Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Been a while

It's been a while since I truly took time off and this summer I took the whole time and didn't really make any new "images." Yes, I took photos, but I didn't "make" any new ones. Starting to worry about it and I finally found a new muse.  We'll see where this goes.

Thursday, June 25, 2015


This is my first full week off of school and I am nothing but scattered. Being a teacher is such a bi-polar existence - for months at a time you live according to strict time-schedules filled with tons of people. Your life is all about "output." At the end, there's this mad rush of finals, my office is jammed with last minute projects and papers...then, Poof! and it's all over and I'm at home, with stacks of undone tasks, unread books, unfinished images...lots of "un." 

There's a sense of frustration that "at my age" I should be past a whole lot of things that still weigh me down. So, it's a struggle. I'm grateful for the time off. I'm grateful that I have meaningful work. I'm grateful that I have resources. But I'm tired of that cyclical sense...that it all circles back around. That so often I find myself back at the same starting point. Maybe that's natural, but I want more from myself than that feeling. 

This is supposed to be a blog on positive things right? I know...

So, my positive take on this - probably to just "knock it off" that it's okay to laze around for a few days - even a week - even more than that if possible! Too much puritan work-ethic. One of the beliefs that have stayed with me from my Buddhist readings is that we create much of our own suffering through attachment and desire. That awareness of the moment, living in the moment with acceptance can preclude much suffering. Isn't that the goal of meditation? To stop the chatter. To stop the fear of unstructured time. To stop the fear...probably just in general. Or maybe to accept it and feel it - knowing that we can survive it. 

p.s. yes, I realize I said in my previous post that I was taking off for the summer...well I felt like posting, so I did! No rules for me!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Taking Off...

It's been a really busy year so far...and I'm a bit tired of hearing my own voice, so with that in mind, I'm going on hiatus. The goal will be to have as much input from other sources as I can find. Recently I've felt a sense of change and I want to pay attention to that, to see if it can be listened to and perhaps learned from.  

The bottom line with creativity? Stop listing to the voices in your head that say "you should" or "it's not good enough." It's okay if it's a real struggle to create things you feel nourished by - nothing wrong with a struggle, good things are worth fighting for. Being a creative can be a lonely existence because there's an element of observation embedded into the process, which by definition means you're not completely "in" the group. 

It's also a ticket into another world that let's you see beyond the surface, which makes it all worth it.  

All my best, Ann

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Random Idea Generator

I was thinking about my original idea for this blog...which was to find new ways to think creatively and thought I'd try a "roulette wheel" of ideas approach. A very old original inspiration for this idea was the painter Mark Tansey and his "Wheel of Language," a three part wheel filled with words and phrases, that he created to help generate ideas in a more freeform manner. Too often artists over-think the creative process and the idea of incorporating randomness is rather freeing, allowing us to go places we might not have thought of on our own.

Using an online generator, I've created a series of thematic wheels that can be used together or independently to get ideas for what to shoot.

Click on the title links (not the image) to take you to the generator.

Feel like creating your own wheel of ideas? I used "Wheel Decide" and you can easily build your own wheel. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

What Are the Right Questions?

There's an old adage that states "there are no stupid questions" - well maybe there's no stupid questions, but there are questions that won't help - that will lead you into a wall. For example: "what should I shoot / paint / write?" Those types of questions are too big and they fail you because they create an expectation that there is a "correct" answer - a solution, when instead you should be looking for a path. This mistake is understandable considering our entire educational lives we've been tasked with finding the "correct answer" and then rewarded when we find it.

I believe creativity is about the ability to ask questions that don't have answers. The purpose of a creative question isn't about finding a solution, it's about engaging your curiosity. Being curious about the world, about people, about how things happen. A creative question is one that doesn't necessarily have a solution, but rather it gives you ideas or experiences that generate creative activity...which often leads to more questions.

For me, making art is about noticing your surroundings (that can be environmental, emotional, political, social or even psychological!) and really taking the time to pay attention. This is essentially the question of "what is happening here?" This type of question brings in your observational skills and is a surefire way to access ideas because you're starting to partner with your surroundings.

A good question is one that gives you a path to explore.

Be curious - being curious is really about being interested.

At home, find somewhere comfortable to sit where (hopefully) you won't be disturbed. Slowly look around - first without moving your head, then turning your head and really giving everything your full attention. Pick one object and ask yourself what it says about you - why is it there? Could you imagine a story based on that object? Where did it come from, who designed it, what inspired you to put it there, what will happen to it in 30 years...all of these could become a story or an image or even a muse in general. Now, take this practice into the larger world - try it at lunch in a restaurant, in the morning at work. See how many questions you can ask that give you ideas, create partnerships with the world around you. Valuing the question as a goal in itself.

This post was inspired by a Harvard Business Review article on "Relearning the Art of Asking Questions" that was a bit more solution oriented than I wanted, but focused me on the importance of the question to our creative lives. An interesting tidbit was, apparently as we get older, our questioning decreases - which makes sense if you're thinking about creative output - because as children, it comes so naturally to us - we revel in our exploration of the world without self-censoring or worrying about being correct/perfect.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A Room of Your Own

Virginia Wolfe's book, A Room of One's Own was written in a time period where women didn't really have much to call their own. She realized the importance of staking claim to some spot where you, and you alone, get to call the shots. Because I worked commercially as a photographer for a long time, I had grown accustomed to always having my own space...but when I closed my commercial studio, that was one of the big items I missed.

