What’s So Scary?

I was mulling over some notes in preparation over a final and one thing stuck out to me that I’ve been wanting to write a quick blurb about.

In the last lecture of my sci-fi film class, the professor asked a simple but profound question:

“What’s so scary about babies born with a birth defect, and being called ‘unbabies’?”

The term “unbabies” come from The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian/speculative fictional world where babies born with a birth defect aren’t actually considered babies, but unbabies, similar to some parallel of the undead. It is an interesting topic, especially in this political climate relevant to abortion debates.

But a familiar, usually shrill, voice in the back replied, this time in a deeper and more somber tone:

“A guy like me couldn’t be born.”

He said it quickly and without any refrains, so I think that actually emphasized the sad quality of such a statement. There was a certain finality and sadness to it. Usually, this student is very loud and outspoken, and often annoys the class and professor. But it hit me hearing this and my perspective was enlightened. I have had three special needs students in a couple of my classes and all of them equally annoying, including one other that I won’t really mention specifically where. But knowing this gave me a sense of sympathy, or maybe pity — and some hope.

It gives me a sort of strength, a reminder, to be kind and patient all the more. I never had to worry about my existence, unlike a lot of people in this world, including my own siblings. I can’t stop hearing these words echo in my head.

A guy like me


couldn’t be born.


Recently, I was assigned to do a photography project based on a central theme, to which I selected the idea of reflections. While the scope of this project by most standards is not as deeper level as say, the concentration projects I had to create back in high school, such experience has helped me form my vision for this project which ultimately turned out for the better!

With that said, let’s get to it! Image by image, I will detail the story, intended meaning (if any), and how it connects back to the idea of reflections. When I had presented it, I had quite a positive reception apparently, but there were also things I noticed along the way that I could improve upon.

Sequentially, the images are laid out in a very specific and continuous format, one that years of concentration and breadth projects have helped me develop an eye for, even unconsciously (that I will expound upon later). Most images were shot in Camera RAW, and then manipulated minimally in Photoshop to adjust certain flaws and highlight focal characteristics. I used two brands of DSLR cameras: Nikon and Canon, both 50 millimeter lenses.


The Sky’s Mirror

The first image here is actually a puddle within a small denture of a stone block that lines the roads across the heart of campus. I got real close and took several shots across all angles but I ultimately chose this one mostly because this specific close up emphasize the central, literal idea of reflections: the projected image of the sky perpendicular from the camera is reflected off the surface of rainwater. The orange tone of the stone surrounding the subject is excellent contrast to the deep blue of the sky peeking through the stratus clouds. The tip of the evergreen tree also casts an interesting, negative space with its silhouette. I often used low depth of field for my images because most of them tended to be close ups like this one; the focus is once again then emphasized on the reflection or subject matter itself so that there is no question as to what the theme is.

This one was also metaphorically, in a slight way, represented as the reflection of the sky through nature’s “mirror” so to speak. When I was younger I came up with an idea that the ocean is simply the sky’s mirror, so that’s why “the sky is blue.” 🙂 I basically extended that idea to a smaller scale: a puddle of rain water. Thank goodness for the rainy week right before this project was due, seriously saved me more than once.


Daylight Riding Time

This image was going to be more of a filler image but it has it’s interesting perks. I manipulated with this one much more so that the image has a very crisp and definitive appeal to it, almost to the point where I feel that I am back in Korea. The simple reflection of bikes was shot from this specific composition frame, where the real bike tire pokes out from the top so that the viewer has no question about what they are exactly looking at. The reflection itself is intended to have curving, smooth lines with the white of the bike rack, which then leads the eye out onto the bright, white concrete ground. I manipulated this a lot more in Photoshop than other photos due to the original, boring color – HSV values were adjusted to achieve an unnatural blue color, and contrast aspects (Levels) were utilized to erase all the noise within the concrete ground. The one thing I found interesting with this one was the fallen leaf that originally does not look brown, but it seems to have captured my eye being so alone.



