Vincent Zuniaga is a self-taught photographer, artist, and digital painter. He sees himself as a citizen of the planet, and his subjects include endangered species, constellations, and the movement of water. He traveled the world as a professional dog show handler for more than 20 years, which exposed him to many cultures, landscapes, cities, and people that influence his art.
Vincent, tell us about yourself!
I was born and raised in Caracas, the Capital City of Venezuela. I moved to the USA over 20 years ago and became a US Citizen in 2013.
I’ve always loved to read. My mom subscribed me to a book club to encourage me to keep reading. I ordered about five books every time the catalog came. I read amazing stories about artists like Gauguin, Monet, Picasso, and others. The stories took place in different cities around the world, and later when I was lucky enough to visit those cities, I felt that I already knew them.
In the process of learning photography, I went to the Orlando Public Library to read books on the subject. I took my first Photoshop course there and I took full advantage of access to the photo studio environment. I continued to do hands-on projects and read everything I could find. I watched many videos on YouTube and lynda.com to learn a great deal about photographic techniques, process, and editing work.
For me, learning is a non-stop, never-ending process. Having the opportunity to do photography for live events like dog shows, horse shows, concerts, Disney-ESPN, real estate, sport photography, and portraits added skills and experiences that I continue to refine. Every one of these types of photography is part of my DNA as a photographer and artist.
How did you get started as an artist?
My early art influence was my grandma. “Mamaveja” and I frequently visited art museums, the theater, cultural events, and concerts in Caracas where family members performed.
I enjoyed drawing and painting as a child. My grandma believed that I had a gift for art and encouraged me to enroll in art school. But the universe had other plans, and I ended up travelling the world, showing champion dogs in numerous countries. I always made a point to maintain my eye for art, though, no matter where I was.
Since I was a kid growing up in Caracas, I’ve been a big fan of Carl Sagan. My favorite photographs are from The Hubble Telescope; that’s why a lot of my digital painting is about constellations and nebulae.
I wish that the Endangered Species List didn’t have anything to list. My digital bodypainting with wildlife stripes and prints is a way to bring more attention to this problem.
Since my early days in photography, I’ve been fascinated with water and its movement. That took me into long exposure photography to capture the true sense of the water in motion.
In Palm Coast, Florida, there’s a State Park, Washington Oaks Garden, that has a section with a beach that has unique and spectacular Coquina Rock formations. The first time I went there to take photos, I fell in love with that beach and have made it my long exposure lab. I’ve traveled there many, many times in different seasons and times of day — sunrise, sunset, low tide, high tide, full moon, no moon.
These are all factors that change the behavior of the waves and the movement of the water around the rocks and on the sand. Every time I go to Washington Oaks Garden to take photos, I have to assess the conditions to determine what kind of photos to take.
Another factor that’s important when doing long exposure photos is the impact of storms. Several hurricanes have affected the area, changing the beach forever, and the photos I did before those events cannot be replicated. The coast line changed, rocks went underwater, and some rocks appeared above the water level.
After a few years and hundreds of long exposure shoots, I have enough practice and experience that I’ve decided to add the complexity of working with live models. I enjoy the challenge of capturing the human element along with the water movement while photographing models surrounded by water. Working with very talented and patient models, I’ve been able to produce fine art photos that I'm very proud of.
I’m always drawn to Monet's work. I am a big fan of the way he handled the strokes on the canvas. "Sunrise Impression" amazes me with how simply it captures the landscape. When you see the artwork from a distance, you see the overall image, but with a closer look, you can see all of the strokes that he made to build each object on the painting. You can see how much work he put into each detail and how he played with the colors.
That’s the way I approach my digital paintings. Using a specific stroke, I start creating artwork using just “lines.” The lines are the light on the subject, and the shadows are created with the negative space of a black background. When people ask me what I see when I do photography, I answer “lines.” Light and shadows as lines.
Watching Waldemar Januszczak's art documentaries about the Impressionist Artists, I learned more about Georges Seurat and his technique of chromoluminarism or pointillism. I started to think about how to use it in a different way in my digital paintings. I decided to add the black background to use as negative space.
When you start a painting, you need to decide where the light source is and use just lines to create the objects. You really need to think, plan and visualize how you will approach the painting.
My best friend is a land surveyor with a very technical mind, and she pointed me to the concept of the vanishing point, mostly used for perspective drawings. I saw the potential of this tool and decided to use the technique to aid with recreating the light source in my digital paintings. I start with the vanishing points to guide the direction of the lines that define the subject of the painting. The way the lines interact with the surface of the subject determine the shapes that I envision and construct to form the painted image.
