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Famous Failures: J.K. Rowling, Her Struggles and Her Triumphs (Part 2)

Similarities between J.K. Rowling and Abraham Lincoln: Depression

This week, I am diving into part two of the series I started on April 21, 2018, entitled, “famous failures”, a term coined by Sid Sivara, who wrote an article with that title. The personality I want to highlight this week is the author of the celebrated Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling. As I researched her life, I discovered that she has some striking similarities to the personality which I described a few weeks ago. For example, both she and Lincoln struggled with depression and poverty.

Abraham Lincoln, (1809-1865), was the sixteenth president of the United States and he grew up on a farmstead in Kentucky. (Source: James M. McPherson, “Lincoln, Abraham, (1809-1865), Sixteenth president of the United States”, American National Biography, http://www.anb.org, retrieved on 05/08/2018.)  During his childhood, he carved out a life which was marked by hard physical labor and a lack of consistent education in a one-room schoolhouse. (Source: ibid) He also suffered from melancholy and depressive episodes for much of his life, as well as “brooding” which his friends termed, “the hypo,” short for hypochondria. (Source: ibid, and Shenk, Joshua, “Lincoln’s Great Depression”, The Atlantic). “Hypo,” was the term medical practitioners used in the 19th century to describe what we now recognize as clinical depression. (Source: McPherson)

Similarities between J.K. Rowling and Abraham Lincoln: Professional Failures

Lincoln also tried and failed at much life professional pursuits, including “store clerk, mill hand, a partner in a general store that failed, postmaster, and surveyor.”  (Source: ibid). He also experienced failure in his political career from time to time, and in 1832, when he ran for the legislature, he was defeated. (Source: ibid, and Sid Sivara, “Famous Failures: Michael Jordan, AbrahamJK Rowling portrait_edited-1Abraham Lincoln portrait_edited-1 Lincoln and J.K. Rowling”, https://sidsavara.com/famous-failures-michael-jordan-abraham-lincoln-and-jk-rowling, retrieved on 03/29/18) However, when he re-entered the political race for the legislature in the New Salem district of Illinois, he made a decisive victory in 1834. (Source: McPherson). Despite many setbacks, Lincoln developed a new direction and ambition during his years living in the town of New Salem, Illinois. (Source: ibid) In fact, he started making decisive moves towards self-improvement by joining a debating society, received mentoring from the local teacher in New Salem, Illinois, Mentor Graham, in both mathematics and literature, and he developed a strong interest in politics. (Source: ibid)   In addition, he developed a lifelong interest and appreciation for William Shakespeare and Robert Burns. (Source: ibid)

Likewise, J.K. Rowling also faced extremely challenging life challenges such as poverty and depression. For example, she faced countless rejection letters for her Harry Potter books, initially at least. (Source: Elle Kaplan, “How J.K. Rowling Turned Failure into Massive Success, (And You Can Too),” https:// medium.com, accessed April 17, 2018).    Also, like Lincoln, she seems to be a deep thinker and one who had a specific dream and ambition. (Source: ibid) Rowling’s dream was to provide a good life for her daughter, and she did not give up, no matter how many times she failed. (Source: ibid)   Like Lincoln, she was successful, though it was far from easy. (Source: ibid).

J.K. Rowling’s Unlikely Success: What Motivated Her

While many of you may recognize J.K. Rowling as a bestselling author of the Harry Potter book series, did you know that she was once jobless, living on welfare and raising a daughter all by herself as a single mother? (Source: ibid) In her own words, she states: “By every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.” (Source: ibid).  In addition, she states that her failures helped to shed light on many aspects of her life, including her relationships with others, and that it gave her tenacity to “face adversity head-on to turn unfortunate circumstances into success.” (Source: ibid.)

One aspect of her experience that gave her the will to succeed and rise above her struggles was her wish to give her daughter a better life. (Source: ibid) During this pursuit, she held onto this truth she knew about herself and that was that she believed she knew how to tell a story. (Source: ibid) Understanding her “why” for wanting to succeed in life was crucial to her achievements. (Source: ibid) Learning about J.K. Rowling’s life before she was famous, makes her seem more human and relatable, and it gives us hope that if she can be successful against significant life struggles, so can we. But how do we do this? To investigate this question further, I referred back to the Kaplan article to see what suggestions the author made about being successful.

