Tuesday, February 03, 2009

CPSA: Explore This! 5 is now online

The Colored Pencil Society of America (CPSA) have published the juried entries into the Explore This! 5 exhibition. This year the exhibition is only online so I thought I'd review the website as well as the exhibition.

Explore This! 5

The Explore This! exhibition has a number of pages. These
In addition, a full-color issue of To The Point will showcase the accepted entries.

Online Exhibition

Despite this exhibition being one which is about stretching the boundaries and breaking the rules, it seemed to me that the subject matter and style of work is still very much set within the history of coloured pencil exhibitions to date.

Personally speaking, I like exhibitions which make me think I'd like to go away with some of the work and hang it on my wall. Alternatively, it's great when you see a piece and you really wish it was one that you'd done. Sadly, although technical competence was obviously present in some of the works this wasn't one of those exhibitions. Bottom line, artistically this exhibition has not 'wowed' me - although obviously it will be very much to the taste of some people. It's important to remember taste. It is important - and it is individual and my eye is used to London exhibitions.

I'd personally like to see this particular exhibition opening up to new ways of working with coloured pencils as well as new ways of using media. I'd really like to see more work from artists who do not have such a strong focus on illustration and/or realism. I think a lot of CPSA members would be very surprised if they saw the work in the art society exhibitions I go to see in London.

Interestingly - some of the work of artists who won awards appealed much more when I saw their website - and then saw other work of the same ilk. I've also found that in B&M art society exhibitions before now. Groups of work around a theme by the same artist can look absolutely stunning when shown together.

Now that the exhibition is online maybe the contraint as to how many works a member can enter could be reviewed.


You can find the awards on this page (see screenshot right).

Cat Scott (Cat Scott sketch blog) won the $2000 CPSA EXXPY Best of Show Award and Prismacolor Award with “Bruce on the Cello” (colored pencil and acrylic). This is her website.
Dear cello enthusiasts: I am aware that his arm is not in the proper position. I stylized it because I'm an artist and I just can.
Publicity is good
Other winners are:
  • Sheila Theodoratos,CPSA (WA) - President of the Seattle District Chapter 207, a Signature and Merit Member and has won previous awards.
  • Rex Barron (NM) - a film animator and a book illustrator
  • Arlene Weinstock CPSA (VA) - a Signature and Merit Member
  • Elizabeth Patterson, CPSA (CA) - a Signature and Merit Recognition Member who has earned critical acclaim as a top colored pencil artist.
  • Rich Heisler (WA) - whose award winning work forms part of a larger project called "100 Views of Tokyo." (a notion familiar to all those who followed my Japanese Art and Artists project last year). He's also got a blog which looks like it's going to be devoted to 100 Views of Tokyo
  • Sandy Kessler Kaminski (PA) - who works as an illustrator, public artist, and exhibit preparator.
  • Kathryn Koozer (ID) - whose current focuses on art and design for social and environmental improvement
  • Candace Ripoli (FL)
I do very much like the fact that the website is now providing mini profiles of each of the award winning artists. That's a long overdue innovation which I'd like to see on many more art society websites. Nice to see CPSA getting there first!

Note my links are to the pages which the profiles also link to.

Note also what a high proportion of the artists have a website of some sort to link to. As more and more art competitions at a naitonal and international level will have an online exhibition component to them I think it's highly probably that the digitally aware artist will do well in presenting their work for jurying.

Website review

First let me say I think it's absolutely fantastic that CPSA have created this exhibition online. An online exhibition means:
  • This become an annual exhibition rather than an exhibition every other year.
  • The exhibition isn't limited by the availability and cost of physical space and can also run all year. This one will now run until January 31 2010.
  • All exhibitors have the chance to sell their art online for the next year!
  • Exhibitors do not have to fund shipping to and from the show.
I think the whole CPSA website has also had an overhaul as it appears to have a new look.

That said I do have some comments about niggles I had with the website design, format and navigation.

Navigation: The line of navigation buttons at the extreme bottom of the page were really not at all obvious to me on my first visit to the site. I missed them completely last night when sent a link to the actual exhibition page - and I looked at the whole exhibition. I only came across them with difficulty this morning when trying to find my way back to the exhibition.

For me navigation should ALWAYS be totally obvious to the person perusing the page. It doesn't have to be startling or distract the eye - but if you look at a screen I don't think it's a great idea if you have to search for what to do next.

On the other hand I guess the idea of putting them at the bottom could have been an encouragement to get people to view the whole show?

I think a 'home page' for the exhibition (as opposed to the entry page) which provides a short explanation of what you can find in each link would be very helpful. A line of buttons across the top of the page would also be helpful (eg links to site at the top / links to artists at the bottom on the individual image pages).

Captions: I was really disappointed to find that the caption for each of the images only provides title and artist's name. There are no dimensions and no note of what media has been used. Given that this exhibition is the one where entrants are allowed to 'break the rules' of the strict terms and conditions of entry of the annual exhibition it was strange not to see in what way they had varied their work in the caption. Last night I found I could just about work it out with a few - but it was only a few.

Then - this morning - I eventually discovered the List of Artists page (ses my comments about navigation above) - which in fact does have the information I was after - along with the sale price of all the work that is for sale.

However it's still the case that this information is separate from the artwork where you can view a large image as part of a slideshow. In fact there is a link to the Artist List details above the large image in the exhibition. But why not put that link under the title and artists' name which is where we usually see such details? In fact - why not just include the details as part of the caption anyway?

It's particularly important with a digital exhibition that dimensions at least are given as you are scanning images. Those that are large will occupy the same sort of size space onscreen as images which are small in reality - and you NEED to know there is a difference. People have commented on this blog about how astounded they were at the size of artwork which has won prizes in other exhibitions when I've shown a photograph of the work on the wall with a person acting as a guide to size.

I'm dogmatic about this. For me, it's always preferable that captions be as informative and helpful to the viewer as possible and for all artwork to be captioned with full details - including dimensions and media/supports used. You wouldn't send somebody to the end of a good art book to get that informationso why leave it out of an online exhibition?

Sales: The current set-up avoids the need for an ecommerce machine for the exhibition and resolves the conflict of involving the society (and its aims/tax status) in the sale. Interested purchasers are asked to contact Exhibition Director Paula Parks and she will put them in touch with the artist.

Now that seems odd to me. If you miss that message wouldn't you just google the artist's name and/or then go straight to their website? I can't remember now what the terms and conditions were about commission. I'm wondering if it wouldn't be preferable to put a link to the artist's website within the list of artists and then use the exhibition director to provide the link to those artists who are not on the Internet.

Conclusion All in all, in my view CPSA are to be applauded for getting to grips with digital exhibitions for large numbers of works and providing much more information about both work and individual artists. I think it augurs very well for the future. I'd rate the technical site issues as teething problems associated with developing a new site for this exhibition.

If we could just see a bit more range and variation in the nature of work submitted you'd see me beaming next year! :)



  1. I've noticed some of the same issues with watercolor-only exhibitions which seem to emphasize technical virtuosity with the particular medium above all else.

    Your comments about the functionality and navigation of their website interested me particularly because for the past year I've been researching revamping my website. I keep hoping to find a web-based host with attractive templates with easy navigation. I'd like to switch from the much more labor intensive Dreamweaver website I designed but loathe to update. I think I've explored every one of them out there, and have yet to find one that has good navigation with big enough images and text, the ability to add detail and sales info about each piece, is reasonably priced, allows multi-image uploads, is fast, and doesn't use Flash navigation or home page. Each one I've explored fails in at least one of those criteria. (Sorry for the rant on your blog! Maybe I need to do a web-hosting review on mine.)

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