The third image was also intended to be a filler image, but somehow a lot of people enjoyed this one. I recall one mentioned that it looked as if it were an underwater scene; however, in the print, the image turned out a lot more “bleedy” because it was not shot in Camera RAW, so the color printer could not read beyond the limited color space of the .jpeg file. This one was more fun and visually interesting despite the lack of focus within any subject matter/focal point. The dappled fade of the leaves at the bottom of the stairs looked pretty cool to me, and the stairs leading into the array of leaves, particularly in the dark spot, seemed almost wondrous to me. It almost gave me a The Secret World of Arrietty feel, although the ATEC stairs, not as much. Still, what blew my mind was that a couple of folks pointed out that the reflected red-orange light streaks would soon lend itself an excellent artistic transition into the next image.


Bleeding Lights

Bleeding Lights was one of the photos that I had to take in a flash (although I cannot say literally here lol, as I turned off flash… wasted pun opportunity there). I remember hurrying to get the camera started and callibrated to the light meter while my sister and I were at a stop light one late night driving home. This basically meant I had one shot to do it, and it came out so fascinating. The dew from the drizzle can be seen in the top section, and I hid the traffic lights at the top well enough so that I could only focus on the reflection. Again, I wanted to make it very clear so that there was no doubt in any of my pieces, which I suppose the “clarity” portion lends itself to the theme as well in that far-fetched sense. The transition note that the couple people made is also present here: the far distance carries also vertical streaks of green, the complement of the previous image. Paired together, there this nice reverse synergy and I was just seriously mind blown when they brought that up, never having thought about that prior to sequencing my images (which was intentional). While I had mentioned just that, the prof did say that I chose these images in this sequence for a reason, hence ultimately my decision. That was awfully kind of her to say, and I took that as a great compliment.

In this, the reflection is not so much an actual subject matter but the idea of reflecting the color of the light itself. I highly emphasized this by intentionally increasing slightly the Saturation values, and then adjusting the contrast accordingly. I titled this Bleeding Lights as almost this subtle, dark warning of what this signifies, beyond the theme’s scope.

Dancing Lights

Dancing Lights

The fifth piece is also full of story. I wanted to do a piece where the focus was a sort of metaphor on the idea of “dancing lights.” That phrase came to mind specifically because in one of my blog posts, I recalled one night while working on a digital painting that I was watching the night lights from my tall window, the lights of passing cars, flash such entrancing dancing lights across the bedroom walls. I wanted to replicate that in some way, but dark light settings are such a pain so I took a shot using (cloudy) afternoon daylight.

I looked around in my older sister’s room, and I noticed she had a lot of knick-knacks or items laying around. I would inspect for something shiny and reflective until I came across this and the idea blossomed right then and there; her dancing trophy from so many years ago, maybe more than a decade I mean, was the perfect subject. I quickly cleared her night table (as I had used that area before for other photos) to create as clean of a background as I could. Placing her trophy at the edge, I opened the blinds of the nearby patio(ish?) door, which I then had to maneuver into staying a specific position so the light rays would hit the subject at just the right angle. Only problem was, it was a cloudy day (which would later rain heavily that evening), and every few seconds I would have to painstakingly wait for the light source to reappear. Because of this, this also became a shot where I had to take the image swiftly and efficiently. Unfortunately, as I look back on it, I realized there is a slight stain that I could have moved the table lace a bit so cover that up… and I realized trying to Photoshop it looked very artificial. So I was stuck with that splotch of color that now diverts my full attention (now that I have brought it up). The other thing that bothered me was that looking closely I can still see the dust on the trophy! Because this was a high light setting in an unlit room (so pure natural light), I was distraught to see the dust details.  But, perhaps that adds some character or something, I don’t know. It is very distracting to me personally. These things become very noticeable once I or someone mention it (although no one seemed to have comment during the review session, whew).

This one was one of the pieces that had a great reception. One mentioned that upon reviewing this image that the series had a cinematic feel to it, which I had not thought of but was pleasantly surprised to hear. I absolutely love the mood of the piece because the original still had great lighting and not much change, but once I had added some adjustments to it, it seemed to have this warm glow that made me feel happy. So satisfying to see an image with natural lighting and really shine.


