On Friday Jeff and I drove about 2.5 hours north to Chicago (specifically the Oak Park Art League) for the opening of the Illinois Watercolor Society's Small Waters show. My Mushrooms painting was accepted for this national juried exhibition of small-scale watercolors.
Earlier in the week IWS director Tony Armendariz called me and asked if I was planning to attend the opening. Jeff and I hadn't really given the matter much thought, as we were still wiped out from Los Angeles (it takes us a while to recover from travel). But when Tony calls to ask this question, it's usually followed with, "...because you won an honorable mention" or something like that. At least that's happened to me once before, and calling winning artists has become Tony's standard operating procedure.
So I looked over at a nodding Jeff and said, "Yeah! I think we'll come!" before Tony could tell me why he wanted us there: he needed somebody to help out with the treats. I said sure--I love making cookies for art shows and was happy to lend a hand. Tony added that the show's juror hadn't picked out the show's award winners yet, but if I'd won anything, he'd give me a call Thursday night. Cool. I started planning to make a double batch of sugar cookies while Jeff searched for hotels.
The last-minute hotel possibilities were not good. Oak Park is a pricey area, and public transportation was going to be sketchy, especially if we decided to stay in one of the more affordable but distant hotels. Driving up there would mean a $50 gas (and major time) commitment. Add the cost of food and whatever else to an overnight stay, and we were looking at a $200 price tag to see one of my small paintings surrounded by 39 other small paintings, all of which we were already able to view here. So we decided to tell Tony that we wouldn't be coming, which I felt bad about doing, but that's the way it goes when you're a downstate painter in an upstate art world.
Then Wednesday morning we had a change of heart, and Jeff was feeling bad about me missing a show. What if we drove up to Chicago early Friday afternoon, did some low-key activities, attended the opening, and drove back home that night? Let's do that! I contacted Tony again, told him we were coming to the show after all, and that he could once again count on me to make cookies.
On Thursday I rocked out a double batch of cookies (various animals and fruits). It's a stupidly long process, but I worked as fast as I could in a hazy, assembly-line blur. I didn't even bother to photograph them. I figured that I had produced maybe 50 or 60 cookies, but I had in fact made over 100.
Thursday night came and went without a "you won something" call from Tony. This was not a big surprise, but it would have been an awesome way to end the day, given all the cookie-fueled good karma I thought I might have been attracting.
We took off for Chicago at around lunchtime yesterday, just as a severe thunderstorm rolled through the area. I was entranced by the big shelf cloud you see rolling across the horizon; for about ten minutes, it looked like we lived in a state with mountains. This storm produced downpours and lots of spectacular cloud-to-ground lightning, but it was out of our hair once we exited Champaign County.
Once in Chicago, Jeff wanted to try the Belgian fries at the French Market, which is an indoor marketplace featuring gorgeous produce and artisanal foods. I thought the fries were great, and talk about a generous portion (this was the smaller size!), but as usual they did not match the legendary fries Jeff had when he was in Actual Belgium: not thick enough, and not creamy inside, apparently. We tried two other European specialties while we were at the French Market. The gelato was too firm and the macarons were too dry. Ain't no pleasing us! We ate the hell out of everything we bought, of course.
While in Oak Park we toured Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio. Our charming guide provided exactly the right amount of information, if you know what I mean. Sometimes tours like this are exhausting academicfests. This was just a breezy little tour. The home and studio were quirky, strange, and beautiful.
Also arriving early to the show were Tony (above), his lovely wife Virginia, IWS assistant director Carole Hennessy, artist Irma Pocius, and Oak Park Art League member Ted Strandt (also above--he called someone to let us in the building). We set up the treats and looked at the paintings.
Irma (center) was adorable, and she and I talked about art for quite a while. Carole (above, in blue), Jeff, and I had a wonderful conversation about some of the TV shows we love: Friday Night Lights, Boardwalk Empire, Deadwood, and, incredibly, Justified. Carole is the first person we've met who even knows about this show. We recently convinced my parents to watch Justified, and they flipped over it. You people who are getting over Breaking Bad's cliffhanger last week: give Justified a try.
My mushrooms were in the center of a long wall devoted primarily to plants. The space eventually became crowded with a surprising number of people, so I was glad I took a few photos early.
Within minutes of meeting him, Irma told Jeff he looked like George Clooney, and there was much swooning over the cuteness of Jeff, much to his embarrassment.
I was forced to pose with my painting, which was flanked by two intimidatingly exquisite floral paintings by Janet Doll and Cherie Hauptman. I can't get used to taking photos like this--they remind me of school pictures for some reason, and I always look uncomfortable.
My painting's frame was something we had been storing, unused, in our guest bedroom--it just happened to be the right size for the mushrooms. Jeff thinks the frame may be valuable, but the back was kind of beat up, and it looked like a kid had written his name on it. I loved the warm color and the tiny dark holes in the wood because they mimicked the speckles on the mushrooms.
But knowing that my painting was not one of the ten winners made me feel sorry for it. It was a good painting, but looking around I saw five, then ten, then over two dozen other paintings seemed like winners. Loose, painterly watercolors made me question why I had to be so damned tight. Abstract expressionist pieces made me miss that imaginative way of working. En plein air landscapes seemed to ooze an integrity that made my mushrooms appear twee and overworked. And yet I thought I hadn't worked hard enough when I studied paintings that were more realistic than mine. I felt like such a novice when I saw work by well-established art professors and painters much older than me who had been working their entire lives.
Jeff saw me gazing at my painting with an "oh you poor thing" expression on my face and asked me what I thought. It was hard to put into words, and I'm not a mother so I really have no idea if this is a fair comparison, but I felt like I was watching a beloved child doing his best in a competition where he was clearly outclassed. And I felt proud of my child for trying, but I knew we were going to leave disappointed and had a long ride home ahead of us.
This is just the way it goes when it comes to art competitions. I'm used to it now, believe me. But the straight-A student in me can't help feeling frustrated sometimes. It's also hard when loved ones travel long distances to see shows like this, and you don't want them to be disappointed in any way. Humble me is honored to simply be included, but awful Tracy Flick me also wants to win at least occasionally.
And then you have to remember that this is art, and the judges' decisions are their own and completely subjective, blah blah blah. In conclusion, art shows are emotional roller coasters, and they're not for sensitive people, i.e. artists.
At least the cookies were a hit. People were taking photos of them and telling me how cute they were.
The evening wore on, and shy Jeff and I actually mingled with people, even strangers. About an hour into the show, Tony and Carole got ready to present ten awards. Judge Suzanne Hetzel made a few remarks, saying that she tried to pick winners who attempted to take watercolor as far as it could go. "Some of the artists are here, and they don't know they've won," Tony mentioned. Argh! A twist! Another fun chance for my hopes to be dashed!
Irma won an honorable mention, and a few other artists in attendance were named after her. Finally Tony reached the top awards (third, second, and first place), and HOLY SMOKES I WON THIRD PLACE YOU GUYS.
*my mind exploded*
People clapped, I got a certificate and prize money (!), and Jeff gave me a kiss.
After the awards presentation, I shook a lot of hands and thanked Sue very much for choosing my painting, and she said something about loving the composition and colors, and Jeff thinks she said "it was obvious," but I don't remember that because my mind had exploded and I think Jeff's had too, a little.
Eager to get home before midnight, we said goodbye to Tony and Virginia, who were happy for me. We took an empty cookie container and left the rest of the cookies behind before leaping and skipping into the night air and out to the car. What a great night.
Thanks as always for reading! If you would like to purchase a print of Mushrooms, please click here, and you can always find prints of everything else here. I love receiving compliments about my work, but it means so much to me when people put some money in my tip jar. :)