My First Art Show: A Comedy of Errors

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“Sunflowers in a Chinese Vase” – watercolor on paper, 8.5×8.5″

Having painted for dozens of years, I finally felt ready to enter my first art show. (What took you so long, right?) As a new member of the Montgomery Art Association in Maryland, I selected the local annual Kensington Labor Day Art Show my first. I had been to the show in the past and was impressed with the caliber of the artists in my community. And the show itself was impeccably organized, and held in a really cool historic building–an armory dating back to 1927 that also once housed a shooting range, a bowling alley and a fire department (though not at the same time).

I entered five pieces in the show, with the simple intention of getting over the hurdle of being in my first juried competition. That was it — my sole purpose.

Straighten Up

Along with the shoe gene, purse gene and the jewelry gene, I’m also missing the genetic sequence that allows normal human people to cut things in a straight line. That night I had stress dreams about accidentally slicing my paintings in half.

And I waited too long to frame my artwork. I rushed to a local shop to purchase ready-made frames. I hadn’t painted to size, so I had to crop some of the paintings, which wasn’t ideal.

Having finally gotten everything nicely framed, Windexed and labeled late the night before the pieces were due, I just happened to look over the show prospectus again. “Each work must be securely framed and wired for hanging.”

Wired? Shit.

“Hon, come on! We gotta go to Home Depot!” Grab the husband, grab my ugly purse, get the car keys and hightail it to the Frustrating Place to Find Stuff to buy a picture hanging kit. Then back home to whip out the power tools, drill holes in frames that I’ve never drilled holes in before and hope to jayzus these things still looked ok.

Speechless

So you can imagine my surprise when I woke up from a much-needed snooze on Friday afternoon to find an email with the subject line “You Won!” No, it wasn’t from a Nigerian prince offering me a half-mil for the simple task of depositing eight million bucks in my checking account. It was for my still life entry “Sunflowers in a Chinese Vase.”

Honorable mention! I was floored! Someone liked my work? Mine? Really? And not just someone: The judge was an artist I admire very much, the acclaimed painter Walter Bartman.

And then I got stunned all over again when the piece sold. My first art show sale.

He Did What to the Coffee Cake?

I also participated in the show’s “Paint the Town” plein air competition. Artists had from sunrise until 3 pm to complete a piece of art made in the little town of Kensington. Normally there are countless pretty spots to paint, but that Saturday morning, it was pouring rain. Options were slim.

Having seen the forecast, I spent the previous evening scouting indoor locations. The president of the Montgomery Art Association assured me that “plein air” meant painting a real life scene anywhere outside the studio. It didn’t literally mean you needed to paint in fresh air.

Not wanting to make art in my car (because I’m also missing the “paint neatly” gene), I chose Java Nation, a local coffee shop, as my scene. Simona, the kind proprietor, was so warmly welcoming, allowing me to stay as long as I’d like and offering me free coffee.

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I spent four hours in the shop working on my piece, which also earned an honorable mention in the show. I was surprised by that, too, but for different reasons. Being my own worst critic, of course, I didn’t think the piece was very good. I felt the pressure of trying to get the painting done in time, and I was distracted by the three wedding-obsessed women next to me, who spoke nonstop about one’s upcoming nuptials. (Favorite line, as they planned every single last detail of the weekend? “Let’s make that part spontaneous.” Nothing like planned spontaneity to keep things fresh.)

I put Simona in the scene, as thanks for being so nice. I had also included a customer, who sadly looked like he was urinating on a coffee cake. So I cropped him out before I gave Simona the painting.

 

Chaotic, Beautiful New York

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16939029_10154465539469211_4886614485371421858_nI had time to kill before my Amtrak ride from New York to Washington. Rather than wait in the hot, dungeon-like Penn Station, I prefer to hang out at The Pennsy, the hip food court next door on Pennsylvania Plaza. There’s a nice bar, the food is great, and the bathrooms are actually usable (unlike Penn Station’s, and Amtrak’s, for that matter).

My routine is either to make a beeline for the bar and drink red wine before my train ride, or to gorge on a meatball sub and tater tots at Pat LaFrieda’s stand. During my last trip, I did the latter, eating my food at the table in the very front of the room, facing the chaos of 7th Avenue and West 31st Street.

Scarfing down my food in record time, I decided to put my new Stillman & Birn sketchbook to use. I started sketching the scene on the corner, a frenetic scene of flashing billboards, speeding taxis, harried travelers and neon lights. I finished the pencil sketch before heading to my train (stopping, of course, to pick up rugelach and a challah at Zaro’s Bakery). I inked the piece on the train with my trusty ultra-fine Sharpie and painted with my travel watercolor kit.I didn’t mind the shakiness of the train — it adds to my allergy of straight lines!

I’m happy with the result, but more so happy with the paper. It was my first time watercoloring on the Stillman & Birn paper, and it was a dream! Rare to find paper that thin that doesn’t buckle. (This is the Beta series, hardback book).

But really, what made me happiest? It had to be those tater tots.

A Journey of Art

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Even when I carve out time at home to work on my passion—creating watercolor and pen-and-ink illustrations—I still get plagued by the “shoulds.” I should be doing the laundry. I should catch up on some paperwork. I should take the dog for a long walk.

But when I brought my art materials with me on a recent Azamara voyage, I didn’t pack the “shoulds.” They stayed firmly at home where they, ahem, should be.

We all crave being in the moment when we’re on a cruise ship – forgetting all the cares of “real life” and just focusing on what’s in front of us. Creating art does that for me.

Read more on Azamara Club Cruises’ Destination Immersion blog

Painting: Street scene in DC’s Chinatown

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Street scene in DC's Chinatown

Driving my husband to work in Penn Quarter each morning, this particular corner at 7th and D streets Northwest always struck me as highly interesting. I love the Chinatown gate, of course, but I more so love the varied rooftop heights, the variety of color and the lively buzz that seems present at all hours of the day and night.

The light was never right in the mornings to snap a photo–too dark–but noon on Black Friday proved a beautiful time to photograph this intersection.

To paint this scene, I followed along with a YouTube tutorial by artist Vanita Pappas. She demonstrated how she paints street scenes. I’m so pleased with how this piece turned out that I’m considering signing up for Pappas’s online courses.

–Elissa