 

What to Do When Failure Occurs: A Few Suggestions

The author, Kaplan, provides some insights into what we can do to mitigate the sting of failure. For example, she states, when a failure occurs and it inevitably will, rather than letting it defeat you, get some perspective and ask yourself some questions, such as: Do I try again, or do I give up? What do I hope to achieve and why? Is there another way to reach my goal or a strategy I haven’t tried yet? (Source: ibid)

Another strategy you can use to rise above failure is to envision that you are actually being successful in your endeavors and to detach yourself from feelings of failure so that it doesn’t define you. (Source: ibid) According to Kaplan, “Visualization is a powerful tool for building confidence and changing your mindset toward success.” In fact, Kaplan states that: “A recent study looking at brain patterns in weightlifters found that parts of the brain activated when a weightlifter lifted hundreds of pounds were also activated when they only imagined lifting.”  In conclusion, I don’t suppose that I will ever be as famous as J.K. Rowling or Abe Lincoln, and I am OK with that. In fact, I’m not sure that I would want the kind of pressure that they experienced, such as the ever-present imperative to achieve because of their phenomenal successes and contributions to society. I just want to stop letting past failures stop getting the better of me. If I focus too much on these types of things, it can be paralyzing and keep me from moving on toward my next goal. What about you? Do you have a dream that just won’t die, no matter how many times you fail in the pursuit of its fruition? What is your reason for living? I’d love to hear all about your dreams, hopes, and ambitions. Send me a note in the comments section of this blog.

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Portfolio Formats: Which is Right for You?

 

 

Being an Artist: An Unconventional Career Path

 

As promised, I am elaborating about marketing techniques as part of a series which will feature artist portfolios. Part 1 of this series will be about artist portfolios, and subsequent parts will follow as I research and discover content that I deem to be helpful to other artists as they travel this unconventional career path. For example, in my limited experience of this being a professional artist is a path like no other career, in that it is often difficult to navigate and make decisions about how to advance you. There are countless books, articles, and blogs that promise instant success or even urge you to quit your day job and do art full-time, or seem to imply that notion with titles like, Starving to Successful. Disclaimer: I haven’t read the book yet, so I can’t really make about its value to judgment artists. 

It’s hard to sort the wheat from the chaff, and know what to believe or apply to your career. In addition, other career paths such as Nursing, Social Work, Teaching, etc., seem to have a more definite path, which includes: obtaining the degree, often a masters degree, procuring experience in internships, volunteer opportunities, etc., learning to network, writing a killer resume, learning to sell yourself, etc. It is my hope that these articles will bring clarity and direction to your journey as an artist, in whatever form that may take, whether you are a hobby artist, an amateur artist, or a professional artist. But I digress. Ok, so to the topic of the week “What portfolio format options are available to artists?” More importantly, what are the pros and cons of each format?

Artist Portfolios: Why are they Important?

To investigate this topic in greater depth, I read an article entitled, “How to Create a Powerful Art Portfolio,” from Lori McNee’s website, Art and Fine Art Tips. This article was written by guest blogger, Jason Horejs, who is the owner of Xanadu Art Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona, and an astute art business consultant.  Horejs states that, for artists, their portfolio is their resume and that it helps them to gain the attention of gallery owners, potential collectors, etc. (Horejs, 2009).

What Types of Artist Portfolios Exist? An Overview

According to Jason Horejs, there are three main formats for portfolios. They include, but may not be limited to 1.) The CD; which is inundated with “digital images,” of your art, and an affordable option, 2.) the printed book, published by an online provider such as Blurb.com, and 3.) The Presentation Folder, which is a binder that you fill up with clear plastic folders to house prints of your current artwork.  All have both pluses and minuses, although Horejs’ favorite format is the presentation folder. (ibid) In his view, this option makes it easy and inexpensive to update, plus gallery owners don’t have to even open up a computer program to view your artwork, and perhaps, find out to their dismay that your images on CD are not compatible with their PC or Mac computer. (ibid) In the interests of length, I will just discuss two options for portfolios and they are the published book and the presentation folder.

