Why I Stopped Entering Juried Shows so I Could be an Artist


My #1 Tip for How to Move your Art Practice Forward

Stop entering juried shows.


Because they are a distraction without a solid end game.

I’ll explain why I think this by sharing the history of my art practice.


First a quick aside.

What is an end game?  It’s the part at the end – after you’ve done all the set up work.  End games that are challenging and offer rewards for improving your skills are the hallmarks of good games.  It makes all the hard work at the beginning of the game and time spent mastering the skills worth all the effort.  You want to keep playing games with great end games.

Take monopoly for example.  The beginning of the game is moving around the board buying up all the properties.  The middle game is trading properties until you have full sets and buying houses and hotels.  The end game is cycling around the board until all but one person goes bankrupt paying rent. Kind of fun but there isn’t a lot of strategy or challenge and after playing a few times the game gets boring because it is the same thing every time.

There is no opportunity or need to expand or grow your monopoly playing skills after you grasp the basics of the game because there aren’t new paths to winning.  It’s the same each time. There are also no greater rewards to be had at the end if you invest years of your life into mastering monopoly strategy.

Monopoly, like juried shows, lack a solid end game.]

Now back to my story…

Early Game – Juried Show Confidence

When I first started working as an artist (mid 1990s) I had a very simple process:  I would come up with an idea – I would make a piece of art.   I had a notion that working in a series was a good idea but other than “make it in a different color” I really didn’t know what that meant.  I made a lot of one-offs.  And one-offs in a variety of different colors.

I also did what many new artists did because I had no idea how else to share my art. I entered my one-offs into juried shows.

Because coming up with a brand new idea for each piece of art is a lot of work.  I often used the juried descriptions to guide the themes and topics for my artwork.

The end result of this effort was a lot of confidence – because I got in to most of the shows I entered.  I even won several awards.

Juried shows can be a good way to get into the art game.

By working this way, what I didn’t have is cohesive body of work.  I never found my voice. 

I also didn’t end up with many sales.  Or even have any idea how I might start selling my artwork on a consistent basis.


I had an art practice making work for juried shows for many years.  And I knew there was much more out there.  And I wanted more.


Middle Game – Education and Focus

In early 2001 I made two significant changes to my approach that greatly enriched my art practice:

First – I learned how to work in a series and I started doing it.  I stopped making one off art work.

I completely stopped entering juried shows for a few years.

I was no longer distracted by other people’s themes and size requirements.  I was making work that was meaningful to me.

I also freed up a lot of energy that was being used to enter juried shows.   I refocused that energy into making a cohesive body of art.

As a result I found my artistic voice.


Second – I learned how to be an artist and how to market my own artwork. 

I took classes, read blogs and did a lot of research to understand the life of an artist beyond the juried show circuit.

Prior to this it was a mystery to me how one might sell art or find gallery representation.

Essentially what I learned (and what I practice today) boils down to this – you have to take responsibility for marketing your own artwork and getting it out into the world.

Juried shows are the easy way out – because you don’t really have to interact with anyone.  You fill out a form and send in a photo.  There is little invested and if it doesn’t work out you just enter another because there are hundreds of juried shows every month.

With juried shows you don’t usually don’t connect with the public.  You don’t have to have a mailing list – you rely on the show to get people in the door.  And those people are there to see the art of dozens if not hundreds of artists.

Basically juried shows are really easy.  And they feel like progress “look another line on my resume!”  Every once in a while they even result in sales.


After learning how to be an artist I was super charged and excited to start down the path of having solo shows and selling my artwork.

Instead I fell right back into the trap of juried shows because, as I noted above – they are easy.  I didn’t build my own art practice – I built a resume full of juried shows.  Sometimes entering and being accepted into 15-20 exhibits a year.

I was no longer making one-off artwork and I had a cohesive body of work.  But I was too scared to put to use what I had learned.  I wasn’t up to the task of taking responsibility for own career.

Juried shows were an easy out – I was exhibiting my work, but I was running in place.

I couldn’t get traction on sales.  I couldn’t show my body or work together in one place.  I wasn’t building an art practice.  I was treading water.

And I wanted more – sales and a chance to exhibit my work in a solo show.  And I knew how to do it.  I was just scared.


