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Get ahead: Create more art that seems more timely, ahead of time

Last week’s Inauguration celebration of the United States’ first female and first Black Vice President seemed like a remarkable event, and it brought an array of images of Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden to our Instagram feeds.

Some digital, drawn or painted images were created weeks earlier in anticipation of their move to the top of American politics and others were created on the fly.  We recommended to Mint alumni Trinity Brown that she create a wire wrapped necklace similar to the one Vice President Harris wore to her swearing-in.  We suspect fabric fashion designers are recreating  the beautiful Maison Schiaparelli gold dove brooch Lady Gaga wore, signifying her hope for peace in the United States.

Then we realized that creating art that feels like it jumped from the headlines or captures the essence of our cultural experiences is a valuable trait for emerging artists to develop.  Offer art that is fresh, timely and relevant, even if you created it months or years earlier.

How do you do that? First look ahead to memorable or significant moments that resonate with you and your work. Perhaps it’s the reopening of schools after covid-19 vaccinations are widespread, or the the birthday of Rosa Parks, which we mark because of her ties to Detroit and because of our beautiful Mint print based on Mint worker / artist Bryan Wilson’s painting.

Second, set a Google Alert to be notified of news and information about your favorite subjects, those that show up in your art and imagery often. Ask for just the best results; some may provide inspiration or a reason to share your work.

Next create a calendar for yourself of events and dates that suit your

Martin Luther King Jr. collage by artist Isadora Gacel (used with permission)

creative style and interests – or buy our 2021 calendar to inspire and write them in.

If you photograph or paint beautiful buildings, note the birthdays and other significant dates of architects Albert Kahn, Norma Merrick Sklarek and Maya Lin.  If flowers and plants show up often in your images, perhaps key moments for botanist George Washington Carver or Arber or artists Georgia O’Keeffe or Claude Monet belong there. If your art springs from the fight for equality and civil rights, track important dates from Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and work to the anniversary of Breonna Taylor’s death.

Whatever your subject, pour over media timelines and museum retrospectives for dates and events that resonate with you and your art. Look for lesser known events or people or ones that seem newly relevant.

Detail of Arise Rock’s winning triptych painting © Arise Rock

Document the Black Lives Matter movement and the demonstrations after the cruel killing of George Floyd, as Mint Youth Arts Competition winner Arise Rock did.  May 25 will be one year after Floyd died after pleading with police. Or create photos or mixed media slamming the growing gap between rich and poor, known as income or economic inequality.  Unfortunately, these images will be timely again and again.

Keep making more work that suits your cultural moments and themes. That way, when one piece sells, you may share a second and a third.  Consider which one may be powerful enough to be made into a print.

And if you think you’ve missed your moment with Vice President Harris, consider that she will have a very busy first year in office with many moments to shine. Plus she was born on Oct. 20, (1964), so that gives you plenty of time – and a clear deadline – for  creating a portrait or series of pieces about her.

© Vickie Elmer, 2021, for Mint Artists Guild

Watch for our guide to intriguing events in 2021 that may inspire your creative work. Coming up in February in the Mint blog.

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Grabbing opportunities and reusing your work: Sophie Grillet’s smart advice


When artist Sophie Grillet visited the Mint Studios in the summer of 2019, she brought an important message to emerging artists:  Be prepared and keep grabbing for new opportunities.

Grillet has done just that from her days in London creating editorial cartoons for major newspapers such as The Guardian to starting the Westside Art Hop and  her new endeavor working as an art consultant to assist people find and buy art from local artists.

The Westside Art Hop, scheduled for Oct. 6,  has grown from artists in four Ann Arbor homes to 21 homes. “It worked because I’m not shy,” she told the Mint Creative Summer Jobs program workers. “I’m a great believer in asking people things.” 

Young artists may want to ask a curator for a discount on submitting work, or to be invited into a show.  Go to gallery openings and talk to the artist and the gallery owner. Ask for advice. Ask the artist about her process, Grillet told Mint.

Grillet’s art is a mix of abstract paintings and mixed media and sculpture, often named after female mathematicians.  Her art website features an array of “science and math art” as well as photography and more. “I tend to be very curious and work in everything,” she told Mint.

Her mother was very creative and made ceramics and her father was an architect.  She considers herself both artist and writer, and has published several books including Feminism for Teenagers and poetry  Her recent blog post gives a wide array of advice for emerging artists, including “if you’re not paying attention, you won’t have much to contribute…. Everything is connected.”  So watch BBC news or documentaries and “talk to everyone.”

So reuse your canvas if the original piece does not measure up to your expectations. “Some of my most successful paintings have been on top of ones I didn’t like.” 

Grillet believes in the importance of enjoying life and the people in it, and creating healthy balance so work does not take over.  Young artists must be prepared, by having creative work finished and an attitude that welcomes serendipity and opportunities. Promote yourself and get out there.  

Even for wildly creative artists, reliability matters. “If somebody gives you an opportunity, you need to honor that. You need to show up,” she said.

Mint summer intern Catherine Jones contributed to this article.