Month: February 2016

I, the Juror

Remember that all is opinion.

Marcus Aurelius

Next week I take off my artist beret and replace it with my juror’s cap, as I once again adjudicate the spring exhibit for the Downriver Arts and Craft Guild. I will speak to the assembled membership, offer a quick critique for each of the pieces submitted, (a modest number easily covered in the time span allowed), and select a winner. Over the years, the event has trans-morphed in the Marty Arty Award, no prize money but bragging rights for the year. It’s a fun evening of repartee and storytelling and I enjoy the event immensely.

That’s not normally how things work when serving as a juror, especially when prize money is on the line! As the artist entering the competition has guidelines, oftentimes so does the juror. Sometimes the host organization will request that everyone has at least one piece selected, or cap the number of pieces chosen because of the size of the venue, or limited the number of awards one artist can receive.

Once the parameters are known, selecting the work can begin. I’ve heard it said that picking the strongest and eliminating the weakest is the easy part, and I have found that to be true, more or less. It’s the work that falls into “good” art category that offers the challenge. Among the many things I look for, here are 3 to consider:

  1. Original and creative interpretations of the subject matter, without falling back on gimmicks. When I was member of the Colored Pencil Society of America, one juror summed it up this way: When everyone else is doing cats, you paint the rhino! And please, only use glitter if it is integral to the work.
  2. In one word: Presentation, presentation, presentation. It hard to look at the work if the frame is askew or the picture has fallen down behind the mat. As an artist I’ve done the wham, bam, thank you ma’am approach and more often than not I end up more sorry than pleased.  In a related note, I  am always appreciative of mastery of media.
  3. I experience a visceral reaction to the work. When work engages me on an emotional level, one that I keep going back to over and over again, I know that’s a keeper. Then I set aside my subjective reaction and concentrate on analyzing which of the principles and elements of design went into the work to make is successful.

Keep this in mind as well. Don’t think too much of whether or not a juror accepts your work; last time I checked we are only imperfect people passing judgment on other imperfect people. Seriously, don’t take any of this too seriously!

Now back on with the artist beret and an update for this week in the studio:

Me and Mondrian, continuesWill this painting never end?? Only 12″ x 12″, this self-portrait, and its companion piece, feels like it is taking FOREVER to complete. Yet, I think I see a light at the end of the paint tunnel and if the Muse is agreeable, I hope to begin the final act: cleaning up the Mondrian inspired background and redefining the hat and shadows therein. Finally, an oiling-out and then off to the photographer for documentation. See, almost done!

Sealing the wood.
Sealing the wood.

Going forward: I am in the process of prepping cradled wood panels for the next painting project, a multi-step procedure that begins with sealing the wood before adding the ground. Since it takes a couple of drying/curing days between every step, this will take a week and a half easily to complete. Stay tuned!








Sometime You Win, and Sometimes You Live to Try Another Day

This week I entered two paintings for consideration for the Detroit Society of Women Painters and Sculptors spring exhibition. Unique to this group is that the jurying process is by viewing the actual work. After an hour or two wait, you learn the results: thumbs up or thumbs down. I brought these two lovelies, both of which have received a lot of positive feedback, and waited to see what the juror decided.

Virgo Rising
oil and metal leaf on board
Bone Breakers
oil on canvas, 36″ x 24″










Every time I respond to a call for entry, I think back to the early days when I first started getting into the game. At that time, oh so last century, we would send in 35mm slides, red dot in either the top right or left corner to indicate front, and an arrow showing “this-end-up”. On the slide frame was your name, title, media and size, lots of info on a small cardboard frame. Typically, you filled out a postcard that the exhibition coordinator would check that indicated acceptance or rejection. If you wanted slides returned, you had to include a self-addressed stamped envelope, and if they didn’t return the slides you had to still provide the stamp for the postcard.

There was one exhibit, the particulars I no longer remember, I decided to enter. Still in graduate school, I didn’t have much exhibition experience but I dutifully labeled my slides, filled out the forms and stuck a stamp on the self-addressed postcard and sent everything off and eagerly anticipated the good news.

Time passed and finally the postman delivered the results. All I can say is that I scored 100%–yep, every image I submitted had a check mark in the REJECT box. I was totally horrified that everyone must know of my failure, after all it was on a postcard for all to see. I went into a double helix of self-doubt and worry, questioning if I was ever going to make it as an artist.

It turned out that postcard was not a harbinger of my demise as an artist and in the intervening years I have been selected for many shows, even enjoying an award or two along the way. Every artist can tell a story about a particular piece of work that was REJECTED from one exhibit, only to have the same work ACCEPTED later. The key is not attaching too much importance to either being refused or accepted; one person’s opinion is not who you are, or where you are going or a commentary on your unique vision. The key is just to keep on making the work, and remember that sometimes you win and sometimes you live to try another day!

