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Judith Monroe Posts

How to Encourage a Budding Artist


Every so often, someone approaches me about their child who is an amazing artist and asks me if I take students or know of classes or just what they should do. I used to take on individual students, but with my college classes and production schedule, that’s not feasible any longer and sometimes I can point to a friend I know who’s taking students but sometimes I can find myself at a loss, so I started thinking about what I would do with my own child in this case…


The first thing I would do is ask my child what kind of artwork interests them most, what is it that they like to draw or paint or sculpt. So often we as parents want to shape and mold our children, but I think it’s especially important to let them determine their own creative path, whether we understand it or not. Ask them what it is they would like to do, talk to them about some of the possibilities that I’ll be mentioning here, and let them determine what appeals to them most. Of course, as parents, we need to be there to guide and protect, as appropriate. But it’s important not to force them in a direction they don’t want to go in. And I think that having them try things once before they make a decision can be a good thing, too…


students in a high school art class working on mixed media artworks


I would take an artistic child to local museums or galleries to see if they can find things that appeal to them, whether it’s what they want to pursue or not. Being able to see and absorb quality work is important for artists and creatives of all ages. Even being exposed to something I have no interest in doing myself can stimulate so much in my mind and be inspirational. I think with the lack of art appreciation being taught in our schools that this is especially important. Take the time to not just look at the artwork, but see if you can find out how it was created and what inspired the artist and talk about that with your child. Discovering more about the work in context can be a spring board for your child’s own creativity and can possibly help you understand your young artist a little better.


Local museums also often have programs for children and young adults who are interested in creating art. I know that the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento has family oriented events on a regular basis that encourage artistic exploration and that they host quality art education during the summer and other school holidays. Parks districts, after-school programs, and churches sometimes host art education programs and all of these are great ways for children to get hands-on experience. Finally, sometimes you can find community art organizations or local artists that teach children’s art classes. Here in Sacramento, I can personally recommend my friend Margaret Sarantis and the business she has built called Sacramento Art Classes. Margaret is a wonderful person and a talented artist and I would completely trust her with my own children.


I would also make sure my artistic child has appropriate art supplies. Maybe that’s a starter kit from a local craft store, in whatever my child has expressed interest in. Maybe an art instructor can give you some guidance. Shopping together (with a pre-determined budget) is a great way to let a child or teen know that you take their interest seriously and that you support that interest. It can be a learning, bonding experience for you both. If neither of you really know what you want to get, find a sales associate at the store and ask for guidance. I usually suggest not getting whatever is cheapest, but rather aim for products in the mid-range price for children. A lot of art and craft supply stores have supplies made for children that are decent quality, but won’t break Mom and Dad’s budget. I’d spend more for a serious teenager, but still not go for top quality art supplies for anyone still exploring, as that can get very pricey very quickly.


Finally, I would give my artistic child or teenager permission to dream about a career in art, whatever that means for them. For the youngest children, it might be a passing dream, but for the serious teen, I would suggest doing research about the field that they are interested in, finding out how people successful in that field got to where they are, and then practically pursuing that. It’s important to remember that a lot of artists are really small business owners and not all art programs include the business side in their curriculum, which is a disservice to aspiring artists. We all need to be realistic about the practical side of life and a creative child who faces a tough battle in the art world can scare us as parents, I get that. But I’ve talked to so many adults in their forties, fifties and beyond who were talked out of their passion, or who gave it up when they were young, and they are sorry they didn’t pursue it when they were younger. It’s never too late to pursue a creative passion, but there is no reason it can’t be part of a young person’s life, whatever that means for them.



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On the worktable


mixed media collage by judith monroe


I’ve decided this year that I’m going to keep an art journal as a spiritual/creative exercise, I’ve done a few pages so far, so that’s good. I don’t give myself a schedule, really, but I want to sort of constantly have something going there. This is my most recent spread, my participation in an online community project that seems to have taken on a life of it’s own, called Target Practice, started by fellow artist Laura Tringoli Holmes. I call this “Heading in the Right Direction.” You can check out the Target Practice blog here.



