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Why Do Artists Need a Portfolio? Part 1

Time seems to be getting away from me lately; working long hours at my part-time job, keeping my house clean and neat, cooking, running errands, etc. I’ve had precious little time lately to do art, or even to blog, or think much about the when/how/what, I want to blog about. My thoughts have been scattered like so many leaves on the wind, and my content ideas for this week’s blog post have ranged from marketing tips for artists to ideas for making time for art, and finally to the reason why artists need a portfolio. And I have come to the conclusion that I might have put the cart before the art because before artists can market their artwork, they need a substantial body of work to choose from with a concentrated theme and a style. However, before I get into a lot of detail about why artists need a portfolio to help market themselves to galleries, etc., I want to provide a definition of an artist’s portfolio. What is it? An artist’s portfolio is a visual reproduction of an artist’s work, often displayed as photo reproductions in a removable file folder, and other formats may include a printed book of an artist’s artwork, or a CD with jpeg images, or other formats such as online portfolio, “which showcases an artist’s style or method of work.” (Source: Wikipedia, “Artist’s Portfolio,” retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artist%27s),  a portfolio can be used by artists to show employers and gallery owners the artist’s collection of best works, often limited to a specific medium and theme for clarity and cohesiveness (ibid).

To investigate this idea more fully, I did some research via my favorite source, the World Wide Web. According to an article entitled, “6 Things You Can Do To Promote Your Art”, by Agora Gallery staff, A compelling  portfolio will help artists to create “branding and packaging.” (www.agora-gallery.com) In addition, a portfolio paves the way for artists to enter art competitions “post on their website,” and create marketing materials (ibid), such as brochures, business cards, fliers, etc. Furthermore, a crucial aspect of an artist’s portfolio is the “visual reproduction,” of an artist’s art, because the quality of your art reproductions, (ibid) whether it is in photographs or prints,  will play a crucial role in capturing your potential fans and customers and turning them into followers. This is especially true of visual heavy sites such as Instagram and Pinterest.

High-quality photography is a must for an artist’s website, social media postings, portfolio, commerce shops or online galleries, etc… To stand out from the competition, Artists need their artwork to shine above all, not for their followers to focus on bad photographs, with fuzzy or blurred images that are dark and badly composed. These flaws will detract from an artist’s work. Although some experts will advise artists to hire professional photographers to exclusively document their work, I have a different take on this issue. I think artists should do whatever works best for them, rather than a hard and fast rule like this one. I know from personal experience that it can be difficult to afford the fees from professional photographers as an emerging artist. For example, one of the choices I have made in order to make time for art is to work part-time. There are both pluses and minuses of this life choice, and while it affords me additional time to work on art while I am at my best, (during early afternoon hours) it also limits the amount of money I have to spend on art supplies, marketing, etc.  My solution for photography is to take my own photos and learn how to do this skillfully. If artists want to learn how to take their own photos, they can learn this skill through a variety of avenues, such as reading photography books from their library, taking photography classes at their local community colleges, and experimenting with different cameras, lighting, and tripods, etc. I also recommend an article called,” 4 Steps to Photographing Your Art”, by Art Archive, which can be retrieved at https://www.artworkarchive.com/blog/4-steps-to-photographing-your-art-like-a-professional.

If you can afford a professional photographer, by all means, do some research and seek out professional recommendations from trusted friends and family. But be sure the photographer in question has experience in taking photos of art. Here are some tips from Agora Gallery offers regarding the content of an artist’s portfolio: 1.) Use high-quality photos to document your art, 2.) Include a brief and compelling description of each artwork, include information such as: “size, title, media”. Also be sure to include a succinct description which describes the art. 3.) Tell a story about your art if you can, what inspired you to do the work, etc. 4.) Include a strong biography which describes your backstory as an artist, such as your journey as an artist, etc. (Source: Agora Gallery, “6 Things You Can Do To Promote Your Art”, retrieved from www.agora-gallery.com).   Make sure it isn’t generic, and that it sets you apart from other artists. As you write your biography, think about the first page of your favorite book and why it moves you or grabs your attention and makes you want to turn the page to find out what happens next.

