Born in 1983 in Moncton, New Brunswick, and raised in Sherbrooke, Quebec, Seb Duke grew up in an inhabitant mountain city, where he was encouraged by his parents to explore and create. As a young boy at the age of three, Seb tapped into his musical side and learned the violin in his early years, proficiently. With music being his first form of artistic expression, he became a successful and talented musician, playing in bands, running record labels, releasing albums and shooting music videos by his late teens. Through a stroke of bad luck when his computers and recording equipment crashed, he discovered another talent and passion: photography! With innovation and genius, Seb has created his own artistic niche using bubbles to create micro universes and awe inspiring artwork which he then captures with a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera!
Shown here, one of Seb’s bubble micro universes entitled: Swirling Into Bliss
ART BARN: At what age did you become interested in art?
SEB: From as long as I can remember, I have been highly creative. I have always had creative ideas in my head and always wanted to find ways to materialize them. I remember being pretty good in school but I saw classes and homework as obstacles; I didn’t/don’t like creating/learning when it is imposed by others. I always looked forward to drawing and would spend a lot of time creating comics and day dreaming in class about imaginative worlds.
Shown here: A young Seb Duke, age 5
ART BARN: Was there a certain individual or experience that inspired your artistic talent?
SEB: I don’t think so. I’m not really interested in what other people do creatively speaking. I can’t pinpoint a single person or event that would have had a significant impact that is worth mentioning. I guess I’ve always had a creative touch. All I know is that if I’m not creating something, I’m miserable. It’s like a tree that keeps on bearing fruit; you can tell that tree not to produce fruit, but it’s just going to keep on bearing fruit. I don’t tend to be inspired by other people much artistically speaking. I like for my inspiration to come from within. Really, the people who inspire me the most are people who built something from scratch when there were no rules. The pioneers of electronic music, Kraftwerk. Or think of Black Sabbath who singlehandedly invented heavy metal in 1969...only five years after The Beatles wrote, “I want to hold your hand!”...Within five years, they took music from “I Want To Hold Your Hand” to Black F-ing Sabbath. That’s inspiring!
Shown here: Duke, playing the piano with one of his prints displayed.
ART BARN: Will you please explain your art medium and how you stumbled upon it? How did you become interested in creating art with liquids? What was the discovery process that this ‘science of sorts’ could be captured as art?
SEB: Back in 2016, I was still very active in the music scene. While I was scheduled to record an album, the main computer in my recording studio crashed. With this unexpected downtime, I decided to shoot music videos. Being out of budget, I decided to look around the house for things I could use to shoot. Since I owned a macro lens, I thought it might be cool to blend different liquids that I had around the house and take photographs. During this process, I discovered that colorful bubbles could be formed using various combinations of liquids. Soon after this discovery, I sold all of my music gear and reinvested everything into photography and that has been my passion ever since!
Shown here: Seb Duke, Photographed as a photographer with three of his bubble creations.
ART BARN: Fascinating! How long does it take to create the bubbles and how much time do you spend on the chemical combination process?
SEB: Sometimes, a composition can be ready within a matter of a few minutes or sometimes it can take a few hours. It all depends on the intent, knowing how the liquids react together. Over the last two years, I have spent every Sunday and over $40K trying to discover new liquid materials, study their interactions and see if there is any practical application to my work. I mean, using tap water versus distilled water can have a huge impact on how an extra liquid introduced in the mixture will react! Understanding how different liquids mingle and interact with each other is an extremely important part of my job.
Shown here: one of Seb’s bubble micro universes.
ART BARN: How do you decide on the color combinations? Do you have control of how the colors interact with each other or is it random?