Rumor has it that da Vinci felt the best studios were small since "large rooms distract the mind" but I think that probably depends on your definition of small. When my son went away to college, I decided we no longer needed a large living room...and I'm still thinking I don't really need a dining I took our former living room as my studio. I wanted the house to be dedicated to making art and let's face it, when we have people over, everyone loves being in an artist's studio so, who really needs a dining room?

I adore books on artist studios - you feel like you get a chance to really know the artist when you see how they organize their space - what's important to them. Inside the Painter's Studio is a great book because it also has mini interviews with the artists. This week, my husband, James Osgood,  is getting ready for an exhibition of his work - which means his studio is really full of work. Even when it's not, it's still a great place to be. These images are all of the little vignettes he's created in his work space. He loves working with hand-tools and I love the mix of wood, metal, and the strange blend of bits and pieces.

To me, the perfect studio should have: natural light, lots of surface space to stack stuff, a good bookcase, a good couch/bed, a garden outside, walls with that primed white homasote (super cheap pushpin walls) and a good chair or two. For photographers...add a lot of power cords and flat files, and of course a storage closet.

What if you don't have the space in your life right now for an entire room? Don't feel bad, Rene Magritte chose to use part of his dining room as his studio for much of his artistic life.  So, consider choosing a wall that will be yours. Cover it with homasote and start putting up your work and stuff that inspires you. If you can, add a bookcase then, across the room, add a chair where you can hang out and ponder the imagery from.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Head Explodes!!!

That title was going to be my full post for this week...just "this week my head exploded" - which is about where things are going. It's a full week with my new visual media conference, Intersect, happening this Friday and Saturday...and also on Saturday the opening of the Mandala Project.

The biggest thing I learned this week - art is about solving problems. Whether it's figuring out how to make an image work,  how to install an artwork or find a back-up for a presenter that had to leave's all about solving problems. If you think of making art that way, you'll get less frustrated by the challenges that continually arise.

In addition to participating in the Mandala Project, I decided to create a catalog for the show, the basic layout is in the two images's still in the beginning stages with a spread for each artist and then at the bottom are four pages of bios with our individual mandalas. It will be a great promotional piece and it allows us to document this project.

Here's a video of us during last week's installation. Trying to figure out how to install 17 works, many of which involved 2 and 3d material, video and sound was challenging. Yet, through it all, everyone maintained a fairly good vibe and I think the final result will be amazing. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Searching for a solution

Year before last I was invited to join a group of 15-17 artists who were working on collaborative projects. I missed their first go-round and started in the middle of their current project - which is based on the concept of a Mandala. Each artist started with a piece - the first step of a work and then it passed to the next...and so on, until completion.  You get about 6 weeks to work on each piece and towards the later part of the project, often you'd find that you had to pass on the piece when it got to you because it felt finished. Now we are having an exhibition of the series - and included in the show will be an individual mandala for each of us in our own style.  

The above image was one of my first tries at the individual version...but what it had in symmetry, it lacked in meaning and I just couldn't continue with it. When you're working with a concept, it's important to not be too confined by the literalness of it, or how others have interpreted it. I decided to focus on the idea of four doorways imagining that it was something I could view from another angle. 

This was one of my first tries. The archway came out of a building that I was using in another shot and I loved the light and airy quality it had...but felt the layout didn't really work. Finally, I continued with the idea that I would not make a mandala from an overhead view, but would see it as something towards the horizon - to strive for.

This "room" felt right to me and I loved the dark shadows the front and back curves made on the sand...then came the real problem...perspective for the side curves! When I create constructed images one of the first things I do is draw out all of the perspective lines so I can see how to fit the new objects in from a single viewpoint. The problem was, how would the shadows work on the sides as they connected the front and back surfaces? If this had been a straight rectangle, I would have been fine...but it was the arches that really threw me.

After many attempts to figure it out...I gave up and went to the literal! Cutting out the arches from a photo, taping them together onto a white sheet of paper and sitting them in the sun to photograph how curved shadows moving towards a vanishing line actually look. Having the "maquette" really helped me understand how it worked. The shot I used was taken from a much lower angle to simulate the viewpoint from the photo.

This shot let me know how the shapes work, but the shadow would be way too long to fit into my photograph, so I placed the whole thing onto a large box and tilted the angle to shorten the shadow since I wasn't going to wait for the sun to rise to the correct height.

Finally, I started lowering the camera to get a better sense of how the perspective would change and flatten in my image.

For my final piece I'm still deciding how I want to crop it, whether or not to include the figure...but hey, I have until Friday to figure that out (yes, that's tomorrow). This weekend we install 17-20 works (some ended up evolving into multiple pieces) which should be quite the experience!

Join us the following weekend for the Opening Reception:

Saturday, May 9th, 5:00pm - 9:00pm
The Mandala Project
SCA Project Gallery
281 S. Thomas Street, #104
Pomona, CA

If you're on Facebook, here's the event page.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Good Contracts Make Good Clients and Keep Good Friendships!

There's an old saying "good fences make good neighbors" and I'll be honest that for the longest time, I didn't have a firm understanding of what it really meant. Was there something wrong with my neighbors? Was it about trust? It sounded so negative.

Then this week, I had a very interesting conversation with a student about a job she had done for a "friend." Let me tell you right now...the only time I ever got stiffed on a job was when I worked for a friend. Why? Because you don't want to offend them by creating a structure to work in and that always gets in the way.

The student told me about an event she'd photographed for this friend - and I guess it didn't go as well as they both would have liked. The friend ended up wanting all the photographs, but only wanted to pay for a know how it goes. One thing lead to another...and now the friend is a former friend. I asked if they'd had a contract - "oh no, I was just doing a favor for her, but I told her what I was going to give her" was the response.

