Friday, November 30, 2012

I'm still a fan of Flickr

Until a few months ago, I felt like Flickr was dead.  Or dying.  Then I happened to stumble upon a group I forgot I joined that was still very lively, with active users posting pictures and commenting on the message board.  And one of my fellow members found my blog as a result! 

While it's true that some of the groups I joined have suffered from attrition, others have benefited from it.  As the Photoshop filter freaks found Instagram and the aspiring food photographers discovered Pinterest, it left room for the more serious artists and photographers of Flickr to thrive.  I started seeing more pictures that my contacts had taken for their photography portfolios, as opposed to vacation and party photos, or snapshots of their families.  After all, that's what Facebook is for.  So even though there may not be as many active users on Flickr as there once were, the decrease in quantity has simultaneously produced an increase in quality.  And that's why I'm still a fan of Flickr.

As an artist, I think that Flickr is the best social media platform I have joined.  Not only does it host my images for a reasonable annual fee, but it also allows me to connect with other artists.  The groups I mentioned before are often a great source of information.  You can post questions on group message boards and get answers about photography or painting techniques, or even doll collecting.  Another useful feature is the camera directory.  Flickr takes the EXIF data from the cameras used for each photo and posts it.  If you click on the camera's model number, you can see other photos taken with the same camera, a useful tool if you want to see what the camera of your dreams is capable of in real life before you buy it.  Doing a camera search can also be a source of inspiration.  Many times I realized how much of my camera's potential I still haven't taken advantage of when I see the photos others have taken with the same model. 

Another valuable feature of Flickr is that the images you upload and mark as public are indexed by Google.  You never know, someone might find your art and ask you to use it in an article.  It's happened to me before.  You can set up varying levels of copyright, from all rights reserved to creative commons licenses, as well as allow your work to be used by Getty Images.

It's also a very flexible platform. Unlike some social media sites that are stingy with their APIs, (Twitter, I'm looking at you!) Flickr generously allows developers to design applications for their service.  If you're a code expert, this opens up a world of possibilities.  Or if you're like me and would rather save time by implementing other people's widgets, you can take advantage of the wealth of free additions to your website.  For example, I use Pictobrowser on my website, and if you scroll to the bottom of this blog, you'll notice the Flickriver badge that displays thumbnails of my favorite images posted by other people on Flickr.  I call it my digital mood board.

Another nice thing about Flickr is that it organizes your photos into RSS feeds, providing yet another way to share and organize your artwork.  RSS is a great tool for websites, and people who like to susbscribe to RSS feeds can subscribe to your Flickr portfolio using the services of their choice.

Pinterest is designed for sharing the content of others.  In fact, as I understand it, in its early days, posting pictures of your own art and products was frowned upon.  It's an engine for aspirational consumption, a public, visual wish list where often the same images get "re-pinned" over and over.  But Flickr encourages you to upload your own pictures.  Instagram seems to revolve around sharing photos of more intimate, personal details of your life while filtering them with a faux-nostalgic haziness and fading.  Flickr photos range from the personal to the commercial, and while Instagram and Hipstamatic photos are welcome there, high definition and high dynamic range photos are valued for their clarity and professionalism.

So if you are an artist looking for a place where you can share your work with an engaged community that will inspire and challenge you, give Flickr a try.  See some of the Flickr groups I have featured in the past in the posts labeled Friday Featured Flickr Group.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Post-Consumerism for the holidays: ornaments made with recycled materials

This post will use a word that some people in the art world might find offensive, the dreaded c-word: crafts.  Yes, that's right.  I'm making (and hopefully selling) crafts now.  I decided to make some Christmas ornaments with recycled paper.  I think they fit right in with my Post-Consumerism oeuvre.  Here's what I have made so far.



These glass ornaments are filled with strips of paper cut from magazines and catalogs.  They're a lot of fun to make.  The challenge is finding paper that looks good cut into strips.  Fortunately, I have a large collection to pull from.

Instead of using wire ornament hooks or ribbons, I've decided to use a recycled material called plarn.  Plarn is a yarn made from plastic shopping bags.  Green plarn will blend right in with a green Christmas tree.

