The guy behind all of this

My Mug
Hi there, I’m Steven Lareau, a digital artist now residing in Clinton with my lovely wife. I was born and raised in Southern California, and lived there until graduating High School in 1975. I packed up and headed to the Chicago area, where I met my future wife. We moved to the Knoxville area to get away from the brutal Midwest winters, as arthritis and cold weather are a bad combination. We’re now living in beautiful East Tennessee, and after living in suburbia my entire life, this suits us just fine.

I got into digital art by accident, quite literally. I had a life changing injury at 35 years of age, leaving me disabled and living with chronic pain. I found I was unable to sleep for more than a few hours a day, so I had a lot of free time to kill. I inherited a computer, and I soon figured out how to work with digital graphics. I’ve always been a highly creative type, but never did much in the way of actual artwork. But this computer opened doors I never knew were even there, and the more I started experimenting, I found that as I worked on my art, I could get lost for hours at a time, which was a great distraction. It allowed me a somewhat bizarre escape from the reality that was forced on me.

A friend gave me a freeware DOS program, Fractint, that generated these freaky cool things called Fractals, and that lit my creative fire. Keep in mind- I got into this when my inherited computer was a 286 SX, which meant that it was a stripped down model that didn’t even have a math co-processor chip, which made doing anything graphics, much less math related, an insane process. That computer ran at 8 MHz, 12 MHz in “turbo mode”- although the only difference I ever noticed was the little indicator light flashed more often. That computer had a grand total of 2 megs of system ram, and the monitor was only able to display a total of 16 colors. Needless to say, trying to do anything on that computer was a lesson in patience. But the more I sat there staring at the little horizontal line crawling down the screen, drawing little colored pixels as it went, I drawn further in. I soon immersed myself in fractals, but eventually branched out into all things graphics related. I’ve done everything from digital image compositing and manipulations, 3D images and animation, and lately I’ve come full circle- I’m back to working with Fractals.

I’ve had no training on any of this- computers, art, web site design, 3D stills and animation, music and video editing software, none of it. I’m entirely self taught, as I’ve developed a crazy skill during my life at being able to fly by the seat of my pants with almost everything I’ve ever set my mind to doing. So when you view my work, this is entirely my own, without any outside influence at all in the way of instruction or proper learning. I just go with what feels right, what looks good to my eye, and so far, it’s served me well. There’s also a little secret I’ll let you in on- I am horribly colorblind. I have no idea what you see in my creations, I go by what looks good to me. I’m amused by the fact that I’m creating things that people tell me are nice to look at, but I have absolutely no idea what any of this looks like to the rest of the world. I guess I’ve gone to the school of hard knocks, I’ve learned the hard way of doing things, and I’ve paid my dues, in spades. Couple that with computers that fight me every step of the way, doing things like rebooting over and over for no reason, hard drives going up in smoke, CD Roms filled with artwork suddenly made unreadable, losing years worth of work, it’s pretty amazing I can get anything done.

I use software that many others use, but I like to do things the software was never intended to do. I use a 3D program called Bryce for a lot of my abstract art, even though it was designed to render realistic looking landscapes. Landscapes bored me pretty quickly, so I started experimenting with other ways of using the software, and I was soon creating abstract images. I love creating things that are far removed from what the software was designed to do, that’s the challenge for me.

I’ve spent the last year gearing up to make prints of some of my artwork, and it’s involved a lot more time than I expected. I had to build a computer powerful enough to process the huge amount of data needed to make these Fractals. Creating images for print making takes about a week to render. I’m working with very large files, but once they’re done, I can make fine art Giclée prints 78 inches by 52 inches wide. Since there are many homes and businesses with ceilings that are higher than they used to be, I can make a print at a larger scale. I have Giclée prints on both fine art watercolor paper and canvas.

I’ve invested in my own wide format printer, which now gives me total control of the process, from designing the fractal, rendering it, and printing and framing it, ready to hang on a wall. I guess when it comes to things I create, and put my name on, they have to be perfect in every way. I use archival inks and papers and mats, so my work will remain beautiful for many, many years.

If you’re unfamiliar with them, fractals are patterns found in nature, and you’ll see shapes that resemble flowers, lightning, solar flares, and more in my work. These images are, in essence, truly organic in form. I’m able to manipulate them to some extent, changing the viewing angle as well as the coloration in each fractal, and with some pieces, this process can take weeks. Seeing them on a computer monitor is one thing, but seeing them in full, glorious color, behind glass, is even better.

My main body of work can be found here at Hilltop Design. My artwork is displayed in galleries, which contain thousands of images for visitors to view. Going through my galleries, you’ll see the wide range of my work. I’m never content to find a formula and stay with it, I’m constantly pushing myself to experiment with different ways of manipulating images.

And for the purists out there, you might be interested in knowing that aside from very minor tweaks to the gamma and brightness, these are pure, unaltered renders. In the thousands of images on my site, there’s maybe a dozen in total that have had ANY alterations done to them. I do everything inside the software that creates them. I figured anyone can render out a lot of crap, then start layering and changing things around in Photo Shop. I find the greatest challenge in learning to use the software to the fullest extent possible, so once they’re rendered, they’re finished pieces. I have been known to drive myself crazy with this sort of thing, but it’s made me push myself even harder, which has resulted in more beautiful artwork.

I’ve designed quite a few items with my artwork over the years, from trinket boxes with my artwork on the lid, to calendars, and I’m also putting together iPod cases and Laptop covers with my artwork on them. If you haven’t seen all the things I’ve made available, head over to my new site, Unquiet Visions, linked below, which I built as a place to purchase prints and boxes and other goodies.

Steven Lareau

Hilltop Design
Unquiet Visions

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