Prioritizing Exhibition Opportunities

June 25, 2012

Thumbnail study in pastel of truck yard, will be painting this in oil.

As your career advances, it is important to manage your time and effort wisely, particularly as it relates to the exhibits you participate in. You have to ask yourself, how will I benefit from this in terms of exposure, sales and credentials BEFORE you commit to participation in an exhibit. What is worthwhile in the early stages of your career, may not be as beneficial as your work gains in recognition and popularity.

For example, when I first started exhibiting, I entered local shows in addition to applying to most of the national juried competitions. Now that I have been exhibiting professionally for 10 years and have 4 galleries representing me, I have to focus my efforts on putting my best work in the gallery exhibits. You can never let the quality of the work you show be anything less than top notch. Therefore, you have to pick and choose which venues will make the most sense to show it in.

My strategy has always been to aim for the next level. Back when I was starting out, I exhibited in co-op galleries and participated in local shows. At the same time, I entered juried exhibits such as the Salmagundi non-members exhibition and the Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Club annual juried exhibition. Having been accepted as a member in both of these clubs, I now participate in their annual member exhibits. I no longer apply to juried exhibits as there are only so many professional organizations that you can actively participate in.

Also, as your work grows and changes subtly in style and subject, you need to again consider where you are showing it. I used paint in a much more realistic manner, and participated in several shows with the International Guild of Realism, a wonderful professional organization. However, my work has really evolved to become a combination of realism and abstraction. I am no longer a realist, so apply for inclusion in realistic exhibitions is not in my best interest in terms of time and effort.

The best advice I can give on the subject of where to exhibit is to do your homework and to be honest with yourself.  Stay focused on your goals, is it really worth it to enter a show where you are more experienced than the rest of the artists in the show simply because you know it will be an easy acceptance? Aren’t you better off stretching yourself with the risk of getting rejected at a higher level? If you don’t look ahead and strive to attain the next level of your career, you won’t ever know how far you could have taken things. Challenge yourself to move forward! 🙂

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Top 5 Things I Learned in Art School

June 18, 2012

Pastel study of the Chrysler Building

I have a degree in Graphic Design and Fine Art from the University of Bridgeport, CT. I graduated in 1982. I have recently been reading posts (on Facebook, where else!) by others who may have attended art schools at the same time. Some were happy with their experience, others seem to feel they missed out on something that the recent resurgence in atelier methods of teaching have to offer. I am very happy with my art education experience, I’m especially thankful that I did not have any professors who tried to mold me into one of their disciples, or who taught that there was only one approach to painting or design. Having left the graphic design field quite some time ago, and now working full time as a professional fine artist, there are certain things I’m really grateful for that I learned during my years in art school. Some may seem a bit simplistic, but they truly changed the way I draw and paint. Others, more subjective, but in my case, very relevant to the path I’ve taken with my painting. Here they are:

  1. Draw with the SIDE of charcoal– I told you some were simplistic! I took an industrial design course in my senior year. I had this fabulous teacher, Donald MacIntyre, who taught us to draw with the side of a big, fat stick of vine charcoal. Doing this forces you to forget detail and concentrate on form and value. Form and value are what make things dimensional, I teach this method to my students today. Those who give it try get great results, it has never failed me! And, for anyone who wishes to take the detail to the max, you can still do it! But you start out with a wonderfully loose, accurate base by drawing this way. Once you have that, you are in control of how much or how little surface detail you want to add. What I liked about this class and other drawing classes I took at UB was that we didn’t have to draw the same thing in the same manner. An instructor would show us a technique, and then tell us to implement it within the scope of the project.
  2. Great art takes MANY forms, keep an open mind – I took 5 semesters of art history! I loved it because it opened my eyes up to so many new ways of looking at art. Before art school, I focused primarily on representational art and drawing in a very realistic manner. Like every teen in the 70’s, I wanted to be an album cover artist so I practiced drawing all my favorite rock stars portraits. However, once I started learning about artists such as Kandinsky, Klee, Chagall, and on to Pollock and De Kooning, I saw that there were so many ways of conveying ideas beyond the conventional narrative, representational drawing and painting. I understood the relevance of these artists and could see that it might be possible to apply some of their ideas in my own work to make it stronger and more interesting than just a good technical drawing or painting.
  3. Find YOUR WAY of painting or drawing – Again, this is probably one of the things I am most thankful for. All of my professors were the type that would teach concepts and then instruct us to apply them in our own work. I remember a basic drawing 101 course where we had a pile of shoes and were told to draw them with charcoal. What a great lesson in form and value, some students picked one or 2 shoes and did detailed, close up drawings of them. Others, took the whole pile and did semi-abstract studies of the forms to create a dynamic composition. Neither way was taught as better than the other, we were encouraged to follow what each of us saw as the most interesting thing about the subject.
  4. Try DIFFERENT MEDIA – the courses I took were in a variety of media: watercolor, oil, gouache, ink; and ranged in subjects from typography, calligraphy, painting, drawing and photography. We were taught to learn as many different media as we could handle, the intent being that we should never be afraid of experimentation. I still love experimenting. As I tell my students, if it doesn’t work out, it’s only a piece of paper you’ve wasted, and you’ve gained all that you learned along the way.
  5. Learn how to GIVE and TAKE criticism constructively – ANYONE who was in art school back then probably has some horror stories about the class critiques we had to participate in. I learned so much in those sessions, even though I dreaded them at the time. Not so much in terms of specific advice from other students or even the instructors, but more so in how to be constructive and how to discern constructive advice from non-constructive. Some of my professors were great, always pointing out what works in addition to suggesting ways to improve, this is the approach I take with my students. It helps to build confidence while giving them specifics they can use to create stronger work.