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My love affair with David Hockney

(Or how Mr. Hockney’s work has influenced me over the past thirty years.)

When someone asks what artists have influenced my work, my standard off-the-cuff answer is “I don’t know…” which I know is rather lame, but is actually honest. I’ve never looked at another artist’s work and said to myself, “I want to do that.” I’m too much of a rebel for that approach. Instead, I’ll look at something and be amazed, in awe, let it soak in, and move on… It generally isn’t until much later that I’ll realize that my subconscious pulled from that work and integrated it in some way into my own.

How David Hockney has influenced my work is much like that. I was first exposed (haha, lame photographer’s joke!) to Hockney’s work in the mid 1980’s. I was taken to an exhibit in Berkeley that had several works by probably more than just Hockney, but all I remember was one giant piece that was a photo collage. It might have been Pear Blossom, but somehow I think it was something else. What I do remember is how amazed I was at the work that went into it and how all the small images created one larger image, and how I had no intention whatsoever to do such a thing. I had other things on my mind and different ideas I wanted to explore at that point and I was happy to just enjoy Hockney like anyone else might. It wasn’t until just recently that I considered how that might have influenced some of the work I’ve been doing lately, all these years down the road.


David Hockney, Pearblossom Highway, 11th-18th April 1986, photographic, 77x112 1/2 in.


So when I found out that the de Young Museum in San Francisco was having a Hockney show, I put it on my must do list and put together a small group of art pals to make a day trip of it. I was not disappointed. Hockney’s recent foray into the landscape of his home turf in England resonated deeply with me, as did his use of several different panels pieced together. And then to see his “Cubist videos” was sheer heaven for me. I could have stood there immersed in his moving, mulit-perspective images of the woods along a road for even longer than I did. Let me just say that you know you’re standing there for a long time when all your artist pals have long since moved on…


David Hockney, Seven Yorkshire Landscape Videos, 2011, eighteen digital videos synchronized and presented on eighteen 55” NEC screens to comprise a single artwork, 27 x 47 7/8 inches each, 81 x 287 inches overall, duration: 12 minutes, 9 seconds


Suddenly I found myself justified in my fascination with the same landscape that I have visited hundreds of times. Like Hockney, I’m always finding new things in these familiar places, I’m entranced by the changing seasons, and quite happy to document it and make it my own over and over. And even though we do it for different reasons, I was also happy to see how he pieced together both his paintings and his videos. I was also tickled to see that he has embraced the iPhone and the iPad into his creative process, and even more so to see the de Young include it in a major exhibition. If all of these things are good enough for David Hockney and the de Young, they’re good enough for me.

So now I am finding myself encouraged and yes, inspired, by the work of David Hockney. I was already working on creating photo mosaics with my iPhone on Instagram, so I find myself emboldened by Hockney’s example. I’ll try to remember to post some studio shots of what I’m working on in the near future and you’ll see what I mean.


untitled photo mosaic by Judith Monroe

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Thoughts on Photographic Education


This article was written by Rebecca Gregg, one of the full time professors of Photography at Sierra College, where I teach part time. When it comes to teaching photography, Rebecca knows what she’s talking about, she founded our amazing program (we still teach darkroom) many many years ago…



When photography was first invented, the discovery spread by friends teaching friends even though Daguerre’s process was printed in numerous languages and given freely to the world. For example, the inventor Samuel Morse enjoyed a hands-on lesson from Daguerre himself in Paris and then Morse demonstrated the process to his painting student and future Civil War documentarian Mathew Brady in far away America just weeks later. In England the noted scientist John Hershel shared his photographic knowledge and enthusiasm with friends Fox Talbot and Julia Margaret Cameron. In France Gustave LeGray taught the process to aspiring photographers Felix Nadar and Maxime Du Camp. And while photographic education has grown enormously since Dorothea Lange, Paul Outerbridge and Ralph Steiner attended Clarence White’s formal photo school in the early 20th century in New York City, friends teaching friends is still a main stay of photographic education. This face-to-face sharing is still much alive at Viewpoint with Print and Portfolio Nights, Art Afternoons, Student Critiques and Member Meetings. Viewpoint’s Workshop Program formalizes the educational process and resembles traditional classroom more than the friend-to-friend exchange.


