The Creationists

Creating digital paintings with Alice Zilberberg

August 05, 2020 Steve Waxman Season 2 Episode 3
The Creationists
Creating digital paintings with Alice Zilberberg
Chapters
The Creationists
Creating digital paintings with Alice Zilberberg
Aug 05, 2020 Season 2 Episode 3
Steve Waxman

When I first reached out to Toronto based artist Alice Zilberberg, I thought that this would be a conversation about photography. I soon learned that what Alice does is so much more.

The list of awards Alice Zilberberg has received for her artwork is remarkable for someone so young. She most recently received first place in the International Photography Awards for her surreal portraits of wild animals in the series she calls "Meditations." One of the stars of the series and the place I wanted to start our conversation is a striking portrait of a bison. What I discovered is that Alice is not merely a photographer and a bison is not a buffalo.

Alice Zilberberg:  I just started out with going to different zoos and seeing which animals I liked. Just the ones that kinda worked out were the ones that first made it into the series. But I always kind of have a vision of what it's going to look like even though that changes sometimes a lot throughout the process. So, I just really like the bison. It's a bison. Actually, it's technically, so you could say buffalo.

Steve Waxman: I call turtles and tortoises the same things. I'm one of those cruel people.

Alice Zilberberg: It's not just you, it's everyone. They mix up the animals in the technical term. Secondly, the North American bison is nicknamed a buffalo, but it's more technical term is bison.

To see the entire transcript, visit imstevewaxman.com

Since we conducted this interview, Alice's Meditations series has won two more award: The 2020 Color Awards - First Place and Outstanding Achievement in Wildlife / The 15th Julia Margaret Cameron Awards winner in the Wildlife category. That brings her awards total to close to 30.

If you'd like to find out more about Alice or her artwork, please visit alicezilberberg.com. You can also see some of Alice’s artwork by visiting The Creationists podcast on Facebook or Instagram.

Show Notes Transcript

When I first reached out to Toronto based artist Alice Zilberberg, I thought that this would be a conversation about photography. I soon learned that what Alice does is so much more.

The list of awards Alice Zilberberg has received for her artwork is remarkable for someone so young. She most recently received first place in the International Photography Awards for her surreal portraits of wild animals in the series she calls "Meditations." One of the stars of the series and the place I wanted to start our conversation is a striking portrait of a bison. What I discovered is that Alice is not merely a photographer and a bison is not a buffalo.

Alice Zilberberg:  I just started out with going to different zoos and seeing which animals I liked. Just the ones that kinda worked out were the ones that first made it into the series. But I always kind of have a vision of what it's going to look like even though that changes sometimes a lot throughout the process. So, I just really like the bison. It's a bison. Actually, it's technically, so you could say buffalo.

Steve Waxman: I call turtles and tortoises the same things. I'm one of those cruel people.

Alice Zilberberg: It's not just you, it's everyone. They mix up the animals in the technical term. Secondly, the North American bison is nicknamed a buffalo, but it's more technical term is bison.

To see the entire transcript, visit imstevewaxman.com

Since we conducted this interview, Alice's Meditations series has won two more award: The 2020 Color Awards - First Place and Outstanding Achievement in Wildlife / The 15th Julia Margaret Cameron Awards winner in the Wildlife category. That brings her awards total to close to 30.

If you'd like to find out more about Alice or her artwork, please visit alicezilberberg.com. You can also see some of Alice’s artwork by visiting The Creationists podcast on Facebook or Instagram.


Alice Zilberberg transcript


When I first reached out to Toronto based artist Alice Zilberberg, I thought that this would be a conversation about photography. I soon learned that what Alice does is so much more.

The list of awards Alice Zilberberg has received for her artwork is remarkable for someone so young. She most recently received first place in the International Photography Awards for her surreal portraits of wild animals in the series she calls "Meditations." One of the stars of the series and the place I wanted to start our conversation is a striking portrait of a bison. What I discovered is that Alice is not merely a photographer and a bison is not a buffalo. 

Steve Waxman: Were there particular animals that you wanted to work with? Did you have a particular vision of the buffalo, which is the one that was so striking to me and is the reason that I originally contacted you. It was just so bold. And so I was just curious, was there a vision that you wanted to shoot a buffalo and put it into a surreal landscape? Was that a part of a series of random wildlife that you were shooting? How does that start?

