Archive for the ‘6-month Mentorship’ Category

Creative assignments

by Sue Dawson

WHEN I WAS in art school (and college art classes), one of my favorite things was the group critique, where we’d tack our homework up on the wall, and listen to the professor respond to each piece. It’s an intense process. You put so much time and effort into your own work, it can be tough to weather the criticism. But it’s so exciting, and inspiring, to see what everyone has done with the same assignment. Of course I most easily remember the time mine was a dud, when a famous illustrator said that my drawing of “happiness” made him sad. But even as I held back tears in that moment, I was inspired to do better next time. My dud wasn’t a bad drawing – it just showed my lack of sophistication. I’d chosen an obvious solution. A surface one. And this professor was having none of it. He wanted us to dig deep, push boundaries, knock him off his feet with our brilliance. He didn’t care so much about the execution, it turned out. He wanted to see concepts he’d never seen before. He wanted to be wowed.   

If you haven’t been in art school, maybe it’ll help to consider an example. One week our assignment was to do an illustration of “Thames.” Did I not mention this was in London? Notting Hill, to be exact. Anyway, all but one of us did illustrations of the Thames River. I did an aerial drawing. Others sat by the banks of the river and illustrated the view. Blah, blah, blah, said the professor. Until he got to one photograph that probably took 1/10th of the time our meticulous drawings and paintings did. It was a shot of the tv in this guy’s flat, at precisely the moment that the station identification came on. The professor LOVED it, because this student had come up with something unpredictable, eye-catching, and smart. It was so brilliant, all the rest of our drawings fell away. And it taught me an important lesson. The obvious solution is often too easy. With creative work, the goal is to push ourselves to find something unique, provocative, that comes from a deeper place, and reflects deeper feelings or thoughts. The depth can be emotional, intellectual, philosophical, visual, or satirical. It can be child-like in its innocence, or dark and brooding. In other words, it’s the opposite of “point and shoot.” 

This is why I believe artist statements are such an important part of the creative process. Writing about our work forces us to find the wellspring of our creativity, within us. It’s where our unique voice is – and the more familiar we are with this place, the better we are at showing it artistically.

My assignments are purposely broad, just as my professor’s were 30+ years ago. I think specific parameters narrow things down too much, and squelch creativity. I could go on and on about seeing this issue in preschools and grade schools. Just when children are most uninhibited creatively, they’re often given too many specific directions in creative classes, to fit a rubric, or learn a particular technique. (I know there are children who thrive in restrictive settings, so no need to set me straight!) I just think we set too many rules, too early, causing kids to bury their unique creative selves. As adults doing creative work, we need to dig deep, to find the little kid we once were, and grow from there.

We usually do assignments and critiques with the Advanced Mentorship only. But this year, we combined the groups in one call. There are fewer students, so it works for both groups. This year’s first assignment was “inside a jar.” Here are some of the solutions:

Andrea Dawson is both a photographer and a painter. Her photographs are done mostly in her backyard woods, in cool/cold weather, of trees and leaves in shallow depth of field. She chose to put some of her leaves in a jar, and caught the jar’s unique reflection.

andrea

Beth Horstman keeps her food in mason jars, so she used her own pantry as inspiration. She often plays with depth of field, but always shoots outside in nature. The painterly background and setting in this shot is a departure for her, and hopefully inspires more exploration.

beth

Dena Porter spends time in New York City, and chose to abstract her jar image. “I used the jar as a lens to create a new view from my apartment window. Car and street lights provided a colorful and distinctive backdrop for the jar.” 

dena

Ilene Hertz photographed her grandmother’s button jar, which she’s added to over the years. “I’ve spent countless hours photographing botanicals on my lightbox, but this was the first time I experimented with another subject. The buttons had been tucked away in this jar for a long time, and the way they spilled out onto the lightbox enabled me to appreciate their translucency, much like the petals of the flowers that I normally photograph.” 

ilene

Jackie Abodeely plays with color saturation in her work, which comes from a deep awareness of spirit. “When we got the assignment I immediately thought of using a terrarium. As a child, I saw my grandmother’s terrarium as a tiny protected world. I decided to show this small, protected world contrasted against the much larger natural world that surrounds it. I wanted to illustrate the control society imposes on our natural selves, within the greater world that’s so out of control. It’s a world within a world.” 

jackie

Rob Skinner shoots seascapes, so he decided to create his own. “My seascape in a jar comes from Martha’s Vineyard down to Connecticut – well the rocks and the duck do. The night before, I set up the jar knowing we’d get a freeze, and the texture of the frozen water would look more interesting. As the morning sun started to thaw it out, the duck enjoyed the view.”

rob

I’ve gotta end with another of Dena’s shots 🙂 

kitty

Should you sign up for this year’s Mentorship?

