A 2013 arts festival, and how it all went down

Puppet Parade - 16x20" in., oils on canvas
Puppet Parade – 16×20″ in., oils on canvas

This is a letter I’ve sent to the festival organization.

Read it as a cautionary tale, as I do — both artists and arts festival organizers may want to take heed.


To the Arts Festival:

On January 22 of this year I received an email from [your arts festival] director, inviting me to be featured/guest artist. I was told I’d be given a special booth, and my credited work would be used on the posters, ads, etc. Loving [your] festival as I did, I happily accepted.

Only after I’d accepted was I told, during a follow-up phone conversation with the director, that I’d be expected to donate the signature work of art, to be raffled off as a benefit for the festival. Donation of the reproduction rights was not acceptable, she clarified later by email – I was required to donate the original work of art itself.

Some previous featured artists donated existing works, she said, some produced a work especially for the festival. I chose to do the latter, declining to donate one of my series of dance paintings as first suggested. Subsequently I submitted three different digital “sketches” (which entailed several hours of work in themselves), and on February 9 was told the committee liked two of them. I heard no more until a February 20 email informing me that everyone on the committee wanted high school football players in the painting of the [2012] festival parade, but that the director wanted the parade puppets’ faces. So I began painting the option, of the two approved, most clearly showing both the football players and the puppets. A photo I sent on March 4 of the painting in progress was approved (although I wasn’t told that until March 6, and only after I had inquired).

On March 19 I met with the director and another member of the committee, and handed over the finished painting. Both asked for stylistic changes to the artwork – already signed, varnished, and photographed – and I declined, pointing out that if I had donated a piece of my dance art, as first suggested, they wouldn’t have asked for changes — that this was a fine art painting, not an illustration. At that meeting we verbally agreed that, for a minimal flat fee, I’d also do the pre-print set-ups of two versions of the festival poster, the bus poster, and two versions of the ad. I would also be paid for the work that I’d already done as a favor, at a late-night Feb. 4 emergency request, on the festival’s promotional tear-off pad.

The following Sunday, March 24, the director called to inform me of a committee decision that I wouldn’t be featured artist after all — nor would I be assigned the graphic design – because my artwork “wasn’t suitable for their purposes.” However, she added, I could have my painting back. She also said I should bill for the work on the tear-off pad.

It should be clear, in this review, that [your festival] organization has violated standard professional ethics and practices by:

  • informing me of a rather important stipulation (the donation of the original artwork) only after I’d accepted the invitation to be featured artist, and after my acceptance had been announced on the [festival’s] Facebook page.
  • changing a request for a fine art donation into a demand for creative control over a free work-for-hire illustration.
  • committing a breach of verbal contract, in dismissing both my featured artist status and the graphic design work they had agreed on, and
  • failing to communicate in a timely fashion and to answer direct questions from me during the process of the painting, then holding the work to a standard of which I’d never been informed (and still am not clear on).
  • I share some blame as well, in not insisting from the start on a clear work agreement in writing.

    I will not attend [your arts festival] again. Nor will I pursue this matter any further. However, in an effort to save both artists and the organization trouble and confusion in the future, I’d like to suggest the following changes to your featured artist program:

    1. When inviting an artist to be Featured (or Guest) Artist, let them know, in the invitation itself, exactly what will be expected of them. With the invitation, include a clearly written Work Agreement specifying each scheduled step of the process by both the [arts festival] committee / organization and the artist. Any choices the artist must make should be specified as well.
    2. If there is any money involved, specify what and who it is for, how much is budgeted, how it will be determined and paid, to whom and by whom.
    3. If you are requesting the donation of a work of fine art, make that clear and do not treat it as free work-for-hire.
    4. If you are requesting a free work-for-hire illustration rather than a fine art donation, specify how many designs and proofs will be expected during the production process, and when, and what, if any, stylistic and use requirements the work must meet. Keep in mind that you are already familiar with the artist’s style, and that the work will be rendered in that style.
    5. If the artist is also to take on graphic design duties, inform them beforehand of any existing graphic standards.
    6. Be ready and willing to negotiate the work agreement with the artist, and let the artist know that.
    7. Make sure the finalized work agreement has been signed by, and a copy retained by, both the artist and a representative of [your] organization, before any work or exchange of art takes place.

    In addition, I suggest, as a part of the work agreement, a modest but specific stipend, and/or a specific share of the raffle proceeds, for the featured artist. A professional colleague in another state tells me that he helps coordinate an arts festival with a similar featured artist program, and that they consider this sharing only fair to the artist.

    As another colleague points out, the only reputation an artist gains from giving away their art is the reputation for being an artist who gives away their art… thus devaluing their own market. For many of us, art is not simply a hobby or a “fun” pastime. The two-plus weeks I spent on the rejected painting was time I didn’t spend on other pressing commitments.

    Thank you for your time and attention. I have tried to clarify and convey my extreme disappointment in what had been a favorite festival. For my part, I will never again enter into an agreement of this sort without a clearly written work agreement. I hope that as an organization you will do the same.

    I will not be billing for the time I spent on the festival tear-off pad.


    Glenda M. Blake / GreenBoat Design

    cc: Broome County Arts Council


    Many thanks and much appreciation to all of the professional colleagues who have advised me on this rather painful issue, and my fond gratitude to all of the friends who have expressed their outrage and come to my defense. — GMB

    Golden Clouds: blocking in the colors

    Unlikely Dance: Golden Clouds, stage 8
    Unlikely Dance: Golden Clouds, stage 8 — colors blocked in except for heads

    Golden Clouds is coming along nicely, I think, though it is a cause of discomfort — and derision, I understand — for some morris foremen. (It is art, after all, not a dance manual… I suspected this might become an issue.) I’m not having as many problems with glare now that I’ve rearranged the easels — had to fit my smaller easel in to work smaller pieces concurrently with the large (30″ x 48″) Unlikely Dance paintings, and although a bit crowded, the change has resulted in some lighting improvements.

    My theme painting for Window on the Arts is now finished and drying — next post will be on that piece. Meanwhile, I’m doing some further preliminary studies on the heads in Golden Clouds, before painting.

    The “Unlikely Dance” project was made possible by a grant from the Artists Fund of the Community Foundation for South Central New York

    To follow my progress in Unlikely Dance, just click on the “Unlikely Dance” link under TOPICS, on the left of any page in this blog.

    “Golden Clouds” – finishing, and RE-finishing the underpainting

    GoldenClouds04 - Final version of the underpainting
    Final version of the underpainting

    I post all my art-in-progress photos on my GreenBoat Gallery Facebook page as well as here, and when I considered the underpainting of Unlikely Dance: Golden Clouds finished, I posted it — proudly so, because despite a few correctable flaws I was quite happy with it. However, one of my FB friends — a long-time morris dancer/musician, and an accomplished designer and illustrator himself — began posting about the dancers I’d used as models, naming names along with suggestions to make the dance positions more correct. I’d changed the faces, but evidently not enough. He’s primary musician for the team I was using as reference, so is well acquainted with “the girls” by position and stance, but this was not my objective. I didn’t want to come off all prissy, uptight prima-donna (okay, maybe I am?), but my intention was a painting of dance, using my various photos of the dancers, along with others, as reference only. And I needed the less-than-perfect position for the compositional line. I hope I was courteous and good-humored in my reply, but one never knows how the written word will strike the reader — especially late at night — and I’ve been read and heard before as sharper than I meant to be.

    For my part, though, it was a wake-up call which produced a welcome result. I spent another several hours amending my Photoshop image with the web-searched faces of vintage French mannequin heads, and I’m actually MUCH happier with the final underpainting. And my FB friend the dancer/musician/designer marked it with a Like. So that’s good, I think.

    The “Unlikely Dance” project was made possible by a grant from the Artists Fund of the Community Foundation for South Central New York

    To follow my progress in Unlikely Dance, just click on the “Unlikely Dance” link under TOPICS, on the left of any page in this blog.

    Beginning Unlikely Dance #2 – “Golden Clouds”

    Golden Clouds 02 - oils on canvas, 30 x 48"
    Golden Clouds (working title) 02 – oils on canvas, 30 x 48″

    Can’t wait to get back to this underpainting for the next in my Unlikely Dance series — and to the painting for Window on the Arts, but I’ll show progressives on that only when it’s finished. For more on what’s going on, please see my painting process. Must get back to painting, now!

    The “Unlikely Dance” project was made possible by a grant from the Artists Fund of the Community Foundation for South Central New York

    To follow my progress in Unlikely Dance, just click on the “Unlikely Dance” link under TOPICS, on the left of any page in this blog.

    “Dark Angel” finished — and re-titled “Green Skirt”

    Dark Angel-Green Skirt finished
    Green Skirt, oils on canvas, 30×48″

    This is a studio snapshot of the newly re-named Green Skirt, adjusted as well as possible in Photoshop — the lighting in my studio just isn’t conducive to good-quality photos of a piece this size. I’ll continue wrestling with this issue as the Unlikely Dance series progresses… but I’m so pleased to have finished the first piece!

    I’ve re-titled it because I just don’t care for portentous artwork titles — I like the viewer to provide his or her own emotional content, free of the murk in my own brain. The work is no longer mine to interpret — it’s yours. Here’s the complete process:

    And now, on the the next. After cleaning the detritus, debris, odds and ends from my work table and drawing table (no small task!) — I’ll tint two more 30×48″ canvases with cadmium red acrylic, and begin two more Unlikely Dance pieces, trading off one for the other during drying periods. That should speed things up — all six paintings are due by November 1 — and keep my interest and spirits high.

    Concurrently for a couple more weeks, I’m working on the theme painting for the September Window on the Arts Festival in Windsor, NY — for that I’m commandeering the sewing/guest room across the hall from my studio. It’s my first use of my new plein aire easel, a gift from a friend/collector whose daughter didn’t use it. I’ve always wanted one — such a lovely thing for her to do! That painting is a much-smaller 16×20″.

    The “Unlikely Dance” project was made possible by a grant from the Artists Fund of the Community Foundation for South Central New York

    To follow my progress in Unlikely Dance, just click on the “Unlikely Dance” link under TOPICS, on the left of any page in this blog.

    Progress on Dark Angel, and I am invited

    Here’s the latest progress on the Unlikely Dance piece, “Dark Angel” — all forms in the underpainting now have their first layer of color. The color’s a bit richer in this photo, compared to the previous, because this time I used my Canon Elph to shoot it in subdued light due to the increasing problems with glare. The overhead light in my low-ceilinged studio is too close to this large canvas, even though I have the painting lowered as far as the easel will go.

    Stage 8 - Dark Angel; oils on canvas, 30x48"
    Stage 8 – Dark Angel; oils on canvas, 30×48″

    Last Tuesday (1/22/13) I was delighted to receive an invitation to be the guest/featured artist at Window on the Arts 2013, in Windsor, NY! I love that show anyway, and now they’ll use my work on posters, T-shirts, ads, etc., for the show. Cool, or what?! They have yet to tell me whether I’m expected to donate the featured artwork for sale as a fundraiser for the festival — that will certainly affect my choice of pieces to submit for the festival board’s choice, but I’m sure we’ll work something out. That show is in September, so we have some time.

    The “Unlikely Dance” project was made possible by a grant from the Artists Fund of the Community Foundation for South Central New York

    To follow my progress in Unlikely Dance, just click on the “Unlikely Dance” link under TOPICS, on the left of any page in this blog.

    Painting large, then and now: a bit of history

    Stage 7 – color block-in, of Unlikely Dance: Dark Angel. To see my progress all in one space, “Like” my GreenBoat Gallery page on Facebook (see right-hand column), and click Photos / Albums to find my “Unlikely Dance: ‘Dark Angel'” album.

    I know I painted this large when I was college, too many years ago. I still have a couple of those paintings, as evidence that I did.

    But it sure seems like a new experience now. After college — and a couple of feints shortly thereafter — I didn’t paint for something like thirty-five years. I was too “busy” with full-time-plus jobs in graphic design and communications, and all the unexpected dips and turns of an interesting life. I didn’t even draw, for several years, until a life crisis drove me into non-credit classes and I got my art jones back. That led me into some heavy-duty drawing as well as teaching in evening classes, and from there, feeling socially and artistically isolated after a move to New Hampshire, I moved into tight, surrealistic colored pencil work. It wasn’t until I put together a composition — for another colored pencil piece, I supposed — from a dream image, that I realized I needed to paint again. The dream image was of a woman holding a paintbrush. As I transferred the composed image to good rag paper, I suddenly asked myself, why would I render this image in pencil? So in 2009 I found a painting class right across town at the wonderful Currier Museum of Art in Manchester. And I lucked out with instructor June Latti, a fine impressionist painter and mentor. She not only taught me a lot of technique, she knew just when to push at me, when to encourage me, and when to leave me alone. I still miss her guidance and friendship, but am so grateful for the time I had as her student.

    Since then I’d been painting no larger than 18″x24″ (which was as large as I ever got with my drawings as well) until this grant opportunity came along.

    "Dark Angel" in progress in my studio
    “Dark Angel” in progress in my studio
    And here I am, struggling to cover, to render, and to consider all at once what seems to me a huge canvas (though I know I once painted even larger). I’ve had to reconstruct my easel, down-sized two years ago to accommodate the low ceilings of my home studio, and for the most part give up my painting stool to stand, so I can frequently move back for a full view of the painting (June would not have approved of the stool anyway).
    cake-carrier palette
    My cake-carrier palette; waxed with a cheap candle before I deposit paint, it cleans easily, and meanwhile keeps the paint soft and workable for days. For a buck from the dollar store, or four bucks (for a slightly larger surface) from the remainders store, it works far better than the much pricier flat palette keeper I bought at the art supply store.
    I may have to go back to a larger palette size, though I’m not sure that regularly clearing my cake-carrier palette is altogether a bad thing. So, pushing my boundaries? You bet I am! Sometimes it’s tough getting started, but it’s surely become another fascinating journey.

    The “Unlikely Dance” project was made possible by a grant from the Artists Fund of the Community Foundation for South Central New York

    To follow my progress in Unlikely Dance, just click on the “Unlikely Dance” link under TOPICS, on the left of any page in this blog.

    Starting the painting of the Unlikely Dance series: “Dark Angel”

    "Dark Angel" cad-red underpainting
    “Dark Angel” – 30×48″ cad-red underpainting, ready for painting

    I’ve spent the last few months gathering material and composing for Unlikely Dance, and finally, a week or so ago, I put brush to canvas to begin the series with “Dark Angel.” Or should that be, “Unlikely Dance 1: Dark Angel”? Guess I’ll make decisions on naming protocol later — first, the painting.

    This was the third composition I’ve built for the series, but finally all that back-pressure from queued-up images pushed me into action. So I tinted the 30 x 48″ canvas with thinned cadmium red acrylic… and then came the holidays. The tinted canvas sat on my size-adjusted easel as Yuletide and New Year’s came and went,

    Our dog Luna
    RIP Luna, 1999-2013

    with family dinners and friendly get-togethers. Then I started the cadmium red underpainting (see my painting process, for a further explanation of the red underpainting), only to be held back by unhappiness with my rendering, and then knocked on my backside by the illness and death of our cherished dog, Luna.

    But now I’ve finished the underpainting, and tomorrow I’ll start laying in colors!

    On the faces and identities of dancers: The issue of permission to use individual dancers’ images in my paintings proved problematic for a while — getting signed releases is a cumbersome process, and one dance organization wouldn’t agree to my asking for releases at the entry table. But I was photographing a crowd, and taking hundreds of photos with no idea which ones I’d use, so approaching photographed dancers “later,” as was suggested, simply wasn’t practicable. In my informational handout for dancers I promised to change all faces. The problem with that is that I inevitably paint likenesses of the faces in front of me, whether I mean to or not. In the past I’d tried replacing faces, in the compositional stages in Photoshop, with faces from stock (commercially released) photos, but finding appropriate faces in similar lighting circumstances was a terrible and tedious chore, and not always successful. And now I no longer have access to a stock photo service. So I came up with the idea of lighting a mannequin head and photographing it at the proper angle. After spending some hours shopping online for mannequin heads, my gaze fell on my little poseable 12″ Art S. Buck drawing mannequin, a little-used gift from my prescient niece.

    Drawing mannequins
    “Artemis” and “Arthur” are my models

    Sure, it was grey in hue, and a bit discolored from time spent in a sunny window, but easily positioned, easily lit and photographed, and once in Photoshop, easily colorized to whatever hue I needed. A little experimentation proved it easy to to manipulate the features and expression with Photoshop tools, easy to silhouette and drop into the composition… and in fact, positioning the mannequin’s body like the dancer’s also helps me to understand what was physically happening under the clothing. So I immediately ordered the male version as well — using grant funds I’d intended for live models — and I have my faces, as well as my models “Artemis” and “Arthur.”

    The “Unlikely Dance” project was made possible by a grant from the Artists Fund of the Community Foundation for South Central New York

    To follow my progress in Unlikely Dance, just click on the “Unlikely Dance” link under TOPICS, on the left of any page in this blog.

    A quick summary of the pre-holiday art season

    Profile: graphite pencil on paper, 5.5 x 8.0" unframed - Glenda Blake
    “Profile”: graphite pencil on paper, 5.5 x 8.0″ unframed – accepted for the National Small Works Competition

    Life is not dull. In the past two or three weeks I’ve:

    Hurricane Sandy, Alexandria VA
    Hurricane Sandy, Alexandria VA
    • had what seems to have been whooping cough (pertussis), while sitting out Hurricane Sandy in Alexandria, VA. Thrilling combination. Still have the leftover hacking cough.
    • set up and sat at the American Civic Association’s Holiday Arts and Crafts Bazaar, which suffered mightily from lack of publicity.
    • taken on publicity duties, official and unofficial, for the December 2012 Members Exhibit of the Fine Arts Society of the Southern Tier and the Windsor Whip Works Art Center’s weekly life drawing session.
    • Kindred Spirits contradance
      Kindred Spirits contradance
    • photographed Binghamton Community Dance’s Kindred Spirits Day of Dance (contra and English Country) for Unlikely Dance, and culled through the resulting 2700-plus photos, reducing them to 500 or so.
    • posted a couple of hundred dance photos on Picasa.com and shared them with the respective dance organizations (not public due to privacy concerns).
    • had a piece accepted into the National Small Works Competition at the Windsor Whip Works Gallery (about which I’m thrilled!)…

    Busy times!

    Now preparing work for group holiday shows with the Fine Arts Society of the Southern Tier, Cooperative Gallery 213, Broome County Arts Council, The Art Mission and Theater… and Old Barn Hollow Food and Artisan Market, where I’ll be selling the earrings I make.

    Earrings by GreenBoat Gallery
    Earrings by GreenBoat Gallery

    Will blog separately about some of these items when/if I get the chance!