes to youth on a sliding scale. I invite you to bid on my image and support a good cause.  Bidding ends on October 30, 2016.

Photo by Katie Kohnfelder, In-Sight's Site Manager  
The image is also included in the 2016 National Art Education Association Member Exhibition Online Gallery.

The Best Way to Learn is to Teach - Stephen Covey

Without art, we have no culture. Without culture, we are not fully human.

Professor John Nordell teaches courses in the Visual and Digital Arts Program at American International College in Springfield, Mass. He blogs about the creative process at  Instagram: @professornordell

August 22, 2016

(d)evolution: Questioning Progress: Is Technology Your Servant, or Master?

"Remember, technology is a great servant, but a terrible master."
- Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Don't get me wrong, I love digital technology.  The pixel revolution transformed how I photograph and propelled me to become a filmmaker.

However,  I am concerned when it appears that for some people technology mediates daily existence.

This assemblage combines natural materials such as blueberry and raspberry ink with a hacksawed circuit board from an obsolete computer.  My artwork was accepted in The Greenfield Local Cultural Council's Fourth Annual Juried Show, “Changing.”  The opening reception is Friday, September 2, 5-8 p.m. at Greenfield Community Television (GCTV), 393 Main Street, Greenfield, Mass.

Side of a Strawberry Box
This video explores my creative process that led to creating the purple paper:

I was interviewed by GCTV about (d)evolution.

Community Television
My interview comes on at 1:50 seconds:

I invite you to consider the role technology plays in your life.  Is technology your servant, or your master?  Does technology make our lives better?  Simpler?  Easier?

Periodically staining your fingers with berry juice might be a good practice to foster perspective.  Or, perhaps, just making something.  A few generations ago, we were all makers.

Professor John Nordell teaches courses in the Visual and Digital Arts Program at American International College in Springfield, Mass. He blogs about the creative process at  Instagram: @professornordell

July 10, 2016

On Internet Fasting and Unplugged Living: Blocking the Internet and Making Use of a Shattered Cell Phone

I am about to embark on a three week internet fast.  This unplugging has become a summer ritual for me.  In 2010, I chronicled my first experience with detaching from the web.

Scenes from last summer's fast:

Blocked Internet - Collage on Wood

I was looking for the Minuteman Bike Trial, a rail-trail that I thought led roughly from Lexington, Mass. into Cambridge, Mass.  I asked at the front desk where I was staying in Concord, Mass., and the older woman, though she had a computer in front of her, said she did not know where to find it.  She suggested inquiring at one of the local tourist spots.

Riding the Trails

In town, I inquired at the venerable Concord Inn and was given a map of Minute Man National Historic Park, that noted a bikeable section of the Revolutionary War Battle Road.  This was not the trail I was looking for.  However, loaded with history, wooded dirt paths, tourists from across the globe and planked boardwalks with banked turns through swamps, the route was a bike ride for the ages.

Had I solely searched the web and avoided interactions with not always precise humans, I would have simply found my original destination (the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway - America's Revolutionary Rail Trail) and missed out on an unknown treat.

Printed Information

This weather report from The Boston Globe served me well.  So I got a little wet enjoying pedaling up and down the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway.  Might planning using an hourly forecast inhibit touching all of life?

Another day, as I arrived at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, I found a man struggling to take a selfie with a large sculpture behind him.  I asked if he wanted me to take his picture.  When I showed him the image, smiling broadly, he exclaimed, "Wow!"  I think that selfies may have become a culturally acceptable way to limit interactions with strangers.

However, you will have to take my word for this interaction, as I have no digital proof.  Unplugged from the web, I would be shamed in David Eggers' The Circle, a creepy fictionalized (?) world where "Privacy is Theft".

Pony Express

Back home, I wanted to send some postcards, but did not know the proper postal rate.  I asked my mail carrier, who called headquarters to find out.  They later called back: 35 cents.

"I guess you don't send postcards," I said.

"Jeez, no," he replied.  "I can't remember the last time I sent a postcard.  I guess I don't go on vacation to interesting places." He laughed.  "No one would want a postcard from where I live."

Have You Ever Gone to a Movie that You Knew Nothing About?

One day, I wanted to go to a movie.  At my library, the movie schedule was buried deep inside the third newspaper I searched.  "Self/less" was the only movie that fit into my time frame.  I experienced wonder as the movie began.  I knew nothing about the movie and had no idea what to expect.

Had I seen previews, a trailer or a review, I would likely not have chosen to see it, as I am not big on science fiction.  However, I appreciated the overall message that out of human frailty and violence, forgiveness and reconciliation are possible.

Disclosure: During this internet fast, I went online to find the closest urgent care center.  I also occasionally asked family members to look up something for me.  And, one time in a hurry, I looked online for movie times.

Paper, Pastels, Block Printing, Mod Podge, Driftwood
Over the course of a couple of weeks last fall, I found three pieces of a shattered cell phone in the parking lot as I arrived to teach at American International College in Springfield, Mass.  I later inked the pieces and printed them on paper.  I added some background color using pastels.  I used Mod Podge to affix the paper to a piece of driftwood harvested from coastal waters off Nahant, Mass.

Some of the ink unexpectedly smeared when I applied the Mod Podge with a brush.  Also, I was not careful enough when attaching the paper to wood-that-could-have-been-smoother and ended up with distracting wrinkles in the paper

Life's Over, Or Just Beginning?
So I tried again.  Over the course of several weeks, after printing the cell phone parts, I worked the pastels, striving to have the colors blend and meld.  I needed a touch of Wite-Out to remove some stray ink fouling the integrity of the circular button shape.

Paper, Pastels, Block Printing, Mod Podge, Driftwood, Wite-Out
Whereas with my first try the ink accidentally smeared when I applied Mod Podge, the second time around I purposely used the technique with consistent directionality to enhance that falling feeling.  I also sanded the driftwood to a smoother surface and took more care when affixing the paper with Mod Podge to achieve a uniform smoothness.

Solid as a Block

Even the title was a work in progress.

I Wish You Could Feel the Heft
I am ready for my next internet fast.  I am ready to encounter life without knowing what is going to happen before it happens.  I invite you to join me for an hour, a day, a few weeks, or more!

Professor John Nordell teaches courses in the Visual and Digital Arts Program at American International College in Springfield, Mass. He blogs about the creative process at  Instagram: @professornordell