Behind the Scenes

Stuck on You

Each year the CPSA national show is hosted by a different gallery.  It’s been fun traveling around the US for the shows over the years, visiting places like San Francisco, Washington DC, Seattle, Cinncinati, and Daytona.  Artists ship their artwork about a month before the show, and CPSA hires a cartage company to manage unboxing and handling of the 120+ works.  Since the cartage company must physically be located near the gallery, a different one is used every year.

I received my first hint that something was up when I logged onto my computer a few weeks ago.  A few dozen emails from the colored pencil artists Facebook group were in my inbox, and growing.  The hot topic was triggered by the return shipments of our artwork from the Daytona show.  Works were arriving back with stickers applied to the front plexi of the piece.

The mishap seems to have occurred due to good intentions.  At the Daytona show, the gallery placed stickers with the artist’s name and work title on the gallery wall beneath the piece.  If the piece won an award, they placed a second sticker with the award information as well.  I can guess that the person from the cartage company thought the artists might want their show stickers and stuck them to to the plexi.  He probably didn’t realize that they would be extremely difficult to remove.

Sure enough my piece arrived with both stickers on the plexi:


At the show I noticed some wax bloom developing on the legs in the drawing, and planned to take apart the frame when it arrived to fix it.  The presence of the stickers didn’t upset me too much since I thought it would be easy enough to remove once the plexi was out.  With a little effort I removed the hanging hardware, dust jacket, framer’s points, and finally the artwork:

I read about various approaches to removing the stickers, and decided to go with the least aggressive:  good old soap and water.  I filled up a utility sink with hot soapy water and let my plexi soak in it for a few hours.  i was tempted to light some scented candles and play some spa music to complete the experience:


And several hours later:


Hmmm. Okay, on to the aggressive methods.  Surprisingly the best thing for removing adhesive without damaging the plexi is WD40, although getting the WD40 residue off afterwards is difficult.  As I am scrubbing away to remove the residue I juggle the plexi, drop it, and irreparably gouge it on a sharp edge on my work table (I really should have put a towel under it to protect it from scratches).  Not a little gouge, but a Grand Canyon sized crevice.  Since there’s no fixing this, I make the phone call to my framer to order a new piece of plexi.

In the meantime I check out the wax bloom.  You can see it as a light gray on the outline of the left leg.  I find that they darker Prismacolor warm grays are prone to bloom, and this is an area where I outlined the legs before laying down color.  It’s bloomed pretty good.



Fortunately this is easy to correct with a slightly damp cloth, followed by a layer of fixative.  I don’t particularly want to pull the entire mat apart, so I mask it off with paper before spraying the fixative on the artwork:


It takes about a week for the plexi to come in.  It is just as expensive as the first time I bought it (doh!).  I peel off the protective paper, carefully (!) lay it into the frame with a towel underneath, then pull out my handy point gun and set the framer’s points (as an aside, you can set points without a point gun, but seriously, if you do your own framing splurge for at least a cheap one.  It takes me abut 20 seconds to put all the points back in on this piece):

My framer used brown craft paper for the original dust jacket, but I usually use Lineco frame backing paper, so I cut some for the replacement before reattaching the hardware.

CPSA published a note to the artists indicating they were compiling an artwork handling guideline list for future cartage companies.  I think this is a good step, and will help.  I think some artists are seeking damages from the cartage company, but I am not (the sticker was easy to remove with WD40; the damage was my own fault, and I had to take the plexi off anyway to fix the wax bloom).  Live and learn!


