How to enter a digital portfolio review

Krempp Gallery, Jasper Indiana

I am on the Visual Arts Committee for the arts center for which I used to be Director.  The committee is charged with selecting exhibits for the following year.  We do twelve exhibits a year with some being fixed so generally we have slots for seven or eight shows.  Some of these are solo shows and some are group exhibits.  A few are invitationals based on a theme, ex, portraits, furniture, costume design, etc.

Each December we put out a call for artists with the deadline for entry the following March.  Then the committee, comprised of artists, teachers, gallery owners, and interested community members review the entries and begin to winnow them down.  We’re seeking talent, variety in both style and media, and often something just plain different.

What initially began as slide submissions quickly morphed into digital images on CD which has again transitioned to reviewing all the artists in an online forum.  This week I’ve looked at over fifty artists.  (The first year we put out a call we had over two hundred entries!)

One thing that has struck me is how some artists clearly project a professionalism that others do not.  This gives them a big advantage in the review process.  So, just what do I mean by this?

  1. Follow the rules.  If you’re asked to submit ten images, then don’t submit three or twenty. Check the size and format that is requested.  If an Artist’s Statement or CV is requested, then send one. DO NOT send a link to your web site or a photo of your fancy brochure.  You want to make it easy for the judges and they shouldn’t have to go fishing for information.
  2. Check your photos very carefully. Is the quality up to par or could you do better?  There are all kinds of resources online or YouTube about how to take decent photos of your artwork.  You don’t want any hot spots, frames, hands holding the work, your dog or the garage door in the image. With affordable digital cameras and editing software, there is no excuse for submitting shabby images.
  3. Check your computer monitor and view your images on different monitors. If you’re really serious, invest in a monitor calibrator.  This will help ensure that your images appear the same across many platforms.
  4. What work should you submit? Obviously, your best, but more than that.  Ask yourself if your work is consistent in quality and impact?  Or does it look like everyone else’s work?  Is everything too same same or are you working in a distinguishing style?  Usually first impressions count so I would suggest lining up your work with your best piece first and your second best piece last in order to make the impression stick. What makes your work stand out?  Yes, it may be very well executed but it just may not have that special something.  Try to be objective.
  5. If you are working in more than one style or medium, it is OK to submit more than one portfolio with each submission focusing on a different style or medium. However, that means that should your work be accepted for an exhibit, then your show will be focused on the work that was submitted.  Gallery directors understand that the exact pieces you submit for review may no longer be available (unless that was one of the rules), but they expect to see you deliver a show similar in style and content to what was in your application.
  6. Learn to write a decent Artist Statement. Can you explain your work in half a page or less?
  7. When you are writing your CV (curricula vitae), start with the newest items first.  If you have many, many listings, then highlight some of your most important awards or shows.  Summarize the earlier work.  Believe me, no one is interested in what you did in kindergarten.

After you submit your portfolio, then relax.  You either will or you won’t get in.  It’s out of your hands. But learn from the process.  It’s OK to contact the gallery or museum to find out if there was anything you could improve or for other helpful suggestions.

You can often find request for portfolios in the back of many artists’ magazines and through online resources, such as, CaFE.org.  Some charge a fee and some do not.  Again, read the rules.  And if you should get accepted for an exhibit, pay particular attention to the conditions and rules of the gallery.  But that is a subject for another post.

Read more about submitting your work for a juried show at this link to an earlier post.    5 Tips for Getting into a Juried Show

Fresh flowers for spring!

Are you tired of winter and ready for something new?  Try adding some fresh flower paintings to your home for a new look.  Both of my Etsy shops are having a sale of 20% off ALL flower paintings or even any painting with some flowers in it.  No limit except for the time.  Sale ends April 30th.  Check out the links below.

Etsy KitMiracleArt  click here!

Etsy shop My90Acres click here!

Spring sale. 20% off all flower paintings or any painting with flowers in it. No limit. All in my Etsy shop KitMiracleArt.

Spring ad for Etsy shop my90acres. 20% off all flower paintings. All original. No limit.

