Blog

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.

 

 

Advertisements
Blog

How to Develop Your Artistic Muscles: Make a Sketchbook

A few weeks ago, one of my art fans complimented me on a painting which she had viewed on my Art of Schmidt website, entitled, Phyllis and Dad. She said that she liked the colors, that she admired my talent, and wanted to know the story behind the painting. I told her that the painting was based on a collection of family photos which I had collected and that I always remembered my father as being older than other kid’s fathers. I also shared that this was the first photo I had ever seen of my father taken when he was young. Although I do not know his exact age, as the picture is not dated, I would estimate that he was in his early twenties when this photo was taken of him and his first wife, Phyllis.

I was of course, grateful to hear the compliments about my artwork, but at the same time, I wanted to share that the artwork I post on my website does not come about by magic. It takes a lot of effort.  Furthermore, sometimes more than one version of a painting or drawing is created to lead to the finished product that people see on my website, commerce site, and social media feeds on Facebook and Instagram. In fact, I have to practice on a weekly basis to keep my drawing and painting skills from getting rusty. During this conversation, I shared all of these insights with her and I hastened to add that if I relied solely on my artistic “talent” then it wouldn’t get me very far. Instead, I have found that practicing art is much like practicing a sport or playing an instrument. I believe that in order to get good at any of these disciplines, one needs to practice, a lot, and on a regular basis to maintain a certain level of skill. And sometimes it may require me to make a drawing or painting over and over again until I get it “just right.” In the words of songwriter, Sting: “I will reapply the needle of the record player again and again to the bars of music that seem beyond my analysis, like a safecracker picking a lock, until the prize is mine.” (Sting, Broken Music, dust jacket cover, 2003).

I was thinking about this conversation this week when I was trying to decide what to blog about. While I was pondering this, I wondered how to make this knowledge which I have gained about the need for artists to practice their art, into an applicable blog post that anyone can learn from. According to the author, and textile artist, Bren Boardman, one specific way for artists to stay “in practice” with their craft is to keep a sketchbook. The sketchbook serves as a repository to record their ideas and inspirations, such as “color swatches, quotes, magazine clippings, newspaper cuttings, or reference photos” for artwork in progress. (Boardman, Bren. “Sketchbooks and Mind Mapping for Artists”, https: www.textileartist.org).  Bren Boardman, textile artist, and author of the article, “Sketchbooks and Mind Mapping for Artists”, states that sketchbooks can help artists to develop their ideas for artwork and that using a mind map in their sketchbooks is an effective strategy for fleshing out ideas for new artwork. In her article, she provides some useful tips on how to start a mind map diagram, sort of like the “web” I remember from grade school in which my teachers used to help my fellow students brainstorm new ideas. In Boardman’s mind maps, she starts with a word or phrase that encapsulates her concept for a new artwork and draws connecting branches, which describe her ideas in more detail, sometimes using imagery. To start a mind map, she recommends that you write a word or phrase, with which you can associate, the main idea. (Boardman, Bren. 2013)

In addition, Boardman states that it is helpful to consider what type of sketchbook you would like to create such as a reference sketchbook, where you might “collect color mixing tests, color swatches or samples, or an idea generation sketchbook”; such as creating a mind map which describes the process and ends with the final result. On the other hand, perhaps you might make a sketchbook that would describe a trip or journey. Furthermore, if you still feel overwhelmed by the process of starting a sketchbook, I’m including a list of suggestions that Boardman offers in her article to get you started with the process. For example, you might include: “photos, magazines or prints, magazine or newspaper cuttings, drawings, sketches and doodles, text, poetry, stories, thoughts, thoughts, letters, extracts, statements, words, fabric, threads, wools, beads, buckles, papers of all kinds.” (Boardman, Bren. “Sketchbooks and Mind Mapping for Artists”)

In this blog post, I include my process for adapting  Boardman’s mind map idea and translating it into a project I wanted to create of a genealogical portrait of recording artist, Sting. My inspiration for this project was based on an overworked watercolor painting I made last summer, a portrait by Durer of a man standing in front of a landscape,  and a TV miniseries, entitled, Finding Your Roots, with Henry Louis Gates, J., on PBS. The segment I took inspiration from was called, “Sting, Sally Field, and Deepak Chopra,” and was filmed in 2014. Gates spoke with each individual in turn and he shared what he had learned about their ancestry through genealogical research. In particular, Gates shared that Sting’s third-great grandparents were lace makers who started a family in Nottingham, England in the 1820s. However, due to the Industrial Revolution, which led to mass production of products and consumer goods, they were forced to seek work elsewhere in Calais, France and in Australia.