That process describes the genesis of my series "Vanishing Lines" which I am currently exploring. The first piece in the series was "The Elephant."
I'm currently working on a digital bodypainting series and collaborating with models to make my art concepts come alive. I work with “girl next door” types, and women seeking to expand their range of artistic expression. Empowering my models to contribute to the creative process allows them to build self-esteem and explore their natural beauty and sensual character. When working with live models, I strive to produce images that play upon the juxtaposition of power and vulnerability.
The creative process. All the steps of creating a work, from the idea popping up in my mind until I’ve figured out how to do it. Everything and anything can be part of it, from music, a walk, a landscape, a conversation. This forces me to be present in the “now” to see, to hear, and feel all that is around me.
The challenges are how to identify the tool you’ll need for what you’re trying to accomplish. Once you know what the tools are, the next step is to learn how to use them. This took me countless hours of watching tutorials online and reading articles: how to build a website, how to build a portfolio, online marketing, social media marketing. It’s a process that never ends; you need to keep yourself open to learning new things.
How was the process of taking your business online?
Fortunately in my photography business I covered live events, where the only option to sell the photos was online after the event, so I translated all that experience to my art business. This means having a good website, creating an online store, selecting a fine art print lab and a payment processor app, and learning how to pack and ship artwork, nationally and internationally. Also — how to market your work.
The only way I overcame all these challenges was research, research, research. I put aside time each week to watch tutorials or read articles on these subjects that have helped me improve my business.
Canvy is also so friendly and easy to use. You just upload the image and choose what room you want to use for that particular artwork this time. It’s that simple.
Canvy is now part of my creative process
As soon as I'm done with a new piece, I start thinking, “What kind of room should I display this in? Where in someone's house would this be displayed? In what business would this look good? What are the complementary colors for my artwork?” It’s fun, interesting, and it puts me in even more control of my work.
A new way to communicate with
Canvy is a new tool for my art sales and negotiations with buyers and collectors. I can ask the potential buyer what they have in mind for displaying the artwork, and I can produce a mockup so that they can visualize the work in the room they have in mind. Canvy also makes me, my website, and my online store look very professional.
I’m currently working on a digital bodypainting series, collaborating with models to make the idea and concept come alive. I have few inspirational sources for the series — constellations and nebulae, endangered species stripes, and waterfalls.
When models are part of the creative process, it allows me to have another point of view, and at the same time it empowers them to be more involved in the final product while exploring their natural beauty.
I focus on the constellations because we are part of the universe, and we usually don't pay enough attention to the beauty that is out there.
I highlight endangered species because we need to do a better job of protecting them to be sure we don’t lose any more species for future generations.
I feature waterfalls because I’m fascinated by water and I love to do long exposure photography to capture water movement. Also, I believe that waterfalls have a relaxing effect on us, and I absolutely love them.
I make art because I enjoy it, because it’s absorbing, it’s magical, it’s challenging, and it helps me focus outside myself. It can’t be described in words, that moment when you see a painting or photograph and you know “This is it! This is what I saw in my mind!”
I also do it because my grandma believed that I have a gift, and I feel the obligation to use it and share it with others.
Muse and inspiration
The creative process is very important to me, and many things can contribute to it. Some things will give you new ideas, a different point of view, or how to approach the next project.
I had always heard about artists needing a muse or inspiration, but I had never understood it. Now I know that when you are doing artwork, some days you wake up and you haven’t got what you need to do art; you just can’t do it. It’s also true that on any particular day, you might not feel like working on a specific piece. This is why I usually work on three to five art pieces at once, so I can jump from one to another when I feel stuck or can’t “see” the idea with one.
Some days I do have the muse to help me with my work, and I’ve learned that I need to protect those moments. I usually do that with music, songs that help me to stay with the muse. Here are some of my go-to songs, depending on what I’m doing or feeling:
Tiny Dancer — Elton John
Rhiannon — Fleetwood Mac
Landslide — Fleetwood Mac
Living On A Prayer — Bon Jovi
Smooth — Santana
Kryptonite — 3 Doors Down
Go your Own Way — Fleetwood Mac
Year of the Cat — Al Stewart
You Rock My World — Michael Jackson
Now We’re Free — Hans Zimmer
Experience — Ludovico Einaudi
Nessun Dorma — Pavarotti
Nights in White Satin — The Moody Blues
Staying with the “muse” is about creating the atmosphere for it.
You can find Vincent Zuniaga and his work here