Mixed Bouquet

Mixed Bouquet, original painting, 20 x 16, impressionistic style, Kit Miracle

Spring is finally ready to pop here in Southern Indiana.  The early daffodils and crocuses are out in force.  The tulips are up but not yet blooming.  I’m not sure if the narcissus will make it after the deep freeze  a week ago but the forsythias are ready to pop.

Meanwhile I’m still in the mood to paint flowers which finds me scouring my old photos.  This painting was based on a small bouquet of mixed zinnias from my garden.  I think the greens are sprigs of coriander with added bits of phlox and sweet peas.

Painting flowers is much more challenging than most people realize.  Some artists are so talented in painting every pistol and stamen but that is not my style. I prefer to capture the feel of the flower.  This is called impressionism.

As you can see if you view the detail photos, brush strokes are a mix of bold and soft.  It takes some practice to achieve this effect but all I can advise is to keep at it.  Or, wipe it off or paint over any less than desirable areas.

Mixed Bouquet, detail 1. Another closeup of the flowers. Loosely painted in impressionistic style.

Mixed Bouquet, detail 2. Notice the loose strokes and variegated painting.

Mixed Bouquet, original painting, Kit Miracle

This painting can be viewed on my Etsy shop here.

When you take a flower into your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else.  Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower.  I want them to see it, whether they want to or not. 

      Georgia O’Keeffe

Yearning for Spring

Yearning for Spring, framed, 16 x 20, acrylic on canvas, Kit Miracle, contemporary impressionist

I am just so ready for spring.  Living here in southern Indiana, the winters are usually rather mild, at least compared to my years in Michigan.  We will often get a little snow but not much to worry about.  I think winter here is really like a long fall.

However, this year Mother Nature seems to have taken a fit.  Warm one week just enough to tease the early bulbs out of the ground.  Then the next week, temperatures diving for the bottom of the thermometer.  Last week we saw lows of 10 degrees which meant our wood furnace (The Beast) was doing its best to keep up.  Yesterday we saw a high of 62 with some 70s predicted for next week.  Last evening the peepers could be heard in chorus in the bottoms.  Did I mention that I am really ready for spring?

I felt an irresistible urge to paint some spring flowers. With few early flowers out yet except a couple of bedraggled crocuses and some hardy daffodils, I turned to my photos of some spring bouquets.  And to step outside my usual style.  Same old, same old, gets boring in my opinion.

Yearning for Spring, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20, contemporary impressionist, Kit Miracle

The first bouquet consists of forsythia, double fancy daffodils and some branches of flowering quince.  I like the subtle colors here and aimed at coordinating the background to the flowers but to subjugate it to the foreground.

Dancing Tulips, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20, contemporary impressionist, Kit Miracle

The second flower painting took me in a different direction.  I aimed for bold colors and lively strokes.  This painting certainly accomplished that.  It almost looks as if the tulips are dancing.  To see the step by step for this painting, click here or go the Artworks tab and click on Dancing Tulips.

With the warming temps coming this week, my real tulips might be blooming. They’re already up several inches and it will just need old Sol to entice them out.  I’m ready!

Of course, both paintings are for sale at my Etsy shop.

Thanks for stopping by.

Spring is Nature’s way of saying, “Let’s Party!”       Robin Williams

Yearning for Spring, detail 1

Yearning for Spring, detail 2

Dancing Tulips, detail 1, Kit Miracle

Dancing Tulips, framed, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20, Kit Miracle

Afternoon Shadows – another painting beyond the photograph

Afternoon Shadows, acrylic, original painting, 14 x 18, contemporary impressionism, Kit Miracle

I thought I’d post another painting created from a photograph for my class. This photo was taken of our patio and arbor with the fire pit on sunny autumn afternoon.  I like outdoor scenes with a human element.  This will often include at least some kind of man-made item whether a building, fence post, road or path.  In this case, the setting gives the feeling of comfort and ease.  The chairs, the smoke from the fire, the dappled sun and shade all contribute to the atmosphere.  The turtle sandbox adds a touch of whimsy.

