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Is Popularity needed for Your Art?

Be yourself rather than what is popular. We hear this all the time.  But who doesn’t like popularity? However, being an artist is more than just being popular. It should also mean being artistic in your art.

Why do you make the art that you do? If your honest with yourself and the answer to that question is “Because it sells well.” or “It’s expected of an artist” then it might be time to look a little deeper.

Gauguin, Van Gogh, and Cezanne are very popular.  Their paintings sell for millions. The fame! The fortune!  Everybody wants to own a Van Gogh. However, these artists are also quite dead.  So, being popular artists really isn’t helping them out on a personal level.

Hopefully, your very much alive.  That means you still can live artistically by being true to yourself in your art.  Work on what you do best. Find your niche and don’t be a dead artist.

At 2200lbs. popularity doesn’t matter.

Your Style is More Important than Popularity

Catalog what you do in your art.  What makes you happy? Upset? What patterns do you find you generally follow when you create your art.   Do you gravitate towards a specific medium? Colors? Specific subjects?

Self experiment with your art.  Try painting in a different medium.  If you’re a painter, try using a camera.  If you’re a photographer try using a sketch pad instead.  Or use a different method to express your work. If you’re a color based photographer, try using only black and white techniques.  

You like painting in Oil?  Try doing Sumi-e style painting instead.   Whatever you do, don’t throw any of it away.  Trust me, you’ll want to. Your inexperience with a new style or technique will glaringly show.  But that’s not the point of the exercise.

My personal journey from photography to pastels and then towards watercolor has not been as smooth as I’d love to claim and I shudder to think of my first experiments. Often I’ve asked myself why I put myself through these catastrophic attempts.

But I always remember the main purpose of finding my artistic style.  After you’ve tried various techniques and methods look at your work. Yes, that even means that growing pile of trash in your bin of failures.

Try to discover what is common about all of them.  For instance, if you’re looking at a bin full of drawings, painting and sketches and discover that there isn’t a solid straight line in any of them, that’s useful information.  That’s your style showing through. Did you discover that you painted in 10 different shades of blue but only 2 shades of green? That’s useful also.

Maybe you discover that your photographic field trip to the park doesn’t have a single person in any shot.  Or, you suddenly realize all of your pictures contain unconventional angles.

As you begin to identify more with various mediums and preferences you tend to like and start focusing your work on those points.  Soon your patrons, friends and colleagues will be able to tell your pictures belong to you without having your name displayed.

The Benefits:

You will become popular for all the right reasons.  Namely you’ve been loyal to who you are and what you do artistically.  Over time this style will change as you change. Popularity is great.   But it is much more beneficial to live true to yourself and your natural talents than a fake it to make it strategy.  Be yourself. Be a living artist.

Self-doubt About your Art and how it creeps in

One of the more terrifying issues an artist must deal with is self-doubt.  It’s so easy for a person to get negative about their own art. Mostly, this occurs because you hear critics put it down.  Sometimes the criticism is justifiable. But most of the time its just opinion.

Photography is an art form that is very dependent on focus, composition, and lighting. If you get these wrong you don’t require a critic to point it out to you. Your own self-doubt causes you to have no doubt that something is terribly wrong. This is a point where a little self doubt actually is helpful to making better art.

Other works of art have expected benchmarks you judge by the medium used to make it.  With charcoal drawings that benchmark might be shading. But pastels and painting could be measured by the shading, blending, and use of color. The personal feeling that you somehow don’t reach that mark is what causes self-doubt.

Each notion representing the proper way one creates a work of art in a medium has its supporters and dissidents. These people are critics.  The endless bickering of critics and artists cause some real tense social moments.

Self-Doubt Grows:

For instance, I’ve been told at gallery opening, directly to my face, that I could never be a fine artist simply because photography is barely an art and just can’t compare to painting.  Never mind that I had to convince them that the work was a photograph and not a painting.

Red Tulip
Red Tulip – definitely a photograph

This was bruising at its best and self-doubt most definitely tried creeping in.  Upon further conversation, I discovered this nice little elderly artist developed that opinion from their professors at some art school back in the 1950’s. The artist then repeated it so many times for so many years it became a mantra.

All I can do is stand there and look in disbelief of such narrow vision. I also felt sorrow because they paid money for that education.  I wanted to argue, but an opening is not the place. So, I entered into the respect your elders for one day you will be one of them zen mindset and let it go.

An event later that week was just as much fun.  I get approached by a nice middle-aged man who proudly claims, loudly enough for dead, that he could take the same picture with his new iPhone. Again, here comes the zen mind tricks.  I told him that I couldn’t wait to see it. But even after forgiving the ignorance, the rudeness, and the lack of common decency, I was, at this point, strongly considering moving to the French Polynesians like Gauguin did.

Gaining Clarity:

The next week, I learned something valuable that helped with the self-doubt caused by these caustic doubters.  I was at a speaking event with about 50 other artists. There were only 3-4 photographers and everyone else worked with pastels, oils, mixed media and a lot of watercolor.  The speaker was a visiting artist in her late 80’s. It wasn’t her age that was inspiring, although you have to admire it.

No, it was what she proceeded to do.  She talked and slightly rambled on about her life as an artist and what that meant as a young woman in the late 40’s.  But then she shared what her professors had shared with her. If you were an artist you had to paint in oil.  Watercolor would never be a real art.

I almost spit out the sip of coffee I was enjoying while she talked. She went on to berate about 25-50 percent of the room as only a lovable elderly old woman with a stuck opinion can do.  It took everything I had to keep from jumping to my feet, pointing around the room and yelling “See, that’s what it feels like!” Ah, the sweet vindication.