End Game – Taking Responsibility for Me

What we don’t do is as important as what we do.

In looking to grow my art practice it became clear I needed to stop entering juried shows, again.

I needed to stop getting that occasional confidence hit when I was accepted into a show.  It was deceiving me into thinking I was making progress.

So I stopped.  And instead I took my terrified introverted self out into the world and I found galleries to represent my work. I started selling my art direct to the public. I secured and held solo shows. I found art consultants and placed work with them.  I took my contact list seriously.  I built a following on social media.

I took responsibility for my own marketing and exhibits.

I now have consistent sales (over 300 in the last 5 years) and exhibits (7 solo shows in the last 5 years).

Basically all that I learned worked.  I achieved my goal of having a much more rewarding art practice.

How did I do this?  I started working with a coach.  Not a business coach that told me how to run my business – that really isn’t coaching – it’s consulting.  I worked with a life coach – someone to help me with my mindsets.  To help me get over the fear.

And now in this end game of art – any thing is possible.  I see no limits to where I can take my art practice.  The end game is so much more exciting than “make a piece, exhibit it”.  If I want to focus on sales, I can do that.  If I want to focus on museum exhibits, I can do that.  I have the tools to build exactly the career I want.

And to make sure I keep headed in the right direction, I have to actively fight my urge to enter all the cool sounding juried shows out there.  Why?  Because they give me a false sense of growth with little to no real benefit.

Master Class 2017

One of the major motivators in creating my Master Class was to help artists move beyond the juried show circuit.

There are two flavors of the year long program – the first focuses on studio practice.

This is for artists that don’t yet have a cohesive body of work and are looking for the structure and feedback to make that happen.

It is also for artists that are further down the path in their careers and feel like they have lost sight of the studio and they are looking for a year of focus back on the studio.

If you’d like monthly feedback and critique of your artwork (along with coaching and a lot more) this is the group for you.

The second group is focusing on exhibit and sales. 

It is easy to say “stop entering juried shows and have a solo show” – it’s a lot harder to do it in practice.  What steps do you need to take?  What should your website look like?  Where do you start?

I have an extensive artist blueprint that walks you through step by step how to exhibit and market your work beyond juried shows.

And that fear piece?  I worked with a coach to help me sort that out.  And so I became a certified coach to help other artists do the same.

The combination of coaching and practical how-to art business advice from a practicing successful artist makes the master class a rather unique program.

And as a bonus – I’m also a software engineer with a master’s degree in computer science so I understand how all of the technology we are using to run our businesses work.

I actually understand facebook, twitter and Instagram and can help you understand them also.  Social media and marketing are an important part of this program.

Enrollment Open Now

I only open enrollment for the master class once a year.

The next session starts in March – if you want more information please check out the webpage:  The 2017 Masterclass

There are currently 2 spaces available in the studio focused option and 3 in the exhibit and sales.

If you have any questions please let me know.






Artists and Their Sketchbooks – Helen Parrott

Sketchbook Page – Helen Parrott

Sketchbook Examples

I believe that sketching, research, planning, documentation, doodling, etc are important parts of the artistic process.

There is sometimes a misconception that our sketchbooks need to be neat and tidy or absolutely gorgeous works of art.

Mine are neither.  And it was a huge relief to me to find out that not all artists have works of art as their sketchbook.  It gave me permission to use my books as I need to.

There are no rules!

To help artists embrace their unique sketchbook approaches, I’ve decided to do a series of posts on how real artists use their sketchbooks.


Here is what Helen Parrot of Sheffield, England says about her sketchbooks:

Helen Parrott

My approach to sketchbooks is best described as varying and always evolving. The images show pages from three of the several types of sketchbook I use.

1. Pages from a recent day book – these are my thinking and working out books. They are
a form of diary, mostly worked in pen and pencil, they often contain as much writing as
images and sketches. As I travel a lot, portability is important, so these day books are
usually lightweight and slender.

See image at the top of the post for an example.


2. My studio sketchbooks are more colourful and varied, here are some pages from my Australia sketchbook, created after I got home as a way to start thinking through what I had seen and how to apply it in my stitched textiles.

