Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Secret of Art School Admissions

I'll tell you a secret: 
It's not as difficult to get into a private art college as everyone likes to pretend.

Getting in is relatively easy. Staying in is what's hard. 

When I was an admissions counselor, 80% of the students who came in for advice already had a portfolio that was acceptable to be admitted. 

But I rarely told them that. 

I would critique their work, pushing them to work harder to improve, and sending them off to rework their portfolios. Why? Because art schools want dedicated people. 

The student might go home after that admissions visit and decide it's too hard, or they aren't good enough, or they can't bear to have anyone look at and critique their work. Well, that's not the student we wanted.

Art school itself is hard and stressful. Students are pushed to their limits, physically, emotionally, creatively. Teaching technical skills is easy; teaching students to push through their barriers is not.

Art Schools want fearless students, artists who are unafraid of their talents, and also unafraid of their weaknesses. Your portfolio doesn't need to be perfect, but it should be fearless. 

Creating an atmosphere in admissions that makes the school seem really hard to get into is helpful for weeding out the students who do not yet have the mindset for a demanding program. 

Good schools want dedicated students who will be successful after they graduate, and as alumni, will make their college look good. They want students who are ready to work hard and slog through the tough times, spending the entire 4 years (and 4 years' worth of tuition) at their school.

Work hard on your portfolio. The hardest you've ever worked before. It's good practice. It shows something about you as an artist. And last but not least, the stronger the portfolio, the more $$ offered in financial aid. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Trash Heap Inspiration

I love to walk the empty hills and forgotten, half-finished roads of my Los Angeles neighborhood. I can take my dog off leash, and it is peaceful.

The urban views are great, (hmm, maybe a photo class field trip in the making) but what I most adore, is my beloved "Trash Heap." 

A relatively quiet day at the Trash Heap. The city comes by regularly to haul it away.
I can't help but be a little disappointed when I come across a recently emptied spot.

Two places along the hillside roads have become common illegal dump sites for the most wonderful variety of things. I know I'm supposed to be outraged, but I'm enamored. From construction material to children's toys to love letters, I've found it all.  Sometimes I bring things home to use in the home or garden:

These glass blocks came home with me. They are now book ends.
I considered taking home this angel head,
but when someone else created a "City of the Angels" art piece by tangling it in the fence, I left it there.
And some bamboo came home to replace a broken gate.
I bring home inspiration for my artwork, too. I'm currently working on a series of paintings based on papers found at the trash heap.
"Wishes; 1 - 100" oil on wood panel
This is from a child's first attempt at writing numbers 1 - 100. Dated on the back of the paper, saved since 1992, and now dumped at the trash heap. It seemed too special to pass by. A treasure map of sorts. See more of my artwork here.

Stay tuned for more Trash Heap Inspirations and Adventures..

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Getting Back in the Studio

July and August are hectic months when I rarely get into my studio. 
July is Summer of Art at Otis College of Art and Design. Long, intense hours of teaching. But it's my favorite teaching assignment and each year I find myself saying: "That was my best group of young artists, ever!"
I say it every year. And every year I mean it!

Summer of Art student work. Final project: "Object with Meaning"

Summer of Art student work, final project
Summer of Art student work, final project

(To be honest, I haven't always said that. A few summers ago several students and parents pushed me to believe that I was DONE with teaching. But that's a 'nother story.)

And then, August is camping at the beach.
Camping at the Beach - nothing better
Summer of Art and camping are over now, and I'm back in my studio, relaxed and ready to work. 

After a slow start earlier this week, the inspiration is now coming fast and furious. I'm finishing a series of paintings, and have plans for a new series. An unexpected installation piece is taking shape on my studio wall and on my work table there's a long list of thoughts and projects. Pretty cool.

They say you can't wait for inspiration, you just have to get in the studio and get to work. Put pen to paper, or brush to canvas, or camera to eye, and begin. Something will happen, that's the promise.

And then, there are those days when inspiration is everywhere. When it's easy and you can't turn it off if you wanted to. When, even in the bathroom, sitting, thinking of nothing . . . 

Inspiration in a bath mat
 . .  .  a ragged, dirty bath mat catches your attention.

Nothing else to do, but go back in the studio, and be thankful for inspiration, no matter what the source.
Angry Frilly Fish Puppet

Thursday, August 22, 2013

I'm Not Looking for Friends (Part II)

I've been in writing groups, critique groups, and volunteer organizations. I join these groups to do work, not to make friends. I have something to offer; the group has something to offer me. I'm not looking for someone new to chat with; I don't want to help anyone solve their problems; I'm not interested in their issues. Be my friend, or don't be my friend - it makes little difference to me. (From the Part I post)

A few months ago, I joined a critique group through the Los Angeles Art Association and Gallery 825.  Critique is work that I love. Difficult, fulfilling work. This new group was a rough start for me. Not because the critique was difficult, but because other people seem so much more interested than I in sitting around and making friends. Why do I get so impatient with that? I just want to show up and get down to the critique (or writing, or whatever!)

But sometimes friends just happen.

At a gallery opening, I found myself standing next to Jane from my critique group. Empty plastic wine glasses in hand, we had nothing else to do but chat. A gallery opening can be its own type of work: standing around, pretending to be cool, while desperately checking out anyone who is giving the slightest glimpse to your artwork on the wall - exhausting. But I tried my best, and Jane and I talked.

Then, a few weeks later, she asked if she could take my picture.

And darn it all, I made a friend in spite of myself.
Jane's good, huh? Check out more of Jane Szabo's photography at her website 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Homeschoolers taking pictures at Union Station

So, I led a photo walking tour in downtown Los Angeles with a bunch of homeschoolers. First stop was Union Station.

We introduced ourselves, then I said, "Go take some pictures."
(Ok, I said more than that. But not really.)

And they did. (Go take pictures, I mean.)

After a while, we regrouped and looked at some of their shots.

We huddled around our cameras.
We "oohed," we "aahed.

We discussed.

We held a mini-critique right in the middle of a train station.

Then I said, "Go take more pictures."

And they did . . . .

And just like always . . .

. . . they amazed me.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

I'm Not Looking For Friends (Part I)

I've been in writing groups, critique groups, and volunteer organizations. I join these groups to do work, not to make friends. I have something to offer; the group has something to offer me. I'm not looking for someone new to chat with; I don't want to help anyone solve their problems; I'm not interested in their issues. Be my friend, or don't be my friend - it makes little difference to me.

I joined a writing group. I wanted to spend time writing. I love to write. And I recognize it as work. Writing is good, hard, fulfilling work. Writing Group:  Is it 7 p.m. on a Wednesday night? Well then, shut up, and commence to write. But Wait! What happened?
I said I wasn't looking for friends.

Through the work of weekly writing, I formed deeper friendships than ever would have been possible from chatting around a cup of coffee. There's no denying that despite my best efforts, that writing group - those four people - became my friends.

I'm in a new critique group. Critique is work that I love. Difficult, fulfilling work. And again, here I am, not looking for friends . . . (to be continued).

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sometimes I Get Sad

Sometimes I get sad and lost.
Sometimes I can't remember what I'm doing, or why I'm doing it.
Sometimes I just feel sorry for myself.

But then, I get to go back to work. And I remember how I get to spend my Saturdays surrounded by young people doing amazing things. Then I remember how I have a job that knocks my socks off, gives me goose bumps, makes me suck in my breath . . .

. . . and still allows me the time to go in my studio to do my own art work. . .

. . . then come home to a dog sleeping with his little pillow . . .

Sometimes I can't remember why I was ever feeling sorry for myself.

L.A. ArtCard

A long while back, I came across . This guy will send you a blank postcard. Your job is to create a work of art on the card and mail it back. Fun idea and I wanted to participate. Then I sort of forgot. Today I got an email announcing the first ever ArtCard Book. Check it out. Did you see my piece? Try again, don't blink this time. (Hint - there's fruit.) Anyone can participate in this project. Go ahead. It's fun. And just think how cool it is for the mail carrier on this guy's route!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Digital? Bah! Humbug!

Yesterday was the last day of my photography class at UrbanHomeschoolers (UHS). And we did what any good photography class should do . . . we played with balloons!

In this class of homeschoolers, I didn't get as much technical information across as I had originally planned for. Today, if you asked my students about aperture, depth of field, shutter speed, or light meters - they probably wouldn't know much more than when we started months ago.  But ask them to share their photos and discuss their work - watch out!!

They used digital cameras, cell phones, tablets - anything that takes a picture. If you know me, I'm not a willing participant of the digital world. I don't own a cell phone. I'm not a fan of the digital camera. I still do most of my shooting with film. My opinion of the digital world runs more towards Bah, humbug. And Harrumph! I'm not on Facebook. Perhaps you've even heard a Look-How-Digital-has-Ruined-Everything rant from me.

But this group of kids, using only digital technology, produced work that awed and inspired me. They had an incredible eye for composition. There was a flare for the dramatic, and just as often, a sophisticated subtlety that pleased me to my core.

How did they do that? With such ease and confidence?

Ok. They're homeschoolers. A big part of homeschooling is about following the child's interests; it's about exploring; it's about going forward with confidence even if your path is not along the accepted norm. As homeschoolers, it seems they could do nothing less than step out into the world (or neighborhood, in this case) and bring back something amazing for me to see.

But they also showed me that there just might be something to all this digital mumbo-jumbo I have come to hate. They showed me that the abundance of images they've been surrounded by in their short lives has helped them create an understanding and a sophisticated dialogue that I do not think would have been possible "back in my day." And the ease of the digital camera (or cell phone, or tablet) allowed an instant leap forward, where content could rule.

With each new session of classes, I'm full of plans, brimming with information and technique I'm eager to share, full of goals about what I want to teach and where I want each student to be at the end of my class. I teach a lot of different classes in a lot of different places to wide range of ages, abilities, and learning styles. But always, ALWAYS, my students surprise me by teaching me something new. I never needed to be convinced about the great advantages of homeschooling. But I did need a big shove in the direction of appreciating the digital world.