I took inspiration from this TV series, a failed watercolor portrait of Sting, and from a sketch by Duerer which featured a portrait of a man and a landscape in the background.  To record my thoughts, I took notes as I watched the TV segment and I re-draw these thoughts in a mind map. I knew I wanted to make a portrait that was different from the typical face front painting or sketch of a person with a wall as background, and that I wanted to let the artwork tell a story about the person. I wanted to use symbols to tell the person’s story so that it would lead the viewer to contemplate the scene and ask questions about what the symbols might mean. After I completed the notes, I set to work looking for images on the internet of Sting, his hometown of Wallsend, England, and some symbols to describe his ancestor’s migration to France and their profession as lace makers. Then I put all the photos together in Adobe Photoshop to create a collage as a reference for the resulting sketch and three value watercolor painting.

Sting watercolor portrait, flat
Original watercolor painting of Sting with English landscape.
Sting mind map final
Mindmap I made based on the TV mini-series, Finding Your Roots, with Sting, Sally Field, and Deepak Chopra.
Tennis-mindmap
Example of mind map from Wikipedia.
portrait-of-caspar-tower-and-a-river-landscape-1520
Portrait of Caspar, Tower and a River Landscape, Albrecht Durer, 1520. This portrait by Durer, influenced the composition for Sting’s biographical portrait.
Sting in Landscape, with symbols, with black and white
Photoshop collage I made with various photographs. I created a black and white image and applied a cut out filter to create a value scale in black and white. 
Sting, pencil sketch
Line sketch based on the Photoshop collage, drawn with pencil on backing board.

Stay tuned for more updates on my painting process of this portrait! Thanks for stopping by!

Blog

My Gypsy Path to Becoming and Artist

This week I am writing about my somewhat haphazard journey towards becoming an artist and some lessons I have learned along the way. I also add a few insights from some famous artists that I feel provide a meaningful segue for my thoughts. A few months back when I was hosting an Artist opening show at Spin the Bottle Wine Company in Frederick, MD, one of the visitors to the wine shop asked me how I got my start as an artist. I answered that my mother had always encouraged me to make art and that she had enrolled me in a watercolor painting class at the age of nine. Since then I have taken many other art classes at the Howard County Center for the Arts (acrylic and watercolor), Howard Community College (drawing and photography), McDaniel College (graphic design, sculpture, drawing, and oil painting) and art classes with local artist Rebecca Pearl for watercolor, to name a few. My journey has not been a straight path to overnight success. Instead, it has had many ups and downs, despite how things might look in my carefully timed and worded Facebook Posts and artist biographies that I write. For example, I don’t post artwork that I don’t like for the most part, and the ones I do post have often been re-worked several times. Furthermore, the artworks that I show in galleries, coffee shops, etc., are examples of my best work, culled from unfinished works, experiments, and messes. In the words of poet Langston Hughes, “This life ain’t been no crystal stair.”

I can’t speak for the path of other artists, but after I graduated from McDaniel College with a bachelor’s degree in art, I struggled to find a path that would work for me. After graduation, I had to balance the realities of everyday realities such as student loan payments, with my dreams of being an exhibiting and teaching artist. My transition from being an art student in a creative bubble, to the world outside those walls, was not seamless. For instance, it was hard to deal with the isolation of being an artist without a group of creative’s to cheer me on or encourage me when rejection inevitably came, in the form of rejection letters from Graduate Schools, such as Towson University, MICA, and James Madison University.  There were also rejection letters from art galleries who rejected my artwork. At the time, I thought the only way to be an artist was to teach art or to exhibit my artwork in juried art shows. During this time, I took classes in a variety of subjects other than art, trying to find out what I wanted to do with my life, such as history, social work, and graphic design. None of these seemed to “fit”, and I usually ended up returning to art again at some point, either by taking another art class or by making art on my own time on days off from work or in the evenings. I worked in customer service jobs as a library assistant and restaurant hostess.

