Archive for the ‘posts by Sue’ Category

‘Tis the season

by Sue Dawson

THESE DAYS, I’ve been thinking a lot about the seasons. Days are longer and warmer this time of year. Trees and gardens have sprung back to life, grass needs to be mowed again, and island property owners are busy painting, fixing, updating, and getting ready for lots of visitors. There’s a heightened awareness, a sense that things are about to change.

I’ve always said that I love living in a place that has a seasonal economy. The summer is crowded, busy, fast-moving, exciting, stressful, and vibrant. There are TONS of things to do, and LOTS of people to do them with. All of the restaurants and stores are open for business, movie theaters are screening multiple titles each week, and the Back Door Donuts line weaves its circuitous path through the Reliable parking lot. On the downside, traffic is a problem, as are bugs, ticks, poison ivy, and certain… shall I say… attitudes.

I remember one summer when Alison and I took our two kids (then 4 and 7) up to Menemsha to have a picnic, kayak, climb on the jetties, and watch the sunset. Sarah (7) met a girl her age, and they played together all evening. As we packed our cars to head home, Sarah asked me to get her new friend’s address so they could play again. I introduced myself to the girl’s dad, who was loading his car with sandy towels and coolers (Alison was doing the same thing, halfway across the parking lot). His car had NY plates, and we talked about what he did for a living, where he lived. Then he asked where we’re from. “Here,” I said. His eyes bugged wide-open and he said “Here? You mean Martha’s Vineyard?” I nodded yes, and he followed with “Huh… you mean islanders come up here to watch the sunset too?” 

Islanders are nodding as they read this – we all have our stories. It can be stressful when visitors take over and think this temporary playground belongs to them. I know some people who won’t even come down-island (to Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs, Edgartown) all summer, so they can avoid the throngs. Even so, I love when everyone comes to the island. I thrive on the energy they bring with them. 

Until I don’t.

But lucky me – as soon as I’m done with the crowds, they start to leave. Fall comes, and we mostly have the island to ourselves again. Then winter brings quiet, introspection, solitude, all the broad thoughts of exploring – travel, art, music, writing. I settle into shorter days, and enjoy the peace. 

Until I don’t.

Soon it’s time to get ready for all the people again. They come back just in time, bringing all their chaos and life with them. We turn on the charm, and create loads of events, fun, and sunsets. Just for them. 😉

One sign of the season is that we hang Alison’s newest fine art photography on our gallery walls (you knew I’d get to this). Please come see her new work, and say hi to us. We’ll be open Monday – Saturday from 10am to 5pm, and Sunday from 1pm to 5pm. Or call us at 508-693-4429.


Our Advanced Mentorship student show has been taken down from the gallery walls, but their stunning photographs can still be purchased by clicking here.  

A spring of new growth

by Sue Dawson


IT’S BEEN absolutely gorgeous on the Vineyard today. Temps in the high 60s, low 70s, sunny, light breeze. As I’ve walked around Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, it seems like everyone’s out getting ready for the summer season – builders, painters, gardeners, and even people moving furniture into a new storefront. Here at the gallery, we’re finally getting our new side door installed, and a much-needed new threshold. Our garden pros are coming tomorrow to plant a few pots and spring-clean the yard. Alison is spackling and painting the walls, and the colorful new “OPEN” flag that Claire ordered just arrived at the post office. 

I just love spring. Which is sad, because we don’t get much of my favorite season – at least the way I define it. I grew up in Baltimore, and spring in Maryland meant lots of flowers, warm days when we’d lie on those metal lounge chairs with the brightly-colored woven nylon tape, and slather on baby oil to be sure we “got some color.” From mid-March, through April and May, it stayed light into the evenings, birds and animals woke up from their winter slumber, and playgrounds were full of little kids running around. Today’s May 2nd, and I feel like this is the first true spring day on the island. 

Seeing all of the flowers and birds is glorious, but spring is also a particularly busy time around the gallery. For Alison and me, spring is usually when we gear up for the summer season. We normally open on Memorial Day weekend, so the preceding weeks are full of “to do” lists, spring cleaning, ordering supplies, and picking up our college student from school. But this year is different. All of the preparation happened earlier – before and after a short trip to Tuscany a couple weeks ago. 

Since 2006, Alison Shaw Gallery has only shown the work of its namesake, with one exception. For the last five years, Alison and I have co-taught our Mentorship programs for serious amateur photographers. Some graduates continue on with the year-long Advanced Mentorship, which, in 2015, culminated in a group show of student work. This year marks the second group show for the Advanced program, which will open this Sunday, May 6th, with a reception from 4 to 6 pm.

Photographers Lucy Dahl (Edgartown, MA), Jacqueline Abodeely (Saratoga Springs, NY), Beth Horstman (Queenstown, MD), and Andrea Dawson (Moreland Hills, OH) will be at the reception, along with Alison and me. This will be a stunning show, with black & white and color fine art photography. My theme of growth and new beginnings particularly applies to these four artists. Each one has produced a body of work that illustrates her unique creative voice, and has written an artist statement about the insights and processes that inform her art. Alison and I are so proud to host this show, and we’ve been honored to work with such talented photographers. 

So, as my best friend says… back to me. For the next few weeks the gallery will open at 11am – an hour later than in the summer. And we’ll be closed on Sundays. During these slices of time, I plan to enjoy my short little Island spring by starting my morning walks again. I officially began anew this morning, and despite my pedometer not working (conflicts with the new iOS), dropping my sunglasses on the street (ordered new frames from eBay), and splattering coffee on my vintage white Livestock concert sweatshirt (older folks will get the reference), I saw a lovely egret on Eel Pond, gorgeous double daffodils blooming on North Water Street, and had Lighthouse Beach completely to myself. Maybe spring isn’t so bad here after all. 

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.

There were various approaches to this assignment. Some did self-portraits and then found three style images to match. Others worked to figure out their style, and did the self-portrait based on that. It’s a chicken and egg thing. But I’d argue, in this case, that the chicken is the correct answer – identify your style first. Alison and I didn’t always agree with each person about which images show his/her unique style. Trust me – this is super hard to do. And it’s one place where the team approach, having Alison and me, and their peers, really helps. 

Full disclosure, I’m showing you the final cut. Some went back and re-did their self-portraits. We suggested different “style” images for others. Here’s where we ended up…


Andrea Dawson






Beth Horstman






Brooke Bartletta






Dena Porter






Ilene Hertz






Jacqueline Abodeely





And one more, because we couldn’t decide…



Lucy Dahl






Rob Skinnon

Norton Point Beach, 2017




We’re incredibly proud of this group of talented photographers, and feel blessed to work with them. We’d love to hear what you think, in the comments.

If you’re interested in our next Mentorship (starting October 2018), here’s more info.

We hope you’ll come to our 2018 Advanced Mentorship Show, which opens on May 6th at Alison Shaw Gallery, and will be on display through May 25th. Andrea, Beth, Jackie, and Lucy are in the Advanced program, and will be showing their fine art photography. 


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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Waiting for the purple one

by Sue Dawson

NIKON just came out with a brand-new top-level DSLR, and Alison’s psyched. She uses the D810, which has 36 megapixels. The new D850 has 46 megapixels, which is enough to merit the purchase. But it’s not all about megapixels. It doubles the D810’s maximum ISO, and has a cool screen that tilts so you can view at different angles. Suffice it to say that Alison wants it.

So then this crazy thing happens – the Nikon branch in Asia/Africa did a promotional excursion with 32 top professional photographers, giving them each a D850 to try out. Here’s the photo of the pros, posted on Instagram:

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Better late than never

by Sue Dawson

SO MANY people have been coming into the gallery and mentioning how glad they are to see Alison on Instagram, that I thought I’d ask her a few questions about joining into the social media craze. Just to give you a little background, Alison has a Twitter account, tweets very occasionally, and never follows anyone else. To be honest, she doesn’t get the allure of Twitter – perhaps because she’s not a movie star, politician, musician, or under 35. She had a personal Facebook page, but again, didn’t really use it. People kept friending her, she kept saying yes, and when she got to thousands of “friends,” she realized it felt too weird to post personal things to people she didn’t even really know. Not her thing to snap a photo of the pretty swirl in her morning latte, or pass along the latest political rant (actually, that’s more me). We switched her over to a business page (which we both monitor) and that works much better. 

Bottom line, Alison isn’t much of a social media type. But Instagram kept coming up. Everyone was encouraging her to jump in – friends, family, colleagues, students, gallery customers. She did sign up for an account, but never posted anything on it. People even started following her, with zero posts. Nada. So in April, I updated my “Marketing and Social Media” training for our Mentorship students, and found examples of prominent photographers’ pages on various social media outlets. I wanted the group to look at what’s out there, and I talked about each platform. And amongst the professional photographers’ pages, in all its glory, I surprised them all with Alison’s proud Instagram page…

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