Summer Halcyon

While this one may reiterate the literal translation of reflection, the title of the piece probably says a lot more about it in a more expansive way. This is probably one of my more favored pieces just because of how vibrant and clear the subject turned out. It was shot at an extremely low aperture of 3.8, giving it the shallow depth of field. I love focusing on the subject matter itself for that air of simplicity, although it was pointed out to me that better positioning or camera settings may be able to clear up the left side of the sunglasses a bit more. The area seems like a beach scene, but it is actually a recreational park on the side of the road that leads to a lake I used to exercise and take a stroll around with my family when I was younger. Funny thing was, I took this shot moments before the heavy downpour of rain; so this too in a sense was taken in haste. I knew it would be raining that day and it was just a matter of time – thank the Lord I was able to finish right on time before it started pouring on our way back home (after grabbing a bite to eat from a bakery <3).

I am so glad my sister is a fashionista because these sunglasses look superb, stylistically. They have a special tint to them, although most of the color correction (or should I say distortion since I “enhanced” it) was done in Photoshop. I amped up the HSV, to which the sky became this unnatural shade of crisp, cerulean blue with a violet tint. The shallow depth of field gives me this sense of relaxation and a “daze.” I like that feeling.

I definitely wanted to shoot something with glasses though. They are easily tied to the idea of reflection through careful thought. But with sunglasses, they are perceived as relaxation, hence the title Halcyon. It often takes tranquility for inner reflection though, and to be gazing out to the sea or ocean (or in my cheap small suburban town world, the pond) deep in thought.


Watching Glass

Again, literal idea of reflection. I’m glad everyone was able to identify my theme even though I would kind of like a more extensive body of work.

I absolutely wanted to incorporate a watch or a clock into the frame of the mirror but I simply ran out of time and inspiration. I also justified that the general blankness of the reflection seemed to lend a negative space that gave me the feeling of emptiness. Not so much in negativity emptiness, but just hollow nothingness that made me think… simply deeper.

The extreme simplicity of this made itself popular with me, personally. I love pieces that invoke feelings of such emptiness, and this one had some preparation involved as well. Actually, prior to the start of my actual project delivery, I was shopping at Daiso with my sister for home and personal stuff. I was already thinking ahead of my idea for this first semester project, and so I spotted an item I could potentially use: a hand mirror. It is actually too bad because the back of the top side has this fake but beautiful sapphire gem embedded onto the entire area. The light source made it difficult to position it interestingly while still spotlighting the entire theme of this project.

Watching Glass is meant to be more of almost a inceptive approach to reflection. We see the reflection of the mirror onto itself, but we cannot see ourselves. The mirror reflects the other side, and gazes at each other in empty unity. The shape of the mirror as an antique hand clock also gives form to this idea. You have no idea how fun it is to press that spring.

Finally, I would like to wrap up detailing the final image of the project. Because it is an image with the subject being my sister, I cannot post it in a public platform such as here even if I’m the one mostly reading and writing content anyway… However, it is meant to be the most deepest form of reflection: Contemplation.

I love that I placed this last because it is a progression of surface level to a deeper, more metaphorical level. This was the entire reason why I selected this theme because I had a clear end point that I wanted to reach.

In the image, my sister wears a plain blue ruffled dress with a white laced under-blouse. She holds a mirror to her face, which is placed at maybe about a 45° angle in order to reflect the cloudy, more illustrious sky behind me. However, behind her is a storm of gray clouds that is more heavily populated across the right side of the photo, with the left side slightly more brighter and whiter. To me, this is the ultimate form of reflection that combines both literal and metaphorical weight: the mirror that reflects that sky is also reflecting her own face to which she gazes upon — we cannot see this but it is implied. The wind, supposedly from the clouded thoughts upon which she contemplates, billows the skirt of her dress in ripples (parallel to the lake). I chose this one specifically because of that, so that there is a bit more dynamic action, with the rest of the composition being highly placid. The colossal lake water behind her is unfortunately a grayish-blue-green, but the ripples are highly defined with shadows stroking the waves. While the water and houses that line in the far distance to the right are completely still, minus minimal action; the waves, the wind, her hair, and the clouds all form this unique dynamic of a gentle yet pushing action to prod her into her still central figure of her strong left arm holding firmly the mirror upon which she reflects on, literally and figuratively.