I am also making ornaments with recycled cardboard and painting them.  These will be a lot more like my paintings.  I will post some photos of them when they're ready.  My plan is to sell the ornaments exclusively at my December open studio.  Call me old-fashioned, but I like to celebrate the holidays one at a time, so my rule is no ornaments until after Thanksgiving.  But I may make an exception for people who would like to order a set on Etsy. (If anyone on that overcrowded website even sees them!)  They are $10 each or 6 for $50.  E-mail me if you're interested in placing an order.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Feel free to ignore this review of Ignore Everybody

Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys to Creativity by Hugh MacLeod
Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys to Creativity by Hugh MacLeod

This is a great book and I recommend it to anyone who wants to do something creative, especially if the people in your life are not very creative.  A few years ago I learned the hard way that just because someone claims to want what's best for you, it doesn't mean they actually know what's best for you.  Sometimes you are better off not taking their advice. 

The book starts out with a bang:

1. Ignore everybody.
The more ori­gi­nal your idea is, the less good advice other peo­ple will be able to give you. When I first star­ted with the cartoon-on-back-of-bizcard for­mat, peo­ple thought I was nuts. Why wasn’t I trying to do something more easy for mar­kets to digest i.e. cutey-pie gree­ting cards or whatever?

Here are his first 10 main points:

1. Ignore everybody.

2. The idea doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be yours.

3. Put the hours in.

4. If your biz plan depends on you sud­denly being “dis­co­ve­red” by some big shot, your plan will pro­bably fail.

5. You are res­pon­si­ble for your own expe­rience.

6. Ever­yone is born crea­tive; ever­yone is given a box of cra­yons in kin­der­gar­ten.

7. Keep your day job.

8. Com­pa­nies that squelch crea­ti­vity can no lon­ger com­pete with com­pa­nies that cham­pion crea­ti­vity.

9. Every­body has their own pri­vate Mount Eve­rest they were put on this earth to climb.

10. The more talen­ted some­body is, the less they need the props.

You can read the rest here:

I love what he said about no great novels being written with really expensive, designer fountain pens.  I think we rely on external props that we think will somehow make us more creative (like certain brands of computers, for example) instead of adjusting the technology to fit our own needs or being creative enough to make something out of nothing.  I find it amusing and ironic that so many artists, who avoid joining groups, clubs, or organized religions because of the perceived threat to their individuality, have no problem joining certain cults of technology or personality.  Likewise, the push to social media and "liking" what your friends like, re-tweeting and re-blogging on Twitter and Tumblr, and sharing images in the hopes of getting immediate feedback creates an environment of conformity, a certain hive-minded collective consciousness that can deaden the impulse to think for oneself.  As David Meyer put it, "We live in an Internet culture where individuality is supposedly celebrated, but where the tyranny of brand reputation is ruthlessly enforced on a collective basis."

Such is the nature of the Internet, where every person is a brand, every blogger a pundit, everyone with a pulse an expert of some sort, ready to dispense advice, some of it free of charge, the rest available once you pay for an e-book, webinar, or personal consultation.  It's great to gather advice and receive the wisdom of those who are willing to share it, but sometimes, when you really want to do something daring and unusual, you just need to ignore everybody and do what makes sense for you. 

Here are some of the "truths" that I am currently ignoring:

  • I need to replace my Hotmail account with a Gmail account because everybody's doing it.
  • If you are good at more than one thing, just focus on one of the things you are good at and only develop that particular talent.
  • You can't make art on a PC. Every artist needs a Mac.
  • The only good smartphone is an iPhone.
  • If I crowdfund my art with Kickstarter or IndieGoGo, I will make a lot of money.
  • Every blog must be self-hosted on Wordpress.
  • You shouldn't build your own website if you're an artist, even if you know how to do it. It's much better to pay someone else to make a cookie-cutter website instead.
  • Educational debt is good debt.
  • I have to follow everyone who follows me on Twitter, no matter how boring or irrelevant their tweets are.
  • I need to read as many blogs about blogging, tweets about Twitter, and Facebook posts about Facebook as possible because social media and SEO experts have all the answers.
  • If I spend a lot of money on this person's webinar/book/conference call about how to be a successful artist/interior designer, all my problems will be solved.
  • Being on social media will get you discovered and lead to overnight success!
What have you chosen to ignore?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Disappointing shows

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Where is everybody?