Please note that it is very important to limit the number of images that you include in your art portfolio and be sure that there is a consistency in style and theme, as part of your branding. (Source: “Artists: Are you Consistent? A Gallery Owner’s Perspective,” Jason Horejs, November 3, 2017, retrieved from http://reddotblog.com/artists-are-you-consistent-a-gallery-owners-perspective-3/).  Do not attempt to include every item of artwork you have made in your portfolio. (ibid) Only include your best work. To narrow your focus, it might help you to write an artist’s statement, which describes the themes and context of your work and what makes it unique. To learn more about an artist statement, go to the following link:  http://www.saic.edu/media/saic/pdfs/lifesaic/careerco-opcenter/workingartistsseries/Handout_WorkingArtist_WritingYourArtistStatement.pdf.

In this post, I have included some oil paintings I completed during my senior year at McDaniel College as part of my senior studio final project. These help explain the concept of consistency in style, subject matter, and medium, as they are all self-portraits, executed in oil paints in an impressionistic style. The theme of these works was to illustrate different feelings expressed in the lyrics of songwriter, Sting. Some of the songs that inspired these works are: Lithium Sunset, Secret Journey and Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot. Many of these songs express struggles with failure, depression, making choices,  getting back up again and making sense of the world. Here is a brief lyric from Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot:

When you’re down and they’re counting
When your secrets all found out
When your troubles take to mounting
When the map you have leads you to doubt
When there’s no information
And the compass turns to nowhere that you know well
Let your soul be your pilot (Source: http://www.sting.com/discography/lyrics/lyric/song/176)

It is also important to do research about potential galleries you would like to exhibit your artwork before you send out your portfolio to galleries. For example, you might want to read their website and look at the work of artists that they already represent to get an idea of what style, mediums they gravitate towards, the gallery’s philosophy, etc. You might even want to make a drive to visit the gallery in person and meet the staff

Lithium Sunset, self-portrait
Another self-portrait from my art student years. Lithium Sunset, 2005, Jodie Schmidt, Oil on Canvas.
Self-Portrait in red
Self-Portrait with Red Shirt, 2004, Jodie Schmidt, oil.
Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot, Self-portrait
Here is a self-portrait I painted during my years as an art student at McDaniel College. Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot, 2005, Jodie Schmidt, Oil.
Self-Portrait with scenery
Self-Portrait with Scenery, Oil on Canvas, 2004.

if that is possible. This will give you an idea of what their customer service is like, and if you might mesh well with the gallery staff or not. Remember to be strategic about your choices for art competitions and gallery submissions, and look for opportunities that will be a good fit for your art.

Thanks for stopping by! I am planning to write about the topic of how artists can market their work as a series, to follow up this week’s post on why artists need a portfolio. Next week’s blog post will describe the concept of artist portfolios in more detail and all the different formats which are available.One final thought before I close, before you can make a portfolio, you must be putting in the hours in your studio and make art as much as possible, nights, weekends, etc. Also, it is important to invest time in learning and developing your specific medium of choice and style. This may not happen overnight and it takes time. After all, if you aren’t making art, you have nothing to promote.

 

 

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Voices and Visions, Artist Statement

It’s been several weeks since I have blogged, and the reasons are many. Some new responsibilities as my mom’s caregiver, due to her shoulder replacement surgery in October, lots of hours at work, and a new custom order, among other things. Also, I keep trying to think of the perfect topic that will be entertaining to my audience and informative. And yet, when I do that I feel like I am not being my genuine self, and that leads to more inertia. So instead, I decided to share my artist statement for my new poetry illustration series, Voices, and Visions. So here it is.

Desert landscape with pregnant woman and plants
This is an oil painting which depicts the feeling of creative block. It is symbolized by the desert landscape and the pregnant woman, as well as the bean plant growth cycle.
Two figures in a barren landscape with a teddy bear and leaves.
This oil painting is an interpretation of Robert Frost’s poem, The Secret Sits. It is also inspired by a music video by the Cranberries, called Ordinary Day, in which the main character chases her younger self to try and resolve unfinished business.

Voices and Visions

 How does an idea for a painting get born? For me, it’s sometimes a memory being re-played, hearing a song lyric that resonates with me, reading a poem that lends itself to telling a story or visiting an inspiring art exhibit.  This series focuses on the connection between stories described in the written word, such as poetry, song lyrics, and quotes and the visual narratives that illustrate these works. The works may describe a feeling, a memory, a season, or some universal truth described in color, metaphor or symbols. Perhaps this series has been percolating in me for years, since 2005, in fact, when I graduated from McDaniel College with an art degree. My art mentor, Steve Pearson, who is now (Assistant Professor at McDaniel College), sparked an interest in me about how to make artwork that communicated personal truths and ideas.

To facilitate the creative process, he recommended that I keep a sketchbook and collect artwork that inspired me. This process would help me to identify the themes that mattered most to me and to write a content-based artist statement. Lastly, I created a series of work that described these themes through color, symbols, composition, etc.  It’s been several years since then and I have had a lot of experiences since then, read books, listened to music, attended concerts, had different jobs, and pursued different artistic subject media, such as the portrait, and more recently still life and landscape. But I keep coming back to artwork that has a meaning or a story to tell in my artwork, and especially to the portrait which was the first subject that ignited my interest in art. One significant event that sparked this recurrent theme, and they are: 1.) A drawing class that I took at Frederick Community College.

In January of 2015, I took a drawing course at Frederick Community College in Frederick, MD. One of the final assignments I tackled was to illustrate a poem using pastels.  A major challenge in this assignment was to find a poem that had some concrete images to illustrate and not a poem that was too esoteric and abstract. I chose Robert Frost’s poem, Ghost House, which has an abundance of concrete imagery. The first lines, “I dwell in a lonely house I know, that vanished nearly a summer ago and left no trace but the cellar walls…” (Frost) gripped me with a strong visual picture.  I immediately thought of a derelict house and tried to create a narrative about this haunted house.

Slowly different images popped into my head, a derelict house, a ghost bride, a tree, a path, and some crows. To facilitate this process, I collected artwork that inspired on Google image searches and checked out library books on vampires and fantasy creatures. My next step was to create a Photoshop file collage with images based on this poem. I completed the artwork by creating a drawing based off of the collage and finished with soft pastels. To create this current body of work, I have followed this same process of creating a notebook of images that inspired, and piecing them together in PhotoShop to create my own unique compositions. I also did searches on Pinterest for the artwork of interest and looked for examples of poetry illustrations to see how other artists have tackled this subject. And I read books on poetry or did Google searches to look for poems that lent themselves visual depiction. Some of the poetry that has inspired these works is verses written by Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou, Robert Frost, and T.S. Elliot.

Thank you for stopping by and reading my artist statement! Have a wonderful week!

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Administrative Aspects of Being an Artist: Writing an Artist’s Statement

 

 

Voices and Visions: A Narrative Series

Today I am challenging myself to finish writing my artist statement for my poetry illustration series, Voices, and Visions. After months of on and off work on this series, I am committing to working on the series at least 1x a week.  Some of the activities that I engage in to get the ball rolling with this series are: to write critiques about work in progress, post paintings and sketches to Instagram on a weekly basis create tonal studies, and to create photo collages in Photoshop for subjects that require complicated themes.

This body of work, Voices, and Visions, is really stretching me, and it is unlike any other series I have worked on in the past. There have been several instances of artist’s block and resistance in general to finish the work. What is holding me back? Are life circumstances to blame for my lack of follow through with this series? Or are family crises taking up the bulk of my time and energy? Do I fear to make a mistake so much that it paralyzes me from picking up the pencil or brush? Or have I spent too much time watching British TV mystery series, such as Vera Stanhope or Inspector Morse?  I’m not really sure; maybe all of these things have played a part in my inertia.

Writer’s Block: Getting started with an Artist Statement

In addition to avoiding completing this series, I have also avoided working on my artist statement for this series, which has not been helpful either. Unfortunately, I have not been reading or editing the artist statement which inspired me to create this series as I do the work. However, I realize that if I want to have a cohesive body of work with a strong message, I need to be sure that the work in progress is tracking with my original artist’s statement.  Regrettably, I have made this mistake before, and as you might imagine the results of that experiment were not good. A few years back, well, more than a few, I applied for graduate school at a number of colleges for a master’s degree in art. Needless to say, I didn’t get any acceptance letters, and the artwork I created did not reflect the artist statement I had started writing because I did not adjust the statement to reflect the artwork as I was painting or vice versa.  So with that in mind, I am trying to learn from past mistakes and catch this lack of synchronicity between my artist’s statement and the work in progress.  I hope that writing about how to write an artist’s statement will get me out of this rut.

Why Should You Write an Artist’s Statement?

According to the Agora Gallery article, “How to Write an Artist Statement: Tips from the Art Experts”, an artist’s statement plays a crucial role in communicating your intentions about your artwork to others (“How to Write an Artist Statement: Tips from the Art Experts”, Agora Gallery, http://www.agoragallery.com, pg. 2)   Sounds good right? But what if you don’t like to write? The author, and art business coach, Alyson Stanfield makes a good point in illustrating why an artist may not want to write an artist statement when she wrote: “My artwork speaks for itself.” (Alyson Stanfield, I’d Rather Be in the Studio, pg. 51.)  But can it really? Can other people follow your art-making processes and really understand what you intend if you don’t give them a map to follow? To illustrate, imagine that you sent out a resume and cover letter that are very general for a specific job posting, rather than tailoring your skills to that job description.

Are you likely to get the job, or even an interview? I think the answer is, probably not, because an employer needs to see why they should consider you as a candidate specifically. In a similar manner, I think that writing an artist’s statement can also help an artist to stand out from the multiple numbers of artist entries and websites, and make their work more personal and meaningful to viewers. Most important,  writing an artist statement can make a connection between you and your audience, when you are not there in person to speak for yourself. (Agora Gallery, pg. 2)   But as an artist, I do empathize with those who don’t like to write and would rather express themselves visually. Despite years of writing research papers as a college student, I still don’t like to write.  Hopefully, the highlights I am sharing from this article will help you to overcome any excuses or fears about writing an artist’s statement,  so that people will stand up and take notice of your art. This is particularly important if you want to make the transition from being a hobby artist to a professional artist who exhibits art in galleries or other public spaces.

Who is Your Audience?

In addition, an artist statement is necessary for consideration in art competitions, art galleries, museums, etc. (Ibid, pg. 2).  Occasionally, an artist’s statement may be displayed as an accompaniment to their artwork at a gallery show, art fair or on an artist’s website. (Ibid, pg. 2). One important thing to remember is to consider who your audience is as you write your artist statement. (Ibid, pg. 2)  Some of the people you are communicating with could be “gallery visitors, students, or potential buyers”. (Ibid, pg. 2). To write an effective statement, an artist needs to use terms and words that are understandable to a range of people, from those who have an art background to others who may have little to no knowledge about art. (Ibid, pg.2)

How Would You Describe Your Art?

Another thing that you should include in your artist statement is an explanation of how you make your art.  (Ibid, pg.2) For example, include information such as your favorite colors to paint with or your medium of choice, such as photography, sculpture, watercolor, etc. (Ibid, pg.2)   What style of art do you practice? (Ibid, pg.2)    Is your art abstract or realistic, or somewhere in between? (Ibid, pg.2) For instance, do you like to include texture in your brushwork by loading your brush with thick paint, or do you like to hide your brushwork and build up tone with thin glazes of paint? (Ibid, pg.2)

What Do You Paint, Draw, Sculpt or Photograph?

What imagery do you use to make your art? (Ibid, pg.3)Explain the content which you use in your artwork.  (Ibid, pg.3) Does it relate to your process, or to the medium that you use to make art? (Ibid, pg.3)  Do you use specific themes to illustrate a story, feeling, or memory, such as figures, landscapes, or symbols? (Ibid, pg.3)   What influences inspire your art? (Ibid, pg.3)   Is it political issues, memories of your childhood or your local surroundings, or formal elements of art, such as line, shape, color, value, etc?

Why Do You Make Art?

Finally, you want to include a section in your artist statement which gives an explanation of why you make artwork. (Ibid, pg.3) Tell viewers what drives or motivates you to create. (Alyson Stanfield, I’d Rather Be in the Studio, 2008, pg, 44)   Be specific, don’t just say, because I have to do it. (ibid) Certain examples might include, I make art to process difficult childhood experiences, or I create artwork to bring attention to political issues I am passionate about.  This article is just a brief overview to get you started with an artist statement and is by no means comprehensive. However, if you would like a more detailed resource to walk you through writing an artist’s statement, I recommend that you visit the link for the article: How to Write an Artist Statement: Tips from the Art Experts: https://www.agora-gallery.com/advice/blog/2016/07/23/how-to-write-artist-statement/. Another excellent resource I would recommend that you read to help you write an artist statement is Alyson Standfield’s book, I’d Rather be in the Studio, which is available on amazon.com or as a pdf download from her website: https://artbizcoach.com/. Chapter 4 describes a system about how to write an artist statement, with some helpful prompts to get you thinking about why you make art.

infographic, hand, writing, pen, artist statement.
This is an infographic from the article, “How to Write an Artist Statement: Tips from the Experts,” Agora Gallery, https://www.agoragaller-gallery.com.

 

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Why Should Artists Create Content Based Work?

Have you ever wondered why some artists, such as Andrew Wyeth, and others create their artwork in a series format? My first experience with creating artwork as a series was as an undergraduate at McDaniel College, taking art classes at the senior level. In this Senior Studio Capstone class, my fellow students and I were given the assignment to create a series of artworks that expressed a theme of interest or importance to us and to write an artist’s statement that described our artwork’s theme.  For example, according to the website The Abundant Artist, some themes that artists might explore in a series include, 1.) texture and color (Faith Ringgold), 2.) politics  (Kathe Kollwitz), 3.) death, (Hirst) or 4.) messages that uplift, like Kelley Rae Roberts.   Prior to that, my assignments in drawing and painting consisted of drawing or painting to try and copy the still life or model in front of me, to teach the skills of observation. At that time, I had no idea how to even get started and had artist’s block for two weeks while I searched for artworks that inspired, all in vain. My Teacher did give us some guidance on the process though. He suggested that we create sketchbooks in which we pasted artworks of inspiration, no matter the medium, and he suggested that we look up art magazines, such as Art in America. Pouring over art magazines and artist websites, such as Forum Gallery, I could think of nothing new to say with my artwork that hadn’t already been said. I felt I had a lot of competition since there have already been many artists who have gone before me, who have created several unforgettable artworks to boot, such as Vermeer’s, Girl with a Pearl Earring, painted in 1665.

After weeks of struggle and seeking out artwork that inspired me, I had a solution. My answer came from an unlikely source, music. I decided to illustrate some of the songs of my favorite musician, Sting, using my self-portrait as a muse, along with color, and composition to portray various feelings of uncertainty, sadness, etc. Some of the songs I illustrated in my self-portrait series were Lithium Sunset and Secret Journey. The first song talks about how medication can help bring a person out of depression and make them strong enough to get back up again. While the second song, Secret Journey, talks about a mystical journey of enlightenment. I printed out the songs from Sting’s website, www.sting.com, pasted them in my sketchbooks, and underlined words and phrases that I thought were good candidates for illustration. And I referenced these songs and artworks of inspiration as I crafted my Artist’s Statement. As I searched through artwork that inspired, it became evident that I was drawn to the subject of the portrait, but I didn’t know how to make my work unique because the portrait has been done numerous times before.

The imagery of Sting’s songs provided the perfect solution to my dilemma and I was off and running. My then boyfriend, Dan, took photos of me to provide the source photos for my oil paintings. To make a long story short, I finished the series in time and even made a power point presentation as part of the project requirements of my finished works. In addition, I crafted an artist’s statement, which helped me to define the artwork by describing what the artwork would be about and what influences had to lead me to the finished work. I learned a lot about myself as an artist, such as how to distill ideas through writing artist statements and creating sketchbooks to illustrate my ideas by pasting artwork that inspired onto its pages. In particular, I discovered that I liked to make artworks that had a message, even if the search for the solution was far from easy. But back to my main question, “Why should artists work in a series?”

To investigate that question more fully, I did what many people would do, I googled it.  The websites, Abundant Artist and Art Business.com,  shed some light on the subject of content-based art. According to the authors, some of these benefits include: 1.) Making artwork in a series gives the artist a platform to connect with their audience on an emotional level because the artwork is focused and personal, 2.) Creating artwork in a series format helps others to understand what an artist’s work is about and who they are as a person, 3.) Artists who make artwork in a series are more likely to find art galleries to exhibit their work

because they know how to market the artist and this format follow their business model, and 4.) Working in a series format helps artists to understand what topics/subjects are important to them, and which they like to draw or paint.