When using a photo as inspiration for a painting, it’s important to remember that it is a tool and a road map.  Take inspiration but don’t be afraid to change things.

Afternoon Shadows, detail 1. Click and enlarge the photos to see the brush strokes. Notice the background tree is just painted with a few strokes. And the smoke is just a glaze on top of the background. See the indication of the sun and shadows on the chair.

In this painting, I was trying to capture the feel of the afternoon sun. The smoke and fire indicates that there could be a chill in the air with a slight breeze.  The location and setting are inviting; it looks as if someone has just left the area.

Afternoon Shadows, detail 2. Zoom in on the vines and leaves to see just how loosely they were painted. The sandbox turtle adds a note of whimsy.

My style is not photo-realist but contemporary impressionist which works well for conveying the feeling of this scene.  The chairs beckon the viewer to sit in the sun or warm themselves by the fire.  Will a child come walking into the area to play in the sandbox? I love paintings that tell a story.

Afternoon shadows, detail 3. Zoom in on the posts and the background trees to see the brushstrokes.

As you can see by the detail images, I use loose strokes to indicate the branches and leaves.  From a distance, the painting appears to be much more detailed than it actually is.  It takes some practice and confidence to make just the right stroke to indicate a branch.  Or, if you make a mistake, just scrape it off and try again.

Afternoon Shadows, original photo. If you compare this photo to the painting, you can see areas that I have emphasized, changed or deemphasized.

Normally I would have painted a scene like this in plein air but I was busy that afternoon and only had time to capture the view with my camera.  That is one of the benefits of using photographs as inspiration.

Afternoon Shadows for sale

Peace is the beauty of life.  It is sunshine. It is the smile of a child, the love of a mother, the joy of a father, the togetherness of a family. It is the advancement of man, the victory of a just cause, the triumph of truth.  Menachem Begin

Spring cleanup

These cheery yellow crocuses are the first to bloom this year. They get extra warmth and shelter near this rock wall.

After what seems like weeks of rain, wind and generally yucky weather (yes, that is an actual meteorological description in the Midwest), we finally had a beautiful sunny and relatively warm day with temps in the 50s.  I couldn’t wait to get outside for a bit.  This is the time of year to clean up all the winter debris.  I know I raked those flower beds so where did all these leaves come from?

This is just a small portion of the area still covered by the chestnut seed hulls. I raked four wheelbarrow loads today and have as much again to rake tomorrow. They didn’t decompose much over the winter.

A big mess in the yard was our last chestnut which we cut down a week ago.  We had already cut down two companions previously.  The Chinese chestnut is a beautifully shaped tree with an umbrella-shaped top, large leaves, beautiful grayish bark and, of course, lots of chestnuts.  These trees were very prolific.  This would not normally be a problem as we have plenty of room – ninety acres, remember – and we have loads of other nut-bearing trees.  Oaks, walnuts, hickory, plus fruit trees.

Chestnut seed hulls remind me of spiny sea urchins. They are very painful to handle or step on. I only use leather gloves to work with them.

However, chestnuts have a seed hull which is very prickly, like a spiny sea urchin.  You can only handle them with leather gloves and they are very painful to step on.  They are also very prolific. When we cut down the first two chestnuts, we thought that we wouldn’t get any more seed pods without the pollinators.  That was a mistaken idea.  As you can see by the debris on the ground, there was still plenty to clean up.

I spent a couple of hours raking and gathered four wheelbarrow loads of hulls.  There is still as much again to do tomorrow.  What I couldn’t rake will eventually decompose but it will probably be a few years before anyone can go barefoot in that part of the yard.

Chestnut woodpile. All of this wood came from one tree.

Chestnut wood is beautiful with a grayish-green color and kind of stripey. It is also very dense and heavy.

It was a beautiful day.  The first crocuses were finally brave enough to pop out.  I even spotted a few spring beauties in bloom.  In about a month, they will carpet the lawn so it looks like snow.

