Finding Art Show Inspiration

ideabulbSpring has fully sprung and with it comes a springboard of festival and art show opportunities right on through Fall. Its a great way to get out and get in some walking, but also a boon for artistic inspiration.

Here are some tips to take full advantage of the opportunities.

All Genres are Game

It doesn’t matter that all you do is draw, or that you draw or paint a particular subject or in a specific medium. If you are looking only for the same genre and medium you prefer, you’re missing a lot. There is motivation to be had in every artistic genre and medium. I’ve been motivated to paint by looking at ceramics and even jewelry. And if the work itself doesn’t provide that inspiration, sometimes the artist’s dedication and unique approach to their craft will.

Composition and Design

I made a big point of this in my video (below) but its a huge part of creating good art. A part that all too often is totally ignored by lesser artists. I love good art shows for this because I’m so often taken to school in the area of composition and design. These two artistic qualities are tightly intertwined but I would define composition as the artful balance of the elements in the piece. Design takes that a step further by the careful choice and arrangement of shapes, use of negative and positive space and combining those elements into a dynamic, graphic visual that moves the eye or interacts in ways that may have nothing to do with the realistic depiction of the subject. For me, a piece with great design can dispense with the realism entirely and still end up with an abstract that is artistically compelling.

Colors and Textures

Being primarily a watercolorist I frequently look for this type of inspiration. In addition to paintings and drawings, great colors and textures can be found in abundance in works like woodworking, ceramics, sculpture or jewelry. Art exhibits can provide a prime opportunity to visualize various color combinations and palettes you might not have thought of otherwise.

Subject Matter

A good art exhibition often times sends my creative imagination off in unexpected directions with an artist’s unique treatment of certain subjects. Not just choice of subject but the point of view, scale, lighting, placement, crop, combination with other subjects or objects, etc. Interesting treatment of a subject can also supply clues as to how you might treat a totally different subject. Let your mind roam free with the ideas you encounter. “Hey, I never thought of combining a flower and vase with pruning shears in exactly that way, maybe I can do a similar thing with…”

Talk to the Artists

This is perhaps one of the most fun and engaging activities at an art show. You’ll learn a lot and strike up some interesting conversations in the process. Its true a few exhibitors are hesitant to talk or share. If they’re sitting in a chair behind their booth reading a book, its a good bet they prefer to be left alone (hmm, not so good for sales either unfortunately). Most artists, however, are anxious to discuss their work and some will even talk your ear off. Take advantage of it, but talk to them about THEM and their work, not about YOU! I like to engage an artist by complimenting them on something I specifically enjoyed in their work. This is a great conversation starter. Being specific is important! Realize that good artists are used to general compliments on their overall exhibit. Its ok to do that, but try to point out something specific that particularly impressed you. That tells them you are really studying the work and engaged with their art. Want to know how they did it? Naturally. A few questions about their chosen medium and technique is ok, but avoid a long list of very detailed questions about their technique and process. Some artists are very protective of those details. Let them bring it up if they are willing. Other great conversations starters are usually questions about the subject of their work, why they chose it and what about it appeals to them or what inspired a particular piece. Finally, be considerate. In shows such as the one in this video, some of the artists can be quite busy selling, answering questions, explaining their work, etc. Wait your turn, talk to them briefly then get out of their way. If you want to talk more, come back later and engage them when they aren’t busy.

How to Find Art Shows

If your area has any arts organizations, thats a great place to start. Greenville, SC has at least 3. Our Metropolitan Arts Council for example lets anyone get on their email list for free. I get notice of any upcoming arts related events and call for entry notices as well. Google-ing “Arts” and your closest and largest metropolitan area is a good place to start (i.e. “arts Greenville, SC”).

If you really want to get into the show circuit and perhaps even travel to a few, check your local book store or magazine stand for Sunshine Artist Magazine and pick up a copy, or subscribe online. This is the premier publication for art and craft show listings across the US and Canada. You can also access listings on their website.

Also check out Although I found the site a bit confusing and difficult to use, they seemed to provide a ton of links and listings for arts and craft shows across the US and Canada.

Get out, enjoy some great weather, exercise and ART!


What’s the Color of Your Photo Search?

Royalty free, stock photos have become a staple these days due to the huge proliferation of suppliers and relatively low cost. Searching the huge databases has never been easier or more effective. Almost all stock sites offer search engines with advanced filtering capabilities that can get you to the photos or art you are looking for.

A Search is a Search is a Search, unless…

Specific subject searches are by far the easiest and often nothing else will suffice. If you need a picture of an eagle or a cell phone (or whatever) thats what you search for and you are presented with clear choices. No sweat! But what if your content is conceptual in nature and not centered around a definable visual subject. Using conceptual search terms are often productive. Terms like “hot”, “focused”, “professional”, or “skilled” for example. Or, when illustrating those concepts, you may throw in a little more metaphorical free association to widen the search: “hot” = fire or coals; “focused” = lens or optical instruments; “professional” = confident expression or executive; “skilled” = hand crafted or artisan; and so forth.

Why Not Try a Color

Conceptual search terms can work just fine, but if you’re still coming up short try a color.

 : Blue butterfly on white background : blue diamond : comfortable blue sea, sky and white cloud : A bunch of blue party balloons over white background : A blue ribbon is a symbol for success and first prize. Stock Photo : Businesswoman holding a blue umbrella. Vector : Beautiful fireworks on the black sky background : Funny 3D blue Robot on white background : water splash isolated on white background

All photos were obtained from

Granted this doesn’t always apply, but if the gist of your content is conceptual ask yourself if it can be associated with a color. Or, if you are looking for a creative theme as a jumping off point, color could be the search you need to jar your brain. There are three ways I can think of to do this right off the top of my head. You may think of more:

1) Filter by color – If you already have a current selection of images before you, but you want to narrow it down, most stock site search engines allow you to filter your current search by a color and thus narrow your subjects for additional thematic impact, or simply to match a graphic color theme.

2) Simply use a color in your search term – Couple a color with another concept term or use the color term by itself. If you’re writing about the next “hot” trend in some field, search not only by “hot” and “fire” but also try “red” or “orange” or “blue”. What other associations can you make? Will “chartreuse” give you an image that illustrates being outlandish, eccentric, loud, or unique? Sometimes the results can be totally unrelated but sometimes they can surprise you and send you in a new direction you hadn’t thought of.

3) Let color suggest a content theme in advance – In other words, do your photo search before any writing and use a particular color term to present you with theme ideas. The series of photos above show the variety that can come from one simple color search “blue”. I expected to find the blue sky and the water splash but the rest were surprises. What sort of conceptual theme can be incorporated into your writing around the idea of a butterfly or balloons or a blue ribbon. Interesting … see? Now you’re brainstorming and thinking conceptually. Your content will be more interesting and “colorful” as a result.

Finding stock photos or art to illustrate a concept or a theme can be a blast, so be colorful and have fun with it.

The Poverty of Arrogance

child holding treasureWhy don’t people collect skills, knowledge and experience like rare artifacts? Why don’t they hunt for them like buried treasure? The smart ones do. I watched a sharpshooting competition on tv where two contestants were offered coaching by an expert before the final showdown. One contestant acted as though the instructor was an annoying child dabbling in things he didn’t understand. This particular competitor was a champion pistol shooter. Apparently he had gathered all the nuggets of wisdom and experience he wanted and was satisfied that he had found them all. This sort of arrogance amazes me!  I’ve learned things, important, valuable things, from people with half my years and experience. In the same way that one person searching a treasure site for a few minutes happens upon an incredible find where others searching for hours have found nothing. If a skill or certain knowledge is valuable, does it matter who or where it comes from?

What if, in our professional development, we acted more like collectors? What if, when we found a gem to add to our knowledge and experience, we became the wide-eyed child as we eagerly added it to our collection rather than grab at our wounded ego because we didn’t find it first. Arrogance can cost you plenty and you may not even realize what you’ve lost.

In your professional development, start collecting the skills you need like precious gems. Practice them. Add some more and practice those. Then find someone better than you and aim at their skill level, then do it all over again. Collect the knowledge needed to make that skill better, more polished, then add even more. Look for those little nuggets of skill and knowledge everywhere, like priceless treasure. Never stop collecting, even from unlikely people and places. Gain confidence from your collection but not arrogance. The difference can be costly.


Photoshop Ghosts Recipe

For a bit of Halloween fun here is a repost from a few years ago.

Happy Halloween!

This is Seth (on the left), I met him a couple of years ago at Kennesaw Mt. National Battlefield, NW of Atlanta. Still dutifully manning his artillery postion after 140 years, he insisted on reading me a letter from home. He doesn’t know he’s a ghost and I didn’t have the heart to tell him that Atlanta was destined to fall into Union hands.

Seth reading me his letter from home
Seth reading me his letter from home

Now you may be thinking that this photo has been faked. Well, no comment, and I won’t deny that just about anything can be easily faked these days. If I had Photoshopped it, here’s one way I might have gone about it.

My Simple Photoshop Ghost Recipe

1) In Photoshop I would open a Civil War photo file, select the soldier and drag him into the photo file of me standing by the cannon. Doing this creates a new layer.

2) After sizing and positioning the soldier, I would add a layer mask and mask out parts of him by painting on the mask to make him fit behind the cannon barrel.

3) Next make a copy of the soldier layer and add a horizontal motion blur value of about 60 or so to the copy. Set the opacity of this blurred layer to about 70% and put it beneath the original in the layer order, offsetting the blurred layer by just a hair so that it wasn’t perfectly lined up with the original on top, giving it even more of an out-of-focus ethereal look.

4) The original soldier layer I would then set to an opacity of about 60% and then paint on the layer mask with a soft airbrush to fade out areas I wished to be even more transparent or vanish altogether.

5) To add a sepia tone to all the Photoshop layers simply add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer at the top, click the colorize check box and adjust the hue and saturation until you get the color you want.

Color Scheme Designer 3

While working on a logo design, I came across this online color app. I was searching for a good interactive tool for exploring color options. Color Scheme Designer 3 filled the bill nicely. It’s easy and intuitive to use; in minutes I was up and running with it. Just a few of the features Color Scheme Designer includes are: hexadecimal color references for your current color set, a random color scheme generator, colorblind visualizing, choice of color spaces, export options, simple click and drag adjustments for customizing nearly every aspect of your color set, previewing text or web page examples with your colors, and a bookmark-able color ID number so you can come back to a saved color scheme for future reference or adjustments. Pretty cool tool, and best of all its free to use!