Art is Playing Pretend

As I’m nearly finished with Roger Scruton’s brief volume on Beauty I thought I’d share another one of his observations, along with my commentary. (For more of my interaction with Scruton check out, The Presentation of Beauty)

My interest in beauty is an artery that connects my vocation as a pastor (I’m intrigued with beauty as an apologetic) with what some might consider an escape from the everyday practical concerns of that very vocation — the life of a pastor — through art. It’s good to have something that allows your mind to go in a different direction for a time. This is true not only for pastors, but for everyone, especially those whose work allows them the joy of interacting with other people. Scruton references a sentiment penned by Friedrich Schiller in his Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man that “Art takes us out of our everyday practical concerns, by providing us with objects, characters, scenes and actions with which we can play, and which we can enjoy for what they are, rather than for what they do for us.” He goes on to explain that “The artist [himself] is playing — making imaginary worlds with the same spontaneous enjoyment that children experience, when one of them says ‘Let’s pretend!’, or producing objects that focus our emotions and enable us to to understand and amend them…”

A Warm Up by Tyrel Bramwell on 500px

This thought resonates with me. Whether I’m creating images through photography, scribbling cartoon worlds, or just sketching a scene on paper I’m “playing — making imaginary worlds.” It’s quite obvious with an image such as, A Warm Up, as the frame is fantastic and completely imaginary. But it’s just as true with all images. When a photographer snaps an image. He has captured a moment in time. The moment is gone, yet it remains in the frame. It is, in a sense, an imaginary world, unobtainable except through the presentation of the artist. When someone looks at a photograph he journeys there, if just for a moment, leaving behind the practical everyday concerns of life.

It’s just as true for the overtly make believe as it is for the landscape or even a family snapshot . When we look through the photo album, though the pictures may not be great works of art, they are, each one, an invitation to play pretend and journey to a world long passed.

Redwood Ocean Panorama by Tyrel Bramwell on 500px

Whether it’s gazing upon the beauty of art or engaging in the creative process that produces it, art is playing pretend. Like beauty itself, it’s an artery that connects our lives to other worlds where not only can we set down the concerns of the day, but where we can focus our feelings and tap into what impacts our emotions. Let’s never forget how to play pretend!

To play pretend in the other worlds that I’ve created, visit my photo gallery.

Posted on Categories Art, PhotographyTags A Warm Up, Art, beauty, Fantasy, Friedrich Schiller, On the Aesthetic Education of Man, Philosophy, photography, Playing Pretend, Redwood Ocean Panorama, Roger ScrutonLeave a comment

Street Clown | Before and After

Sometimes you gotta dig deep into the vault (you know, that external hard drive with all your thousands of digital images that you forgot you took) to find the image you need for… a photo contest!

Street Clown by Tyrel Bramwell on 500px

Yeah, Street Clown is an image created for Phlearn’s Crazy Colors themed Photo Contest (April 2015).

Since I’ve been making a conscious effort to improve my  skills as a photographer, to take it to the next friggin’ level, as they say (who says, that? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.) I’ve been focusing a lot on the back end of the process. I know there’s a joke in there somewhere regarding my wife’s back end and my photo, Backpack (check out the Before & After here) but, hey, let’s not go there, alright?) When I saw Phlearn’s contest announcement I was like, “Cool, that AKNacer cat is challenging me. Let’s take a bite out of this Phlearn-dog and see how it tastes.”

So, yeah, I was thinking “colors, colors, crazy flippin’ colors. Hey, I took a picture of a clown that one time. Let’s get all Photoshopping crazy in with that dude.” And now, here you go. Street Clown, for your viewing pleasure. Go ahead, laugh a little. Clowns are funny, and besides, it’s good for your soul. I promise. Laughter and beer. And I’m pretty sure Skittles too. What could be better for your soul than tasting the Crazy Colors of the rainbow? I mean besides Jesus, of course.

Anyway, here’s the before & after.

To take a look at more of my work visit my gallery.


Format ImagePosted on Categories Art, PhotographyTags Before & After, busker, clown, contest, Crazy Colors, phlearn, photo contest, photography, Rainbow, skittles, street perfromerLeave a comment

The Presentation Of Beauty

I’m in the middle of reading Beauty: A Very Short Introduction, by Roger Scruton.  Insert joke here about needing all the help I can get in the beauty department. Ha ha! I know, I stepped into that one. But seriously, Scruton makes an excellent observation about the presentation of beauty in relation to the sensation of beauty. The following quote got my mind jogging and I thought I’d blog it out.

“A beautiful face, a beautiful flower, a beautiful melody, a beautiful colour — all these are indeed objects of a kind of sensory enjoyment, a relishing of the sight or sound of a thing. But what about a beautiful novel, a beautiful sermon, a beautiful theory in physics or a beautiful mathematical proof? If we tie the beauty of a novel too closely to the sound of it, then we must consider a novel in translation to be a completely different work of art from the same novel in its original tongue. And this is surely to deny what is really interesting in the art of the novel — which is the unfolding of a story, the controlled release of information about an imaginary world, and the reflections that accompany the plot and reinforce its significance… To that extent a novel is directed to the sense — but not as an object of sensory delight, like a luxurious chocolate or a fine old wine. Rather as something presented through the senses, to the mind… When we refer to the ‘aesthetic’ nature of our pleasure in beauty it is presentation, rather than sensation, that we have in mind.”

Jessica by Tyrel Bramwell on 500px

This thought resonates with me on a number of fronts, as perhaps it does with you. When I read his words, as a creative person who has dabbled in a variety of art forms, I thought about the presentation of my art. In the order of his examples my thoughts went from my photography — “A beautiful face, a beautiful flower” —

Broken Petal by Tyrel Bramwell on 500px

to my rudimentary efforts in music — “a beautiful melody.” Admittedly, this is something I  know very little about, but I can abuse a guitar and have attempted to write my own songs, primitive and simplistic though they turned out to be. I get the idea of presenting a beautiful tune. Most recently my musical endeavors propelled me to create something that some might consider a melody (though no one would dare call it beautiful) to accompany a spoken word poem.

From there I thought about the power of “a beautiful colour.” Scruton hit a familiar note, causing me to ponder the minimalist beauty of Johnny Scribble and his simplistically straightforward color palette. Is the presentation of Johnny a thing of beauty?

I don’t know. Maybe. It definitely causes sensory enjoyment. At least for me… and a handful of 10 year-olds.

Then Scruton delved into the realm of the written word. “But what about a beautiful novel?” With those words I pondered whether my novel, The Gift and the Defender, would be considered beautiful based on its presentation. I hope so. But what a thought! The novel is beautiful when we consider what’s really “interesting in the art of the novel — which is the unfolding of a story, the controlled release of information about an imaginary world, and the reflections that accompany the plot and reinforce its significance.”

And this thought was carried into the art of writing “a beautiful sermon.” My vocational mind buzzed as this example caused me to contemplate the  beauty of the most important art form I’ll ever engage in. A beautiful sermon is similar to a beautiful novel as it is “the controlled release of information,” but instead of being about an imaginary world it’s fixed on conveying the life saving knowledge of Jesus Christ’s redemptive work on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. A true art! The homiletician must craft his words so that they speak the Gospel truth in a way that the preacher’s hearers can grasp while also remaining faithful to the Biblical text that’s the basis of his sermon. I’d like to think that my sermons are beautiful,  however, the truth of the matter is, as a sinner, I can guarantee that they’re not as beautiful as they could be. My sermon prep is more often occupied with theological accuracy. But without diminishing the utmost importance of remaining faithful to God’s Word is there also a place for preaching the beauty of the cross in as beautiful a way as possible? I think so.

From the beauty of a sermon, Scruton moves away from art, extending his examples of beauty to include that of science. The sermon is a fitting bridge between art and science as it isn’t firmly placed in either category — while homiletics is an art, it is arguably a science.

The last thing Scruton’s words caused me to think about, as I’m sure you’ll relate,  is how anyone in their right mind can find physics and mathematics beautiful, but hey, it takes all kinds, right?


The “Backpack” Plan

Backpack by Tyrel Bramwell on 500px

Backpack is a picture I snapped while on a short family hike near the Pacific Crest Trail’s half way point. We wanted an afternoon excursion and this one gave me the perfect opportunity to field test my new Black Rapid Metro strap. My wife carried the afternoon’s supplies in my old backpack. This thing has been around for almost 20 years, and in almost the exact same condition! It used to haul my books to class back in high school, now here it is as a day pack lugging around granola bars and what-have-you on an awesome trail in northern California!

Anyway, the final image turned out a lot better than what I originally captured and I thought I’d share an overview of the post-processing plan that produced it.

The original photograph is simply a snapshot of my wife’s backside (sorry, Honey) as she was ahead of me on the trail.

In fact, I was shooting in Auto mode, paying more attention to my family than to making pictures. The camera was along mainly to capture memories. If we saw something truly amazing (I’m not saying my wife’s not amazing – she is) then I’d start playing photographer, but at this point I was just shooting photo album material.

Looking at the original pic, there’s a bunch of things that needed to be done to make it more than just a snapshot.

The first thing I did was crop the photo to give it a more interesting frame. Obviously, the subject went from a woman hiking on a trail to a backpack and a woman’s hands resting on her hips. By zooming in we lost a lot of the environment and defined the subject matter more specifically.

In an effort to improve my photography and Photoshop skills I’ve been watching a lot of Phlearn videos. They’re excellent! One thing I really appreciate about Aaron Nace’s workflow is that he takes the time to make a plan before he gets to work. I never thought about doing this in such a visual way before. Having direction is always a good thing! Even if I veer from my plan, at least I have an initial goal, and I’ve found that it helps with efficiency when I’m in Photoshop.

My plan for this image consisted of a variety of adjustments. In a nutshell: the jeans and parts of the jacket were far too dark. I enhanced the highlights on the top of the shoulders and the outer areas of the arms.  There were a lot of little areas of clutter that detracted from the actual shape of the subject — a strand of hair, dangling backpack straps, excess jacket material, and even my son in the background, not to mention little blemishes on the material.  Removing these areas made for a cleaner final image. I like all the wrinkles in the three different types of fabric (jacket, backpack, and jeans) and wanted to make  all those darks and lights (the contrast) pop a bit more so dodging and burning was in order. I tweaked the levels and curves, made it black and white, applied a cool gradient from the bottom and a warm gradient from the top, and put a vignette over the whole thing.

My plan didn’t account for the color tones on the black and white. That was decided on the fly because straight black and white was a little too flat. Another thing I did that wasn’t a part of my initial brainstorm was to increase the blur of the background in order to better enhance the subject, separating her from the environment ever so slightly. The effect is subtle, but it helps draw your eye to where I want it to go, which… in this case, I guess, is my wife’s butt… Well, that’s awkward.

The difficulty level of the Photoshop work that went into this image is definitely basic. Adjustment layers, masks, blend modes, and the brush, clone stamp, and healing brush tools pretty much sums it up. Even basic adjustments can go along way!

Well, that’s that. I hope you enjoyed this brief overview of what went into creating Backpack. To see more of my work check out my 500px gallery. Follow me here to read more posts like this one in the future.

Many thanks to my wife for letting me showcase her backside on the interwebs.

Format ImagePosted on Categories PhotographyTags Backpack, Before & After, black and white, Black Rapid, butt, california, girl, hiker, hiking, hips, Metro, Nikon D3300, norcal, Pacific Crest Trail, PCT, photography, photoshop, plan, post processing, Strap, woman1 Comment

Stricken and Smitten

Today’s Good Friday. A quote from Scripture seems fitting. Blessings.

Isaiah 52:13-53:12

13 Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
    he shall be high and lifted up,
    and shall be exalted.
14 As many were astonished at you—
    his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
    and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
15 so shall he sprinkle many nations;
    kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which has not been told them they see,
    and that which they have not heard they understand.

Stricken and Smitten by Tyrel Bramwell on 500px

53 Who has believed what he has heard from us?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
    a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors.

If you’d like to license this photograph for your use visit the image’s licensing page on