Art Portfolio Option 1: Published Book

Another option for art portfolio formats is to create a published book of your best works through online printing. (ibid)  Web sites such as Blurb.com and mypublisher.com can reproduce your artwork in a book format. (ibid) On the other hand, this format can quickly become obsolete as you develop your body of work over time, and if you want to use it, you will have to keep updating and re-printing it to stay current. (ibid)  This option can be a nice addition if you have a booth of your work at an art festival. (ibid)  For example, having a book about your artwork on hand can serve a talking point for potential customers who may ask the question that I dread most, “What is your art about?” (ibid)

Art Portfolio Option2: Presentation Folder

A final option and Horej’s favorite is the “Presentation Folder”. (ibid) This type of portfolio can be purchased at stores such as Staples, Office Depot and others. (ibid) These can be duplicated as many times as you need for the distribution of your portfolio to art galleries or other decision makers. (ibid) To illustrate your portfolio, print your digital images from a “high-quality inkjet printer,” and put the printed pages into your folder. Be sure to include details about the work in your portfolio such as title, medium, etc. (ibid). Remember, not to include every piece of artwork you’ve made since your first art class! Horejs recommends 20-35 images maximum to be included in your portfolio. (ibid) If you are in doubt about what pieces to include, consult a trusted friend, teacher, mentor, etc., to give you an objective opinion.

Dad and I
Dad and I, oil on canvas, 9 x 12 inches, 2012, Jodie Schmidt.
A Life Remembered 034
Dad and Phyllis, oil on canvas, 11 x 14 inches, 2012, Jodie Schmidt.
Dad and I (Birthday)
The Gift, oil on canvas, 9 x 12 inches, 2012, Jodie Schmidt.
Dad and 1929 Ford
Dad and his 1929 Ford, oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches, 2012, Jodie Schmidt.

Also, it might help to spread out various works of your artwork and look for patterns that define your style and subject matter of choice as an artist. Is it color, Texture, Line, Repetition, or a specific subject or topic that lights you up? What things do you like to draw paint or sculpt the most? Is it animals, architecture, landscapes, still life or portrait? Defining these attributes about your artwork will ensure that it has a consistent look to the portfolio, and it will help you know how to share your artwork when people ask you about it.

What has been my experience with Artist Portfolios?

As for me, it’s been many years since I have assembled and distributed a portfolio for an art show or for anything else. The first example that comes to mind is, my senior year at McDaniel College, in which I created a senior art project based on self-portraits painted in oil. The format I chose to organize my art was a PowerPoint presentation on CD. My second experience with building an art portfolio was when I applied to graduate school for a masters degree in Studio Art. This time, I used 35 milimiterFuji color slide film to record my artwork because that was the method that the schools had required in the application process. Both examples were from many years ago, in 2005 and in 2006 respectively, and obviously, the options have changed. I confess I haven’t kept current with all the new options for displaying portfolio work, for a variety of reasons. For one thing,  I’ve had an ambivalent relationship with art for a long time, going from being fully engaged and filled with dreams and ambitions, to self-doubt, and even extended breaks from making art, and exploring other career paths through college classes, volunteering, etc. Somehow though, I always end up returning to making art.

I am still figuring out what level of involvement I want to have with art. I think my current level of involvement is now an amateur artist, as I have been trying to move in a more professional direction, by requiring that clients sign contracts for my custom art pieces to secure my services, as well as asking them for a non-refundable deposit of 50% of the custom art price.  However, I have not yet been able to make a living from it yet. The earnings are always inconsistent from month to month, even when I really hustle and do lots of art shows, and events to advertise my art. I’m keeping my day job so I can focus on making art and not be worrying about paying the bills.

So what’s my next step? At the moment, I am working on reassembling a new and improved portfolio that reflects my current style, medium and subject matter of choice. A big part of meeting that goal is working in my sketchbook, Draw Every day, Draw Every Way: Sketch, Paint, and Doodle through One Creative Year, by Julia Orkin-Lewis. Here’s a link that describes the book in more detail, in case you are interested: http://augustwren.com/draw-every-day-book/. I’m including some of my sketches from this book that I made with pencil and colored pencil to give you an idea of how the book is structured.

 

 

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How Can Artists Protect Their Art Online?

