Saturday, June 1, 2013

What I Learned From My First National Show

by Judy Thomas

I was recently incredibly lucky to be accepted into a juried, travelling, ASBA show, "Following in the Bartram's Footsteps."  I have been fascinated by the Bartrams for years, which is why I wanted to send in a submission to this show.  Many of you know about the Bartrams.  John, born in rural Philadelphia in 1699, was America's first Royal Botanist, plantsmen to collectors in Europe, botanist and explorer.  His son William, followed in his father's footsteps, and was one of America's first botanical and nature illustrators.  The competition was to illustrate plants from the Bartram's plant catalog.  My drawing, "Asimina triloba, Paw Paw" was accepted.  I learned so much from this process that I wanted to share it with you.

     Number One: Draw What You Love
This was the most important lesson, but it might be personal to me. I find I draw best when I am enthusiastic about the plant and feel compelled to draw it.  If I feel just "so so" about the subject, my drawing will be "so so" too.  For some artists, this is not the case, they can be given an assignment (commission) and execute it beautifully.

     Number Two:  Submission Quality
Get a good, high-quality scan of your work, ether do-it-yourself or professional.  In my experience, photos do not work as well as a scan, but my experience is limited.  Pay attention to the submission guidelines:  know what dpi the image should be and other requirements.  Try to view the image on a computer with a good, color-accurate screen.  I found a huge difference between how my image looked on my desktop at home, desktop at work, laptop and tablet.  The most frequently cited reason for rejecting submissions to shows is the quality of the image submitted!  Note: take a look at my image on the ASBA website: it is the worst-quality image of the bunch, I was lucky to get in with it!

     Number Three: Watch your composition: keep framing in mind, go bigger than you intend (within the rules of the show).  My paw paw is a nice drawing, but I had some fits because I drew right to the edge of the paper.  Though I intended to do this (I like images that give the illusion of leaving the page and the leaves were huge), I later regretted it, as I did not want to lose any part of my drawing under a mat.  So consider this, and leave a half inch border around your drawing.  As for going bigger:  yes, smaller is less expensive to frame and ship, but seeing all the works in the show gathered together at the opening, made me realize the impact of a larger format.  Smaller works, unless done of really small subjects, can get lost among the larger, bolder works.  (But if small is what you want to do, I would say to follow your interests and instincts: Laura Call Gastinger's smaller work of mosses in the Bartram show is an example where small is necessary and really works well, see it at same website given above).

     Number Four: If you use lettering (like for the binomial Latin name) make it dark and clear.  Lettering can be hard to see, so, once you are sure you have your lettering penciled in lightly the way you want it, make it darker, so it can easily be seen.

     Number Five: Color seems less vibrant under glass, so take this into account.  Of course, we have to be true to the plant we are depicting, but deepening your colors a bit will enhance your image once under glass.

     Number Six: Be OK that your work is not the best of show: yes, this is a competition, but be open to figure out what you still need to learn.

     Last Lesson: This whole experience was artistically and intellectually challenging and a whole lot of fun!  The people I met at the opening were talented, kind and encouraging.  I am glad I had this experience and recommend it.

1 comment:

  1. First, congratulations! Second, thanks for sharing what you've learned . . . great advice.