Strokes of Genius 6


North Light Books Strokes of Genius 6: Lights and Darks will be available 10/23/14, featuring artwork by many of my favorite colored pencil artists.  My work, “Cascade”, appears in the book.  Visit North Light Books shop here:


By the Numbers

One of the many perks of being a member of the CPSA is receiving their magazine To the Point.  In it, you’ll find photos of all the pieces in the Annual International or Explore This exhibition, and, tucked away in a table you’ll find the statistics showing what types (landscape, portrait, still life, etc) of pieces were accepted into the show.  I’ve always been a little curious to compare that table to, say, a corresponding table from the Pastel Society of America or Oil Painters of America and see if the split is similar, or if there are subjects that colored pencil artists tend to gravitate.  One of the other things I’ve been curious about is the CPSA awards summary: are there certain subjects that tend to be more represented with awards? First stop is the CPSA website, which lists all awards with photos for each year.  I’ve focused on the Annual International show for this exercise.  CPSA doesn’t assign a category to each piece, so I make up my own.  This turns out to be a little challenging: is Scott Krohn’s self portrait assembled out of stones a portrait or a still life?  Hmmm. To get warmed up, let’s start with something easier: how many awards were there each year, for the last 5 years?

The number of awards has decreased. Keep in mind the awards have sponsors, and sponsors change over the years. If you look at the cause of the decrease:

  • Named awards decreased from 6 to 4.  The CIPPY, Prismacolor and Dixon Ticondara awards are the only 3 of the original 6 named awards remaining, but the CPSA District Chapters award introduced in 2010 makes the 4th.
  • Awards for Excellence decreased from 9 to 5
  • Awards for Outstanding Achievement decreased from 7 to 3
  • 3 intermediate awards between Excellence and Outstanding Achievement were created in 2010, the Award for Outstanding Recognition
  • Even though there are less awards, the cash value of the top prizes increased.  The CIPPY awarded $2500 in 2009, and $5000 in 2014.  The total value of awards in 2009 was $16,200 and in 2014 was $15,200.

Personally, I prefer fewer awards with the higher value for the CIPPY.  I like the Best of Show to win the big prize, and with typically 125 pieces in the show, 15 awards seems like the right number. So, next question is what subject matter tends to win the most?

Still Life29
Urban Landscape7
Self Portrait3
Group Portrait2
Portrait/Still Life2
Still Life/Landscape2
Still Life/Satire1
This table represents the same year range, 2009-2014, as the previous tables.  Not too surprisingly, “Still Life” is first, and “Portrait” is second, as these are traditional major categories of subjects.  If this were an oil or pastel contest, you might expect the third major category, “Landscape” to appear next, but it is relatively low on the list with only 3 awards; instead, “Animal/Wildlife” takes the third major spot.  “Urban Landscape” (city scenes, street views) is next, mostly composed of works by Elizabeth Patterson and Jeff George, followed by “Floral”, then we’re into subjects with 5 or less (1 per year).  A few observations:

Lastly, I’ve heard people comment that the same people always win, so let’s see how the numbers look.  There were 6 shows between 2009 and 2014, so the best result an artist could get is an award at each show (6 awards).  Here’s the actual counts:

Awards ReceivedNumber of Artists
Most (74%) were single show award winners, and no one received an award at all 6 shows. Another way to think of it is to envision being one of the 15 award winners.  It’s the Awards Banquet, they’ve just called the winners up to take their seats, and you sit down and look around curiously at the other 14 people, wondering what they’ll win, and if they’ve won before. Odds are:

  • This is probably your first award, and the same is true for 10 of the other people around you
  • 3 people probably received one other award in the past 5 years
  • At this point, you + 10 people + 3 people = 14 of the 15 people seated.
  • The last person is probably familiar with his or her seat, because he or she has won 3 awards, and this will be his or her fourth
  • You and everyone else have an equal chance of winning Best of Show.  The number of first, second, third, and fourth time award winners receiving the CIPPY was about the same.