I haven't written much about this lately, but turnout for my open studio events has been disappointing.  It's all been downhill since at least the beginning of 2011.  And so I thought of ways to get more people to attend.  If you've been reading this blog for a while you may recall the guest artists I featured this year.  But having guest artists at my studio hasn't helped much with turnout.  In fact, I felt bad that I didn't have more people coming by who could meet and purchase work from my guest artists.  The whole thing seemed so unfair to them.  And once my paintings were returned from the various shows I had them in, I had no more room for them on my studio walls.  I had to hang them in the hallway, which was where I had been hanging the work of the guest artists in the past.  There isn't enough room anymore, and that's why I'm not having any guest artists at the studio for a while. 

In the meantime, I have been looking for ways to get more publicity.  I already had a social media presence, but hadn't been very active on Facebook and Twitter because I was so busy with work.  In May I got a new job with more downtime, and a few months later decided to start using HootSuite.  I've gotten more followers, but I don't think any of them are art collectors.  I've had announcements about my open studios re-tweeted, but never to the right people.  Last month, for example, I had a series of re-tweets by people in Vermont of all places, as well as by people in London.  But not Chicago, where my studio actually is.  I mean, do people even click the links in a tweet before they share them with their followers?

I also conducted a Facebook advertising experiment.  After finally reaching 100 Likes on my fan page, I got $50 in advertising credits.  So I decided to use the credit to advertise my open studio.  Their system allows you to be specific about who you want to advertise to.  I was able to choose my target audience based on where they live, what their interests are, and their ages.  Slowly but surely, the RSVPs came in.  It cost me about $2 per "yes," and pretty soon I had a sizeable guest list.  But the night of the open studio, none of the Facebook people who saw my ad showed their faces in my studio.  I am so glad I didn't waste any money on it.  I also had a $50 advertising credit on LinkedIn.  They made me pay a $5 activation fee for some odd reason, so advertising there wasn't actually free.  I got a handful of clicks one day, then nothing.

I also made a lot of postcards and left them on bulletin boards at restaurants near my studio and at the Hyde Park Art Center.  I don't think they did much either.  I put a free ad in the Chicago Reader, too.  And last but not least, I also invited the 160 people on my e-mail list.  A few of them showed up.

Sometimes, when I have open studios, I don't even sell anything, not even a $20 mini painting.  Sometimes people ask about purchasing things that aren't even for sale, like my studio decor.  Someone wanted to buy my Kaleidoscope House, for example.  I told her it wasn't for sale, and she was like "Why not?"  I explained that the paintings are for sale, but the other things in my studio are there because I like to look at them, and I like to be surrounded by things that inspire me.  I mean, can't I have anything nice, just for myself?

All these things are for decoration, not for sale.

I really need to get more art collectors in my studio.  I wish I could afford to advertise, but I can't.  After paying my studio rent, I have nothing left for myself.  It's the reason I have given up on entering juried shows with fees this year.  Three years after graduating, I am still living like a grad student, and my studio is the reason why.  Most people, when they finally start to earn a decent salary, save more for retirement, go shopping, buy a car or a home, move to a nicer apartment, or take a nice vacation.  My studio is the reason I can't afford any of those things.  And it is not paying for itself.  And I don't know how much longer I can take it.  To be drowning in debt while simultaneously surrounded by unsold paintings. . . what kind of a life is that? 

I have tried to diversify my offerings with a book, but I've only sold 5 copies of it.  And you know how many Doll Project prints I have sold from Society 6? Zero.  Yet I keep getting Likes and followers.  Those numbers are meaningless to me.  The numbers I really care about, to be honest, have a dollar sign in front of them.  And the people who buy my art are actually not on social media much, or at all.

Sometimes I wonder if it's the location of the studio that's the problem.  Would I have a bigger crowd if I were in a neighborhood, perhaps where there is free street parking?  I really don't want to move to another studio, though.  The location is convenient for me.  And I've had events at other venues, sometimes where there was even free parking, and big crowds of people still didn't come.  There is always the temptation to chase that ever-moving target, the hip art scene.  First it's in this neighborhood, then it moves on to the next and the next, and you have to become a nomad and keep pursuing it, starting over in one converted industrial space after another. 

Honestly, I'd prefer to have my work in pop-up shows in those places, or galleries in those places, and keep working at The Fine Arts Building.  No matter what the "cool kids" are doing, downtown Chicago will always be a cultural center, and I like working in a space that inspires me.  It's near public transportation so I don't have to drive there, is not too far from where I work, and I don't care that it's not open 24 hours because I'm not interested in painting all night long anyway. 

I used to think that having good work and being on social media would be enough to lead to some modest art sales, but now I see it's not enough.  I need to find a real gallery to represent me.  Maybe then I will finally find more serious collectors.  I'm tired of being disappointed.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Shiny Objects From Afar: SOFA Expo 2012

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It was hard not to think of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy when I went to the SOFA Expo this year.  So many of the galleries showing there are from New York.  I'm not sure how many of them were directly hit by the flood waters or how many dealers and artists lost people they cared about in the storm, but I kept thinking of that as I looked at the booths from New York.  Whenever there are major floods, I can't look at a body of water the same way.  Sure, Lake Michigan looks peaceful now, but its relative calm belies the fact that it has made many widows and orphans since the founding of Chicago.  As as I walked further and further down to the end of Navy Pier, where the SOFA show was held, surrounded by the waters of lake, I felt a new respect for the power of nature.

Concerns about climate change and the environment were the theme of the large scale installation near the entrance, Bags Across the Globe, featuring a huge fused plastic shopping bag that hovers overhead like a cloud, raining down reusable shopping bags made from discarded fabric.

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I found an incredible array of beautiful things.

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Norman Mooney

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Pedestal: Jan Huling; Wall: Joseph Cavalieri

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Lino Tagliapietra

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Julie Elkins

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Nuala O'Donovan

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Hiroshi Yamano

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Pedestal- Adrian Arleo; Walls- Lesley Richmond

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Joan Rasmussen

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Cassandria Blackmore

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Specimen Products by Ian Schneller

Zammy Migdal

Yves Boucard

Steve Linn

Ruth Oliphant

Matt Duffin

Ted Gall

Dena Pengas
Stephen Powell

Seeing the fragile objects perched on pedestals, their unique beauty threatened by a careless bystander, reminded me of the precarious state of so many art world fixtures that we take for granted.  I haven't even had the chance to visit New York since I got serious about being an artist, and there are so many galleries I never got to visit, and now I may never be able to.  I hope that they will be rebuilt, and in the meantime I am glad I had the opportunity to see so much beautiful art from all over the world at Navy Pier.

Today is the last day of the SOFA show.  See it while you can.  It runs from noon until 6 p.m. today.  For more information, visit the SOFA Expo site.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

What's an open studio like?

I'm writing this post for the benefit of readers who have never been to an open studio before.  Feel free to skip it if you've been to one already.

I've tried to get publicity for my open studios everywhere I can, but never took the time to explain on this blog what, exactly, an open studio is. 

The difference between an art gallery and an art studio

First, I will explain the difference between a gallery and an art studio.  An art gallery is a place where art is displayed.  It could be a museum, an artist-run space, or a commercial space, but in the end, its function is the same.  It is a place where the public can come to view work by artists.  Often sparsely furnished, a gallery's primary purpose is to showcase art.  Some galleries can also be rented out for private events, but if they are commercial spaces, they are essentially stores whose merchandise is art.

Rauschenberg and Warhol at the MCA
One of the galleries of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

An art studio is a place where an artist makes art.  Because it is a work space, and because of the nature of art supplies, it can get pretty messy.  Depending on the medium an artist works in, a studio could be full of pens, pencils, stencils, paper, inks, pastels, paints, glue, cameras, tripods, easels, encaustic wax, markers, rulers, t-squares, clay, wood, sawdust, glass rods, blow torches, beads, feathers, leather, soldering irons, welding equipment, kilns, fabric, yarn, dye, sewing machines, looms, or found objects for making art, not to mention the various objects the artist uses as a source of inspiration.  These items could range from books, flowers, leaves, mysterious keys, mannequins, cans, jars, bottles, old toys, industrial equipment, rusted farm machinery, fruits and vegetables, newspaper and magazine clippings, postcards of work by other artists, stickers, and fabric scraps, to a television or a laptop with a good Internet connection, and some sort of device that plays music.  On occasion you may even find nude models or the artist's pets there.  And that's not even factoring in early drafts of works in progress.  Considering how messy and personal such a work space can get, most of the time, when the public goes to see art, they go to a gallery and not a studio.

My art studio when I first moved in.  Without an easel, I had to paint on the floor.

I mention this distinction because when I invite people to my open studio events, sometimes they think I have my own gallery.  But I don't.  I don't want to run a gallery; I just want to find one that will represent me.  I'm happy just having an art studio.  And my studio is definitely not a gallery.

So what is an open studio?

An open studio is a public art show at an artist's studio.  Think of it as a factory tour or a behind-the-scenes view of how a movie was made.  You can see art that the artist is still working on.  Depending on what sort of arrangement the artist has with his or her gallery (if they are represented), you may be able to buy work from the artist at the open studio.  And it that aspect, it can be a little like buying direct at the factory store.  Like an art opening, an open studio is a hospitable event, and there are usually light refreshments free of charge for guests.  In buildings or neighborhoods where there are multiple artists' studios, it's common to hold several open studios simultaneously as part of one big event.  That's what we do on the second Friday of each month at the Fine Arts Building.

Pictures from my previous open studios.

Why should I attend an open studio?

If you want to see art in the place where it was created, you should attend an open studio.  Because it is more intimate than a big, fancy gallery opening, it can feel less intimidating.  You have a much better chance of being able to speak to the artists one on one, and maybe even meet their close friends and family members.  If you're a creative person yourself, attending an open studio can be very inspiring.  Before I got a studio of my own, I was fascinated with the various ways in which other artists set up their work spaces.  If you're drained from working all day and you go to an open studio after work or on your day off, you might find the experience energizing.  It can be a fun event to attend with friends or with a date.  Most open studios are free of charge (though some ask for a small donation) so they make an inexpensive group activity.  And of course, if you're a collector and want to get your hands on some new art that none of your friends or neighbors have, an open studio is the ideal setting to buy art.

Who should attend an open studio?

As you can see from the previous paragraph, open studios can appeal to people for a wide variety of reasons.  They're for everyone who likes art, no matter what their age.  I make it a point to say that kids are welcome at my open studios, as long as they are well behaved.  And by that, I mean as long as they don't steal, break things, climb the walls, or try to eat whatever they can get their hands on, even if it is inedible.

If your baby insists on putting everything in his mouth, please don't bring him to my studio.
Remember  my crazy list of all the odds and ends that you may find in a studio, the sharp objects and various chemicals?  An art studio is not designed to be a child-proof space, so use common sense.  And in my case, even though the materials I use are non-toxic, it doesn't mean that they are edible.  I love kids, and don't want them to get hurt.  As for my subject matter, my paintings are abstract and family-friendly, though The Doll Project could spark some serious discussions about the media and body image.  Obviously there is plenty of art out there that deals with subjects that may not be age appropriate, so try to look at the artist's website first before you bring children to their studio. 

Now that I've gotten those warnings out of the way, I can talk about the benefits of taking children to an open studio.  It can be a very educational experience for them, whether they are just learning their colors and shapes, or are older kids who enjoy art classes at school.  It gives them a chance to see a unique workspace while interacting with living artists, as opposed to seeing art at a museum.  So if you don't have a babysitter and your kids know how to conduct themselves amongst grown-ups, bring them along.

Hopefully this post has cleared up any confusion you may have had about art galleries and art studios and you'll visit my studio sometime.
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