I hope this helps to remind those of us who studied art in the 80’s that we did actually learn some valuable lessons back then. Personally, I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to learn in an environment that encouraged expression, creativity and experimentation.


Put Your Best Foot Forward

June 11, 2012

Pastel study for a future painting in a new series of Naples, Florida. The new works will be available later this year exclusively at Trudy Labell Fine Art, Naples, FL

Artists sometimes have the reputation for being eccentric, lazy, temperamental and difficult to deal with. That needs to change, and the best way to change it starts with you. No matter where you are in your artistic career, you need to behave like a professional. Here are some do’s and don’t’s for a variety of situations.

In the Classroom:

  • DO arrive on time and with all your materials, bring a positive attitude to class and leave your problems behind for the time you are there. This is your time, make the most of it. If you arrive late, set up quietly and don’t be a distraction, especially if the instructor is in the middle of a demo.
  • DON’T come to class early unless you have a pre-arranged appointment with the instructor. Instructors need time to set up still lifes and mentally prepare for class. By arriving early and expecting attention, you are distracting the instructor and generally setting up the entire class for a less than perfect learning experience.
  • Remember, you are not the only person in the class, DON’T demand the instructor’s constant attention. Never interrupt if they are working with another student. When it’s your turn, you wouldn’t want someone else interrupting, would you?
  • When you are working with the instructor, listen to what they are telling you. DON’T talk over them or constantly interrupt with excuses or explanations. A good instructor will listen to you first and then offer suggestions, but in order to get something out of the advice they offer, you have to hear it, and you can only hear it if you are listening.  Instructors do not judge their students–you don’t need to make excuses for making a mistake, we all make them and they are great learning experiences if you relax and use what you learn.
  • DON’T offer critiques or advice to other students, especially when they don’t ask you for it! By signing up for a class, a student is paying for the advice and instruction of the teacher of that course, not the other students in the class. Unless the instructor specifically has an open critique session and ASKS other students to participate in the critique process, you should keep your thoughts to yourself and focus on your own work. I often have students come to me upset by what other people in the class have said, I tell them they should simply and politely tell the person “thanks for your input, but I prefer to work this out on my own”.  Good instructors know how to provide a constructive critique, they also respect the fact that a painting belongs to the artist alone, regardless of whether they are a student or not.  Students have not had the experience an instructor has had providing critique and many times may unintentionally discourage or even offend a fellow student.

In a Juried Exhibit:

  • DO select and participate in juried exhibitions that are at the appropriate level for your experience, skill and style.
  • DON’T expect to get into every show that you enter.
  • DO accept the decision of the judges who jury work into the show.
  • NEVER EXPECT to win an award, be surprised and honored instead.
  • DON’T verbally (or worse) attack the judge(s) if they do not select your painting for inclusion in the show or for an award. (This really does happen, I have experienced it first hand as a judge, it is appalling behavior and rather scary!)
  • DO accept an award with grace, be proud of your work but don’t brag or boast.

With Galleries:

  • DON’T expect a gallery to view your work without an appointment.
  • DON’T constantly call galleries pestering them to look at your work, if they are looking for artists and your work fits their market, they will contact you.
  • If you have representation, DON’T constantly call the gallery asking if you sold something. They will let you know. If you have had the experience where they haven’t, then maybe it is time to find a new gallery.
  • DO be loyal to your galleries–don’t sell work directly from your studio for lower prices!
  • DON’T ever try to work directly with a gallery’s client (even if the client contacts you, and there will be some that do). The gallery established the relationship, they are entitled to their commission and the client should respect that instead of trying to get a better deal by going around them.
  • DO show your collectors that you appreciate them. If they buy a large piece, give them a sketch or drawing as a thank you.

All of the above will help to dispel the myth that artists are behind the curve when it comes to being professional. In order to be treated like a pro, you have to act like one!!! 🙂


Practice with a Goal in Mind

June 4, 2012

Toad – digital sketch created with ArtRage on the iPad

Toad – sketched with burnt umber acrylic on watercolor paper

The two practice sketches above are obviously very different. Each was done in the name of practice, but different skills are being practiced in each, and that is not simply because of the different media used to create them.

It’s important when practicing to know what skills specifically you are trying to develop. Are you working on color? the ability to see values? the ability to block things in quickly? or the ability to show detail? With a practice session, particularly if you have a limited amount of time to practice, it is always best to have a goal in mind for that session.

For example, the digital sketch at the top was done from a photograph I took of a toad that was on my doorstep. My intent with this sketch was: a) to better learn the ArtRage app on the iPad, and b) to focus on capturing some of the details of the surface texture on the toad’s skin.

The second sketch, done in acrylic on watercolor paper, was done from life.  My goal there was to see how quickly and with as few strokes as possible I could capture the gesture of the toad, along with a sense of its form based on the natural lighting of an overcast day.

As you can see, I have 2 very different outcomes and worked on developing 2 very different skill sets in these practice sessions. I think the more diverse your practice sessions are, but the more focused (try to have only 1 or 2 goals with each session), the more well rounded your skills will become in general. This will ensure that YOU remain in control of how your drawings and paintings look. The more well versed you are at a variety of techniques, media and approaches to capturing what you see on paper or canvas, the more options you have for being expressive and creative when you are working on your finished paintings.