I came across this draft on my blog, reminded recently by a friend that I haven’t blogged lately. I know, I’ve been a bit busy. More than busy. When people ask what I like to do in my spare time, I’m tempted to tell them it’s the same thing I am doing when I am working. Fearing the answer will make me seem one-dimensional, I tell them I love to cook (true), sail (also true) and…. yep, paint, paint some more, look at paintings, think about paintings, talk about shows with paintings and occasionally gossip about paintings, and hang on, other painters. The last three years, however, have led me down a path I suppose I was always destined for but took a while to finally materialize. In the last three years I’ve earned my teaching credential, cleared it and am teaching k-5 art at High Tech Elementary in Chula Vista. And now when I’m not painting, I think about how to teach kids to paint, or what it might have been like to paint with cataracts like Monet, or a brace like Chuck Close.

It’s not all roses and martinis everyday, but overwhelmingly the things I do to make a living are all rewarding.  I’ve hesitated making the announcement public to the art world, wondering if I needed to cross the two and how that would be perceived by galleries, curators and other artists. I guess I still have the impression that artists who have day jobs are taken less seriously. Just look around, there are a ton of blog posts out there by artists who have a variety of stances on this topic.

Of course there are a lot of artists that do have day jobs and paint full-time, and I thought about keeping my painting career and my teaching job separate when I blog, post on Facebook,  Google +,  and all that media out there that helps me promote my work. Just to make sure that no one thinks I am going to be a less serious painter. It’s disingenuous however. Doing so would be to pretend that I am not completely passionate about education, about bringing art to young minds, and addressing my fears that as a culture we are losing the next generation of American artists. Few things frustrate me more than to watch young, talented students who have a viable career ahead of them skip art school for med school or an engineering degree, because we all know you can’t make money at making art. Bullshit.

So my official position now is that I am both: an artist and an educator. I realize I’ve always been both, my time and energy divided between both, for really the last 20+ or so years. Some years I’ve spent more on one or the other, but now I am at a place if I may be so candid that I am resourceful and creative enough to do both, simultaneously, and well.

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This has been the theme of late – delayed gratification.  Delayed, sort of like my blogging, but I digress….

Small Flower New Mexico II, 7x21, monotype

Turns out I sold two monotypes that I created almost, gasp, 8 years ago. Another monotype that I made almost 4 years ago was just selected for a large scale hotel project. I never would have guessed it – nobody told me that it would take so long sometimes to sell art. I still really like the pieces, and I suppose somewhere along the way I figured they might never sell and I was happy to keep them. Happier to sell them though!

So back to blogging, I’ve recommitted to getting back to a routine.  It’s not that I haven’t had anything to say, just that I found when I had it to say I couldn’t break away to get it written.  And thanks to the couple of people who actual made a point to tell me they missed my posts. I promise not to make you wait so long between posts!

I have decided that I am a compulsive cutter of paper. This should not come as a surprise to anyone who has actually seen my work. It’s pretty obvious from the go get that collage and paper is a pretty big part of my work. What people may not understand is just how big and why.

One of my biggest thrills as a kid was to find unruled drawing paper. Since my Dad was and still is a lawyer, we had plenty of yellow pads of lined paper around but the unlined stuff was much harder to come by. This was back in the day, too, that you didn’t have Office Depot to go buy a ream of paper. I usually had to settle for some kind of freebie pad of paper that we got from somewhere with some kind of ad on it. So when I found paper that was pure, virginal, void of any and all marks, I was in heaven!

Ironically, now I use paper for their inherent markings and symbols and the ideas and ideal that I think they represent. But what hasn’t changed is my need to collect, draw on, cut up and preserve the paper.  If you don’t believe me, here’s a picture of my cutting station in my studio along with the two giant drawers in my flat files that keep all my precious “bitties” as I call them. I am really concentrating on sewing pattern paper and their instructions right now, along with my new interest in the actual packaging with images of the completed patterns. The patterns for me represent some kind of fabricated idea of womanhood and a path that I was supposed to take but didn’t. I love their practicality and the fact that a pattern would help you turn fabric into something but I feel an internal rebellion into thinking that somehow the pattern creates multiples of the same thing. I am constantly thinking about all of the layers of what these patterns mean and how they connect me to the women in my family and women in general.

So to continue to process through these discoveries I manipulate, cut up, mark on, tear, stain and soak paper with wax. I try to reassemble the paper into some new and unique usefulness in my own mind. I want to make them into something new without obliterating what they were to begin with.

I think there is something precious in paper. We use it to send love letters. We make to do lists. Well, some of us do.  We sign legal documents made of paper. We doodle, we draw and we dream on paper. I’d like to think that by including paper in my work I am including all of the history that has touched that paper into my art work. So, I confess right here that I am a compulsive cutter and collager and if there’s a twelve step for that don’t bother inviting me.