One of my favorite wildflowers and early harbinger of spring. Spring beauties have a delicate pink stripe which can’t be seen in this photo. I’ll try for another shot later.

I sure was ready for lunch and a rest.  And our dog Mikey was ready, too.  Keeping me company and following me around was hard work.

You are like a chestnut burr, prickly outside, but silky-soft within, and a sweet kernel, if one can only get at it.  Love will make you show your heart someday, and then the rough burr will fall off.

Louisa May Alcott

Painting beyond the scene

West Wind Blows, original painting, 12 x 16, impressionistic, Kit Miracle

Artists are known for traveling over the world seeking new things to paint.  I have done so myself and have captured many scenes of my travels over the years.

I don’t know why travel is so inspiring but maybe it makes us see the world with new eyes.  We return home refreshed and look at our surroundings in a new way.

However, we don’t need to go away to appreciate what we have.  It is often right there before us.  A new light, a different angle, maybe the same scene in a different season.

This is a scene that I have passed thousands of times. I’ve always liked this valley with the hills but on this particular day, it really pulled at my attention.  Maybe it was the backlit clouds scudding across the sky.  Maybe it was the farm in the valley.  I even found the shadows of the trees across the pasture interesting.

West Wind Blows, detail, painting, Kit Miracle

Of course, I took some artistic license….like I need a license…and edited the landscape to suit myself. But compare the original photo to the scene that I captured. A little editing maybe but any local person would recognize this place.

West Wind Blows, original photo for painting

I’m teaching a class on painting from photographs.  One of the points that I’ve been trying to get across to my students is to use a photograph as a tool, a place to start, but you don’t have to be religious to the exact photo.  It is up to you, the artist, to change it to suit your needs and desires.

It’s a warm wind, the west wind, filled with bird cries.

John Masefield

West Wind Blows 

Are you a crab or an escapee?

Ghost crab or sand crab on the beach at night on South Padre Island. When “caught” with a flashlight, they freeze, only to scurry away if the light wavers.

I was scrolling through some vacation photos from last summer and came across this photo of a crab on the beach.  My granddaughter and I went out after dark one evening to spot crabs. They were everywhere!  We had so much fun walking along the sand at night at catching the crabs with our flashlight.  The little critters skittered here and there but froze when the light shone on them. If the light wavered at all, they were off like a flash.

The photo put me in mind of one of my favorite expressions crabs in a bucket.  If you’re not familiar with the expression, it comes from the old story of the fisherman who was catching crabs and throwing them into a bucket.  His grandson asked why he didn’t have a lid on the bucket and wouldn’t the crabs all crawl out.  The fisherman replied, no, the crabs don’t crawl out although they are certainly able to do so, but when one crab reaches a claw over the top of the bucket, the other crabs all pull him back.

Sound familiar?

I can think of so many applications for this parable.  Whether it’s being a better student or artist, getting a promotion or a new car, we all tend to compare ourselves to others.  I wonder why that is?  Isn’t it possible for everyone to be successful at whatever they want to be?  Being around negative people, those who complain all the time or put down others, is very draining.  I always try to look beneath the surface to determine what their real motives are for complaining.  Feelings of insecurity or inferiority?  Or are they just crabs in a bucket who don’t want anyone else to succeed if they can’t? Or are they looking for excuses for their own lack of motivation and hard work?

Have you ever faced some crabs in your life?  When you announced that you just got a raise, they responded with well, you’re just going to have to pay more taxes. Or maybe you aced your last test and your friend called you a brown-noser.  Or someone in your neighborhood complains about those snobby rich people down the block who think they’re really something. I could go on and on.

Being a crab is unfair and being around crabs is depressing.  The news and social media are filled with crabs, those who want to basically gossip about this person or that.  I’ve always been of the opinion that if you’re not happy with a situation, change it, don’t just complain about it.  And certainly don’t waste your efforts envying someone who has something, whether a skill, a trait, maybe a material possession that you don’t have.  Stop being a crab.  Escape the bucket and make your own path.