T H E R E ‘ S    N O T    M U C H    T I M E    L E F T   .   .   .  

motionmailapp.com

 by Sue Dawson

I’VE BEEN having some great conversations with potential Mentorship students over the past week. They’re deliberating about whether to join this year’s program, which starts on Monday afternoon. They have questions about what to expect, what they’ll learn, how they’ll grow. I love these conversations – I’m sure they can hear me typing sometimes, trying to precisely capture their insights, so I can remember them later.

I thought I’d share some insights with you…

– One person said he loved Alison’s critiques in the workshop he just took with her. In other workshops, he hasn’t always agreed with the teacher’s critiques, and walked away confused, unclear about what’s “right,” and what’s “wrong.” With Alison, she’s so clear in her critiques, even if he doesn’t 100% agree, he totally understands why she’s saying it. He doesn’t have to wonder whether he’s “right” to disagree, because her clarity empowers him to make educated decisions. My take is that her teaching style leaves room for interpretation. She’ll say whether or not she likes an image – don’t get me wrong – but you’ll understand why. So you can decide your own take on it. She’s not saying “this is how to think,” or “this is how to see.” She’s educating you, so you can think and see for yourself.

– Another person said he’s been shooting a lot, and worried that he’s “all over the place” in terms of subject matter and style. But then he wondered, “Or am I? Is this all moving me toward something else?” He’s concerned about not having a “singular style,” a unique voice. Because his direction isn’t clear yet, he’s listening to advice and trying different things. This is a huge reason we added Masterminds to our Mentorship program. At each retreat, you’ll have a half hour to present something to the group, and get feedback from everyone. We’ve seen incredible things happen as a result of this process.

One time, a student presented some selections from her work at different stages, and was looking for a new focus. There was one photo she threw in at the last minute, of a wooden chair sitting in the corner of a room, with a beautiful pattern of light streaming across, from a window above. She said “I don’t know why I tossed this one in. It’s from my Quaker meeting. It means a lot to me, but it’s a one-off.” Everyone loved the image, and wanted to know more. So she talked about her faith, and what it’s meant to her. This image really spoke to her deeply. We all encouraged her to pursue this further. So she started taking more photos of meeting houses near her, and getting gorgeous, evocative images. She decided to visit all the meeting houses in Massachusetts, and I encouraged her to write about each one too, in a blog. Thus began a labor of love that has culminated in two Blurb books of images and text, that are her portfolio of the project. She made these to show at galleries and museums, and to potential publishers.

This is just one example of many. It’s hard to explain the energy that’s created in your Mastermind, where the whole room is focusing on you and your work. Alison and I just did a Mastermind of our own, at last weekend’s Advanced Mentorship retreat, and Alison’s more inspired than she’s been in years.

– One person said our price felt high, and gave us a couple examples of mentorships that cost less. We’ve done a lot of research on other programs, but just to be sure, Alison jumped in and did the research again. She looked at prices, duration, and what you’d get for your investment. Each one that cost less, delivered less. There are some great teachers out there, and wonderful programs. She just didn’t see another like ours. Our Mentorship is truly one-of-a-kind, and we’re very proud of that. Here’s what you get:

  • FOCAL POINT TOOLKIT – Set goals, and track your progress through the Mentorship. This sets your intention for the six months, and creates the velocity for your experience.
  • YOUR OWN PASSWORD-PROTECTED PAGE (new this year!) – You’ll have your own page accessible via our website, where you can find all program info, upcoming appointments you’ve scheduled, your list of goals, downloadable notes from your calls with us, and a personalized to-do list for your reference
  • SEVEN CALL HOURS with ALISON – These calls will be all about you and your work – developing your own unique creative style, staying consistent and keeping focused. You’ll send Alison jpegs of your latest work before each call. During the call, you’ll see her screen live on your computer, as you both discuss your photos, and she makes suggestions shown in Adobe Lightroom. Learn how to be your best editor, get custom training, feedback, motivation, and brainstorm ideas. Alison will give you customized assignments that will keep you inspired, and define your next steps toward your goals.
  • FOUR CALL HOURS with SUE – Get an Art Director/Gallery Owner’s eye on your body of work, and advice on your portfolio, graphic identity, website, book ideas, writing, and marketing. Talk about mindset, and open up your creative flow. Brainstorm project ideas.
  • SEVEN TRAININGS – Our in-depth trainings cover a number of topics,which have included: getting in touch with your deepest creative self; writing an artist statement and bio; marketing your work; communicating with galleries, and having a show of your work; Alison’s digital workflow; publishing a book of your photography; and a fine art printing Q&A with a master printer.
  • TWO 2-DAY RETREATS on MARTHA’S VINEYARD – Experience the island off-season, when all the locals can relax and truly enjoy this unique place. Starting with a Friday-evening drinks and hors d’oeuvres get-together, and culminating in student Masterminds on Saturday and Sunday, you’ll meet other students, learn a lot, and have the unique opportunity to get feedback from the group. Develop your artist statement, body of work, and project ideas with the support of other artists. Alison often talks in-depth about her work, sometimes showing edits, images that didn’t make the cut (and why), and her creative process. Sue will bring her designer’s eye to the discussion.
  • PRIVATE FACEBOOK GROUP – This is a great opportunity for feedback and technical support, from all past and present Mentorship students. Post your photos and questions, and get feedback, answers, and encouragement on your progress. Sue and Alison monitor the group page regularly.
  • 20% OFF IN THE GALLERY – For the duration of the Mentorship, you’ll get our best discount on all fine art prints, books, posters, and cards.
  • YOUR WORK ON OUR WEBSITE – Take advantage of our international audience. After the Mentorship ends, we’ll post a photo of you, your artist statement, and a slideshow of your best work during our six months together, with a link to your website if you have one.

I’m making appointments for calls, and have times available from now until Monday at noon. I’d love to talk with you! Just email me, sue@alisonshaw.com, and we’ll set up a time. Here’s the pdf with more info. And here’s the link to our student pages, showing their work and accomplishments. One more thing – we almost decided not to do the program this year, so we could focus on a couple projects of our own. But we’ve put those off for now. This means we may not run the program next year (not sure yet), so if you’ve been wanting to join, this is the year!

From one of our retreats

From one of our retreats  (Photo by Vincent Chahley)

Realizing your dreams

by Sue Dawson

IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR. The holidays. But this year it’s also the time we’re filling the 12 available spots in our 6-month Mentorship. The past two years we’ve started the Mentorship at the beginning of November. But things got all mucked up with the holidays, to be honest. Between turkey and shopping and wrapping and cooking and cleaning and baking and doing it over and over again several times in one month, we were exhausted. So this year, we’ve decided to start the Mentorship on January 4th, and jump into the new year well-fed and ready to focus.

I’ve been reading through the Mentorship Facebook group page, past emails, and worksheets our students have submitted, and I came across this great quote, that I placed over one of the author’s gorgeous photos:

debquote1

Goals without a plan. I know this well. I’m good at reaching many goals, but the creative ones always seem to get kicked to the bottom of my to-do list. This is the stuff that means the most to me (after family, of course), but I don’t make time to pursue it. Maybe it’s because it can be a little lonely to work on my art, and I’m a people person. Maybe I’m scared of failing. Or maybe I’m scared of succeeding … didn’t expect that one, did you?

