Cynthia Decker's Imagination in 3D
By Tamma Hicks
There’s a funny story on how we found and picked Cynthia Decker as November’s featured art. Basically we were online checking out another artist that we really liked and were planning to feature. We were looking at the pictures in a virtual gallery and Rusty clicked on the button that said “all” underneath the name, and instead of bringing up all of this artist’s work, it brought up samples of all of the top artists… and there on the top row was this beautiful landscape and Rusty said, “That’s who we want.” We’ll go back to the other artist another time, but for November it’s Cynthia Decker’s imagination in 3-D.
In a matter of minutes we had not only found the piece (actually 4 pieces) for our cover, but we found out that none of Cynthia’s work is the result of a photograph. Although many of her pieces look like photos and like detailed paintings (you can see the brush strokes) we discovered it is really her imagination and ability for 3-D rendering… 3-D environments that she creates from a blank computer screen and instead of using a paint and a brush she uses pixels and a mouse. Many of the programs and techniques that she uses are also used by Disney, Dreamworks, and other film makers in creating computer graphic (CG) animation. The difference is that once Cynthia has built her environment she then renders it to a 2-D image instead of animating it. Her renderings can take hours, and sometimes days, to complete, so she usually has more than one project going at any given time.
STEAM Tell me how you got started in computer graphics, because from what I can tell we’re about the same age and computers weren’t really a household item while we were growing up.
CD Well, my mother was the head of the computer information systems department at the local community college. Not only was the department a big deal for that time in computers, but it was a big deal that she was a woman. Time is changing the demographics of the computer field, but it is still male dominated.
I started out like most kids with artistic ability, you know, they want to draw all the time - only my scrap paper happened to be dot-matrix rolls and green punch cards. I started out with traditional media and paint, but I was never good with paint. It never felt satisfying and I couldn’t get what was in my head onto the canvas and then I began using the computer and the graphics software.
STEAM Where did you grow up?
CD I was raised in Cupertino, which is in the southern end of San Francisco Bay. I was really raised in Silicon Valley and we lived just two blocks from the Apple headquarters. In fact, I used to skateboard in the parking lot as a teenager.
STEAM Your bio says that you went to college, but it doesn’t say that you graduated.
CD Yes, that’s very true. I went to San Francisco State and the sky is gray and the weather seemed to be always raining, very depressing. I found that it was physically making me sick, so after two years I quit school, moved into the city, and was designing at a window blinds company. In that part of California, San Francisco area, there’s a lot of headhunting that goes on. If you’re good at what you do, you will go job to job to job. When I left school I had every intention of going back to college. I ended up with a great job that year and stayed there for about five years before I moved out here to North Carolina. I’m not sure I’ll ever go back and get a degree.
STEAM Where in North Carolina are you?
CD We live in Asheville, which is in the western side of the state, in the mountains, and it’s a very artsy community. They call it the Paris of the South.
STEAM Would you consider going back to the commercial end of graphic designing?
CD No. Generally, I avoid commission work. I don’t enjoy it. I don’t know, maybe I have a little teenager left in me after all these years, but when someone tells me what to do it tends to suck the joy right out of the project. I spent about 25 years as a graphic designer, so I’ve done a lot of that kind of work, but I’m not interested in transferring that into my art. I’m also having the luxury of not having to push my art into my graphic designs or my graphic designs into my art.
STEAM You’re very fortunate in that you have that ability. We’ve met a lot of artists that are very talented and “have to” do graphic designing or art on commission. Then again, we’ve met a lot of talented artists that have a house full of art and it’s nowhere else.
CD Yes, I know. It is a luxury that I’m very fortunate to have and I also feel that I’ve given it to myself by working very hard and being able to do my own thing.
You know I was 34 or so, when I decided to sell everything and move from California to North Carolina. People were in awe that I could do something like that, but I never saw it as a jump or leap. I always thought it was just the next step I needed to make in my life. I think that comes from my parents and the unconditional support they have always given me. Mom, was always there pushing and making me reach higher; of course, dad wasn’t too thrilled that I wanted to be an artist, but I associate that with his protectiveness and desire in wanting me to succeed in my visions. But it has been my belief that their support gave me the foundation that I can do anything I believe I can; right or wrong.
STEAM Your imagination is so deep and realistic. I have to wonder, are you a big science fiction fan?
CD Yah, I’ve always been sort of a nerd in that regard. My favorite genre is horror, but it doesn’t come out as much in my artwork; although, I do have a slight dark edge in some works.
STEAM I guess it’s just the way I see art or the way I see your art, but I see a lot of inspiration and thought-provoking ideas. Can you describe a few for me?
CD Sure. Desire for example goes in the dark direction. That’s about wanting things that can never be obtained. It’s about people that spin their wheels in pursuit of things that don’t matter. Another that is dark, or at least has dark tendencies, is Narcissism, the bird and the boat. People will look at it and say it’s so peaceful and serene; once they find out the name their comments change direction. It’s now lonely, searching but only for its own shadow. That’s really about someone who is so involved in their own introspection that they lose track of the world around them.
STEAM I don’t always claim to see exactly what the artist is trying to getting across. So, will you tell me about the Crack House?
CD Oh, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone call it the “Crack House” before; now you’ve ruined it for me. Actually, Crack in the Wall is about people in society that everyone overlooks; the people that fall in between the cracks, behind the weeds. The indigent people, homeless people, the mentally challenged, and others that we marginalize to where they don’t exist. Again, it’s my dark side coming out.
The telephone booth was something I saw on TV where an aquarium company had turned a real phone booth into an aquarium and I decided I would try to build it in 3-D. My thought was to take this beautiful object and put it in a not so nice part of town for contrast.
STEAM Okay, before I go, I have to ask you a couple of nerdy questions. What is your computer set up like?
CD I have one computer and my husband, who is also graphic designer, has one. However, we have, I believe, 10 server stations to both and that’s what we do our rendering. Some of my renderings will take over 48 hours to complete. By the way, there are companies that you can do this with online but it’s more cost effective for us to maintain our own.
STEAM As we all know from experience technology changes constantly. How often do you upgrade your programs? Do you purchase them every time or do you wait to see if they get the bugs out and then buy?
CD There are some programs, like some Photoshop filters, that I’ve never upgraded. However, my main programs I upgrade every year when they come out because there are system, technology, and user gains for each.
STEAM Thank you for sharing your story and art with us. You have such an honest outlook on life, it’s very refreshing. Beautiful.