Sketchbook Page – Helen Parrott


Below is a studio sketchbook page based on stonewalls in Derbyshire (England), taken from a longstanding sketch book to which I add ideas and developments from time to time. The book has painted pages to make it enjoyable to use and contains new ideas and recurrent themes, plus one off ideas that may never go any further.

This kind of sketchbook keeps ideas safe until one day their turn may come.

Sketchbook Page – Helen Parrott


3. I love bookbinding and make my own sketchbooks. This page is from my Harmonious
Living Series notebook, made with a screw binding so I can easily take pages in and out,
as well as changing their order. The book holds my sketches, samples, scraps and
drawings securely as my record of the Series and as a teaching resource.

Sketchbook Page – Helen Parrott


My recent Mary Ware project with Bradford Textile Archive (visual references –  textilearchive.bradfordcollege.ac.uk and article on helenparrott.co.uk) opened my eyes to the potential of making and using multiple book formats, each created to suit a specific purpose.


Wrap Up

You can see more of Helen Parrott’s work at www.helen.parrott.co.uk.

Keep on sketching!


How to Connect with a Gallery


Finding a Gallery

While not all artists need or want to sell their art, many do. One of the more elusive aspects of this game of selling is connecting with a gallery.

One of my favorite quotes about what galleries want is by McLean Emenegger.  Unfortunately the full article is no longer available online – but the quote remains. Emenegger is a former gallery director, so she speaks from experience.

Galleries need its artists to not only have talent, but consistent and reliable talent. That’s why you, as an artist, need an established artistic course, honed craftsman skills and a dependable body of work. You also have to demonstrate a deep and abiding understanding of your work, its direction, meaning and reason for being other than you like it and it’s pretty.

~McLean Emenegger


Fabulous advice and I love how it so perfectly dovetails into my workshop offerings.

Need a dependable body of work but aren’t sure how to go about it? Check out my Working in a Series workshop.

If you do abstract work (on any level – from nearly realistic all the way to non-object abstraction) my Abstractions class with help you in building that deep and abiding understanding of your work. Being able to place your work into the history of art can help you speak more intelligently about your art.  You will learn connection that will help you say something beyond “its pretty.”

And my newest workshop – Finding Meaning in Your Art – Find Your Voice is exactly about helping you find a deeper understanding of your work.

Is there still something missing in your work? Does it not have the pizazz you imagine in your mind? My Design Elements and Design Principles workshops might be the key to unlock what is missing. Visual perception is fascinating and if you are worried you are going to learn a bunch of rules – have no fear – it’s not about rules – it’s about learning to see and understand in a different way.

The design classes are also an excellent place to start if you lucky enough to be at the beginning of your artistic journey. So much to learn and explore when you are at this stage – and remember to enjoy and honor this time in your development as you only get to do it once.


Fall Semester of Online Workshops

I’m teaching all of the above mentioned workshops over the next few months and would love to have you join me in another workshop.  If you aren’t sure which one is the best fit for you please reply to this email and I’ll help you sort it out.

  • Design Elements
    • January 30 – March 18, 2017
    • details and registration
    • Learn the language of art to both communicate your ideas better and move your work one step closer to remarkable.  I was initially resistant to teach a design class but after teaching this class twice last year, I’m now loving it and think it is one of my best classes.
  • Design Principles
    • March 20 – May 6, 2017
    • details and registration
    • In part I of design we looked at the building blocks of art. In part two we will put them together and see how they work in unison by exploring the principles of design.  You can take these classes in any order and encourage you to take them both.
  • Working in a Series
    • January 9 – March 18, 2017
    • details and registration
    • only 2 spaces remaining
    • My most popular class – learn how to create a cohesive body of work (and do it!)  You’ll also get oodles of tips and ideas for how to build a consistent and sustainable studio practice.
  • Abstraction
    • January 9 – March 18, 2017
    • details and registration
    • One of my advanced topic classes – we’ll be focusing on art (both learning about the history of abstraction and making your own abstract work) AND we’ll be looking at mindsets that help and hinder us in the studio.
  • Finding Meaning in Your Art – Find Your Voice
    • March 20 – May 6, 2017
    • details and registration
    • A combination of formal academic assignments and coaching topics, uncover your why.  Gain confidence in your ability to articulate what your artwork is about.