In a follow up from last week’s blog post about copyright infringement and how to avoid it, I am looking at the other side of the coin and investigating how artists can protect their work from being stolen online.  However, I must offer the caveat shared by Drew Kimble, author of the article, “Stop Stealing My Sh*t,” that there is no foolproof guarantee that any of these measures can protect an artist’s work. Indeed, according to Kimble, if a thief has the technological know-how, they can steal an artist’s work. However, in the words of Kimble, there are strategies which can be used in an effort to deter thieves from unlawfully using an artist’s content.

One of these methods which artists can use to protect their artwork is called watermarking (Kimble, https://skinnyartist.com/stop-stealing-my-images/   . This approach involves creating a mark in a photo editing program, such as PhotoShop, often incorporating your name and the year in which you created the art. (ibid) I first learned about this technique when I was taking a Business of Art Class, taught by local photographer and art business coach, Rebecca La Chance, of Thurmont, MD. Previously to taking this class, I had not thought about protecting my artwork very much, as I had viewed it more as a hobby than a business. However, since 2017, when I made the shift from hobby artist to art business entrepreneur, I have been thinking more about the issue of copyright, both with regard to avoiding copyright infringement, and also how to protect my artwork from being stolen. As I started to do research about copyright infringement, I was shocked about how much art online has been copied wholesale from celebrity photographs and is for sale as handmade art on websites such as Etsy. And there is no way to know with certainty that the artist who made this artwork actually asked the photographer for permission to use their source as a reference for their art.

It is one thing to copy another artist’s work in order to learn from it and to give credit to that artist, as I have done with my master copies. However, it’s quite another thing to steal another artist’s work and take the credit for it. I’d like to think that some artists are ignorant about this issue, and to give them the benefit of the doubt. I hope that is true, but I don’t know if that is true in all cases. Copyright infringement certainly wasn’t a topic that came up in my art classes at college. However, I think it should be addressed, since these college courses in graphic design, painting, illustration, and photography are supposed to prepare artists for the professional world after they graduate, as graphic designers, animators, photographers, professional illustrators, and artists, etc.

More to the point, I think artists who steal others artwork are robbing themselves of the opportunity to create their own work and grow as artists. Although it may take more effort to take your own photos, the hard work is well worth it, because you get an opportunity to learn about the principles of composition, light, etc., and these fundamentals are critical components of making art in any medium.  These principles can help you make higher quality art in general, as composition and lighting are important aspects of making attractive artwork.

On the other hand, I admit that when I was a teenager, I used celebrity photographs to learn how to draw portraits from magazine covers. The truth is, I had no clue about copyright laws at the time. But, knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t offer these drawings for sale or display at an art gallery or any of my commerce shops, such as Etsy and Red Bubble. I have also used the celebrity photos as a learning tool in my 100 faces in 100 days drawing challenge, but these drawings were not for sale, and I frequently gave credit to the photographer’s name in my Instagram posts. I feel now though, that I want to step it up a notch, and not even use copy written photos at all as a reference, but to search for public domain photos, or better yet, learn to take good photos of my own, so that the artwork I create can be more original.

Of course, the issue of artistic theft is not a new one, because, in the past, art was stolen by artists who made forgeries of other artists work such as the famous case of the so-called Vermeer paintings, (i.e. Amsterdam vs. Han Van Meegren (1947). Source: “The Essential Vermeer,” retrieved from http://www.essentialvermeer.com/misc/van meegren.html. So with all this being said, should artists stop making their art available to others through the World Wide Web or not? And if artists decide to post their art online, what are the options to protect their art from thieves? To make this decision, I think artists need to weigh the pros and cons of posting their artwork online to decide how to market their art. And they also need to look at the options available to them to safeguard their artwork online by researching different methods, such as watermarking, slice and dice, disable right click, and shrink wrapping, (Kimble, https://skinnyartist.com/stop-stealing-my-images).