At the heart of this problem was a lack of clear communication - and that's what a contract is.  When I describe a job to you - you see it in your own way - which may or may not be the same way I do. So, contracts (or some type of written agreement) create a clear space between us where we have some chance of really understanding what the other person is thinking.

There's a classic Japanese film, Rashomon, the core of which is several characters provide very different views of the same incident...we see everything through our own filter - what we want to see, what we need...etc.

Scared of legal documents - worried a friend will take offense if you hand them a serious doc with pages of small print? ASMP has some great information and straightforward contracts - but, if that's overwhelming - a contract can be something very simple:

1. When is the shoot / event going to happen and when am I supposed to be there?

2. What specifically do you want me to do while I'm there?

3. What will you make sure is ready for me when I get there?

4. What is the end product? How and when will it be delivered?

5. When will I get paid?

6. To add a bit more could include - what will happen if any of the above items don't deliver as promised? Are you reshooting for free? Are they paying you for your time if you show up at the agreed upon time and they're not ready?

To keep those friendships - and to treat your creative work with respect - use a contract!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Intersect Project

This week is a simple post - we've started a new "event" at the college and a good friend suggested the perfect name, "Intersect." The idea came out of both my past experiences running PhotoFest@LBCC (which I didn't want to repeat) and the new home that photography has at school, which is the Digital Media Arts program. 

For many years, I had felt that photographers had to do more than just shoot stills. Obviously, this wasn't a new concept...and it seemed to echo what was happening in the "real world" where everyone was using a wide range of tools and techniques to tell their stories. It took a while to get good collaborators on board - but now, with Morgan Barnard (CG) and Eli Daughdrill (Film) we're getting to the stage where we're learning how to work well together. 

So,  Friday, May 8th and Saturday, May 9th we'll be diving off the deep end and have put together two days of interesting workshops and discussion panels that range from alternative processes to "5x5" videos. Here's the website LINK - it's free, but we need you to register since some of the workshops have a limited space.  

Interested in starting your own arts-oriented (or whatever your area of interest is) event yourself? Here's a few tips to get you going: 

1. Start with a deadline even if you don't know exactly what you want to do...honestly, this will kick you into moving forward...even if it's mostly in a panic!

2. Find collaborators and don't try to do everything yourself. Working with others is important - yes it's diving into the "unknown" but the potential rewards are worth it. Start with the people you know - the local businesses you frequent, your'd be surprised who might be on your wavelength. 

3. Allow your idea to evolve - and talk about it with everyone you meet - this will spark interesting discussions and potentially can bring on other collaborators you never thought of. 

4. Think about what your "assets" are and how you could leverage an interested company to participate in your events. 

Good luck and hope to see you at Intersect!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Be Your Own Critic

A few weeks ago we went to the Sacramento area for an exhibition and during my off time, we took a drive around the neighboring areas. A small town really caught my eye and as we were driving through one of the older areas, we saw a real estate sign in the yard of a very sweet home...and the door was open! I couldn't resist and ended up taking a few images inside. Working with real environments is a great way to bring memory and emotion into your images. I was also taken with the beautiful spring fields filled with swaying tall grasses (although the whole allergy thing made me eventually regret that). 

Starting with two types of images - this is where I ended up. Doing the first "sketches" really starts me on the road to seeing how images will work together and if they create the feelings/evocations I'm looking for. This one after some work, I made a print and I wanted to share that part of the process with you. 

My process is to make a print and start drawing all over it to remember the items I wanted to change (I created this graphic for this blog post only).  Overall: I like the "first look" but it had items I wanted to change (removing flaws, straightening the tree) and broader issues I wanted to reconsider, such as how dark should the wall image be and how to make the tree on the left side feel more dimensional.  

Images evolve. After I'm happy with this one, I'll probably move it to the side for a few weeks and then come back to it and see what I think at that point. For now, I really love this room and the sense that time has grown into the room while it waited. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Opportunities Abound!!!

Wanting to add some creativity to your life?

The Alternative Photographic International Symposium will be held mid-July in Pasadena this year. Art Center College of Design will be the host and Bostick and Sullivan and the organizers. This three day event is the place to go if you're interested in hand-made photographic practices. They've got very low prices for students - and even the regular price isn't bad.

The Palm Springs Photo Festival happens at the end of April and features a wide range of workshops, seminars and portfolio reviews. It's smaller than FotoFest or PhotoLucida...but it's local (to SoCal) and less expensive.

When I was learning advanced Photoshop skills Natasha Calzatti was one of the people I took a seminar from. She's giving one on Portrait Retouching through Samy's Camera in April.

Finally, this year we're starting something new at LBCC - a two day conference with workshops and speakers that's FREE and celebrates a variety of disciplines from photo to film to computer graphics. It's called Intersect and we'd love to have you during our inaugural run at the beginning of May.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Should You Stay or Should You Go?

Humans are interesting creatures...this past week I had what started out as a depressing experience but ended up as an opportunity with vast potential. The entire process really made me think about how often we fight to protect the status quo in situations that fundamentally will never be what we want them to be. It's sort of the opposite of that old Groucho Marx joke "I don't want to be part of a club that would accept people like me as a member." Maybe we have some primitive need to be part of the club...even when it doesn't work for us. 

