Archive for the ‘6-month Mentorship’ Category

Your unique creative voice

by Sue Dawson

I JUST ASKED Alison, “What have I not said about the Mentorship, that might help people decide whether it’s a good fit for them?” She responded that we have so many past and present students who have unique, stunning images – why not show a few?

So here you go:

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LISA REDBURN did the Mentorship in 2014-2015, and the Advanced Mentorship the following year. Part of her initial submission to Alison, for her first 1:1 call, were images of puddles in Paris, a city that’s dear to her heart. As her work progressed, Lisa focused on her “Garden Afterparty” series, of flowers and vegetation that are “letting go.” And I just found these stunners on her site, which she calls “In the Garden: Seasonal stories from the garden, floating through time” (above). As Lisa’s work has progressed, you can see her working the same themes in different ways, with evocative images that still resonate with the insights she had during the Mentorship. Lisa has entered numerous juried shows, and often wins awards for her work.


DAVID MATTHEWS was in our first Mentorship group in 2013-2014, and did the Advanced Mentorship for several years after that. David came into the program with a high level of technical knowledge and proficiency, and a quirky creative sensibility that he continued to build through his time with us. My favorites are his series of salty, snowy asphalt that he showed in our gallery in 2015, a series of an airport tarmac, and a fantastic series of urban textural abstracts with the same basic composition (above). David’s compositions are technically brilliant. He’s had four solo shows, and four group shows, mostly in Pennsylvania galleries, and has sold a number of limited-edition prints.


JEAN SCHNELL, also in our first Mentorship and the Advanced group for a couple of years, developed a beautiful technique for shooting interior spaces that’s incredibly unique. I’ve written about her work before, including her series on Quaker Meetinghouses, and the old Marine Hospital that’s now the Martha’s Vineyard Museum in Vineyard Haven. Jean produced two gorgeous Blurb books as her Meetinghouse portfolio, within the Advanced Mentorship program. She’s had a number of gallery shows (she was the top seller at our Advanced Mentorship group show), and her work has been featured in Lenswork and Yankee Magazines. 


LUCY DAHL did the Mentorship two years ago, and is now in her second year of the Advanced program. Her self-portraits with the same black dress, in lots of different settings, are provocative, and tell a very personal story. All black & white, and done with available light and a self-timer, Lucy’s work is beautiful, raw, and deeply affecting. Lucy’s first group show was in our gallery this past May, where she was the top seller.

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BROOKE BARTLETTA did the Mentorship last year, and is in our Advanced program now. She’s fascinated by scenes that may be depressing at first glance, but are immensely powerful social commentaries – especially through her lens. Abandoned urban buildings, broken fences, and paint peeling off boats in local shipyards are favorite themes. Her latest winner, done in dense fog, is an evocative image of a high school running team, above. Brooke has just begun entering juried shows, and winning awards. She just launched her website last week.


STEVE KOPPEL, who took the first Mentorship 6 years ago, and did the Advanced program for several years, is now represented by the Focus Gallery in Chatham. He focuses on the tidal flats outside his home on the Cape and the National Seashore, shooting aerial images with a drone, or early morning seascapes with his camera on a tripod. His images are expansive, peaceful, and gorgeous. I wrote about Steve’s experience in the Mentorship here. He has two websites that began within the Mentorship programs, including one for his EDI Institute, where he donates proceeds from all of his print sales. 


KATE GRISWOLD was also in our first group, and a couple of Advanced years after that. Most of her work at the beginning was black & white images of animals taken during trips to Africa, and lovely studio portraits of animals, from dogs to horses. I think it was Kate’s second year with us, when Alison and I were in South Carolina – we visited her home there, and she took us on a tour of the area, pointing out the birds she saw along the way. Alison asked if she’d ever taken pictures of the birds, and she said no, but that they were spiritually significant to her. With Alison’s encouragement, Kate started taking photos of her birds, which has evolved into stunning portraits like the one above. Kate’s sold a number of limited-edition prints, and has had several gallery shows of her work.

I could go on and on. There are so many more talented photographers we’ve worked with, and we’re so proud of their accomplishments. 

If you feel a sense of excitement looking at this work, and feel that it’s time to develop your own unique creative photography, please consider our Mentorship program. Here’s what you’ll 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.
  • 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. Sue’s signature Intuitive Interview will help you identify what makes your photography distinctly your own. Discovering what drives your creative work helps you write and talk about your unique motivation, and gives you a framework for your creative process as you pursue your work.
  • 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.
  • YOUR OWN PASSWORD-PROTECTED PAGE – 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.
  • 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.