However, none of these paths seemed to “fit”, and I usually ended up returning to art again at some point, either by taking another art class or by making art on my own time on days off from work or in the evenings. I worked in customer service jobs as a library assistant, hostess, and currently, I work as a Receptionist at a Funeral Home. I have learned that there are many different ways to be an artist, whether it provides your livelihood or not. At present, I divide my time between part-time Reception work and making art in my spare time. I’m constantly looking for new opportunities to exhibit my art or share my art with others on Instagram and Facebook, or at art festivals or coffee houses.

One of the most valuable lessons I have learned during my creative journey as an artist was to be careful with whom I showed my art, and to carefully filter people’s comments about my art to see if they are helpful. I’ve had some bad critiques in the past and so I try to choose people who have my best interests at heart and who have some art training but are not pretentious or mercilessly blunt.  Smiley, Kim. ” 10 Life Lessons from History’s Most Famous Artists.” Huffington Post, 2 Mar. 2017, http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/kim-smiley/10-life-lessons-from-hist_b_4880431.html.

And finally, another lesson that I am currently in the process of learning is that it takes a lot of time, sweat and tears to perfect one’s craft as an artist. By no means does excellent work occur in and of itself. It takes years of practice and a determination on the part of the artist not to give up on practicing one’s art. For example, according to Kim Smiley, the “Renaissance sculptor, painter, poet and engineer, Michelangelo,” knew that it took time  to create art, and likewise, Leonardo Da Vinci, states that, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”  According to Smiley, artists should “go against the grain” of our modern culture to get everything done quicker, and instead take their time to create quality work and the patience to carry it out. Ibid, Smiley, 2017.

One way that I am working on practicing my craft, has been to challenge myself to draw a portrait a day, or as often as possible. Every time I create a portrait of a celebrity, change maker, or another historical figure, I post the results on Instagram. So far, I have created 91 line portraits out of the 100 I planned to make. It’s a work in progress. If you are interested in following my drawing challenge, 100 faces in 100 days, you can find me on Instagram as jsjsschmidt2, or you may view my website, www.artofschmidt.com, which has a link to my Instagram page and is updated each time I post a new drawing. Thanks for looking!

Blog

The Great Talent Debate

As an artist, I often hear comments such as, “You’re so talented,” or some variation on that theme, whether it is a comment that is posted online or an in person encounter.  I’ve gotten this remark from friends, family, strangers, etc.  And while it is always nice to hear such ego boosting compliments, I feel the need to pull back the curtain on the mystique of the talented artist conception. In fact, when others interpret my completed paintings and drawings as evidence of a natural talent for art, that I was born with, my facility with drawing and painting has been the result of a systematic and long-term method. This process is composed of some of the following ingredients: a strong passion to master drawing and painting skills, bloody minded determination not to give up on art, failure (not everything I draw or paint is successful), an extensive education in art technique and media, weekly practice in drawing and painting, just to name a few. And perhaps most importantly, I grew up with parents who were very supportive of my pursuit of art. For instance, my mom was the first one who introduced me to painting when she enrolled me in a watercolor class at the age of 9. I’ve been hooked on making art ever since! In fact, this summer I have embarked on a long-term drawing challenge to improve my drawing skills and I am realizing there is still so much I need to learn, and that I need the discipline to get better at my craft.

With regard to my weekly drawing practice, I have been working on a drawing challenge since June of this year, called, 100 Faces in 100 Days. In this challenge, I practice drawing on an almost daily basis. I focus on sketching celebrity portraits with paper and pencil, keeping the drawings simple so that they can be completed in about 45 minutes.  Some days the portraits seem to come together almost magically and I have very few drawing errors to correct, but on other days like today, I really struggle to get things right with the portrait measurements. On days such as these, I make a lot of revisions to the drawing, erasing, measuring and standing back to compare my drawing to the reference photo, until I am happy with the result, or the kitchen timer dings. And this phenomenon is nothing new. As an art student at McDaniel College, I had a lot of ups and downs, with paintings and drawings. Some were successful, others were not.