One of the ways I figured out the right solution was to face a few hard questions: 

1. Am I working as hard as I can on this situation? If the answer is no...then maybe I am not really committed to it. 

2. Does the situation (with the people involved) have the potential to become what I need?

3. What will be lost if I walk away? 

Honestly...the answers helped me understand that the time had come to move on. The amazing part was as soon as I faced that decision...and chose it...then all kinds of alternatives started coming to  mind. I realized I was so fixed on making a bad solution work, that I had closed myself off to all the other amazing possibilities. 

Let's face it anywhere you have humans, you'll have conflict. The issue at hand wasn't some massive thing in my life, but I have reached a point where I don't want to spend any more time making bad solutions work. I think the same is true with making art, name it...winning the argument isn't the same as making the right choice.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Having an Exhibition

This past weekend I was in Sacramento for the opening receptions of my exhibition at Viewpoint Photographic Art Center. They had a Friday reception for their members - which was very lively. The group has been in existence for over twenty years and they have a very active membership. They produce over 24 shows a year, host workshops, artist talks, critique groups and a student night...pretty impressive. 

On 2nd Saturdays, the city has an enormous Art Walk from 5-9pm...and we did the entire gig. It was quite something to have continual waves of people coming through the gallery.  I got to talk with people who'd never been to a gallery ("my wife made me come") to seasoned artists who make sure they know what's going on in the local art scene. My favorites were the ones who took the time to really look at the work and I had some great conversations about how I work, why I use repeating themes, what my goals are etc. 

I'm happy to say, we had both print and catalog sales. I had discussed the gallery's previous history of sales to get an idea of what the market was like and I created a catalog of the work for viewers without deeper pockets. Here's a link to the publication - and right below it are one from my American Triptych series and my Multiple Viewpoints series.  On Sunday I gave an artist's talk about Creativity - which got a nice group of about 25 people. Overall, we loved being in Sacramento, it's a great hybrid of a small town and large city. It's very easy to get around, has great restaurants and it's super easy to get out of town. They have four community colleges in their district, plus a university...and Davis is just a stone's throw away.

When I was in grad school, one of my instructors talked about how many "art worlds" there are out there and this weekend really got me thinking. Living in a larger metropolitan area, buyers can become jaded - but when you get a bit further out, the quality of the work is still amazing, but there seems to be a more direct line to people who want to buy art. Consider this when you're putting together your "hit-list" of places you'd like to approach for a show...

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Five Ways to Make Your Own Photo Group

This week my focus was on community - as in, no one makes it on their own. I got to spend time with several of the terrific people I went to my undergrad (Art Center) with. It was like a reunion of old army buddies remembering basic training. In the days after, I thought a lot about the gathering and the truth is, I wouldn't have made it through school without them. 

As a teacher, I try hard to create situations where my students will bond and work together, because I know that their chances for success increase dramatically if they build a community around what they're trying to accomplish. 

So here's a few steps to consider building your own community: 

1. Email (text/whatever) four friends to meet for coffee and bring one new photo each. 

2. If you're in a photo class, approach the instructor and ask if you could take the last X amount of time during one lab section and have an informal "photo club" meeting. If Photo club is too corny a word...create your own. 

3. If you've got a car, invite several photo friends or classmates to go up to a local park. If you're located in Southern California - consider Antelope Valley, where the poppies are in bloom now. 

4. If you don't have a car, look up what photo shows are happening locally and have a group of friends take public transit there - spend the day shooting. 

5. Don't want to reinvent the wheel...go to your local photo supplier and scan the notices for groups you'd be interested in. In SoCal there are: SoCal Photog Association, South Bay Camera Club,  Clickers and Flickers just to name a few. Start attending and see if there are other's you'd like to create a splinter group with. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Why is public funding for the Arts important?

A few years ago, education in California suffered another in a long line of cuts and we're only now starting to recover from it. Of course one of the first things to go is the Arts...because hey, how can they be essential? Well, according to the Otis Report on the Creative Economy, in 2012 there were 404,000 individuals directly employed in the creative industries of LA and OC. These workers supported an additional 322,3000 indirect jobs for a total of 726,300 jobs generating $50.6 billion in labor income. So, at least for SoCal, the Arts drive a lot of traffic!

Now think about the impact this industry has on our daily life and culture.  The shows we watch, the clothes we wear, the cars we drive...all of these are designed and created by a creative class of individuals. With the recent cuts in arts education, middle and upper income students compensated by shifting to private schools and tutoring to continue their arts education. But what happened to low income students?

I teach at a community college in California. These colleges are one of the only options for low-cost quality education in the Arts and I think we do a terrific job - but what happens when these students want to compete for 4 year degrees? Admission to almost all BFA programs is through a portfolio or audition process. It seems like a fair process unless you really stop to think about it.

Higher Ed throughout California now has a non-repeatability rule, which stops students from taking an art class a second or third time. Why is that important? Because one Life Drawing class doesn't make you great...or even really good...and that's what you have to be to get into a BFA program. Those students with higher incomes compensate by taking private lessons, so they now have an even greater edge than before.  The same thing plays out in Music, Theater and Dance where they have auditions for entrance to 4 year degree programs.

If we don't find ways for low income students to engage with the arts, to develop their voice, then we don't have diverse viewpoints in film, tv, magazines. Diversity isn't just a politically correct buzzword, it's really the life blood of an exciting an innovative culture. If you'd like to let the Board of Governors know that they should return repeatability to the Arts in California Colleges because the new system is reduces access for low income students - send an email to: Karen Gilmer the BOG and Consultation Council Liason at

Keeping a low cost arts education in mind - here's a link to Free or Paid MFA programs located throughout the US.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

I Don't Make Stuff...

My MFA is from Claremont Graduate School...although now, they've fancied up the name a bit and it's Claremont Graduate University. I chose the school because it was not a "photography" oriented program. Instead it was oriented to all the visual disciplines and was heavily into making art. The first year, I completely stopped taking images and explored everything from curation to installation. It was exactly what I needed. 

The off-shoot of this experience is that none of my classmates are photographers. Sometimes that's a drag, but overall I think I made the right choice. A few years ago, I joined a group of 15+ women artists, many of whom I know from grad school, who meet every couple of months and collaborate on a set of artworks. It's got a bit of the exquisite corpse approach to it - a few rules that often get broken and the work passes from individual to individual. 

Our current project started with Mandalas and this Sunday we will be meeting to review the final steps in preparation for an exhibition in June. When I was first invited to join - my response was "I don't make stuff..." which got a laugh and then was promptly ignored. But it is true - I struggle with objects, but have soldiered on, contributing a video, slivers of a photograph, an audio track...and this week, I added rice to a couple of kitschy glasses.  I still don't think I make objects, but I have enjoyed the process. 

Consider starting your own collaborative group. The social part is the best and it's interesting responding to the prompts from a different artist. Also - think about making sure you're working outside of just your own practice...that stretch across disciplines will open you up. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Getting There...

Over the years we are often faced with the FACT that we don't take our own advice. Somehow other people's lives are just so much easier to fix...but fixing ourselves is such a different task. One of the "truths" I learned in therapy was that my strengths and flaws were often two sides of the same coin. 

The good part of that was it made me a bit more forgiving of my and the bathwater type of thing. One of my strengths is curiosity and the inability to say "no" as many times as I should - this has given me some great adventures but it can also lead to a lot of distraction that often masquerades as action. 

This year, my goal is to imagine that I'm someone else and take the business side of my artwork in a much more serious manner. Barry Schwartz wrote a wonderful post on this called  Frog In Water  where he stopped making excuses for why his business had slowed and started taking his own advice. I loved what he had to say and decided to take it to heart. 

Here are two goal areas I'm going to pursue - and I think you should consider them as well: 

1. Set a goal for how many "hard copy" exhibitions you'd like to have this year. It can include group shows - but depending on where you are in your art career - really think about the quality level. If you're just starting out - look at the local coffee houses/bars/restaurants in your area. If they're hanging work, then (during the slow hours) ask to speak to the owner or manager about how to show your work. As you hit mid-career, then only participate in quality photography organizations with jurors you'd like to get your work in front of. Review their past exhibitions to make sure your work fits with their visual aesthetics. 

2. Set a goal for how many "virtual" exhibitions or posts about you and your work you'd like to have this year. Using the "links" area on most photography blogs can be a great start - target blogs because bloggers need a lot of subject matter. Here's Lenscratch's Resources page with tons of opportunities for getting out there. 

Finally, I read that the best chance for making a big change is to take it in very small pieces. Things that are doable. How about a goal of 1 "reach out" per week. Once a week, you send out one query to an opportunity that you'd like to have. Keep in mind, you can always choose to do more...but doing at least four per month is probably four more than you're currently doing!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Bored and Brilliant.

This past week I participated in a project called Bored and Brilliant: the lost art of spacing out - a project that challenges us to look at how (much) we're using our phones and what the impact might be. Turns out that boredom is an important element of coming up with creative solutions - and I am always on the hunt for new ways to boost creativity. Two years ago I wrote about taking a social media holiday, but this is focused on the use of cell phones.

Here's my experience so far:
I signed up a few weeks ago - big irony, I found out about the project while checking my phone - and immediately found I was more conscious of my usage. As an experiment, the last day of PhotoLA, I resolved to clamp down on my phone-checking. It was a bit odd to just stand there while everyone else was on their phones...but it did give me a chance to be more in the moment. I also worked on awareness. I feel like I've lost some of my ability to concentrate - I used to be a huge reader, and now, not so much.

Monday: Each morning there's a mini-podcast - this one asked you to turn off your notifications and just leave your cell phone in your bag, or someplace that's not touching your body.  The average individual starts at 7:31am by checking their email and Facebook while in bed. Daily use is over three hours...and some of us check our phones almost 1500/ this possible? Yikes! The phrase that stuck with me from this morning's pod case was "phantom cell phone" which is when you think you hear your phone ringing. Yes, during the day it was hard to break that automatic habit to reach for the phone, but it's a good way to start.

Tuesday: Photo-Free day - as it says, today was a day without photos...which is not as hard for me as you might think. I'm not really snapping pix of my morning coffee (unless it's fab), so today wasn't so bad. An interesting tidbit - taking photographs of an event can actually dim your memory of it. Hmmm...

Wednesday: Delete that App, is as awful as it sounds. My fav was Flipboard, which takes up a good hour or more of my evening. As I write this now, it's been a week and I still miss it. But, it could be worse...I could be an Angry Birder!

Thursday: well...I liked to say that I stuck with it all week and did all the exercises. However, such is not the case - but Thursday, I just didn't feel like following directions any more and kinda felt the point had been made.

So...what is my take away a week later? I do spend less time on the phone and have really started to just sit and observe. My husband and I went out to dinner this weekend - sat in the bar area of a restaurant and had a great time people-watching. It was kinda sad how many couples we saw where one of them was just on their phone the whole time. But, sitting there, really taking in the energy of the place, watching the fab job the bartenders were doing slinging drinks, watching the "first-daters," the families, the was fun.

Did it make me more creative? I dunno...I did make two images this week and I actually started a new book... so who knows?! Anyway, you have the links and the podcasts are still active, should you choose to start the process yourself.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Constructing an image - allowing time to figure it out.