The Internet is replete with tutorials, blogs, and sites devoted to photography, especially digital imaging.  Books on photography (although more how to than why to) abound. And though some titles are apocalyptic for photography’s future like Fred Ritchin’s After Photography, photography seems alive and if not well, is only a little under the weather in the midst of fast and far reaching changes in society. Never before have so many people worldwide had access to a camera and never before have so many photographs been taken. It’s estimated that every two minutes as many photos are taken as in the sixty years that photography existed in the 19th century. Astounding population growth and equally astounding technical changes account for the enormous numbers.


Our region has strong professional training at Sacramento City, American River, Cosumnes River, Solano, Yuba College, CSU Sacramento, and Sierra College where I have taught photography for the last 30 years. In the past several years of entrenched economic downturn, skyrocketing student loan debt, and demands for increasing uniformity of requirements, photographic education has suffered along with other programs in the arts. When I proposed the exhibit in Step Up it was in part out of frustration with memos coming out of the State Budget Analyst’s Office that clearly revealed a lack of understanding of the importance of photographic education in an increasingly visual society. So why is photographic education relevant to today’s student and tomorrow’s world?


Anyone who has even been lucky enough to study photography knows the value of blending science with art, of bringing the tangible world of physics and the inverse square law into the lighting studio and of expressing critical evaluation that recognizes flaws and praises accomplishments. The photo classroom is alive with problem solving, with applying guidelines to new situations and adapting rules to fit the presented reality, the changing light, the too small location, or the flock that left earlier than usual. Photographers learn to plan for a session, organize for speed and ease, evaluate results often on the fly, adapt to the weather, communicate with clients and critics, and constantly explore the new trappings of the ever-changing tools of the trade. Whenever I am asked what I teach and answer photography, invariably the response is a version, of “oh that must be fun.” It is. And it is also demanding work both for me and for students. Photography is a rigorous discipline that requires discipline. Studying photography builds skills to make sound judgments based on experience and possibilities, rather than narrowly relying on the rule alone. There is almost never a single solution to any given situation. If there is a truism, it is that the answer to all photographic questions is “that depends..” In beginning classes instructors organize and pace the lessons to establish the fundamental parameters of exposure and camera usage in a meaningful progression while immediately encouraging originality and fresh views. Photography demands different skill sets all along the way. To be stopped in one’s tracks by dewdrops on a foggy morning is worlds away from exactly measuring the edges of a window matt. But students will encounter both. Critiques move students to appreciate and create universal expressions different from the “selfies” that populate their facebook pages. Students majoring in photography are driven by their passion and their ambition. Quite understandable. Although professional photography has changed in the last fifteen years more dramatically than the fifteen years after gelatin silver film was marketed, the career remains a viable and growing field. But photographic education is probably most relevant in today’s world to the general students, the non-majors.


Degree requirements of public speaking, writing, and math have long recognized the importance of  fundamental skills to society. Academia and society at large has been slow in recognizing the visual arts including photography as fundamentally critical preparation in the same way especially in our new visual age. Photography courses teach the skills of evaluating images, of questioning content and use, of restraint in expression, of making comparative choices, of planning and adapting, of patience and diligence, and of minding the details. We have legions of people with cameras with little discussion of the ethics of visual trespass or visual plagiarism except as reaction to the latest shock wave of sexting, bullying or other jolts to our collective visual consciousness.  These important lessons are handled directly and consistently in photography classes. Other benefits of the photo classroom is the atmosphere of cooperatively working together, of balancing trust with risk, of modeling the changing role of the teacher to be leader, mentor, coach and ever-interested learner. “When the student is ready, a teacher appears” – is a familiar adage that describes this dynamic learning environment. To frame photo education solely for those who want to become professional photographers is far too narrow. This is a vital role, but if we are to fully understand the profound impact of photographs on all of communication, persuasion and our collective memory, we must educate a populace that both consumes and creates images. One of the best venues for this critical dialog is the photography classroom. Here education combines heads up with hands on. No wonder teaching photography is fun.