But to return to my initial question, Does natural talent exist? Although I am not a scholar or even a cognitive scientist, I theorize that many factors play into whether a person is able to show exceptional skill in drawing or painting, or any other impressive level of aptitude in a given domain. For example, in specialties such as singing, playing an instrument or sports, etc. I think it is a combination both of one’s environment, (the conditions you grew up with), specific personality traits, such as a strong work ethic, and a strong desire to master a subject. I think if I just relied on my innate talent, (whatever that may mean), I wouldn’t grow artistically because I would feel that no effort was required on my part to achieve greatness. The question of whether natural talent comes from has been discussed by  Kauffman, (2013), who states that there has been an ongoing debate about whether natural talent exists or not. Kauffman, 2013, states that in ancient time’s people believed that individual talent was linked to divinity, and that interest in this topic took a scientific turn in the nineteenth century, with the publication of the work, Francis Galton’s Hereditary Genius, which was published in 1869. Source: The Complexity of Greatness, by Scott Barry Kauffman, 2013.

For example, Kauffman (2013), states that  Galton made a study of “eminent lineages” and based on his findings, he theorized that talent was passed on to families from one person to another (Galton, 1874). According to Kauffman, 2013, Galton, also acknowledged the importance of not giving up easily, but he discounted the significance of environment as a determining factor of personal greatness for the individual, specifically with regard to celebrated scientists. The basis of Galton’s theory was that individuals were born with talent (Kauffman, 2013). On the other hand, Alphonse de Condole, (1873), “a French-Swiss botanist”, made the assertion that environmental factors play a critical role in the creation of exceptional talents, such as political conditions, religion, economic, social and cultural factors. ( Source: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/the-complexity-of-greatness-beyond-talent-or-practice/) and www.wikipedia.org.

Other theorists, such as the 18th-century painter, Sir Joshua Reynolds, argued that art students should not rely on their talent alone to produce great art, but that they should practice their craft diligently, (Kauffman, 2013).  The contention about where skill or natural talent comes from has continued to be debated and studied among Scientists, scholars and researchers even as recently as the 2000s. For example, According to Lynn Helding, author of, Innate Talent, Myth or Reality?,  2011, the topic of greatness was more recently discussed by Psychology Professor, Anders K. Ericsson, who teaches at the University of Florida (Helding, 2011). Ericsson studied both the quality and amount of time it requires for an individual to achieve greatness in a specialty (Helding, 2011). In addition, some of the research he published on this topic was published as recently as 2015, in his article entitled, The effects of experience and disuse on Crossword solving, published in the periodical, Cognitive Psychology. Source: https://psy.fsu.edu/faculty/ericssonk/ericsson.dp.php.  His studies into this topic have formed the basis for “the magic number 10,000 for the number of practice hours that it seems to take for anyone (including “so called prodigies”) to attain a level of mastery at such high-level tasks such as tennis, golf, chess, piano, and violin. This term is also known as “The Ten Year Rule of Necessary Preparation.” (Helding, 2011).

However, since the well known and wealthy author and motivational speaker, Malcolm Gladwell, coined the phrase, “the 10,000 hour practice rule,” he frequently gets the credit for this theory and not Ericsson, or the eleven researchers “whose own deliberate practice, spread over more than a century, provided the data for the theory.” Source: http://scholar.dickinson.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1078&context=faculty_publications. Innate Talent: Myth or Reality, Lynn Heliding, 2011, Mindful Voice. Journal of Singing 67, no. 4, pgs 451-458.

The question of whether natural talent real continues to be debated on discussion threads in Quora and Reddit, which are some forum type websites. Users ask such as: “Does natural talent exist or all skills learned?” cited in www. Reddit.com, in 2013. In addition, this question is much like the nature or nurture question in determining how a person will turn out, and what determining factor plays the most crucial part in that process. We may never know the exact percentages of how much genes or environment can affect individual outcomes, or even if there is some type of gene that gives people an advantage in subjects such as math, athletics, music or art. But one thing I know for sure, I am going to keep practicing and not give up my painting and drawing practice, because I want to continue to grow as an artist. What about you? Do you think greatness is a skill that is solely learned by deliberate, ongoing practice or are some individuals born with some type of gene that gives them an advantage others do not have?

Note: To read more about Professor Anders K. Erickson’s fascinating studies into “deliberate practice and expert performance” go to

https://psy.fsu.edu/faculty/ericssonk/ericsson.dp.php.