Alice Zilberberg:  I just started out with going to different zoos and seeing which animals I liked. Just the ones that kinda worked out were the ones that first made it into the series. But I always kind of have a vision of what it's going to look like even though that changes sometimes a lot throughout the process. So, I just really like the bison. It's a bison. Actually, it's technically, so you could say buffalo.

Steve Waxman: I call turtles and tortoises the same things. I'm one of those cruel people.

Alice Zilberberg: It's not just you, it's everyone. They mix up the animals in the technical term. Secondly, the North American bison is nicknamed a buffalo, but it's more technical term is bison.

Steve Waxman:  Well, okay. Can you walk me through the bison photo? How did you even get the photo of the bison in the first place? Where did you take the photo? How does this thing happen? Because again, they're so striking. It's as though you told the bison stand there. Please don't move. Let's get the lighting right.

Alice Zilberberg: Yeah. That's funny. Thank you. That's really nice. I definitely had an image that wanted to do a bison. I didn't know exactly what was gonna look like. I knew what background it's going to go on, roughly. And that was more of a kind of a visual-like aesthetic choice. How I got the image of the bison was shot. Usually I go to different zoos around the area. You need a lot of patience because you can't tell them how to stand. Unfortunately, or talk to them at all. So sometimes you could come. Nothing happens. But I just I got lucky with the bison on that day, it was just really nice. And I just got a really good shot of it. I don't always get that.

Steve Waxman: You said that you had an idea. For what? The background. So was the background from images that you already had her did You have to go search those out as well.

Alice Zilberberg: That's a good question. I usually have to go search him out but in this case I already had that background from a trip to Iceland. And then there's some mountain, I can see it here. The mountains are probably from a different place and the sky as well. So, I already had that background. But I kind of have to always kind of go home and try it out and see what happens. In the case of the bison, the background, how it turned out in the end, it didn't look like that in the background and everything else at all. If I was to show you the raw photos it would just not look like that because I worked on it for maybe a month and a half full time to just clean it up to make it look like that.

Steve Waxman: I mean, he looks like a rock star, and that's that's part of what's really cool about it. The thing is that it looks like he's got a ton of charisma and that he's saying, “Look at me” and that's just really, really cool,

Alice Zilberberg:  Thank you. Yeah, I love him. He's great. It's just one of the highlighted images of this project. I don’t really know which ones are going to turn out really good. Sometimes I just think something's gonna be amazing and it's just not. It doesn't work out at all and sometimes some other things just turned out really well. So for this project, it's a little bit unique because usually I plan things out a little bit better. But with this one, because I'm shooting wildlife, I can't control what they're doing. So you have a vision of how they're going to stand. And I know my style and how they should stand in order for me to put them on these backgrounds. But not every not every animal would work. A snake would be really hard.

Steve Waxman:  I know that talking about the creative process and talking about the work that goes into doing something like that can be a bit of a drag but, I'm gonna ask you if you could try and walk us through step by step, how it is you create an image like that.

Alice Zilberberg: Okay, so we know that I shot the bison. And I shot the background separately. I put them together, so they're sort of collaged together. But then I do a lot of digital work. On top of that, just a lot of effects with tools that I used to kind of clean up the background so that it's there's nothing kind of distracting because it's photography, right? So there's a lot of detail in it, but I like it actually to be cleaned up because I like it to look more like a painting. So the reason why they take so long is because I clean the backgrounds and everything up really well until nothing is kind of distracting my eye. You want I mean? 

Steve Waxman: Yeah, I know exactly what you mean.

Alice Zilberberg: So it takes a long time. I work on that and.. Oh, there's the lighting thing. I have to make sure that the lighting works in terms of shooting them. Sorry, shooting the animals and then the background. So usually I shoot when it's overcast.

Steve Waxman:  Are you trying to get these things to look like they're on the same plain? You say you want it to look like a painting. Are you thinking more in terms of a surrealistic impression? Or do you want to be realistic in an imaginary space?