SEB: Over the years, I have become known for my bold and colorful color choices. I have a natural attraction for colorful compositions: pastel hues... yellow, pink, turquoise are colors I really enjoy playing with. A lot of people think it’s random, and in the beginning it was. By after two years of honing my craft, I can now control the outcome much better! As they say, practice makes perfect! I have a strong disdain for colors like green and brown, and am not too fond of neutral colors like beige, cream, gray...But, once in a while, I challenge myself to work with colors I dislike just to see if I can learn something new in the process. For instance, a picture I published on Instagram recently was all about exploring gold and silver as a foundation for composition; colors I naturally would not gravitate to.
Shown here: Seb and his art masterpiece titled: Dreaming Of Silver And Gold
ART BARN: Besides creating the alchemy behind your artwork, you have shared with our readers your passion for photography which is the medium you use to create high quality prints of your bubble art. Will you explain to our readers the process?
SEB: My work is really two fold. On the one hand, I’m creating bubbles in a bowl. On the other hand, I need to be really tight with my camera manipulations in order to frame the shot properly. Within a fraction of a second, I need to establish the X/Y axis I want to shoot from in order to frame the shot perfectly. I need to play with my shutter speed and aperture while I’m moving the lighting around in order to make the bubbles’ shading and curvature optimal. Because liquids are dynamic, there is always movement, so what might be interesting in an instant may actually turn nightmarish a fraction of a second later. That’s why I have to be absolutely solid with my camera work. The better I am with a camera, the better I am at capturing those micro universes!
Shown here, micro universe titled: The Self Luminous Way
ART BARN: In essence, you are an artist who captures the beauty of Impermanence. Do you correlate this philosophically with the fact that nothing in life is permanent but instead a fluid and ongoing experience?
SEB: There is definitely a strong parallel between my work and the temporality if things: “Enjoy it while it lasts!” There’s an aspect I really enjoy out of my work, and which I don’t really get to discuss much: you only get to see a small portion of what happens in the studio. For every picture I publish, there are many that did not get to exist: there are absolutely amazing compositions you never got to see, because the beauty fizzled away before I was able to capture it. But I got to see it; it did exist.
Shown here: video of a bubble micro universe in action.
Click here to view video: https://www.instagram.com/p/BfgK7rhHIpd/?utm_source=ig_share_sheet&igshid=cxr04qonx0p5
ART BARN: What direction is your art medium taking you in?
SEB: I have been extremely fortunate over the last two years with many wonderful opportunities. As a ritual, I literally pinch myself once a day because I am thankful for all the opportunities from TV appearances to interviews to various offers I’ve been fortunate to accept or refuse. It is a fascinating spot to be in where you don’t really have to invest much in marketing ...and offers just come to you.
Shown here: Seb on CBC being interviewed by Steven Sabados
ART BARN: Do you ever sell your artwork? Any commissions? Has your artwork ever been on display in galleries or other venues?
SEB: I am fortunate to make daily sales through my website at thebiginthesmall.ca Most people browse my work on my Instagram page and then visit my website afterwards in order to make their purchase.
Shown here: Seb with a custom print he created for his 3 month old niece.
I always try to maintain a good relationship with my customers and love to see where my artwork ends up, no matter how big or small the sale is. I know my work is featured in many different settings, from nurseries to living rooms to hallways to corporate offices. Speaking of corporate offices, a customer recently got in touch with me to let me know that the giant print of “The Truth Emerges” she had purchased went into the office where she practices child psychology. Pretty quickly, she started to notice that children were drawn to the piece to the point where she now uses it in order to start conversations with new patients! How amazing is that?? I mean, I’m just a guy taking pictures in a studio, and then I hear that this serves this bigger purpose that I did not even know about? Sometimes art is more than just art.
Shown here: Seb with his art masterpiece titled: The Truth Emerges
Some people whose budget allows for it opt for commissioned work where they will ask for a specific ambience with specific colors. Some will simply request a unique piece that only they will own. My favorite piece ever was a commissioned piece. Back in 2017, I was asked by expecting parents to create a custom piece for their son’s nursery. I worked on a piece for quite some time, a piece that was supposed to depict and embody strength. I got it printed and was ready to deliver just in time for the baby’s expected date of birth. But, as I was set to deliver it, I was contacted by the family who told me there had been some complications and their newborn son would have to be hospitalized...