There you have it! Fascinating stuff.  Now that we’ve covered the numbers, I’ll give a few non-number based thoughts: I don’t think some subjects are more likely to get awards than others; I think that colored pencil artists tend to work in some subjects more than others.  Personally, I find landscapes particularly more difficult in colored pencil than figures, for example.  Similarly, the lack of Abstract awards is because there are few Abstract entries (note there were other shows outside of the 2009-2014 range which had Abstract awards).  I think concept is more important than subject, and usually the pieces which are top winners evoke some type of reaction and connection when you see them (particularly full scale, in person).  When I saw Jeff George’s “Life and Death” CIPPY winner at the 2009 show, I wasn’t walking away thinking about the technical aspects of the work, I was thinking about the work, and what it said.  I was mulling over mortality and this cross section of strangers, the awareness of all the similar crowds we walk through, oblivious of the lives that continue on and the others that don’t. I thought about it after I had left the gallery.  I imagine this is what the juror reacted to as well, much more than the composition, color, and rendering of the people (which was also expertly done). Regarding the number of repeat winners, I was surprised by the actual numbers.  I thought most (more than half) would be repeat winners in the 6 show study, but actually nearly 3/4 of people were first time winners – pretty much the opposite of what I expected.  Strangely artists that I thought always won would actually win an award one year, then win an award 5 years later.  It’s funny how your perceptions can skew reality. Well, hopefully this wasn’t too much math, but instead some food for thought.  Enjoy!

Shawn Adrift

Last week I hopped on a plane and flew to Daytona Beach, Florida.  A short taxi ride from the airport deposited me at the Daytona Beach Resort, which was home to the Colored Pencil Society of America’s 22nd Annual International Exhibition convention. Thursday afternoon: My first stop was the CPSA hospitality suite.  There you sign in, pick up your name tag and a bag of art swag packed with goodies.  The room has displays by the hosting chapter, as well as a preview of all the raffle prizes that will be given out Thursday night.  Often, artists are sitting at tables giving impromptu demos, and this was true when I arrived:  Arlene Steinberg was showing how to use the Icarus board to create vibrant colors.  This was timely, since on Friday night her piece in the show (which was drawn on an Icarus board) would win a high award: Alrene Icarus Demo Thursday evening: Thursday is a fun night at the convention.  For starters, each show entry (regardless of whether it made it into the show) is projected and the title and artist’s name are read.  If you didn’t make it into the show this year, it’s great to see your piece on the big screen.  It’s also fun to play along and pick out your favorites, and which you think won awards.  While this is going on, door prizes are also given out (you get a ticket as you enter the room), and there usually are enough that everyone gets something.  There are also larger prizes given from a separate raffle.  If this isn’t enough excitement, there’s also the Silent Auction!  I was bidding furiously on Holly Siniscal’s piece, and was outbid in the end by $5. Silent Auction Friday evening: The awards banquet starts with a cash bar social hour, where everyone mingles and chats.  I found myself talking with one of this year’s workshop presenters, Amy Lindenberger, who was really interesting and fun to talk with.  The dinner has a bit of formality with our president recognizing sponsors, announcing board changes, then awarding Signature status and Merit awards to members who have been accepted in to the national show multiple times.  A bit about Signature Status:

  • Acceptance into the CPSA Annual International show 3 times earns you Signature status, and you can add the letters “CPSA” after your name
  • 5 acceptances earns the 5 Year Merit Award
  • 10, 15, and 20 acceptances earn the 10, 15, and 20 Year Merit Awards
  • Since this year’s show was the 22nd Annual, there are currently no merit awards higher than 20 Year
  • CPSA also has a separate annual show for mixed media, and it has its own signature status and initials, “CPX”

It’s very hard to get accepted in the Annual International show once, so seeing people who have done it 15 times is amazing!  You can see the entire list here: After all the signature and merit awards are done, we move on to the awards presentation, which culminates in Best of Show.  Here’s how the awards process works:

  • If you are accepted into the show, you will ship your piece prior to the show.  The juror will view all of the works and choose the awards.  If you are an award winner, you will receive a phone call telling you so, but with a few instructions:
    • You have to keep it a secret!
    • You aren’t told which award you’ve won; you need to wait until it is announced a the banquet to find out

So, when the moment comes at the banquet for the awards, they simply say “all the award winners know who they are; come up and have a seat in these chairs”.  I happened to be sitting at a particularly lucky table, because three people got up (John Smolko, Jeff George, and me).  At this point everyone nervously takes his or her seats, looks around to see who else is there (the competition!) and focus on the presenter.  The awards are presented in reverse order, working their way up towards the big winner.  A bit about the award tiers, which are a little confusing:

  • There are 15 total awards, going from lowest to highest:
    • 5 awards for Excellence ($400 each)
    • 3 awards for Outstanding Recognition ($600 each)
    • 3 awards for Outstanding Achievement ($800 each)
    • 1 Prismacolor Award for Exceptional Merit ($1000)
    • 1 Dixon Ticonderoga Award for Exceptional Merit ($1000)
    • 1 CPSA District Chapters Award for Exceptional Achievement ($2000)
    • 1 CPSA Best of Show and CIPPY Award ($5000)

As they begin calling the names, it’s a bit like a Survivor episode, with people getting up and leaving the ever dwindling group.  Your heart starts racing as the group gets smaller.  There were only 6 people left when my name was called, and I received one of the three awards for Outstanding Achievement. Here’s the list of winners: . After the banquet is done, usually there’s a bit of an after party at the hotel bar.  This particular night there was something special happening at 11:23 pm, though:  an Atlas V rocket from launching from Cape Canaveral, and the launch was visible from the beach.  Several of us headed out with only the light of our cellphones guiding us, and we saw the rocket rise like an orange flare, lighting up clouds as it passed through them: IMG_0668 Saturday morning: Saturday is the trade show, which is great for shopping.  Vendors set up a camp, answer questions about their product, and sell their goods usually with a discount.  My treat was a tin of Caran d’Ache graphite pencils, and some cool paper called “Stipple paper”, which has a bumpy texture that will be fun to experiment with. Trade Show 2 Saturday afternoon: CPSA provided a bus to shuttle us to the Ormond Memorial Art Museum.  The museum is a great, modern space with multiple rooms displaying the show.  It quickly becomes packed during the artist’s reception, and soon it is a sea of people.  The show is hung nicely; some rooms have a fair amount of natural light, while others have picture lights.  I find my piece, “Adrift”, in a corner adjacent to the best of show piece, “Stone Faced”.  “Stone Faced” is a really brilliant work, and looks fantastic in person.  Multiple times over the course of the reception I see people looking at the piece with their eyes, then looking at it on their camera phone and seeing the portrait emerge from the pattern of colored stones.  The artist who drew it, Scott Krohn, received his 5 year Merit Award this year, but this  was his first show award: Krohn This is a good place to add my thoughts about the award winners:

  • If you look at the past 5 years, the CIPPY awards went to:  Scott Krohn “Stone Kissed”, Holly Siniscal “Starkissed”, Liz Guzynski “September Hydrangeas” , CJ Worlein “The Sisters” , Shinji Harada “Grapes in Basket”, and Jeff George “Life and Death”
  • I mentally assign two ratings when looking at each piece:  one for Technical Excellence (mastery of color pencil medium) and one for Conceptual Excellence (concept, composition, color usage).  I will say that, in general, Technical Excellence seems to get works an award, but Conceptual Excellence is what elevates pieces.  Think about Jeff George’s “Life and Death” (high technical and conceptual excellence) and Scott Krohn’s “Stone Kissed”, for example.  Having seen all of the pieces of the show, photorealism alone is not sufficient.
  • As many have pointed out, there is a different juror each year.  Arlene Steinberg has twice now had pieces not accepted into the show one year, to be accepted the following year and even win an award.  Different jurors have different perceptions, so I recommend trying not to get too hung up on why a piece did or didn’t win an award.

I snapped a few pics of the some of the award winners beside their work:

While I was wandering around the reception, I bumped into someone who knew my work, but I hadn’t met in person before.  She commented that she assumed I was a woman, and I mentioned that happens to me often because “Shawn” is a unisex name (I actually dated a “Shawn” once – we joked that we would have identical names if we got married).  Interestingly, she said it was because my work was about feeling, and sensitivity.  I really appreciated her comments; often people tell me my piece looks like a photo, and although it’s a technical compliment, I feel like I’ve failed a bit when that’s the only takeaway. Lastly, here’s a short video clip of the artist’s reception, to give a bit of flavor.  My Facebook page has many pictures from the reception, including many of the artists in front of their award winning pieces, so be sure to check it out for some additional pics: