An Act Of Submission


It’s one thing to hole up in your studio and turn the visions in your head into real things that other people can see, and it’s an entirely different thing to let those other people actually see the things you made.

As an artist, I’ve never had a problem showing my work (or pictures of it) to friends and loved ones, for constructive criticism and praise. I’ve often sought counsel from other creative friends when I have a tough editing choice to make, and it’s very validating, to send a friend a picture and get a “wow” back. But the act of submitting my work to a public call-out for art or artists is a particular hump I’ve had a particularly hard time getting over… until now.

I’m not totally sure why submitting my work to a stranger is so much harder than showing it to friends, though it likely has to do with questioning how sincere and honest the expressed opinions of my friends have been compared to the ones I’ll get from strangers. No friend is going to say, “wow, that’s crap…”, at least, not any of my friends. Even if they themselves wouldn’t choose to display it in their homes, they wouldn’t want to hurt my feelings if they didn’t like one of my pieces.

I have, on occasion, gotten the vibe that some friends don’t consider my art “real art” (and once had an actor roommate say so outright, to my face, the hypocritical asshole), but others have been incredibly supportive. But a part of me fears that the public at large will deem my art a cute hobby, or, worse, lame.

A portion of my insecurity probably stems from having so little experience showing my work in any kind of art show or gallery setting, which is a semi-arbitrary determination of “real art” vs “hobby art”. Therefore, one might logically think that having my art shown in a gallery or art show would be the next step towards convincing myself and quieting my doubts. And the generally accepted method of being shown is through submitting. The galleries can’t show your art or include it in their shows if they don’t know it exists. These days, submissions are almost always done through emailing pictures of the artworks, or uploading them to an online form. Sometimes there’s a fee to submit (which doesn’t guarantee being chosen), and sometimes they’re free.

Completing an application and sending in my images has, for whatever reasons, been tough for me to do. I let myself get busy and distracted and then the deadline looms too close for me to get it done in time, or I miss it completely. Or I convince myself that my work doesn’t fit the theme. Or, if there’s a fee, I mentally debate whether it’s worth it to flush that money down the toilet, because that’s how it feels.

The vulnerability of submitting is uncomfortable and anxiety-producing, but as the saying goes, “nothing that was ever worthwhile, child, came fast and free to my soul.”

If you don’t know this about me, I’m really, really into painted utility boxes. Like, to the point that I will pull over and park (semi-illegally if I have to, though always safely) and walk back to get pictures of a painted box. I have been doing that since 2012 and have an album on facebook with all of them. One day, I intend to post them to a blog I’ll launch (so that they aren’t just on facebook), but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Instead, I keep adding to the archives.

I first submitted a design to decorate a box during an open call in 2015, but I found out about it so late that I actually did the submission from Milwaukee where I was for a week for the wedding of some dear friends. The call was for my old neighborhood of Highland Park, where I lived at the time, and my design showcased my HP Sauce Plaque and also emphasized two of the landmarks that I loved in the area: Chicken Boy and the solar panels on the hillside near the 110 freeway. Both landmarks are on the plaque along with others.

My design wasn’t chosen (it became something the community voted on, and there was another design that featured Chicken Boy that was the thumbnail image for the link to vote, and it won… but it was tagged over pretty badly and eventually was painted over in the standard city gray). I wasn’t thrilled with how the actual image turned out, anyway, so I wasn’t too surprised when I wasn’t selected.

Fast-forward three years to the present, Spring of 2018, and I finally submitted another design for a box. I had missed a submission period earlier in the year through the same non-profit, 11:11, for the Chatsworth area (I envisioned doing a recreation of the Burro Flats cave paintings and raising awareness about them, but didn’t follow through). When they put out another call, this time for Council District 2, I was determined to send in an application. The original post didn’t include a due date, so I wasted a lot of time dreaming up an overly complicated design that I realized too late would be iffy in terms of copyrights. And suddenly they made another post listing a due date that was only 2 days away, and I had yet to put pencil to paper!

There was no way I’d be able to accomplish my original design in time, and the thought that it might get rejected because of the content made me unwilling to even try. But I stewed over it for a few hours that morning and decided to see if I could come up with another, simpler design idea. The application listed the different categories they were looking for, and Nature was one of them. I joked to my boyfriend that I would love to put pictures of my cat, Mr. Funches, all over the box with something about rescuing strays and spaying/ neutering your pets. Really, it was only half-joking, but I didn’t think the judges would go for it, and what’s the point of submitting something you think there’s no way they’d go for?

And then I thought, “plants.” What plants could I paint on a box in the middle of the concrete jungle that is the San Fernando Valley and bring brightness, color and beauty to the people passing by? And on the heels of that thought came the answer: birds of paradise and palm trees. The two plants I think of most when I think of Los Angeles. And both are big enough to be bold on a bright blue background, which would blend with the surrounding sky, making the box itself become less noticable while making the plants pop.

Yes, both box designs have featured a bright, blue background. The official paint color is “Utah Sky”, but it makes me think of the azul skies of Los Angeles.

I knew from the start that I’d position them on the corners of the box, to make them appear more three-dimensional. I’ve always loved when artists used the corners that way on the boxes I’ve documented. I did some rough sketches to confirm to myself that I could draw these plants to a level I felt acceptable, and then had to get ready for work for the night. In all honesty, if I hadn’t found my erasers (we recently moved) that might have a barrier to completion. My drawing style includes a lot of erasing.

The next morning, I sat down and drew a final sketch of the birds of paradise, to get a layout set with regards to the position of the leaves and angles of the petals on the heads. Then I printed each of the panels from the template on their own sheets of card-stock with the blue background already filled in (thanks to my boyfriend, who prepped those for me while I worked on the sketch).

I re-drew the flowers and the palm tree onto the panels and then spent the rest of the day and night painting them in. It’s actually been months since I’ve been able to sit down and spend an entire day focused on creating just one project and it felt amazing (though my hand cramped a little by the end of the day and I iced it before going to bed). The next morning, which was the due date, the panels were scanned and inserted back onto the template (thanks again to Mike) and I submitted the completed application. And then got ready for work.

Here’s a composite picture I made on my phone of the pictures I snapped of the panels (it’s actually clearer and more in focus than the scans, unfortunately… I need a new scanner!)…

Last time, it took them about a month and half to announce which designs were selected, but this organization might be more organized than the one who ran the previous submission contest. If I’m selected, believe me, I’ll announce it here on this blog and pretty much everywhere else. 🙂

But, if I’m not selected this time, that’s fine. It was really about following through on the submitting process, and not letting excuses (valid or not) stand in the way of me getting done what I want to get done. Overall, I’m really happy with how my design turned out- much happier than the first time.

It would be really rad to get to paint this design on a box someday.

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