I was lucky enough to have four amazing women in an impromptu printmaking session last week.  We were working with carborundum collagraphs and monotype. Since it was only two days, we really tried to pack in as much as possible, with almost everyone bringing their lunch day two so that they could work straight through lunch.

It’s funny when you have such a short period of time to work.  Sometimes it works in my favor – the pressure makes me focus and be efficient. Other times, I cave to the pressure to produce and get very little done and feel quite frustrated, which usually leads me to call a friend and talk about getting a job at either Costco or Home Depot.  This was one of those times. I needed to get a commission done and I just wasn’t feeling it. It could have been because the series is about 4 years old. I’ve moved on and it just doesn’t excite me anymore. I also didn’t really feel giddy about the color palette, I remember that I made the work in the early spring and since it’s summer the palette didn’t feel right.

My friend and fellow artist Maite was in class and I think the morning of the second day she felt about the same.  She asked me to step outside and see if I could find her mojo, that it had mysteriously disappeared from the day before. I suggested that maybe my mojo left with her mojo to go get a cocktail?  In the end, I decided to put on some Sinatra and see if that didn’t cure it. By track 2 or 3 I was reminiscing about my honeymoon, the day we sailed around the Dog Islands wing on wing and anchored off that private island that drew the attention of the security guards that interrupted our turkey sandwich lunch….

Anyway before you know it we were both back “on” and working with less angst, especially Maite, who produced out some super amazing work by the end of the day. Was it Sinatra that brought back the mojo? I can’t say for sure, but the next time I get stuck you better believe old blue eyes and I are going to be belting out “I’ve got the World on a String” at full blast!

There are a few artists out there suffering from an illness: Copycatilism.  That’s right, I just made that up but I’ll bet you know exactly what I am talking about. Symptoms include: laziness, lack of imagination, tendency to spend hours looking at other artist’s work, and the click of the mouse to save images for later use.  Those infected may also lean towards tracing, transposing, and photoshop tweaking to disguise their symptoms.

Copying happens for several reasons in my mind. You have the student variety, a student is taking a workshop or class and suddenly the student’s work looks like the instructor’s work. This is natural and excusable if the student moves on and graduates to their own version and work once the instruction time is over.  Then there’s the, I’m just experimenting variety.  This is usually a weekend artist that sees something they like and they try it on for size. Maybe they completely copy the image or they change the palette to match their sofa. I don’t mean this in a condescending way, but they like something and they want their own version of it and never intend to do anything with it other than hang it in their house. Which bring us to the more insidious kind of copier, the I came up with it myself kind.  This is the person that emulates and tries to own someone else’s work.  This is the person infected with Copycatilism.

I’ve been exposed to people infected with Copycatilism as have many of my artist friends.  A few years ago I had a workshop co-participant ask to use my ink because she liked my custom mixed palette and loved my imagery so could she use my stencils too?  AWK-ward. She managed to create a color palette like mine anyway, and copied my imagery, along with my compositions and image size. She was so proud of her “new” work. I started to think I was crazy, that I was imagining that she completely copied me, how could this happen in a workshop in front of other people??? Until another participant came up to me a whispered that this woman must like my work so much she decided to copy me.  My stomach turned inside out. I almost skipped the last day of the workshop.  This copy cat contacted me a short time later so that we could “work together.” I tried to be kind and compassionate but I did tell her that she needed to be aware of what she was really doing.  I never heard from her again.

That’s an obvious case of copying but what about when you aren’t sure? My take is that your gut is sure. If you see a work out that looks enough like your own that a bell goes off internally, there’s a good chance you got copied. Sadly, the internet has made all of this quite easy to do. It also makes it easier to see when you may have been copied since it seems we are all connected now via Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and the like. Not to mention that if you don’t see it yourself someone you know may see it and let you know.

Some things are not really copying though. Like a friend said the other day, “I just invented the circle now if anyone else uses it I’ll know they copied me.” She was of course being sarcastic. There are iconic images, shapes and styles that just aren’t copying.  Like a circle, certain images are so widely used that it doesn’t amount to copying. Now if the color palette, size of the work, material, texture and the like are the same, then that increases the likelihood that it is a copy.  I have a painter friend who was alerted to a series another artist created chronologically after hers that was so similar that when I saw the work there was no mistaking that she had been copied. It was so obvious it was disgusting.

Some say that if you’ve been copied you’ve arrived, that it is flattering. I don’t really see it that way although I understand the perspective. It’s one thing to try another artist’s technique as an experiment, but once an artist claims someone else’s imagery as their own original idea they have crossed a line. I don’t think there are very many of us out there making art that is entirely original, myself included, but I do think that artists need to make sure that their ideas are fresh and not someone else’s worked over. Or not even worked over in some cases. In the meantime, pray for a cure.

Don’t worry, it’s not as ominous as it may sound.  I hear a lot about artists looking at galleries, watching where other artists show, seeking opportunities to show in alternative spaces and so on. Artists are always on the lookout to get their work shown. What I think artists forget is that gallery owners and the people that work for them are always looking at art too. While not all gallerists admit it, most are watching for new and interesting artists.