The result is that criticisms are opinions.  Usually bad and terribly weak opinions created by people who find what you are doing threatening somehow.  Consider their source and why they might feel that way before you give any credence of their opinion of your art.  Most of all be honest with yourself.

It’s your art.  In the end only one person has to like it.  You.


The Story Of A Shell

Sometimes the best and most artistic things come in really small packages. This is true for macro photography. Macro photography is the scientific art of taking the very small and making it larger. It effectively uses your camera as a type of microscope.

Often in the world of Macro photography we see impossibly small scenes of insect faces, bulbous eyes of flies or the death stare of the praying mantis. But, the artist doesn’t necessarily require such magnification to make an artistic statement. Often the subject itself presents the artist with a hidden mystery or story.

Often the beauty and structure of a story in nature exists in the smallest items. This month’s feature Shell in Sand shows the majesty of such a shell and the story it presents to us.

Shell in Sand
Shell in Sand

Indeed,  a magnificence found in this shell is the pink undertones and greenish brown highlights contrasted against the cold gray of the sand. Shell colors are determined by the diet of the animal or it’s genes. Often the color of the shell will provide camouflage against hungry predators looking to cut our story short with a rather dramatic ending.

Not just Color

Color in fact only tells part of the story of our shell. The ridges on each raised line reflect the age of the animal that once called this shell home.  It also presents the  mathematical precision used during its creation. The size of the ridges can make the shell look larger and provide structural support for the shell against attack. Was it to scare off potential rivals?

Then the story of our shell continues with the growth of the small barnacles at the edge of the shell. The mystery only deepens as we ponder whether these temporary slackers used the shell as their base before our aquatic friend met his end or after when the shell represented a lifeless husk of a once beautiful corporeal house.

Our story finally comes to the ageless time spent on the bottom of the sea. Drifting with the currents in a haphazardly fashion at the whim of the waves. How long did it sit before a storm at high tide disrupted its slumber and sent it tumbling with the surf only to arrive partially buried in the sand at a place predestined to change its story forever. There it waited patiently for my arrival and a chance to tell its story to my camera and then the world.



Local Community Art Show Winner

One of the key ventures that any thriving town government easily supports is the local community art show.   One small town north of Clearwater, Florida understands the importance that art plays in their community and it’s development.

I believe that it’s possible to know how successful a city is by the way it treats artists.  Artists support art galleries, and vice versa.  However, galleries tend to attract city visitors and tourists looking for a better souvenir than a t-shirt of refrigerator magnet.

New Port Richey

Recently, The City of New Port Richey hosted the Fourth Annual Community Art Show during the month of August at the Susan Dillinger Art Gallery in  New Port Richey City Hall.

Local artists submit their works for approval to hang in the show and then anxiously wait a month as the City encourages citizens to come to City Hall and cast a vote for their favorite art.

There is an award presentation hosted by Judy Meyers the City Clerk and the Mayor Rob Marlowe.  There are no submission fees nor any cash prizes. It’s not that kind of show.

It’s about the local government recognizing the talents of local artists and claiming them as an important part of the city’s landscape.

The Art Show Awards

American Oystercatcher art show
American Oystercatcher

Although our gallery has headquarters in Dallas, Texas,  I live in Florida and for the second year I’ve taken part as an artist in the New Port Richey Art Show.  Last year I entered “American Oystercatcher” and happily won a 1st place ribbon.


Award for “Cat Nap”

This year I followed up that win with a coveted People’s Choice!

People's Choice Art Show Award
People’s Choice Award for “Cat Nap”.

This female albino tiger had just had breakfast when she decided to do that most cat-like activity.   Cat nap.  Normally,  I’d want to keep a tiger picture in its original color form.  If for no other reason than to keep that classic tiger look.  However,  since she was an albino,  I felt

Cat Nap Art Show
Cat Nap

that the impact of a black and white format would be much more visually appealing.


The Building Storm

The picture Building Storm convinces us that nature is truly an awe-inspiring and captivating subject.   There exists a level of power in those columns of clouds that we as mere mortals just cannot seem to grasp.

Our own brains immediately channel part of that power down primal synapses and earlier embedded childhood memories that usually protect us. We see an image of danger and immediately feel a tantalizing sense of wonderment. Yet, in the tiny recesses of our mind there is also a touch of disbelief that such a storm could exist.

You might start asking questions. Is it heading our way? How long until it gets here? Or the infamous comment, “Damn, I just washed the car!” All are thoughts that course through our adult minds at light speed.

Building Storm
Building Storm

The Work Behind Building Storm

This picture really represents one of the nicer things about living close to an ocean. Near the ocean nothing exists between you and the horizon except the vastness of the water.  You can see the whole horizon right to the point where the perfectly flat waterscape meets the perfectly flat sky.

The problem of not having visual landmarks only adds mystery to the actual photograph. You can’t really determine size or distance very well when such a large object is dominating the sky. This also adds to an impending sense of dread.

I wanted to take that dread and feeling of raw power and enhance it. So, using heavy blue Cyanotype filter, I turned the picture into a blue and white not a black and white image.

The next issue was the crispness of the photo. This is a sort of irony for me because I suffer from a bane in the photographer’s world known as camera shake. This means that my fingers press too hard on the shutter button and the camera tends to shake thus causing some blurring to occur.  Usually, I have to take countermeasures so that it won’t happen.

Well, imagine my surprise when I discovered a situation where adding a bit of abstraction to the scene actually enhances the artistic flair!

Nature played her part well; it was her work of art in the first place, by selecting the perfect colors and shading to help transform a typical thunderstorm on the horizon to an enhanced beautiful monster of a storm.