Speaking of art > John Whytock, the June–July 2018 PleinAir Salon winner, addresses entering work into art contests and winning the Bi-monthly Salon.
By John Whytock
That red color Kruger used was cool. I’ll try that and paint the darks in a heavy glaze. It was late at night and I was in bed doing some semi-conscious musing on painting and a new creative process to try.
Loosen up. I can loosen up. Did Rockwell ever paint loose? I was asleep in moments. Out cold on the canvas. Sonny Liston meets Ali’s quick left.
“Honey, wake up!” Wake up!”
I was being shaken out of a cold, dark fog by my loving wife. Fire? Wait. We live in the Midwest. Tornado!
“Is there a storm?” I slurred.
“I’m sorry. I couldn’t wait. You won!”
“What? I won what?”
“The PleinAir Salon! You got best in building, best in figure, and you won over all! I’m so proud of you!”
“I did? You are?” The fog was clearing and I finally understood what she was saying. “Wow!” I said, consciousness returning. “That’s amazing!”
“A thousand dollar prize! I hope you don’t mind me waking you up,” she said, all smiles.
“I’m really glad you did!” And I was.
It’s said that public speaking is one of people’s greatest fears. The first time you hang your work in a gallery has to be right up there with public speaking. An artist friend once likened it to hanging your guts on a wall and asking strangers for their approval.
I remember the first time I displayed some work I thought was edgy and innovative. The gallery was in a well traveled beach area in a popular Southern California art town. It scared me silly. What if they laugh? What if other artists think I’m a hack? What if I don’t sell a thing and they throw me out?
On Entering Art Contests
Entering art contests, especially highly visible and prestigious contests like the PleinAir Salon, is almost as scary as hanging your work in a gallery. The difference is that only select people will see it as an entry. But because they’re art people and not the general public, you value their collective opinion above most others.
It’s not so bad when you’re rejected. There are a lot of really good artists out there and, if you love a challenge, you’ll invest the time and energy to improve your work so you can compete. There’s always next year, God willing.
However, when your peers come back with a positive review, it’s gratifying. When they come back with an award for what they consider to be the best — after you get over the initial incredulity and shock — you’re grateful, not to mention awestruck and invigorated and really encouraged!
But upon first hearing about the award for my painting, I was confused. I’ve seen the work of the other artists that have competed in the Salon. I didn’t really expect to win anything.
I’ve been an “artist for hire” for the past 38 years and have made a pretty good living. The project I’ve been painting on for the past six years came to an end in December 2017. Since then, I’ve been focused on “fine art.” My lovely and diligent wife has been entering me in juried shows and contests ever since I finished my first painting. I’ve been included in several exhibitions but have never actually won any major prizes until now. I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact of winning the bi-monthly. It’s a huge honor for me but also kind of scary.
The fear of success is a very real deal. The win means that I need to continue producing paintings of similar or better quality. Going backwards is not an option. That’s serious pressure. I don’t mind deadlines. They help stimulate me to work hard and efficiently. But when your guts are hanging on the wall of a major publication that reads “best of show,” that’s a horse — or pelican — of a different color.
Four days after hanging my “innovative and edgy” work in that Laguna Beach, CA, gallery, I sold one for $1,500. I had a chance to speak to the buyers: two teachers who were on holiday for a week, hunting for art. On day one of their vacation, they stopped in the gallery just before making their way to the East Coast. They had gone all over looking for art but had not seen anything they liked. They said they couldn’t get my work out of their minds so they had to have it.
When you feel you’re ready, take the risk. It’s worth it. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t win. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and tastes certainly differ. Personally, I’m very grateful for the honor of being chosen as a finalist. Thank you, PleinAir!