Alice Zilberberg:  I get what you're asking now. Yeah. I don't want them to look exactly like the bison is there because then what would be the point of putting them together? Just take a bison and put it on whatever background and just do kind of traditional photography? I do like the way that it looks in the end, where, because they're put together, it looks more surreal because that's what I like. That's just the style that I like.

Steve Waxman: It's just interesting that you've taken a more painterly view of doing photography.

Alice Zilberberg: Yeah, the reason for that is because I came into doing what I'm doing now, even though it looks really minimal and it looks like ‘Oh, it's just it's kind of simple.’ I used to paint, way before I was a photographer. This was a long time ago now.  But then I picked up a camera. I really like painting. I like the way that it looks. But I also like the detail in photography. And I started playing around with photo shop before I did photography with some class.  And I really like surrealism. And so when I picked up a camera, I saw that I can create these kind of surreal images. I had a lot of detail in them, but have kind of like this, real but unreal kind of weird feeling to it. My older work is just more like, straight up surreal, I guess. But with this work, I think my eye just developed to where we're at now. where it's more minimal, but I still have that kind of background of surrealism. So I would never I wouldn't want to...I mean, if I was to take the bison and just shoot it with a kind of traditional method, I could just hire him and put him in a sort of similar background, whatever, it would look completely different, right?  Because the style will be different. But I like the style because I like the amalgamation of it. And all the effects that I put on it, it creates that style. And I just really like that style. So yeah, in a sense the reason why I don't call myself a photographer...and I like to just like, actually take out the word photography. Or, I guess, you could say it's photo based, but there's a lot of digital work to it, which is why I call them digital paintings.

Steve Waxman:  Part of what I'm trying to understand through the series of interviews is how much of creativity is inspiration. How much of it is planned? How much of it is actual work? Because there are people that don't consider themselves creative that are intimidated by creativity, even though they can, if they want to, just go and do something. Someone like yourself though, you're making a career out of this but you can't decide to make a career out of this until you feel like you have a good sense of what it is you want to ultimately do.

Alice Zilberberg: Yeah, that's true. I've been doing this for so long. I've been painting since I was six. So I don't know what to say to people like that. That don't think that the creative. I probably just think of these things in a different way. I'm always trying to connect ideas. I'm thinking about different things and it could come...my inspiration could come from from different sources, like it could be listening to a podcast or reading a book about philosophy or psychology or something about relationships or nature. But also visually, I like to look at things and be inspired by that. And I'm kind of always trying to look for meaning in that. Sometimes it could just kind of come to me when I'm not thinking.  I don't know how it works, really.

Steve Waxman: Going back to the series with the animals. Did you see something on TV? Did you see a movie? Were you reading a book? Were you listening to a podcast when it suddenly dawned on you that doing a series with animals would mean something would mean something special to you?

Alice Zilberberg:  I think with that one, it was more of a process. So it wasn't like a kind of moment. But like I said,I wanted to do something with animals for a while and I've always shot people. And I thought that I would combine the two, and I might still in the work I do in the future. But, it just kind of ended up being what it was in the end. Things usually kind of get simplified. So I could have an idea of...I think the deer was the first one...or the bison...I can’t remember. But I sort of had a vision of making that specific image, right? And then once I made it, I could see that this could be a series, and it could look a certain way and everything. So yeah, it was more like a process. I was working on a bunch of stuff at the time, and that  one was kind of one of the things. And I went in that direction. And I keep going. I’m still working on it.

Steve Waxman:  When you saw the animals start to emerge in the series, does that then get your creative juices flowing more and give you more ideas of how you can either improve it or grow it?

Alice Zilberberg:  Oh, yeah, definitely It's very exciting when something's working. Yeah, absolutely.When I made the deer or I think the bison was the second one, I can remember which one was first, but, I remember having a thought of like, Oh, I'm gonna actually put some someone on top of the bison. And then I said, ‘No. This is enough.’ And that's happened to me in the past, where I...in my head, it was kind of like, ‘Oh, it could have these kinds of elements and this could mean this,’ and I can't get simplified. But I’m not really answering your question. 

Steve Waxman:  No. Quite honestly, what you said is kind of what I'm trying to get at is that there's something in your head, and then you go and start to create it and realize what you end up with is a version of what was in your head. But a better version as you see it emerge.