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Maker meme exploding


There’s a popular internet meme bouncing around a lot lately that I’m sure means well, but has started to grate on my nerves. I understand that it’s meant to express support for artists like myself, but I find it kind of offensive, and if it’s irritating me, it’s got to be irritating somebody else, maybe a lot of somebody elses…

The text is as follows, sometimes a little different, but not by much:

“When buying from an artist /maker, you’re buying more than just an object/painting. You are buying hundreds of hours of failure and experimentation. You are buying days, weeks and months of frustration and moments of pure joy. You aren’t just buying a thing. You’re buying a piece of heart, part of a soul, a moment of someone’s life. Most importantly, you’re buying the artist more time to do something they are passionate about. You are allowing them to continue to create, and grow. You are supporting the local economy, and encouraging creative expression.”

I’m not going to argue that this isn’t all true – it absolutely is – but what does this say to me as a consumer, really? Why should I be buying someone else’s failures and experimentations, frustrations and joys? I get that it’s someone else’s passion, heart and soul, but what about mine? I know people that are passionate about all kinds of things, my husband has a passion for flying, but when someone hires him, that’s not really the concern. Of course I know art is different, but let’s be honest, if I ask you to buy something from me just so I can continue with what I love, that’s a pretty selfish thing. Shouldn’t I be offering you something? Are you supposed to just support my art habit because I’m addicted to it? (And trust me, I am.) At least this version mentions supporting the local economy and implies some greater good about encouraging creative expression, but it still grates on my nerves.

So why should I buy someone else’s artwork, their handiwork? Why do people spend their hard earned money on someone else’s passion? I’ve been on both sides of this kind of exchange and I think it’s much deeper than this meme implies.

When I am moved to purchase someone else’s artwork or handmade item, it’s because it does something for me as the consumer. It has made me feel something. I love little birds, sparrows in particular have special meaning for me, so there have been times when I’ve purchased artworks that depict little birds that touch that soft spot inside of me. I’ve understood that when the item was made by hand, that it will likely cost more than something reproduced by the thousands in a foreign country where workers are paid nothing near what would be called a living wage here in the States. Sometimes the creator is a friend of mine and I understand the skill it takes to create and that they are trying to make a living this way and I want to support my friend, but I still wouldn’t do it if it didn’t touch me on another level.


Mixed media artwork by Judith Monroe


This is what I want as an artist, not for you to support my creating addiction, but for me to connect with you through a shared passion. Do you love nature, too? Are you ever awe-struck at the sight of a tree and filled with delight at the sound of a chorus of little birds singing? Me, too… I can’t even express in words how the beauty of a leaf affects me, but I can capture it in a work of art and share it with you that way. I’ve spent a lot of time learning and perfecting my techniques, studying and practicing, but I don’t want you to pay me for that, because I did that all for me. I want you to pay me for successfully creating something that touches you beyond words, something that I can’t reproduce even if I tried, because you value things that I value, because we are both part of a society that honors creativity and acknowledges the arts as contributing to that society.

Please don’t purchase something from me because I worked hard to get to where I am, or because I should somehow be considered better than someone who works in an office, as I most certainly am not. Purchase something from me because you fell in love with what I created and because it is going to bring you joy every time you see it and it will last for a very long time and it will bring back memories of this passion we both have shared.

