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Omaha Magazine

Artists in Motion: A Triumvirate Triumphs in the Digital Art World

Feb 24, 2023 10:10AM ● By Mike Whye
ricia Smith Hollins, Becky Hermann, and Peggy Reinecke.

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

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When asked to show their works, many in the fine arts can flip through sketch books, nod toward framed paintings, and gesture toward mural-coated walls. Not so with Tricia Smith Hollins, Becky Hermann, and Peggy Reinecke.  When they want to show their recent works, the trio boots up computers—their creations inhabiting the realm of digital art.

However, each began their studies in the art world as traditional artists involved in drawings and paintings. Hermann earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts at Creighton University before diving deeper into the arts at Cranbrook Academy near Detroit.  Likewise, Reinecke’s undergraduate work was at Creighton prior to continuing her studies at Norwich University and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (now part of Tufts University). Hailing from Philadelphia, Hollins attended Penn State University where she concentrated on painting before earning a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne.  

Reinecke and Hermann began working with computers and art around 20 years ago while teaching at Metro Community College. For a time, they explored digital animation with Tom Sain, who’s now VP of creative services at Omaha-based ad agency, Envoy. Under the name Animutts, they doggedly explored the digital medium—creating videos of moving images of physical art, as well as producing art that changed as time passed.  

Hollins met Hermann and Reinecke when, after tenures at Miami University in Ohio and the College of St. Mary, she began teaching at MCC. Upon retiring in 2020, she took some digital classes, including a stop motion animation class taught by a friend. As mutual interests were discovered and strengthened, she began meeting with Peggy and Becky to collaborate on the videos last spring. Their exhibitition, called “Shaping Time,” is on display March 13 through May 15 in the Kimmel Gallery at Midland University in Fremont. 

The women met weekly through much of 2022 in a room equipped with a digital single-lens reflex camera. Calling their meetings “playdays,” an average session lasted three to four hours.  
“Our work from three hours one time came out to be about 23 seconds long,” Hollins said. “We were basically drawing and not trying to figure out what’s going to happen next.  We’re having a lot of fun. The premise of this animation is that we start with a shape and just morph from one shape to another.” 

In a few videos, Tricia incorporated some of her unfinished, studio-made drawings and paintings and incorporated them into settings for the animations.   

“Probably the main thing to understand is that I don’t really see myself as professional animator. I am a painter who is exploring the idea of playing with my paintings by embellishing them with animation,” Hollins explained.  

In part of the exhibited video, a pale, nearly transparent yellow fish-shaped object along with pink and orange bird shapes glide over what appears to be the floor of a rain forest, thick with monstrous blue vines, striped bulbs, and large red and blue leafy plants. Meanwhile, a flute reminiscent of an English tune plays as leaves float into the scene from above. 

In another video that’s worthy of introducing a “Twilight Zone” episode, an adding machine’s crank and the tick-tocks of a clock overlay an abstract painting of numbers that slowly materialize from the background. A ‘6’ appears and revolves to become a sideways ‘9’, and a ‘7’ swings back and forth like a hatchet chopping wood.  

Becky said the motion comes about by doing what animators had long done with cartoons for years—shoot a picture of a scene, be that a drawing or a painting, then move the scene a bit and shoot another picture of it, and so on.  String them together and soon there’s a moving image, although in many cases, the women are also bringing some items into view and removing others.  

“It’s the persistence of vision that is the phenomena that makes it seem like it’s moving,” Hermann said. “Even Disney used one or two shots at a time and they go together and look like they’re moving.”  

Sometimes they draw three shapes on index cards, shuffle the cards and, upon drawing one, use those shapes to initiate their drawings for that meeting.  

“We don’t create a plot line, but create a framework of rules to work under and that’s it,” Reinecke noted. “It’s just doing something without thinking.  It’s a brainstorming session.  That’s the joy of it all.”

After so many sessions of creating backgrounds and preparing shapes to appear in the videos, the trio looked at what they had and arranged them for the show in Fremont. The musical selection is usually copyright free, though they are considering using flamenco guitar music created by a friend of one of the women.   

Peggy said that after so many years of creating art on her own plus the recent “plague years” COVID, she enjoys working on the videos because she needed to, as she put it, “refill her well.”  
“The work with Rebecca and Tricia is the tonic I need,” she affirmed. “We talk about how to present this and how to show the process of how we arrived at the final product.”
“There’s so much fun to have.” 

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This article originally appeared in the March/April 2023 issue of Omaha Magazine. To subscribe, click here. 

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.


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