One of the difficulties about constructed images is figuring out the composition. I have always been very interested in the space between painting and, perhaps what I'm doing these days is closer to photo-illustration than it is photography.  When a painter does a "photo-realism" painting, technique seems to overwhelm the viewer. The internal discussion is about the painting technique - how amazing it is that the painter made such a realistic copy. 

When a photographer creates a photo-illustration, the questions are also about technique (and I'm learning to minimize that dialog, since it's not really the point of the image). But, what's kind of cool is that, since it's a photograph,  we still get to include an assumption about "reality" which makes the discussion more complex. We bring to each photograph the assumption that this is real...or might be real. So, that's probably our most effective tool.

With that in mind, my biggest issue is the composition: what am I trying to say, where is the best location for the object, how big should the environment be relative to the object? Back when we shot with film, there was an automatic visual "buffer" built into the system. We evaluated the result usually a day, week or month after taking the image. There was the joy of discovering discovering an image you just didn't remember taking.

Compositing/Building images is a different story - you're faced with the choices as soon as you make the object - which is why you almost have to create a "waiting" or "maturation" period for the image. With this image, I started with the Melody Apartments - a local personal landmark. My idea was to take this "art work" out of its busy location and place it somewhere on its we could really see it. I knew I wanted an "empty" space - but that opens a new can o'worms, since empty isn't actually empty, if you get my drift. My first choice for a location was fairly sparse (I actually made it more so) and there was a single soft set of mountains in the background, which I felt could work as a balance for the subject. I experimented with placement and objects...but it just didn't quite fit. So I waited a week or so and came back to the image.

Looking at it after that week I changed to a different location with a softer light and more color because it had a strong sense of "magic"'s that for a technical term? It felt like there was a resonance between the soft colors in the structure and the soft light and textures of the new location. 

The intensity of the sky bothered me a bit, it clashed with the softer tonalities I was trying to work with. So I tried it with a sky tonality that seemed more in keeping with the overall feeling I wanted the image to evoke. 

And finally, without the tree...not sure which I'll go it's back to time and maturation. Allow the image time to find itself.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Getting your act together - aka the backside of being a fine artist.

Beyond making great images/sculpture/'re going to need to think about the business end of being an artist.  If you're just starting out here's some suggestions for getting your act together. I'm assuming you already have a computer. If you don't, then take an intro to computers class at a community college.  I'm also assuming that you already have one or more bodies of work that have reached the "showable" stage.

1. Online presence: this is really two parts - your domain name and then the space (website host) where you will show your work. Your domain name is the personalized "" item that you register and pay for individually.  GoDaddy is usually an inexpensive way to go - you can just register your name, or you can also use them as a website host as well.

For the website part - there are many free versions (look at where you're reading this) and that's a good place to start. You want something that's easy to update. Don't get fancy with the name (this from someone who has over 20 letters in her address!) since folks have to type it in. Start posting now to get the hang of it. You NEED this - everyone wants to check out your work online. Blogger and Word Press are the two biggies. You could also consider another approach - using Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr etc., to set up your online interaction - but it's still good to have a more "stable" version as well where you can include a bio and resume/cv.

From my portfolio box which contains three series - I use a title page for each set. 

2. Some type of physical portfolio to show (this is geared to photographers...other areas may have different norms).  I've got two boxes now - a 17x22 for my new work and a 13x19 that has a sampling of three previous series. A simple black clamshell works fine. I consider these "showing" portfolios and just use the prints without mats or in-between tissue - you want the process of looking at the work to be simple. If I was showing silver-gelatin prints, then I would protect them a bit more. I will say that I've always been impressed with custom-made clamshell boxes, but they usually run between $300-$600. One of the best SoCal custom fabricators is Kater-Crafts Bookbinders.

What to show and how much? Most importantly - only show the work you know is your BEST!!! Don't feel you have to pad - if you've got 8 great pieces, then only show 8. Showing between 10-15 is a good bet in terms of giving the person a sense of your work. You can always have a blank page at the end with additional images underneath...that way, if they really want to see more, you've got them. Make sure the prints are well printed, etc. Too often I've had potential part-time instructors show me work they know has printing errors, which leaves me doubting their eye.

What if you're work is in different sizes/formats? Then standardize as much as you can. If you're showing published work,  bookmark the specific pages so you're not frantically searching under pressure. Group the sizes in a logical order - also consider how it will look when you first open the box - take a moment in the car to make sure it doesn't look like Hurricane Sandy hit it. 

3. Software: Obviously you need some type of word doc - but my favorite organizing tool is FileMaker Pro - I LOVE this program - and use it for everything: labels, catalog sheets, invoicing, shipping info etc. Basically, you create a record for each image with various "fields" of information - and in a second you can create a new layout featuring only the details you need. I also use it at school for grading and scheduling. There's another software that you should look at which was created by artists - GYST and it's a terrific way to go - I would have chosen it if I hadn't already been using FMP for so long.
Here's a sample screenshot from a FileMaker Pro layout I use to catalog the work. 

4. Business Card: there are tons of permutations on this - many of my students have gone with the type of card that has a different image on each card - very fun. I tend to go a bit more minimalist. There are a couple of places that I've used: Moo, Vista Print and if you really want to do it up right - there's Aardvark Letterpress - these guys are amazing and have a great history here in LA. If you're doing this all on your own (designers are a good idea, ya know) then go in person to look at different types of papers and weights. Consider partnering up with a designer or a design student and getting it done right. 