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How to support the arts on a budget


I know that the “downturn” is supposed to be in recovery and that things really are starting to look up for our economy, but I also know from my own experience and pretty much everyone that I’m close to, that times are still tight. That’s okay, I have complete faith that things will get better, and I kind of think that a slow upturn is probably better for everyone. Personally, I’ve seen enough bubbles… But I also know a lot of people that love art in so many forms and that want to support artists but don’t feel like they can spend any money.


I want to address all of you that feel that way and let you know that it’s okay and I understand and that there are ways to support artists that you know or just admire that can fit your budget, even if it’s nothing. I know how you feel, I feel the same way; I know lots of artists – painters, sculptors, musicians, writers, photographers – and I really do want to support as many of them as I can, but I’m on a budget, too. But I’ve found I don’t always have to break the bank to do it.


First of all, easiest of all and cheapest of all (no cost!) is to support artists you admire on social media. I’m sure you already follow them, but it really helps an artist when you actively engage with them on social media. On Facebook, don’t just “like” their page, but “like” their posts, comment on them, share their page and posts with your friends to help spread the word. The same goes for Instagram and Twitter has similar kinds of engagement, as does Google+ and probably even Pinterest. (There’s no way I can keep up with all those things, so I only know a couple intimately, but whatever media you’re on, the idea is the same.)


If you live in the same geographic location as the artist you want to support, another nearly free way to support them is to attend receptions, musical gigs or open studios. Most are free to attend and it’s nearly always some kind of party atmosphere. Don’t be afraid of an art gallery or club you’ve never been to – bring a friend and make an adventure of it – those places are really not as intimidating as you might think! And I can tell you that having people who just want to support me coming up to say hello and wish me well really does help me. As an artist, I’m putting my work and myself out there and it can be scary sometimes; even if you can’t buy anything, it’s always good to feel appreciated.


The next suggestion I’m going to make actually includes reaching into your pocket, but it doesn’t have to cost a lot. Many artists use fund sourcing websites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo and run campaigns to do anything from recording an album to publishing a book, or funding a trip to an exhibition far from home. I haven’t run any kind of fund raising campaign myself, but I’ve helped fund these kinds of projects and it’s a pretty cool feeling. Depending on how the artist is running it, you can often help out for as little as five dollars, and I usually end up helping in the twenty dollar range because I’m comfortable with that, and usually there are thank you “gifts” for supporting in that range. Among the goodies I’ve received on top of my good feelings are a postcard from France, a book and a CD.


 mixed media art by Judith Monroe


Finally, if you can manage to save up any cash at all, many artists offer something for people on a budget. You may not be able to get that huge piece that you wish you could get, but you’re doing both yourself and the artist a favor when you even make a small purchase. This mostly applies to visual artists, as usually a CD or book isn’t such a huge investment and many of us can squeeze that into a tight budget somehow. I know lots of visual artists that have something they offer for under one hundred or even under fifty dollars. If you don’t know whether an artist has something like that, ask them! Most of us are really pretty easy to contact and are happy to answer questions and do what we can to help our supporters. If you can’t manage to purchase what you want all at once, many artists offer lay-away, you just have to ask. It’s amazing how many of us really do want you to have a piece of our work when we see how much it touches you.


When it comes down to it – at least I know this is true for me – the biggest part of why I make art is to share a piece of myself with other people. I am driven by a passion to create and something created isn’t complete until it has been shared with someone else…

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Happy New Year or something like that


I understand that it’s the beginning of the Chinese New Year (or very close to it) and since I am never really ready for New Year’s stuff when it actually happens, I am going to adopt a new year attitude right now.


First off, I want to apologize to those who have commented and I haven’t replied to; I just now found those comments and when I tried to at least comment on the thread, I couldn’t figure out how to do it. Yes. On my own blog. That is incredibly pathetic and I want to blame the server or my computer or something like that. So when I can figure out how to get this blog to notify me of comments and then how to reply, I will do so. Until then, I feel like a dork and I’m sorry. Email me, I’ll answer, I promise.