We’ve designed the Mentorship exactly as Deb hoped. It’s a roadmap – customized for you – to identify your dreams, and create a plan to achieve them. There are trainings on things like creativity, and putting together a portfolio of your work. You become part of a group of 12 peers, who support each other via our private Facebook group, and at the two weekend retreats. The highlight of the retreats are the Mastermind sessions, when each student has a block of time to present your work, get support, feedback, suggestions, and the group’s full attention. It’s a powerful experience to have 13 people (11 other students, Alison, and me) focused exclusively on you and your work – some of the best insights have come from Masterminds. Throughout the Mentorship, you’ll have one-on-one sessions with Alison, focused entirely on your photographs, your workflow, and your goals. And sessions with me, where we look at your website, writing about your work, and getting your photography seen and appreciated by others.

It’s hard work. It is. No sugar-coating that. Your results will be directly proportional to your investment of time and effort. But this is about your dreams, after all. It’s time to stop kicking the can down the road, and thinking you’ll be able to focus on your dreams some other time.

23 people have done this before you, each of them full of reservations and excuses, each of them nervous that they picked now to jump in. There’s a section on our website where you can see a list of some Mentorship student accomplishments, look at portfolios of students’ work, and read their thoughts on the Mentorship experience. I encourage you to look at all they’ve done, and picture yourself on this list next year.

For more info, go here, and click the blue link under the photo to download a pdf. Or email Sue: sue@alisonshaw.com. I’m looking forward to talking with you!

Our first Advanced Mentorship show opens May 3rd

A guest blog: by Sue Dawson

adv.show.blog

THERE’S ONLY ONE reason we’d open our gallery three weeks early. I complain brag about never getting even one day off during our busy season, which starts every year on Memorial Day weekend. So there’s gotta be a really good reason for me to work nonstop open our doors three weeks ahead of schedule. Lots of island businesses are pulling up the window shades, dusting off their shelves, and putting out their “OPEN” signs now, but we always wait until the big holiday weekend. Until this year.

Our first Advanced Mentorship group is affectionately known as our “guinea pigs,” since they’ve been with us since the very beginning of our Mentorship program in 2013. The culmination of their Advanced year is a group show in our gallery, for three weeks in May. From choosing what to hang, to writing an artist statement, deciding how to present their work, and creating a catalog of their photographs, they’ve worked hard and learned a lot.

The opening reception is May 3rd, from 4 to 6pm, at our gallery. The nine Advanced Mentorship members are: Gwen Norton, Doug Burke, Diane Collins, Jean Schnell, Estelle Disch, Kate Griswold, Karla Bernstein, David Matthews, and Steven Koppel. They’ll be hanging the show on the 2nd, and will all attend the reception, so you can meet them. We’re honored to be hosting such a stunning, diverse selection of work, and to be working with such a lovely group. In case you’re wondering, it’s worth my May…

Enough about us…

A guest blog: by Sue Dawson

WHAT ABOUT YOU? That’s what I keep thinking, as the 2014 gallery season is winding down. Alison’s on the Cape teaching her second of three workshops this fall. We’ve shifted our focus back to teaching, for the Vineyard off-season. Nine of our Mentorship students from last year are moving on to our Advanced Mentorship program, starting now. The last thing they did as Mentorship students was to send us a selection of their latest images, and a short bio or artist statement. We’ve added a new section to our website to highlight their accomplishments, and to tell you a little bit more about them. I highly recommend checking it out.

Our 2014-2015 Mentorship program starts in early November. I’ve got quite a list of people who’ve expressed interest in joining, and am about to start calling them back, to fill the 10 available spots. If your heart just leapt a bit, let’s talk.

That heart leap brings me back to my original question. What about you? If you take photographs yourself, what inspires you? If you’re more of an art viewer, my question is the same – what inspires you? We’re all looking for something within art, whether we’re producing it ourselves, or viewing art done by someone else. I’m just curious about that feeling you get when art really speaks to something inside of you. Think about when art resonates most deeply within, whether it’s visual, aural, experiential, emotional, spiritual, appreciation of a technique, or even fascination with the gear and mechanics of photos.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments: What inspires you?

Doing it scared…

A guest blog: by Sue Dawson

ALISON LOVES what she does. Her favorite part of her job is getting out and shooting in a variety of locations and conditions, and working with lots of new people. She also loves showing her work in galleries, and meeting people who come to her shows. It can feel like pressure to put a show together, but in the end it’s all very exciting, and validating. All great. But early on, there was one aspect of her work that felt overwhelming…

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