Now what did the juror decide in the selection process? Here is it:

 NO THANK YOU for “Virgo Rising”

Virgo Rising

  BRING IT ON! for “Bone Breakers”

Bone Breakers














Get Back to Play

It is a happy talent to know how to play.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Okay, okay I throw in the paint brush! Car problems, being under the weather, family obligations and other mundane issues, meant limited time spent at “The Office”, and it feels as though nothing noteworthy was accomplished. Still, life offered a lesson worth sharing. This week, the Muse sent me a teacher in the form of a three-year sprite named Jack. Did I happen to mention he is related to me? That Muse has a sense of humor, for sure.

Playing at The Happy PlaceI have a studio at home, “The Happy Place”, where I do much of my 3-dimensional work, have my library, and store my supplies for teaching. It is one of the places that Jack loves best, where the colors pink and blue reign supreme, and there are boxes of bones, stones and feathers to open and explore, and whatever creative world you wish to visit you may.

And so that’s my biggest accomplishment this week; I played.

It’s too early to say that any great insights occurred, or that a creative door was opened. Sometimes it’s play just for the sake of playing and sometimes something made while playing does end up in a finished piece. Take for instance the mixed media piece, Edgar, Of Course, now at the exhibit, Do You Know Poe?, at the Henry Ford Centennial Library in Dearborn.

Edgar, of Course
collage, paint sample card, leaf, text, etching ink, 8″ x 8″

Edgar began as a demonstration of using stencils and masks in mono printing. I laid the tag board silhouette on a sheet of Plexiglass, used a brayer and rolled ink over it. I lifted the bird, placed a sheet of paper on the image, and put it through the etching press. Voila, a print! I showed variations of using the silhouette as a mask, and the cut out area of tag board as a stencil. Basically, I was just playing around, not really trying to accomplish anything other than showing a technique or two.

But when I was done, I was struck not by the prints produced but the silhouette itself, now gloriously inked yellow, green and orange. A  lithograph someone abandoned years ago became another surface to print on. Alice, always eager to join the play,  gave me the oak leaves, now skeletal and lacy. Later, I found and assembled other elements needed to complete the image you see here.

But the bottom line is this: I didn’t set out make a crow that was yellow, green and orange; I was just playing, without fixed intentions towards outcome. Those who know me, know that I am serious about my art making. Sometimes I become too goal driven and I don’t step back from it, to just enjoy taking a day or two to explore, to learn again the lesson from a pre-schooler, that play is worthy work.

Now time to get back to work, I mean play.




Everybody, Let’s Mise-en-Place!

What do generations of chefs, from the late Julia Child to the reigning celeb-chefs, know that can help artists make the most of their studio time? Three simple words:


Mise-en-place is a French phrase meaning “putting in place” and refers to the system of prepping and gathering all the tools and ingredients needed to complete a recipe, and in the larger sense, run a restaurant. If you’ve seen any cooking shows you know what I’m talking about. Those little bowls, all lined up with the spices, the pre-cut chunks of meat, the neatly diced vegetables, all close at hand. But more than that, it is what enables a kitchen to run smoothly, in the midst of intense activity and chaos.

And that relates to art, how?

Mise-En-Place is a concept I introduce to my students (and it is so much fun to say!). What a delight for a teacher to see, without prompting, when a student takes the approach to heart. Here Jenna is doing mise-en-place before class last night:

Jenna's palette
Jenna uses a mise-en-place approach in getting ready to paint.
  • Allowing herself plenty of time to gather her materials, arriving before class begins.
  • Reviewing the “plan” for the session, in this case going over the goals of the assignment.
  • Arranging her palette, paint, water and any other anticipated supplies within reach.
  • Removing all non essentials such as coats, backpacks, books, from her work area.

By attending to the mundane details first, she is developing great work habits that make her painting time so much more satisfying. Once she is in the zone, she doesn’t need to stop because she can’t find the yellow ochre, or a rag to clean her brushes, which allows for greater creativity and spontaneity. Only a beginning painter, I have faith that Jenna, and my other like minded students, will develop into accomplished artists!

I would love to hear what you do to prep a session in your studio! Comment below or send an email!

Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.

Julia Child
Studio Update: The Mug Shots
Realized belatedly that I didn’t take a photo of the profile view, but here is this week’s progress on the forward facing self-portrait. Will this painting never end?
Detail: Mondrian and Me in progress
In progress
Detail: Mondrian and Me in progress
oil on canvas