On the benefits side of posting artwork online, artists can gain a wider level of exposure for their artwork than ever before, on a worldwide level, (ibid) by using the world wide web to post their artwork on social media channels such as Facebook and Instagram. They can also sell their artwork online through online galleries such as Art Fire or Daily Paintworks. In the past, such opportunities did not exist and artists were completely dependent on currying the favor of art gallery owners in order to obtain a platform for their artwork. Now, any artist can get their artwork into the public eye without having to pay for application fees. If you have electricity, an internet connection, computer, and cell phone, you can post your artwork to a plethora of websites, for a minimal expense. Added to the social media channels I have already mentioned, are online art galleries which are subscription-based, such as Art Fire and Daily Paintworks, at www.dailypaintworks.com,  created by artist Carol Marine. Many of these require only a small monthly subscription fee with an unlimited amount of posts for an artist’s artwork, which can be linked to commerce sites such as eBay and Etsy, so artists can control their sales completely. Best of all, there is often no jury panel involved to become a member of these online art galleries.

On the other hand, if artists opt out of posting their artwork online, they are much more limited in their ability to gain new followers or control their sales. It can also be more expensive to get your artwork in front of influential decision makers such as art gallery owners and art jury panel members. In this instance, you are limited to the gallery shows you are accepted into and more traditional art events such as art festivals and fairs, which often involve the traditional jury system to gain admittance. Moreover, it can be discouraging to artists (especially emerging artists), to receive one rejection letter after another, especially when they don’t know why their artwork is being rejected. To be successful with this approach, you need a thick skin, perseverance and a specific plan to find galleries who will be a good fit for your art. It can often be like trying to find a job, in that you are trying to make a match between the artwork you create and the artwork that a specific gallery already promotes. This process cannot be random to be successful.

Another option is for artists to choose to combine their art gallery shows with an online presence in social media channels such as Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. In this case, you can probably attract more fans and customer and the instant feedback you receive from your posts can be encouraging and help you to create more art. So, if you decide to go this route, you have several options to protect your artwork from unlawful use. These options include watermarking, slice and dice, shrink wrapping and disabling the right-click option (Kimble). The different strategies I mentioned are described in detail in Drew Kimble’s article, “Stop Stealing My Sh*t,” with an analysis of each method involved. A tutorial for watermarking is embedded in the above-mentioned article. If you are interested in learning more about these techniques you can click on the link, https://skinnyartist.com/stop-stealing-my-images/.

Robert Frost in wooded landscape.
Here is a photo of my box project in progress. I used Liquitex acrylic paints to create a monochromatic underpainting. I plan to complete the box in color, and it will illustrate the poem, Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost.
Three dimensional cube with portrait and landscape painting.
This photo shows the box from a higher vantage point and shows the other sides. I plan to include text on the lid of the box from the poem, Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Night, so viewers can make the connection between the poem and the illustration.

 

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How to Make Time for Art

This week I would like to talk about one of my greatest struggles, and that is, making time to create art. It probably seems ironic for me to say that since I think of myself as an artist and I make art for art shows, clients, and I studied art in college. However, sometimes the things I want to do the most, such as painting and drawing, seem to be the most, difficult to make time for in my schedule. So many things battle for competition of my time: everyday stuff like laundry, cooking and balancing my checkbook, administrative tasks for my art business, like marketing and accounting, time wasters like internet surfing and excessive social media use, etc., etc. All these need to get done, but if I am not careful, they can crowd out too much of my time. And if that isn’t enough, I have been battling with artist’s block and self-doubt about my abilities to succeed as an artist, (whatever that means), ever since I have taken my art to a more professional level, by showing at art galleries and art fairs, and creating custom art for clients. My standards for making art have really skyrocketed, (and they were already ridiculously high) since I now feel the pressure to try and please others by making art work that “sells.”

However, in all this, I have lost my joy in making art, and don’t even know what it is that I want to say with my art anymore. This period of my life reminds me of another time period when I faced the same kind of self-doubt, when I was a senior in at McDaniel College in Westminster, MD, studying art. I was in my final year at McDaniel and taking an art studio thesis course, where I had to make art work that demonstrated something I wanted to say and write an artist statement to support that work. After I got that assignment, I felt paralyzed with indecision. It took me two weeks to come out of that episode of artist’s block, and I really wasn’t sure what I would do during that time. When I was going through this ordeal,  I felt that everything there is to say about art has already been said by many famous artists such as Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Vermeer, Rembrandt, etc. and that every art subject has already been done in the thousands of years of art history. I felt I had to come up with some really “original” idea and I looked everywhere I could think to find inspiration: art magazines, art books, etc. I finally found my inspiration in the songs of singer/songwriter, Sting, which seemed an unlikely solution to me. I decided to try and illustrate the feelings in some of his songs like Lithium Sunset, by using myself as subject, and color as a way to express emotions. The crisis was solved and I made it through, but I really struggled to climb out of that pit.