Aside from the same adjustment types, I had to correct the camera angle/tilt using Transform’s Skew tool. I basically aligned the proper horizon alignment of the water in order to make up for the lack of a tripod for a stable foundation. Even with one however, imperfections of the ground may have caused a slight tilt; thus, I aligned it properly using a ruler in Photoshop to measure a perfectly straight horizontal line. This very much satisfied my OCD nature.

In the end, I am proud to present the Reflection series to you, with a more behind the scenes analysis here. I am beginning to find these very fun, although I sort of worry that I may come off as indulgent or arrogant. To me, I kind of look at it with neutral eyes, detailing what I’ve been told in terms of feedback and years of artistic knowledge. Writing about these things, is also a form of expression of art to me.

While this was the first serious photography project, I was very surprised that I enjoyed the outcome of it. I honestly dreaded this, thinking I would not do well. After all, my older sister is the pro at this specific genre of the major, not I. But, I suppose that also lends itself to my advantage — she advised me a lot throughout the course of this entire class after all.

And somehow, a small part of me is starting to enjoy photography recreationally. 🙂

An Exotic Amalgamation of Nature

It was hard for me to pick just one topic to blog about (I have so many great ideas all of a sudden!) but I decided on this one because I was reminded of it as I was looking through photos on my phone.

With winter break officially starting for me, I haven’t really thought much about my courses for this semester. It has just been hardcore mindless DDO, DDO, DDO. I’m almost getting sick of doing the exact same thing over and over and over again. Perhaps, my schedule with work and school involved was indeed a healthy balance between my real and gaming lives. I guess my endurance for the grind is either deteriorating, or I underestimated it all along. I thought about it earlier today, but I cannot believe some people can do the extreme, like capping within one day. Of course, this includes the best of the best XP/min schedule and XP potions. It still makes me wonder about it – anyways, that in itself is a post for another day.

Today, I wanted to share something that I really enjoyed creating after almost a year or two of not touching base with my pen and ink skills. It really takes me back – pen and ink was one of my “specialties” in traditional art, mainly due to the fact that I was never able to fully grasp painting techniques or other fancy methods like silk screens. Pen and ink has always been something my hands felt that they could control with a degree of confidence and control; I know my technique is still lacking in several ways that I’ve noticed in this piece alone, but it is definitely one of my stronger areas. I love the way the results from pen and ink look so definitive, with the black and white color scheme alone as justifiable in a finished piece for that clean finish. As an artist who enjoys character designs and that cartoon/anime feel, pen and ink is only a natural interest of mine.

With that said, my final exam for my drawing course was fairly free to our own inspirations, on the exception that it must be abstract. Materials and concept were left to our own – this I was happy about because in high school, art classes in lower levels have little to no freedom, and higher level courses do have a sort of “freedom” but really there are restrictions to even that. In this class, these restrictions were very loose, and I was grateful for this breath of fresh air.


An Exotic Amalgamation of Nature

I was actually pretty nervous and excited at the same time to present this to my class because a lot of my artworks almost always will have some backstory or extra information regarding the process (both technical and thought) behind the piece.

If you aren’t sure what the piece really portrays, it is an exotic bird (sadly, it was a random picture off Google Images so don’t know its name or origin even) with fused parts of nature: clouds, water, grass, fish scales, and ice. The ribbon connecting between each part actually originates from the tag attached to the left (the bird’s left) foot. Interpret that as you will, could be a message about technology binding the free nature of life or something. But to me, this was more of an aesthetic project – I love nature, so I wanted to incorporate that into the final exam. In the end, this became something I willingly wanted to work on and was something I enjoyed creating!