That piece I created did not make sense anymore. The colors, the composition, the theme...It didn’t connect properly. Without the parents’ knowledge, I trashed it on my own dime and went back to the studio right away to create a different piece. I spent all night long working on this new piece for their newborn son who was in the ICU. This new piece would have to depict the chain of love, care and support that was deployed around him all while being calm and soothing in order to counterbalance for a hospital’s tense and stressful environment. After a very intense night of work, I had created this new piece for them.
Shown here: Seb with his art masterpiece, Untitled.
Now, that boy is a year and a half old and out of harm’s way. A few months back, his parents sent me a video of them asking him, “where are the bubbles?” and you see the toddler walking over to the print and pointing at it. They even told me “bubble” was one of his first words!!
Yet just another reminder that sometimes, art is more than just art.
ART BARN: What inspiring stories! In one of your captions on Instagram, you talk about how art has assisted you in understanding human nature better. Will you explain more about this to our readers?
Shown here: Duke with his art masterpiece titled: Storm Before The Calm
SEB: Producing visual art has helped me understand that emotions are actions. I was outdoors for a quick photo shoot of me holding this piece entitled, “The Storm Before The Calm.” As I was there, sitting with my piece, I noticed a change in people’s demeanor as they walked by. It was fascinating to see them go from their regular walk to, “Oh wow, what’s that?” As they felt something akin to fascination, their body reacted accordingly. And after I told them about my art, they would walk at a different pace. Their emotions impacted their actions. Realizing this has made me a better person because it’s assisted me in understanding the positive impact I can have by merely wishing a stranger “good morning.” The smallest gestures can make a big difference in people’s daily life; I now realize how much of an impact my attitude towards others can be a vector for positivity!
Shown here: Microuniverse entitled: The Heart Always Dies Last
ART BARN: That sentiment is so true, Seb. Do you have a motto you live by?
SEB: “You do you and I do me.”
Shown here, Seb with masterpiece entitled: The Garden Beyond The Road Less Traveled
ART BARN: Great motto! Reminds me of “live and let live.” In our behind the scenes interview, you mentioned to me that art requires two things to be successful. What are those things?
SEB: In order to be good, art needs to be two things at once: it needs to be novel, and it needs to be useful. By “novel” I mean that it needs to be something that the world has never seen, or it needs to have a new twist on something that already exists but takes it a step further. And, by “useful” I mean that the world actually enjoys it and has a need for it; it makes people think; it makes people want to own it; it makes people feel something. You can create something novel, but not useful. For instance, if I specialized in taking pictures of old people with a dead fish on their head, that might be new. But I’m not exactly sure the world would have a use for it. On the other hand, you can create something extremely useful, but not novel. Those are the people who are great at technique but are not able to push boundaries. They might be great teachers? But their work on its’ own might not be enough to stand out.
Shown here: Micro universe entitled: A Strange New Day Dawns
ART BARN: Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers?
SEB: If you enjoy my art, I encourage you to follow me on Instagram at @thebiginthesmall
and, if you really enjoy my art enough that you’d be interested in owning a print, visit my website at: thebiginthesmall.ca where you can shop all the pieces that are available on sizes ranging from as small as 8x12” to 40x60”!
Shown here, print entitled: Lost Dreamers
Shown here: Seb Duke with his art masterpiece entitled: Embossed With Frost
Seb Duke currently resides in Toronto, Ontario where he works tirelessly in his art lab creating awe and wonder thru his colorful bubbles by inventing micro universes in a bowl and then capturing those mini worlds thru a lens. In this era of information where anything can be found online, Seb makes people marvel and revel in the “HOW?” as he creates the “WOW!” The fleeting bubble symbolizes the transience of life; capturing wonder and beauty while emphasizing the ephemeral. Learn more about this amazing one of a kind artist here: