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The importance of drawing and multiple works at once: Shirley Woodson’s advice

Artist Shirley Woodson at her May artist talk.


Shirley Woodson has worked as an artist and arts educator in Detroit for some six decades, and to this day, she usually is juggling a half dozen paintings in her studio.

Over the years, she has moved her paintings into angels, then water, and started painting shells in some of them. “The shell is a home,” she explained in an artist talk at the Norwest Gallery in Detroit.

Her work is in the collections of the Detroit Institute of Arts, which calls her a “trailblazer,” and the Studio Museum of Harlem, as well as corporate and private collections. Her brilliant colors, oranges and lime greens and Carribbean sky bright blues, burst forth in happy profusion; check out more than a dozen of her paintings in this Pinterest collection 

She leads the National Conference of Artists Michigan chapter and for years worked as an arts educator in Highland Park and Detroit. 

Her best advice to her 18 year old self?  Learn to draw better. “Drawing is essential. That’s your note taking. It’s your scales,” she said, answering my question.

Here are other insights from Shirley Woodson that could aid young artists:

  • Work on several paintings or pieces at once, all in the same medium. That allows movement from one piece to another, based on mood, attitude and more. “I paint many at a time. …Start another one and another one and then go back,” she told the Norwest Gallery guests.
  • Understand the art market, local and national. 
  • Seek opportunities to show and sell your work outside your home city. She told how she called up a curator and asked to be included in his show. Or land an artist residency somewhere new.
  • Give yourself time for contemplation of your work. “Seventy-five percent of the time is in the thinking and looking,” she said.

The History Makers has videos and information about Shirley Woodson’s perspectives and career. 

Woodson’s work and words of wisdom are enduring, and she’s clear that artists of color and female artists must continue to work and advocate for themselves. “You will always be overcoming barriers. … Knock it down. Take it away,” she said.

© Vickie Elmer, 2019

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Quotable: entrepreneur Pamela Hilliard Owens

Pamela Hilliard Owens, shown with her husband editor Keith Owens


“It does help if you have a Plan B… but work hard on Plan A.”

– Pamela Hilliard Owens, a Detroit entrepreneur who owns three creative businesses, at a Mint workshop on goal setting.
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7 ways to go toward your goals

Aim high and see your goals. (Photo: Yukie Emiko / Unsplash)

Setting goals – or resolutions or intentions – give you a road map to where you want to go. Getting there, though, requires many more steps, and fuel and even a second driver.

At Mint’s Creative Goals workshop in December, a lot of smart strategies and steps were shared. Here are seven of our favorite:

+ Choose an accountability partner. This person must “get you” and also get after you if you’re not making progress, said Pamela Hilliard Owens, a Mint board member who owns three companies including one on marketing and branding for creatives.

+ Create a goals journal.  “Write it down,” said Trinity Brown, a 14-year-old jewelry maker and entrepreneur. She uses her journal for goals and also creative inspiration including song lyrics. One of her next goals: learn to solder.

+Set deadlines.  Projects without deadlines have a way of getting lost in our creative minds and busy lives, several people said. So establish a deadline when you establish a goal – and then work backward to create interim deadlines or “mile markers” to show you’re heading toward a goal, said Vickie Elmer, Mint’s president and a writer and editor.

+ Save money.  If you are serious about a career as an artist or musician or creative enterprise, you may need to work a day job for a while – and put aside funds to pursue your passion, said Marvalisa Coley, an artist who paints and makes dolls – and works in the airline industry.

+ Keep track of your small tasks.  “Keep things moving” with a to do list and sometimes finishing one of them will put you in a “creative groove,” said Coley.

+ Use the pomorodo technique. Get a timer and set it for 25 minutes. Then set aside everything else – social media, phone, magazines – and work on a project. Almost anyone can concentrate and work well for 25 minutes, said Hilliard Owens. After a five minute break,  start another pomorodo. Complete four of them, she said, and then reward yourself with a longer break – and a look at social media or email.

+ See and highlight your future.  Create a vision board or draw something that depicts your goal, or yourself after you’ve achieved a few goals. Use visualization, said Coley – and if your work will be sold at Target or Sotheby’s include those logos in the vision board.

Artists and creatives need to set and achieve goals – including some on how many sales at an event or how much money will be in your bank account by the end of the quarter.  Mint Artists believes that goals are crucial so we will share other insights and advice on goals in February.

© Vickie Elmer, 2017

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Judy Bowman believes in setting one big goal – and using that to guide your choices.

Hers  is to create a good body of work, professional presented. “Leave a legacy for my children” as an artist and a person who pursued her passions, she said.

She is pursuing hers intently now after retiring from a 30 year career as a teacher and high school principal. Bowman creates beautiful collage pieces – usually people in happy or everyday moments – and then limited edition giclee prints that sell for hundreds of dollars.  Though she just restarted her art career a few years ago, she’s already represented by Jo’s Gallery in Detroit and appeared in many exhibits, the Essence Festival, Bombay Saphire  and at the Belle Isle Art Fair.

“I hear of an opportunity, take a deep breath and say ‘let’s try it.’ It’s stepping out there. Just go for it,” Bowman says.

She believes that artists must “be watchful for opportunities. Be ready to take advantage of them.” And allow people to help you. Many people have helped her with her career, in part because of her open and friendly approach

Happy Hour mixed media collage by Judy Bowman. © Judy Bowman

When I showed up at an Artist2Artist talk, Judy and I hit it off. We talked about art and artists selling their work. And I told her and the other artists there that night about the debut of the Belle Isle Art Fair.  Judy Bowman followed, showed up – and sold a lot of work.

“Be very receptive,” of people and opportunities, she said, and jump on those that are stepping stones toward your big goal.

(Photo: © Charlene Uresy, used with permission)

Article copyright © 2016 Vickie Elmer, updated 2020

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If I don’t have a deadline, I’m an artist and my artist brain is all over the place.

Detroit artist Marvalisa Coley, creator of the Happy Heads doll and brand, on why she writes down goals with deadlines – and a calendar nearby.
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Artists, paint a path or a plan to achieve your goals.

Or create a visual representation of your goals, a vision board or something else.

Artists, set goals for new skills, for galleries in your favorite city carrying your work, or for major commission contracts.

Mint Artists’ new workshop Creative Goal Setting and Goal Getting will give inspirational and practical advice on achieving intentions and developing great habits around goals.  Our presenters are:

 + Marvalisa Coley, an artist, doll maker and woman who knows how to develop creative pieces and projects. She uses goals in her creative practice.  

 + Pamela Hilliard-Owens, a former teacher who now runs three Detroit companies in marketing and publishing. She serves on Mint’s board of directors.

 + Trinity Brown, a Mint artist who taught herself to make jewelry while recovering from a back injury and sets sales and other goals for herself.

 + Vickie Elmer, writer and editor, entrepreneur and co-founder of Mint Artists Guild.  She believes in good goals – sometimes one is enough – and the power of serendipity. She serves as Mint’s executive director and board president.

For the first time, a few slots are available to teen artists, musicians and creatives who are not affiliated with Mint.  Emerging artists and creatives ages 13 to 18 may attend the Mint workshop on Tuesday, Dec. 6 from 5 to 8 pm. The workshop will be held along Livernois in Detroit. Cost is $5; free for Mint Artists and advance registration is required.