Here’s how much time is left, to sign up: 

Click here for more information on the Mentorship. We start this coming Monday evening, so I’m booking times for calls this week, to answer your questions about the program. Please email or call us at 508-693-4429, to set up a time. We do the Mentorship just once each year, so if you’re interested, now’s the time to jump in. As of this writing, there are 4 spots left. I have over 100 people on my “interested” list, with 10 of them seriously considering joining this year. 

Your path


by Sue Dawson

I LOVE this photo of Alison’s from last winter, with snow illuminating the path forward. I happen to know there’s a beach at the end of this path, but for the sake of discussion, let’s assume we don’t know what’s at the end. We’re just supposed to walk forward, and have faith that we’ve picked the right path. 

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr,

“Faith is taking the first step,

even when you don’t see

the whole staircase.”

I’m thinking a lot about the journey forward, and how we often don’t know what’s to come. Both of our kids are at the beginning of adulthood, thinking about such things every single day. My job as a parent is not to walk the path for them, or even with them. My job is to help when I’m needed, to step back when I’m not, and to allow them the freedom of discovery, choice, and experience. 

It works this way for all of us, when we’re venturing out into new areas, discovering new things, learning, and growing. I sometimes need help and expert advice from a mentor, whose job is to help when needed, and to step back when not – to allow me the freedom of personal discovery and experience, while guiding me with honest feedback, and cheering me along from the sidelines. 

When contemplating a new journey, I could see how it might feel easier if my chosen mentor is standing at the end of the path, or walking in front of me with our destination clearly in sight. All he/she’d have to do is move me along, like those folks waving fluorescent orange lamps to guide huge planes into the airport gate. I’d arrive safely at my destination, dust myself off, and look to my mentor for the next step. 

Thing is, steering according to someone else’s directions would deprive me of the inevitable successes and failures that lead to my own growth and insight. It might feel safer at first. But I’d be ceding my power to someone else, putting him in the driver’s seat, letting him pick the music we listen to along the way. It wouldn’t be my own journey anymore. And it wouldn’t necessarily be my own destination either. 

When Alison and I designed our Mentorship program, we talked a lot about our roles, and how we’d approach mentoring others. Over the five years we’ve taught the program, we’ve come back to this discussion again and again. Our goal is clear. We don’t have fluorescent orange lamps that guide you to the gate. Because your gate is going to be different from everyone else’s gate – different from Alison’s, mine, and your peers in the Mentorship. Our job is to help discover, define, and nurture your unique creative voice. Through a number of trainings, techniques, and critiques, we’ll find your path together. We’ll be on the sidelines, cheering you on with honest and constructive feedback. The others in the program will be there too, offering feedback that helps you see your way forward.

The way I see it, rather than directing you to a specific place with those orange lamps, Alison and I are wearing headlamps – like miners wear – standing behind you and shining our light to illuminate your path. You’ll walk where you choose, at the pace you want, on your terms. We are not there to steer. You’re in the driver’s seat. In order to grow as an artist, you must learn to walk your own way forward. We’ll just be there to shed some light.

Click here for more information on the Mentorship program. Sunday is the last day of the season for our gallery, so I’m booking times for calls next week, to answer your questions about the Mentorship. Please email or call us at 508-693-4429, to set up a time. We do the Mentorship just once each year – the 2018-2019 program begins October 22nd.

A particularly tough assignment

by Sue Dawson

THE THIRD critique call in this year’s Mentorship programs was our longest yet. In fact, it was two calls, because we ran out of time in the first call. The toughest assignment I give is to do a self-portrait (that’s tough enough for most of us, but it gets worse)… in your own unique style. Each student submitted three photos that illustrate their style as a photographer. Then they had to do self-portraits that are congruent with their style. 

One of our goals in the Mentorship programs is to help each photographer identify his or her unique creative voice. Some people come into the program with a unique style already, but most don’t – at least they don’t recognize it yet. If I had to articulate the most important challenge for artists, it’s developing, defining, and refining your unique creative voice, or style. What sets you apart? What makes you you? Alison is an open book with students, sharing her process and techniques. But the goal isn’t to produce photographs like hers. The goal is to produce photographs like yours. It can take a lifetime to identify what this means for each artist.

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More creative assignments

by Sue Dawson

WE JUST HAD another group critique call with our Mentorship groups, and I want to share their assignment photos with you. Alison and I just love this part of our programs, where I give an assignment, and each student can upload up to five images to show the group. Half the fun is seeing how each person interprets the assignment, which is purposely open-ended. My hope is always that they’ll broaden their scope, push boundaries, think creatively, and either use their own unique style, or try out a different one. 

This time my assignment was “on the road.” Here’s our favorite shot from each person:

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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.   

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It’s a journey

by Sue Dawson

ONE OF MY favorite things about teaching is the moment when things click into place. An “aha” moment, where a student gains an important insight, or looks at his/her art with a different perspective. It’s especially clear over time, when we look back at students’ creative work, and see their growth as artists.

Steve Koppel was a member of our first Mentorship group, which began in 2013. When I first talked with Steve, he said he had retired early, and was a “hobbyist” photographer. But he wanted to know if we’d help with a new non-profit he was starting, MyMoments, to “promote recovery and emotional resilience through imagery created on mobile devices.” He’d use his 1:1 meetings with us as consultation on his new endeavor, and would learn from our trainings and retreats as well. The more Steve talked about his idea, I started getting chills (this happens when something resonates for me), and I told him it would be our honor. 

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It’s an honor

by Sue Dawson

I JUST RECEIVED a lovely email from one of our former Mentorship students, and thought I’d introduce you to her.

Jean Schnell first took a workshop with Alison on Cape Cod in 2012. She then took our weeklong Martha’s Vineyard workshop in 2013. When Alison and I came up with the idea for a 6-month Mentorship program in 2013, Jean was one of the people we thought would be perfect for it. Happily, she agreed, and worked with us in the Mentorship and Advanced Mentorship for the next three years.

When I’m talking with potential Mentorship students, I often talk about Jean. At our first retreat, in January 2014, she surprised Alison during her first Mastermind (at the two retreats, each person has 30 minutes to present something to the whole group, and ask for feedback or critique – the whole room is focusing on you and your work). At the beginning of the program, Jean had bought a printer, but hadn’t even taken it out of the box. Alison’s first advice was to take the printer out, set it up, and give it a try.

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Making our own way

by Sue Dawson

SO HOW ARE YOU DOING? I ask this because we’re living in a pretty crazy time. Hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, politics…. I often wake up in the middle of the night with anxiety these days, to be honest. Things are increasingly out of control, which can make me feel powerless, and worried. When I wake up at 2 or 3am, I read the news on my iPhone, and scan through Facebook. I’m staying in touch with what’s going on as much as I can, both in terms of national/international news, and the everyday posts of my friends and family. I guess it helps me feel more connected, and less vulnerable, to know that we’re all in this together. 

All summer I’ve been talking with people who come into the gallery about this. I’m fascinated by the different ways people deal with the uncertainty of weather events, political upheaval, and the overwhelm of daily life. Some folks turn off the news, choosing to protect their psyches by avoiding what’s happening. That can work in small doses, but inevitably we do get pulled back to reality at some point. Others learn all they can, throw themselves into finding solutions, and helping others. They need to do something. Some people choose to exercise, travel, or do creative work, to find a sense of personal balance that seems so elusive these days. 

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Should you sign up for this year’s Mentorship?

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…

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So much to think about …

by Sue Dawson

WE’VE BEEN thinking a lot about teaching lately. Alison just finished teaching her week-long workshop here on the Vineyard, and we’re planning a weekend retreat for our Advanced Mentorship group. I’m also just starting to email people on the “interested” list for our 6-month Mentorship, which starts soon. But it’s funny what Alison and I talk about a lot these days…

First, picture us sitting at a cafe, drinking a latte (me) or a short latte with an extra shot (Alison), after a morning walk on the beach. Or maybe we’re hanging out on our back deck in the evening, with a drink and a deck of cards. Or working together in the kitchen. Usually, we talk about work, kids, family, cats, friends, and ALL THE STUFF WE NEED TO DO. See how I put that in caps? There’s always a lot to do, and it mostly fills the conversations we have, in a good (responsible) and bad (uni-focus) way.

But around this time of year – when the gallery season is almost over, the crowds of tourists have one more weekend of fun before things start to close for the season, there’s a chill in the air, and leaves are starting to crunch underfoot – we start to talk about what we want. Now that summer’s over, how do we want to spend this fall, winter, and spring? After such a busy season, what do we need? What will fill us back up again?

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