Little Stone Church, Provence – demonstration painting from photographs

Little Stone Church, Provence, France – final. Acrylic, 12 x 16. As you can see, I made the sky more interesting and edited the road a bit, too.

I thought I’d share another lesson from the class that I’m teaching about painting from photographs.  Frankly, this process can be as complicated or as simple as you want to make it.

Little Stone Church, Provence – original photo

In this example, I have a real photo – you know, the printed kind – from a biking trip that I took through Provence, France many years ago.  I like to browse through the old photos and inevitably I see a new subject that I overlooked before.  In this case, I remember exactly how I felt cruising through the olive groves when I passed this old stone church one morning.

Little Stone Church cropped.

The original photo included more subject matter than I wished to include in my painting so I cropped it to fit my canvas size.  This is easy to do if it is a digital photo, but in this case with a real picture, I used paper L-shaped pieces to manipulate the photo (not shown here.)  I don’t usually need to do this anymore since I’ve been painting for so many years but it’s a good hack for new painters.

For the purpose of the class, I actually scanned the photo and used these images to demonstrate.

Little Stone Church – photo divided into thirds. The center of interest – the church – is at the intersection of one of the thirds. Also, notice how the road leads the eye into the painting and points towards the church.

I divided the selected picture area into thirds each way and then placed the church on one of the intersections.  This generally makes a nicely balanced composition.

NOTAN Here I changed the photo to black and white, then pushed the contrast to the extreme. This helps one get a better idea of the basic shapes. Notice how the stone church (center of interest) also has the greatest contrast with the trees framing it.

The prior week we had discussed NOTAN – the theory of making your image extreme black and white in order to seek balance in the composition.  Here, I manipulated the image by computer to show a high contrast in black and white which is essentially NOTAN.  Here is a link to a very good explanation of NOTAN by artist Mitchell Albala.

A black and white image of the same photograph. This helps the artist gain a better handle on values, lightest to darkest. The same effect can be achieved by viewing the color photograph through a piece of red gel. See a prior post on the subject at the link.

I then showed a regular black and white photo to the class so they could get an idea of the values.  Again, you can use the trick of a piece of red gel to get the same effect.  (Click here to see an earlier post about using red gel.)

The next step was to demonstrate to the class my procedure for painting the scene in color.  In oil or acrylic, one usually starts with the darks and works towards the light.  Watercolor usually proceeds the opposite way with laying in the lights (or reserving the lights) and adding more and darker color as the painting progresses.  There are several demonstrations of both of these methods under the tab Artworks at the top of the page.

The takeaway here is that composition can be enhanced for using old photos as painting materials by manipulating the size and shape of the photos, taking care of the placement of the center of interest, and selecting pleasing balance and contrasts of lights and darks.

Little Stone Church, Provence

Way the Wind Blows – a quiet painting

Way the Wind Blows, acrylic on wood panel, 8 x 10, original painting, Kit Miracle

With the nasty weather screaming through the Midwest the past couple of weeks, I’ve been surfing through old photos and files for subjects to paint.  I came across some images taken on a visit to New England to visit family.

This is a painting of the cupola on the 200 year old barn at my brother’s home in New England.  Made of red oak, the original timbers inside were marked with Roman numerals for assembly at some time in the past. I was attracted to the late afternoon sun as it caught the weather vane on top.  One wonders at the history this barn has seen in its long existence.  These old buildings always make me reflect on life as it was back then.

Although the subject of the painting is not one of the more complex that I’ve painted, I just enjoy the peace and calm of the scene.  Very plain.  Which just demonstrates that a one doesn’t need a lot going on in a scene to make compelling painting.

Painted on wood panel in a contemporary impressionist style, this small painting will fit in many spaces.

Way the Wind Blows, framed. Sometimes framing a painting makes all the difference.

When the wind is in the east,
It’s good for neither man nor beast.
When the wind is in the north,
The old folk should not venture forth.
When the wind is in the south,
It blows the bait in the fishes’ mouth.
When the wind is in the west,
It is of all the winds the best.

Link to painting on Etsy.