Everybody with a day job needs little side projects to keep that day job from chipping away at their sanity. At first glance, it probably looks like “selling photos at art festivals” keeps me going, but it’s not the only one. Over the years, I’ve had a demonstration, a workshop, and even let total strangers walk through my living room — all in the name of art. Each of those events were because of my relationship with the Stillwater Art Guild.
About the Stillwater Art Guild
- Based in Stillwater, Oklahoma
- It started in 1963 when a few artists got together to share ideas.
- Today it has over 80 members!
- It appeals to artists in any visual medium: photography, oil painting, watercolor, pastel, pencil drawing, sculpture, a combination of any of those, and even folks who work with cutting-edge digital compositions.
- Membership is $35/year (or $15/year for students)
- We do things:
- Monthly demonstrations are the main events, where a professional artist performs a 90-minute demonstration in front of the group. The demos take place in the Sheerar Center — now a public structure, but originally built in the 1920s as one of the first churches in Stillwater.
- Hands-on workshops are offered year-round, led by some of the artists scheduled to perform the monthly demonstrations.
- Two art shows (spring & fall) allow artists to display their work as a group — the Spring Show is a juried event with prizes!
- The guild has arrangements with nearly a dozen locations all over town (banks, offices, etc.) who wish to cover their otherwise blank walls with local artwork. Work is rotated out on a monthly basis, and this gives artists broad exposure to the general public.
I joined, then got a promotion!
During my very first art festival in April 2008, one of the guild members came by my booth and talked me into joining. I had never heard of the group until this point, but it sounded interesting enough. Within a week, I went to my first meeting and found everybody to be friendly and welcoming, even though I was a newcomer. And there was lots of potential for networking with other artists.
It couldn’t have been a year later (2009) when several members convinced me to apply for the open position of Program Director for the guild. It’s a non-paid position, but it came with some interesting responsibilities:
Find artists to perform the monthly demos. On the day of the event, assist the artist with setting up and taking down their display on the stage.
Easy peasy. As a bonus, I get to mingle with artists who are doing what I want to be doing eventually — making a living at this. Sign me up!
Then I started offering suggestions..
They didn’t have an event photographer, so I took on the role
This whole art guild was a new and interesting thing to me, and with all new and interesting things, I had my camera and tripod ready. Nobody said I couldn’t walk around the room and take photos! I snapped a few from where I was seated. I shot a couple more from the aisle. I crept to the corner of the stage, trying not to distract anybody.
After the event, I gave all the photos to the group of artists doing the demo. Today, my presence at the meetings has become so notable that a couple members commented that they have just as much fun watching me bounce around the room as they do watching the demo itself!
They didn’t have a consistent logo, so I made them one
Every one of their promotional items seemed to have a different logo. Apple doesn’t do that, McDonald’s doesn’t do that, Nike doesn’t do that. So why do we have to?
They didn’t have a website, so I made them one
In this day and age, if you’re not on the internet, you don’t exist.
I redesigned their marketing materials
Then I offered my most ambitious change yet
In a way, all that other stuff — the logo, website, and marketing materials — was out of the scope of my position. (We already have a Publicity Director. What am I doing?) But fiddling with the presentation of the demos, that’s my thing.
Most of the demo artists I’d seen so far worked no bigger than 16×20 inches. Now, consider the size of the Sheerar Auditorium — it’s 50 feet to the back, 70 feet across and can seat about 200 people. With the artist “way up there on stage”, I thought it was normal that we couldn’t really see what they were working on. I expected that the audience was there to hear the artists describe their method and thought process. Besides, we always got a chance to see the work up-close during the 8:00pm intermission anyway.
Before I knew it, it was my turn to do a demo. Since I work digitally, I brought my computer, connected it to a digital projector, and shot it up on the back wall about 10 feet wide. You bet I brought a projector! I can’t have 40+ people craning their necks to see my monitor.
But when the next month rolled around, and a traditional artist started working on a 16″ x 20″ canvas, the difference in visibility was pretty jarring.
During a later demo, I was out doing my normal routine, bouncing around the room taking photos from different angles, when I overheard some whispers, “I wish I could see what was going on.”
My inner monologue kicked in, “What are they talking about? I can see just fine with this zoom lens — oh, wait. If only they could only see what I see with this lens.” We certainly can’t require artists to paint on a bigger canvas just for our demo. Something’s gotta give…
It was too late to change anything for that specific demo, but I had to come up with something quick. One of our upcoming artists said that she worked on a flat surface and was wondering how she could do a demo for a room full of people. It was either fiddle with the overhead mirror table, or test out my new idea. The big mirror is a huge clunky thing which requires four people to set up and is only useful if the audience is sitting directly in its path, so I bought a camcorder and set to work.
The artist set up her drawing table in front of the stage, and I set up the camera looking over her shoulder. I zoomed in on the work surface, and piped the live feed through the projector displaying on the back wall of the stage.
This was the first demo in a long time where people weren’t crowding into the first row!
After a few demos with the camera & projector, There was one more thing I had to change — it would definitely be a lot brighter if I didn’t project the image onto a beige wall. And sure enough, a friend of mine got a surplus projector screen from where he worked. (The new one they bought was motorized and a remote control. This one was just too old-fashioned for them, I guess.)
Things are looking good right now, who knows what I’ll think of next. (I might tweak that logo some more..)
See you at the next meeting! :)