5. Legal smegal... If you're making sales (of goods, not services) then you'll want to get a Resale License and they now have a very easy online process for it - plus there's very nice people on the Help line if you get stuck.  There are a many solution for processing sales: Square, which is this great little "square" that you put into your cell phone to process credit card payments, PayPal has been around forever and is a very handy way to process payments. There are tons of others...but these are the ones I use. Keep all your receipts!

So, that's a start. For PhotoLA, my gallerist made binders of our work, with press clippings and statements for the various series - it's a nice thing to have on hand. Otherwise, don't let it get you too crazy, make sure you do #1, 2 and 4, then slowly work on the other stuff. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Photo LA - one photographer's weeklong experience.

I've been going to Photo LA for decades - my first one was at an auction house on Sunset. It was so fun to scout around in the cramped low rooms. I was working as a commercial photographer at the time and really felt like I'd discovered this gold mine. Lisa Sette Gallery was probably my favorite of those early years because they had such a non-traditional approach to photography. But this is the first year I participated as an artist. I did the whole gig: Gala on Thursday and then Friday through Sunday until closing. So, here's what I experienced.

Wednesday morning: You get an assigned time to deliver work so it's up early.  Loading up the car, then coordinating with the other artists, hitting the loading dock (amazing helpers!) only to be faced with loading my black portfolio cases onto carts covered in plaster...note to self: always have paper and bubble wrap. Then you're faced with figuring out how much work will really fit on the walls, which turn out to be full of supporting pillars. Then it's hanging out, trying not to bug the gallerist as she selects and arranges. Did a few walk throughs exploring the other exhibitors. There's a terrific guy from Chicago - Paul Berlanga or Berlanga Fine Art who spoke so passionately about his artists. Hanging out with the folks from Verge - a terrific group of local artists.  One of the strongest exhibitors is always The Queensland Center for Photography - and they're terrific people as well. Then it's getting all the last minute emergency stuff - picking up lettering, getting a better card made...and realizing what you still needed to do. We had a great location - apparently, you want to be to the right side - some kind of crowd tendency thing.

Thursday evening - the Gala bash: Well, this was a fairly crazy, but finally, fun event. The place was jammed and this year (unlike last) they didn't seem to have any planned activities. Mostly, it was a good chance to see everyone's booth and to speak with the folks who were walking by. This is the night that most of the curators who will be doing "curatorial tours" come by and preview the work to see which booths they want to feature. It's not really a great night for showing portfolios, more about talking with people, grabbing cards and generally socializing. Saw a few celebs...all in all, a nice evening, even for a committed crowd-o-phobe!

Friday: Ok, this is the first day of the event in terms of the general public coming and seeing the work. It was a bit slow, but there was a good steady stream of people until the late afternoon. Then, let's face it, it became drinks and M&M's time. I saw a lot of familiar faces, got a chance to talk about my work to a lot of people and connect with a few more on a deeper level. By 6:30...we were dragging. Came home, passed out on the couch.

Pano courtesy of Martin Cox

Saturday: I must say, this was a good day although I think that the "crowds" are much less than last year. Evesdropping on several gallery directors talking - the thought is that people just aren't collecting at this time. The sales I did see were rare...and I'm sorry to say we didn't have any either (except for a book). But, on the plus side, I spent the day talking about my work to a very wide range of people - and I met a few that I'd really like to keep in touch with (mostly photogs).  I was able to introduce my new direction (of constructed imagery) to people who were unaware of what I'd been doing - and got a lot of positive maybe, who knows? I also got to have the gallery experience from the other side - so now I was the individual keeping an eye on people - trying to find a balance between ignoring and stalking them. Note to photographers looking for a gallery representation: just a quick "hi, I'm a photographer, what's the best way to contact "X" about reviewing my work? is a good approach.  What I really loved was spending the entire day talking about photography - well, maybe we lapsed into a few "lowbrow" areas, but mostly I really enjoy the company of other artists. Felt energized by the end of the day.

Sunday: Ok, we're now into the part of the journey that isn't for the fainthearted. On the plus side, it was as busy as Saturday, or maybe a bit busier. On the negative side, the marathon aspects are starting to really hit. By 3:30...I gotta admit, I was toast. Walking around,  I found it hard to really take in the images - thought I'd spend more time looking at work, and I just couldn't take it in.  The last rush of people seemed to happen around 4:30-5:00 and then we settled into pure exhaustion. At 6:00 it was time to break down the booth, making several trips to the car for the wrapping materials stored since Wednesday. Having a system for packing your artwork really helps (I have a bubble wrap pouch for each) so that part went relatively fast. Even so, it was 7:30 before we hit the road.

Monday: technically not a Photo LA day...I'm considering it a "snow day" as in, no work gets done.

Tuesday: feeling parched for input after all that outflow, so I'm heading out to shoot.

So, what do I think of the experience as a whole? I've heard it proclaimed that Photo LA was crap and all the good galleries were elsewhere...while others acknowledge it's not Art Basil, but still plays an important role.  Art, like every other field, is in freefall distruption - and the current system is falling apart. In the early years I found PhotoLA much more stimulating. It felt like galleries were taking chances - now, I just don't have that feeling anymore, but that's probably a factor of the $$ involved. My overall viewpoint is that I think that it's all an aggregate - an art business is one that is built in layers over a long period of time. People want to watch the artist develop and see what they have to say - to build a relationship - and so, I see this as another layer. Spending a concentrated time in our photo community was a very good experience for me - many thanks to all who came by.