Unfortunately, I am finding myself in that awful place again of uncertainty and doubt. So this week I am writing about how to make time for art, in hopes that it will help me to focus my time better and to get back into the habit of regular studio practice. I’d like to share with you some insights from two blog articles I read by Lisa Congdon, entitled, How to Find Time to Make Art When You Work Full Time, (2017) and an article entitled, How to Find Times for Art in a Busy Life, Tara Leaver, (2014) in hopes that you will find it helpful to you in managing your life and making time for creativity. According to Lisa Congdon, there are a few things you can do to help make time for art. For example, she recommends that artists and other creative types set aside a block of time every week, even if it’s only for a few minutes or a few hours, and that these small increments of time will add up over time. She also mentions an all important habit and that is to limit your time on your computer or phone screen. Another blog writer, Julie Fan Fei-Balzer, recommends a few time management apps she uses to track her time online, such as Flipboard, Tweetdeck, and Alinoff (an online computer app that records the amount of time you spend online.) I’ve been taking this advice by setting aside small increments of time daily, just working on demonstration paintings from art technique books to try and get myself back in the groove. And slowly I am getting my courage back to work on original art, which I really need to get back to doing more often, because I realize that if I don’t make art, I have nothing to share with others, as was so wisely said by Art Biz Coach, Alyson Stanfield on her podcast, on Art Marketing Action series,  at http://www.artbizcoach.com.

For example, she recommends that artists and other creative types set aside a block of time every week, even if it’s only for a few minutes or a few hours, and that these small increments of time will add up over time. She also mentions an all important habit and that is to limit your time on your computer or phone screen. Another blog writer, Julie Fan Fei-Balzer, of Balzer Designs, recommends a few time management apps she uses to track her time online, such as Flipboard, Tweetdeck, and Alinoff (an online computer app that records the amount of time you spend online.) I’ve been taking this advice by setting aside small increments of time daily, just working on demonstration paintings from art technique books to try and get myself back in the groove. And slowly I am getting my courage back to work on original art, which I really need to get back to doing more often, because I realize that if I don’t make art, I have nothing to share with others, as was so wisely said by Art Biz Coach, Alyson Stanfield on her podcast, on Art Marketing Action series,  at http://www.artbizcoach.com.

In addition, Tara Leaver, author of the article, How to Find Time for Art in a Busy Life, (2014), states that one way to make time for art is to schedule in blocks of time during the day when you feel you are at your best, whether it’s early in the morning, in the afternoon or late at night. I personally prefer the afternoon or mid-morning, but I know it would be pointless for me to get up early to try and fit art into my schedule because I am not a morning person. She also mentions that having healthy boundaries and the ability to say “No” to others can help you make time for art, although you can occasionally say yes to say, a meeting with friends over coffee.

For me, the saying “No”, might be to a variety of things such as additional art shows, (since they often require much more than just making art, such as marketing, or pricing the work, or getting it ready for distribution, e.g. (framing, matting or pricing). Or it might mean saying “No”, to watching movies or surfing the internet. Even a well-intentioned visit to Pinterest to look for inspiration for my art work can turn into a rabbit hole that keeps me away from my work and instead results in mindless scrolling through other’s people’s art work, recipes, fashion ideas, etc. if I don’t limit my time there. The biggest takeaway I am getting from this journey out of artist’s block, is that I fear to make mistakes so much that I have been avoiding doing my art work, staying busy with other things, such as cleaning the house, art business stuff, or anything else I can think of to stay away from the easel and my fears about whether I might mess something up. I seem to have a pattern of getting excited about projects, and then giving up, when I get to the hard part. However, today I choose to make art in spite of the fear because it’s what I truly love to do, and I want to share my work with others. It’s been my dream to be an artist for as long as I can remember, and despite many setbacks and self-doubt, it seems to be something I return to again and again. I hope it will bring some light and joy to your day viewing my paintings. The Geese drawing and paintings are my original art work, and the landscape is a demonstration from the Jerry Smith book, Expressive Landscapes in Acrylic.