Topsy Turvy

Feeling a bit upside-down today? With the holiday weekend, "Monday" is actually Tuesday, and after a luxurious three days off, it kind of makes one not want to go back to work...Sometimes it's good to shake things up and turn them around. 

I paint upside-down from time to time, so I can get a better angle and that perfect line, or so I can see what's "off" in my painting. That's a tip from Drawing on the Right Side of The Brain -> by turning the artwork upside-down, you brain stops thinking about what the object is, and simply concentrates on the lines and shapes - resulting in a more accurate rendition. Cool, right? Our brains are so amazing! 

Tip of the Week: Save photos to GIF format

Tip for the non-technical artist: save your photos as GIFs before uploading them. I don't know why none of the photographers I've worked with told me this, but I recently learned about this simple trick that has made my website look markedly better. Converting your JPG to a GIF ensures that your images show up online more true to the original. In Adobe Photoshop you do this by going to File > Save for Web and Devices > Save.

Fun fact: according to Kai Ryssdal of Market Place, GIF is pronounced "Jiff - like the peanut butter"!

Art of the Art Assignment

I highly recommend Draw it with your eyes closed: the art of the art assignment (published by Paper Monument) to all art educators. It's an hilarious account of the favorite/best assignments given to, or by, artists and art professors around the country.  These are mostly assignments in higher education, where the trick is to give students open-ended assignments with enough room for personal expression and imagination, while still having them learn something.  The embarrassing, kookie and sometimes inappropriate results had me laughing out loud (in public, no less) with the creative interpretations of students, some of which go very, very bad, along with the usual "happy accidents".  Inevitably, sometimes it's actually the teacher who ends up learning a lesson (eg. "never give that assignment again", or "only use that with grad students").  Covering all mediums, the book offers many fun, conceptual and useful assignments to take inspiration from as an art educator.

I got to thinking about the best assignments that I have received from my instructors over the years, and I've paired it down to three:

1) My high school art teacher gave us an assignment where we had to go out on the town over the weekend and find all the stores that might have useful (non-traditional) art supplies.

I lived in Hanoi, Vietnam at the time where I attended an international school and took the International Baccalaureate Visual Art 2-year course.  This meant that not only did I have to document all of my findings in great detail for my teacher, but I first had to overcome the language barrier and navigate the bustling and winding streets of the old quarter on my mission. While at the time it was terrifying, it has become one of the most useful lessons I learned in high school because (a) I built the confidence to just go out and find stuff in an unfamiliar place, a skill that has served me well over the years, and (b) my idea of what art supplies should be and where you should get them was shaken and replaced with a more imaginative take on the whole thing.


2) One of my college professors, Craig Nagasawa, made me limit my palette to 6 colors plus white for a whole semester. The result was so successful that I didn't add any new colors until 2 semesters later. The purpose of this limitation was for me to stop being overwhelmed by the amazing array of color offered in oil paints today, and to really learn how to mix color and figure out how to make the colors that I needed.  I now teach a class on color and whenever I see my students -- especially the color enthusiasts like myself -- come in with a box full of paints, I turn around and give them the same advice: limit your palette until you understand color better.

3) In my 2nd year as an art major, I  took a class with Kara Maria, a visiting lecturer, and her assignment for the semester was: make ugly paintings.  This seemed quite shocking to us fairly new painters/budding artistes, but her assertion was that in our naive pursuit of perfection our paintings became dull.  By being given permission to make "bad" paintings, we were suddenly freed of our self-enforced restrictions and became bolder, more willing to experiment, and less afraid of "mistakes".  My paintings definitely improved as a result of this simple idea, which I not only employ on my own students but I also have to remind myself of whenever I feel like my work is getting stuck.


New city? No problem. How to break into the art world

Moving to a new city can be the best thing to happen to a creative person - it gets you out of your comfort zone and introduces you to all sorts of new ideas and inspirations.  It can also be a huge task just to break into the art world - either because there's so much it's overwhelming, or because it's so small that it's hard to find.  You have to be a  go-getter to find the opportunities, as I have good reason to know - I move every 1-2 years.   So I've learned a few tricks along the way that may help you to access your new city more quickly and effectively:

1) Showing up is half the battle:Find out where and when the art openings are and go; even if you don't talk to anyone that night, you will start to recognize people and see who's who.  And I'm not just talking about the gallery openings - many cities have open studio tours once or twice a year and/or monthly 1st Thursday/Friday art nights with streets stalls and extended hours at galleries.  These events are a good way to find out about alternative art spaces and collectives. To start you off on a good foot, here's a couple of things to try out if you're in any of these cities:

Austin: E.A.S.T. in November and W.E.S.T. in May + 1st Thursdays on South Congress

Oakland: Art Murmur 1st Fridays around Telegraph and 23rd

San Francisco: Hunter's Point Shipyard Artists Open Studios in November (and sometimes May) + 1st Thursdays in downtown SF

San Jose: Subzero Festival in June + South 1st Friday Art Walk in downtown SJ

2) Get it "from the horse's mouth": I've found out a lot more about the art scene from word of mouth than from the internet. You'll never be able to find everything on your own, whether it's because there's too much or too little information out there, so at point you do need to start talking to people.  The best people to talk to are people who work in non-profit galleries, museums or education facilities because they want to help you out! You can start by asking questions of anyone working at the venue, but then set up an appointment with someone in a specific department. This may seem intimidating at first, but I've learned that most people are a lot more willing to help you out than you would expect given their busy schedules. They appreciate that you scheduled an appointment so it's a win-win situation.

3) Find out who's who: When you are looking at galleries and organizations online, be sure to check out the "Staff" section - this will let you know who you should try and approach at an opening reception, gives you contact info so you can make general inquiries with specific people, and/or gives you a name to address your cover letter to for a job application (a good tip someone gave me). *Sometimes they even list bios of the staff so you can find out other places they previously worked, which can give you talking points and put you on to other places you should check out - this has come in handy for me on several occasions.   

4) Don't just look online: Check out the bulletin board at art stores, cafes, libraries and community shows for upcoming events, classes and venues.  I know going to a library might seem antiquated, but you would be surprised what free programs they offer related to the arts (eg. info sessions on grant writing for artists) and they post opportunities and resources in the community.  Also pick up the local arts newspaper -  it's free and lists shows in all disciplines.

5) Find groups: See if you can join a collective, get a studio in a shared building or check out to find free or cheap art classes/groups. The latter simply requires you to create a free profile, and then you can access any number of groups. Even in the groups don't actually turn out to be that great, who knows who you'll meet? I've definitely found some great resources (and made some friends) through random groups that I joined.

6) Park & walk: I've come across some great venues when I've been lost in a new city.  This doesn't usually happen when I'm in the car, but if I'm cycling or walking, I'm going slow enough to look around. Often galleries and artist studios are in the same neighborhoods, so if you find one, you should walk around the area to see if there are others you didn't see online.

And if it all seems overwhelming and like too much work, just remember Thomas Edison's quote: "Success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration." Your effort will pay off!