My thanks to Sarah Lee for curating me into this project. To my fellow artists - many thanks for the wild ride: Aline SmithsonMartin Cox and Sara Jane Boyers

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Patience and Courage

Today is the first day of Photo LA and I have been fortunate to be curated into Sarah Lee Projects @ Photo LA 2015 with three other amazing photographers (more on them to come). The upside is that I've had the chance to work with terrific people and hopefully find the 4 day event rewarding, exciting and fun. The potential downside is it exposes me to everything I normally try to avoid in my everyday life: gobs of people and selling myself. It got me thinking about how often I find myself on scary paths.  

Truth is, all goals have difficult steps. Actors want to have an audience, so they have to hit the talk-show circuit ("what if I sound stupid"), writers want someone to buy their book so they do book-signings ("what if no one shows up")...we all have the same issue of doing the crap we're not wild about to continue doing the stuff we can't exist without.  

I've had students tell me that "I just want to make the work, that's what important, not if anyone sees it." My response is usually: "well, let's think about the difference between therapy and art. If the work is therapy...then I agree, that an audience is not important. But, if you're striving to make art, then art is a process of communication and part of your responsibility to the work is to find it a place in the world." Yes, it's excruciating to bare one's soul (or even to bear one's soul) to the world...but if you can somehow pretend that's not happening, or focus on your end goals, it can help you find the courage to move forward. 

I believe that once you've created a work, it has its own rights and it needs to find its place in the world. Sitting in your studio/closet/drawer isn't enough. What if no one wants it? Well...every creative has worried about that from year 1000BC...maybe not those early cave painting guys, let's face it, they had a captive market. Ok, let's say no one wants the work. It could mean multiple things.  Maybe they're idiots. Maybe it's crap. Maybe it's too personal. Maybe it's the wrong market. Maybe it's ahead of its time...who knows? Maybe it's really just a step in your process of becoming a better artist...and you'll realize that in a few years and that takes patience.  It's important to remember that making 2015 the year you get better will mean doing some of the crap that makes you crazy. 

Patience and Courage. 

xxx from the front!

p.s. if you go to Photo LA, come by and say hi...

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Photo LA and Making Books in Lightroom

Next week I will be participating in Photo LA and I've been working (like a dog!) getting ready. Funny thing is...I already thought I was fairly organized as an artist - I guess it's good to have a reality check.  As part of my presentation, I decided to make a few photo books, one for each body of work. 

There are an enormous range of possibilities in terms of self-publishing and I chose to use Blurb (as an experiment) because they're part of the Lightroom Book Module and MagCloud because it's super affordable. You can design a basic book in Word or Pages - or get more advanced with In Design or Photoshop. 

Lightroom is a terrific way to design a book quickly, and once you become familiar with its quirks, there is still a bit of customizing you can do. My big complaint is that the available sizes in Lightroom do not match up with the sizes in MagCloud (which is the best low-cost method for quick catalogs I've found). So, I came up with a work around method. 

I only like the "perfect binding" available in MagCloud - the three sizes that are available with perfect binding are Standard PortraitSmall Square and Digest. Here's the easiest way to use and adapt Lightroom for MagCloud's Standard Portrait - which is the format I used for Multiple Viewings.

This is how I created a standard 8.5x11 magazine style book with no full bleeds (where the image goes from edge to edge) in Lightroom 4 - it should work for the newer versions of LR as well.

Creating a MagCloud publication using Lightroom and Acrobat Pro

1. In the LR Library module, create a Collection of the images you want to make a book from. 

2. Move to the LR Book module and use these settings for "Book Settings." 
a. Book: PDF
b. Size: Standard Portrait
c. Cover: No Cover
d. JPEG Quality: 100%
e. Color Profile: use whatever profile you normally use - I use Adobe RGB or ProPhoto (yes I know which is bigger...that's a different discussion). 
f. File Resolution: 300
g. Sharpening: Standard
h. Media Type: Glossy

3. You are now in a format that is 8"x10" - and when we print in MagCloud it's going to be .5" larger side-to-side and 1" larger top-to-bottom. This means you can place type very close to the top or bottom of the page - but I'd watch the sides since that extra space can get lost in the fold and trim. 

4. Layout your publication - but our first "work around" involves knowing that your Page #1 will be removed from your final pdf, which means Page #2 is your real cover and you must end on an even number - that last page is your back cover.  

5. When you're happy with the design - "Export Book to PDF" is at the bottom of the right column. Then open the PDF in Adobe Acrobat Pro. Click to show the thumbnails (icon on left) and to show the "Tools" column on the right. The image below illustrates that the first step will be to select and delete page one using the "Pages" tools. 

6. Next, select the "crop" tool from that same right side column tools and double-click in the page, which will bring up the window you see below. Towards the bottom where it says "Fixed Sizes" select "Letter" and also check "Center" and over on the right under Page Ranges, check "All." This will add the additional space to your pages. I've found that you can still do double-page spreads with this method. 

7. Important step that is often ignored - make a quick printout of this new PDF, image quality is not important. Then put it together like a book and "proof" it for flow, readability and layout. I cannot stress enough how important this step can be. If you need to make changes - you'll need to repeat from step #5. 

8. When you upload the pdf to Lightroom, you'll get a warning, just ignore it and "continue with this file." Then you just need to double-check that nothing falls in the trim area - also, don't forget to specify that you want "perfect binding" when you get to the pricing part and consider what color you want that side bind to be. 

Good luck!

p.s. if you'd like to have full bleeds (on the cover, for example), you'll need to make those full size in Photoshop, save them as Photoshop PDFs and then use Acrobat to insert them.