How do I know this? In part because I used to work at a gallery.  We were constantly looking at art, and that was back in the day when no one thought it was necessary to have a website. That’s right, who in their right mind would say that now? We kept show cards, looked at galleries on our travels, went to art shows, MFA shows and art festivals.  We were always looking at art.  I mean really, if you sell art then you probably love art, spend a lot of time around art and artists and you keep your eyes open. When we found an artist we felt was a standout we would contact them regarding their work.  Perhaps it was to show at a themed show, for a particular project or longer term representation, but the relationship was not initiated by the artist.  We were aware of artists that weren’t necessarily aware of the gallery.

Another case in point: a friend called me today to tell me that she was contacted by a gallery that she thought had dismissed her work.  An initial conversation had taken place many months ago that appeared to go no where. She had thought the gallery simply wasn’t interested, but then just recently they called her and in fact had been visiting her website. They still liked the work, and now she is shipping a painting to the gallery and the relationship is moving to the next step.

An installation shot of my show at Page Bond Gallery
An installation shot of my show at Page Bond Gallery

I bring this up because I think all too often artists get discouraged.  Sometimes we think that if a gallery doesn’t jump at the chance to show our work at the first introduction that the door has closed. Not necessarily, and now with social media changing the way we interact, galleries have numerous opportunities to look at work in a less formal manner than ever before. Galleries are at art fairs, looking at the art shown by other galleries.  Gallery owners go to other galleries and if you are showing your work, chances are other gallerists have seen your work. Even better, maybe they like your work and are watching your career from afar.

So how do you prepare for this?

  • Keep you best foot forward. This means on your website, on social media sites, at galleries, at openings and when you meet new people, especially in the art business. You never know who someone may know that opens the next door for you. Not that you want to be fake to get an opportunity, I am not recommending this, but be kind and polite and treat people you meet with respect.
  • Update your website regularly. If you knew a particular gallery was visiting your website every 6 months or so, would you want them to see more of the same every visit? Have you updated the text pages to reflect that your next opening is next month, not in January 2008?  It’s a small detail perhaps but one that galleries pay attention to so make sure you have your website in order with correct and updated information.
  • When a gallery asks you to follow up with them about your work, do it. The comment isn’t intended to let you down easy, the gallery owner wants to be reminded of your work and progress without having to think about tracking you themselves. You aren’t being a pest if you send them a show card in 6 months, or if you drop them an email to let them know about an upcoming show. Make it easy for them with a link to the site, your website and remind them that they asked you to follow up with them. When I worked at the gallery, we asked artists to keep us updated on their work but surprisingly very few did.

No one can deny that the art world is changing. Whether the economy is the reason, or social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, or the burst of art fairs around the country, the way galleries and artists meet has changed from even 10 years ago. Change with it because you never know when someone might be watching, and I mean that in the best way possible.

My recent obsession is with the statistics counter I installed on my website.  I use Foliolink, a web hosting service that provides templates and hosting. I can update my website easily, it looks great, and for the most part it’s really easy to navigate and I can afford it.  In fact, because I am such a fan, people think that I get a kick back if I convince someone to sign up. I don’t, but I highly recommend them. Anyway, one thing Foliolink lacks is a way to track traffic on my website. I had no idea who visited, when, how many times or if anyone was visiting at all. Bummer.

Then I found Stat Counter, and I can’t remember where or how I came across it, but I thought I would give it a try. It’s free and claims that it will keep track of how many people visit the site, where they came from, how long they stayed and probably more advanced information if I knew how to figure it out.  So now I am obsessed.

I am checking it to see how many people have gone to the website, what pages they visit, how long they stay there, etc.  It’s fascinating! For all of you that are more techno savvy, this probably seems like very elementary information, but this is all new to me. I am shocked that so many people see the site for one, not that I have hundreds daily, but I figured maybe 10 or 20 people looked at my site per month. Maybe more if I was promoting a workshop or had a current exhibition. I was shocked to see much larger numbers. It was also great to see where they were coming from, with some of them coming from overseas.  I feel so naive in saying this, but I never fully thought about the reach that my website might have and who would really be looking.

Now I am dying to know who from Simon and Schuster keeps looking at my website. And who from Ohio keeps going back. And West Hollywood, although maybe I don’t entirely want to know. The other benefit: I can be fairly sure when a gallery that I contacted looks at my website. The Stat Counter gives you the IP address of the visitor but doesn’t identify the person by name, so I guess based on the time line of when I contacted the gallery, how they travel through the website and if I hear back from them. This is almost guaranteed when I send an email, within minutes they click the link and then I hear back. It’s less accurate if the gallery waits and then visits but it at least gives me an idea if anyone is looking. It also tracks whether someone comes back again or not.  Genius!

So if you have a website and don’t have a tracker I recommend it, and if you go to my website, I’ll know you visited. Well, sort of.