The photo quality bugs me, but maybe sometime I will take a better photo. The pen and ink part of the piece is really just a thin Sharpie pen, since I’m too cheap for actual pen and ink. That was a tip I picked up from my high school days, and it works all the same, although I did end up finding my thin micro-pens for the finer details. Because I’m left-handed, I always preferred working with ink pens that dries instantly, so Sharpie was the best option. However, if I messed up, I had to improvise and work the mistake back into the artwork – I think that was probably the most beautiful part about the technical process. The beauty of ink pens. I may not have CTRL + Z, but there is this!!

This was also one of the first time I actually tried to seriously cross hatch, particularly the clouds. I had to look up several references for not just those but for about every part of the bird. That was also amazing about this – I didn’t feel that I had to be very technical about the references like my high school days and document every inch of reference. I could take a part of this, a part of that, and create my own depiction of realism. This is what abstraction truly means to me. Wow, I sound like Yaulthoon.

Anyways! It feels weird to say that it feels like it’s been a long time since I last tried my hand in traditional art. Doing anything art lately seems like an accomplishment in itself considering how my free time is spent (gaming). Perhaps one day I will break from this curse, a curse that has already been too late in shaping who I am. I often really do think if I never was introduced to DDO, what kind of person I would be. Maybe I’d be doing more art then!


Abstract Piece

Yesterday, two classmates of mine and I collaborated on a piece of artwork for an assignment but it actually turned out really well! I really enjoyed it and it was probably maybe the first time I actually collaborated with other people together on a single piece of artwork and it turned out just the way we wanted! Without any creative disputes!?

Traditional abstract art isn’t exactly my kind of style but it was very fun and experimental. It felt a little unauthentic though because we mask-taped two poster sheets together, instead of using real quality paper. The class I am in is just a Drawing Foundations course (meaning other major students are included as well so it is not like an advanced course) but it is still a university level course – even my high school AP courses were tougher and more… organized? Nothing against the professor of course, just that the level of the course was not what I expected!

Because of this, I was able to be more relaxed and draw or paint as I saw fit without any restrictions (although less guidance and organization to what I’m used to). Without any further ado, here is the painting!


Untitled by Grace Lee, Akshaya Madhavan, and Anna McDougald

I still have yet to clean up the photo so sometime later when I feel like it I’ll update it with a cleaner, enhanced version.

This piece was created with dabbing paintbrushes purely with acrylic paint. At first we were just dab-happy with whatever swirls we felt like painting – but then as we placed our base coat down, our interpretation of it looking like a dragon or the number “2” when viewing from the portrait angle was the leading figure for our direction.

It was still freshly painted when I took this photo, and I wish I had a better camera to detail all the various textures from the thickness of the paint. Maybe in the updated photo the enhancements will show the details better. Even running my fingers over the paint texture was very interesting in that we created this together as a team using the texture of the thick brushes’ ends. I specifically also used the wooden end of the brush to create the dots and finer details.

Overall it was a fun project! We literally made this in the class time it took yesterday, so that was roughly about 2 hours. I was really proud and happy in the way it turned out but also of our teamwork – the other groups pretty much “worked together” by claiming a small portion of the working space and painting their own abstractions. But we (I would say) worked on this equally together; while we did assign main roles and “taking turns” for each important aspect of the piece, we ultimately worked on each stage together, discussing each detail in depth and planned accordingly.

We came across issues, but we overcame them together. The teal line across the middle of the piece that branches out originally was not interconnected – we struggled with how we should interconnect the lines and where to place more of the focal emphasis and weight (because one side had turned out heavier than the other). But in the end we worked together to make this!! 🙂

We didn’t come up with a name for it, so I just left it as Untitled in the caption. When I was writing this post originally I was going to call it “Abstract Dragon” or something – but it wasn’t just me who made this. I doubt the others would really bother to come up a name for it, and I would have wanted to title it something a little more creative than that. So I figured it would be best to just leave it as Untitled until we decide on something (or if they even remember next next week).

It was an experience I really enjoyed and had lots of fun! I cannot express how proud and happy I was of us when we won the extra credit competition. <nerds out>