So what I really wanted to weigh in about is what’s up in the studio right now. I just gessoed over more than half a dozen artworks that I picked up from a gallery yesterday. Seems I’m in a starting fresh mood. Actually, my work has been shifting and improving and when I went into the gallery yesterday to bring new work, I had it in my head to pretty much swap out and give him all new work. Then, when I saw the pieces up on the wall I really just wanted to swap out and start over, so that’s what I’m doing. Now there is nice new work at Studio Kokomo in Calistoga (in the wine country) and I’ve got a table full of possibilities…


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I really have meant to post here more often than this, I could offer reasons, excuses, justifications for not doing it but would it matter? I have certainly thought about writing often enough, but it takes a little more than thought to make it all the way here, to sitting down and writing… but I digress.


Over and over again I keep seeing things, reading things, that say how important it is for me as an artist (or business person of any kind, really) to tell my story, explain myself. Here I sit, stand, whatever, creating what I create and putting it out there and asking you to like it, to love it, to believe, to put your money where your mouth is – but all the while you need a really good reason to do it. You need me to be clear, to explain why I do what I do and why you should care, why you should embrace me and join me in my journey. 


Fair enough, so I’m going to be as honest as possible and some of you are going to think I’m a lunatic. Some of you know it already, but that’s okay, because I’m pretty sure you love me anyway and I love you, too…


I honestly believe that I was put here on earth for a reason, for a purpose, that God in all his unimaginable self, created me to create, to be an artist and to bring him glory. (Now mind you, I may not always do a good job of it, but that’s on me, not him, just so we’re clear.) So how exactly does me being and artist bring him glory? I can’t say I always know, but I do know what I’ve always tried to do in and through my work.


So much of my artwork is a prayer, searching for peace, for calm, for a sense of feeling that I am with God and in the center of what he wants. It has always been that way, especially when I go out with a camera into some little wild place, trying to put together that perfect composition that feels just so… That feeling of wholeness, contentment, things that I can’t even really put into words, so I use a camera, then I use all kinds of other things, just trying to make my artwork convey that elusive something. 


In the studio, when I’m pulling together images and textures and colors, I am once again participating in a form of physical prayer; reaching out to God, trying to reflect back the little glimpses of heaven that I sometimes feel more than see. “Making the invisible visible.” That’s a phrase that I’ve read before about art making Christians and I can certainly relate. This world is so much more than all the physical things we can touch and quantify and while I’m creating, I’m trying to help make a little sense of it, both for myself and for you…


So that’s a complete ramble but it’s honest. Next time I’ll try to be a little more coherent. Probably. 



This is one of my very newest pieces, which I’ve title “Golden Hour” partly because that’s a term used in photography to describe the time of day when the light is low and golden and feels magical. It can be one of those times when our imperfect earth can feel a little bit like heaven, simply because what we see in front of us is bathed is such lovely light that we actually believe, if only for a moment…



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True Confessions

I’m a professional artist. I create art in my studio, I show it, I sell it, I get to teach at the college level, it’s a charmed life. Sort of.


It’s an incredible amount of work – forty hours a week? I don’t even keep track; if I’m not working somehow, I’m eating, sleeping, walking the dogs, going to church or maybe vegging out on the couch at ten o’clock at night. But that’s okay, I love it and I can’t imagine doing anything else and not going on some kind of postal rampage.


art in progress by Judith Monroe


I live for this, so the true confession? Sometimes I have no idea what I’m doing. Really. Today, for instance, I walked into the studio to paint – I’m working on a deadline coming up incredibly soon – and I really don’t know what to do next. I have no grand plan, that doesn’t usually work too well for me, and sometimes that means I have to grope blindly and just pray for what to do next. I have some notion, sort of, but there are days that those first steps are incredibly tenative and I’m scared stiff that I’m going to screw things up but not working at all is not an option.


Of course, stopping to write a blog post will postpone it just a little… but I’ve got a deadline to meet, so here goes nothing!