Alice Zilberberg:  Yeah, I definitely have to...like, everyone...you, the royal you, not you...you have to just do! You know, everyone has lots of ideas all the time. People are actually really creative. But, the process of actually getting started and doing it makes it so, ‘Okay, now that I'm doing it, it looks like this. So I need to go in this direction or that direction. It's gonna look like this or like that.’ But just getting started and just doing the idea that’s in your head, whatever it might be...it's a process. Whenever I start a project, I think ‘Oh, this is what it's gonna look like or whatever.’ A lot of the times when I start, projects don't just don't come into fruition because I had this great idea. But then I start working on it, and I'm like, ‘Oh, this is way too complicated. I just don't like this.’ You know? It's just like that's not at all what I was thinking. I'm gonna just do something else. But I just I get there by just doing it

Steve Waxman: With that series in particular, do you find more inspiration from the larger animals? Or do they all inspire you in some great way?

Alice Zilberberg: That's a great question. It's funny, for me there’s ones that...I like all of them. But, for example, the bison is just something that I would have in my house as opposed to some other ones. If I was buying one, I would be buying the bison because it just speaks. I don't know how to describe that, really. So, there's ones that I personally just like more, but I really do like all of them. They’re all of them together are great.  

Steve Waxman: How did you end up here with this style? I mean, at what point in your creative life did you decide ‘Okay,  it’s not going to be painting. It's going to be something else.’? And you find this as your outlet?

Alice Zilberberg: Yeah, I think I was doing a combination of a lot of stuff when I was younger. It wasn't like a yesterday to today switch. It wasn't like, ‘Oh, no, I'm gonna do this style now.’ It was more of that I was doing a lot of stuff. I was really encouraged by my teachers to just kind of keep going. But then specifically, when I was doing the surreal stuff with photography, the combination, I think it really just stood out to people. And I think I was encouraged by my peers and my teachers. And it was kind of clear that I was I was encouraged. Personally, I liked it. But it was doing lots of kinds of photography too. Something I said I went to university for photography study, so I didn't just work on that style there. I did a bunch of stuff. But to me, that's like, that's true to me. That's what I wanted to do, or at least what I'm doing right now. I don't know. Maybe I'll do sculpture in the future.

Steve Waxman:  So when you say that you were mixing. Were you mixing mediums? Were you doing paintings and photography and mixing them together? Or was it that you used your painterly style to use the photoshop to manipulate the photos, which you eventually got to? But early on, what was it?

Alice Zilberberg: So I think that I was doing lots of different kinds of painting with lots of different kinds of pools. And it's the physical, you know? I remember doing oil like I really like oil. And then I also really liked photography and I was doing lots of photography. Once I kind of saw that I could do that with photography, could have manipulated that way,  I saw that I could just get the detail on photography that I like but get that sort of that painterly style that I also like. I also like that it's a reproducible medium. Not just having one. I don't know. I just kind of like that as a side thing. I like all of those things about it, and I saw that I could kind of make these real looking images kind of surreal. And that's what I liked about it was that. Does that answer your question?

Steve Waxman: I think so. So you've won a lot of awards or it looks like you've won an awful lot of awards, which is nice validation for what you're doing. But do you remember when you started selling your artwork?

Alice Zilberberg: Yeah, it was just kind of a show a university that I sold one print. But then where it was really made more significant was when I did an art fair just with my work that I got into.  I won a spot in it and I sold out of everything that I had, and it was really cool. And before that, I didn't really understand that I could sell work like that. But after that happened, that's when things really got rolling and I understood that I could do this.

Steve Waxman: So finally, where are you going with us? Do you have an ultimate goal?

Alice Zilberberg: Yeah. I definitely think that this work, my work has the potential. And I want to be known as one of the best people who do this kind of work world-wide. And I want more of what I have. I’d like more of the accolades that I'm already getting. I’d like a lot more of them. I just want to be known for that.

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If you'd like to find out more about Alice or her artwork, please visit alicezilberberg.com. You can also see some of Alice’s artwork by visiting The Creationists Podcast on Facebook or Instagram. And while you're there, please give us a follow.