What’s Your Dream?

In addition to extensive studio work, students in my workshops are asked to do a lot of writing.  With each assignment, as you spend the time to provide thoughtful answers to my questions, you take yourself one step closer to creating a deep and abiding understanding of your work.  This brings you one step closer to finding a gallery.

Not looking for a gallery?  The writing practice helps you become the best artist you can be. Understanding why you are doing what you are doing is invaluable for moving your art forward.

So no matter what your vision, I’d love to have you join me in another workshop to help you move closer to your artistic dreams.


Wrap Up

How do you stay on track to create a dependable body of work?

I invite you to become a fan of MakeBigArt on facebook where I share additional tips and comments about thinking big about your art.


Is Abstraction Right for You?

Abstractions Assignments ©Trisha Findlay

Is This Class Right For You?

My online Abstraction class (starting January 9) would be a good fit for you if

1) You make abstract artwork but you find it really hard to write an artist statement.

You know you need “content” but you don’t really know what that means.  We will talk about content and you will practice writing about your why.


2)  You want to understand how your artwork fits into the larger art world.

Through our journey through the history of abstract art (we cover dozens of artists through a series of 6 lectures and 30 content rich emails).  You’ll learn why other artists made abstract art.  You’ll be able to place your work within the context of art history.  We’ll talk a lot about content and how content (and form) are related to abstract work.


3) You don’t really know what abstract means or you aren’t quite sure how to make abstract art.

You’ll learn how to abstract objects and landscapes from the real world in addition to making non-objective abstract compositions.


4) You want to make remarkable art but you don’t really know where to start. 

This workshop is all about generating new ideas.  When this class is over you will have up to 7 (or more!) fresh new ideas for new series.


5) You’ve heard that sketching is important yet you’ve never really understood how to include it in your process.

You will explore a variety of ways of planning your compositions throughout the 8 assignments – from completely improvisational to lots and lots of sketching.  You’ll find your personal comfort level with planning by the end of class so you can leverage it in your future work.


6) You want to dive into some of the roadblocks that stop you from making the art you envision

We look at creative type, personality type and a variety of mindsets that shape who we are in and out of the studio.  You’ll gain a deeper knowledge of who you are and what stops you and learn tools and tricks to break through those barriers.

You’ll learn how to harness that feeling of stupidity that often overtakes us in the studio and turn it into a positive.


7) You are tired of taking workshops where everyone is making the same thing.

Trisha’s work, which I’ve shared above, has a beautiful spare sensibility.  Compare that with the other artists on the alumni directory for the Abstraction workshop.  Everyone makes work in their own style with no 2 looking the same.

If you are ready to focus on your voice, this is the place for you.

Ready for Class?

If this class sounds like a good fit – January 9, 2017.  Details are here.

Worried you don’t have time to make a completed composition each week in your usual medium?  I encourage artists to explore other media in this workshop.  This class is not about making masterpieces – it is about learning concepts and practicing with abstraction.  Many students’ completed assignments are done as detailed sketches.  Digital sketching is also quite valid.
Trisha describes what the workshop is like for a student:
“The format of the workshop and Lisa’s commitment were inspiring. There were 4 parts to the workshop and I found each part really valuable for myself as a person and as a quilt artist.

Firstly each week was devoted to some aspect of life as an artist ie belief, trust, vulnerability and so on. For me it was really valuable to be able to think about myself and my self-beliefs in an organised and safe way. Thank you Lisa. I felt I grew in confidence and belief as a person over the course of the workshop.

Secondly, the subject “Abstraction” was supported with a thorough chronological review of the development of abstract art. This review, with examples and commentary, moved from the expressionists to the minimalists and pop art.

Lisa presented this information, combined with a preview of the week and aspects of life as an artist in weekly lectures and emails.

We had 6 assignments [now 8], each one looked at a different aspect of abstraction. And each assignment was commented on and discussed by Lisa in a very competent and non-threatening manner. I enjoyed each assignment, some I found more challenging than others. I was able to complete work; normally a lot of what I do ends up in the corner or just stays in my head.

Finally Lisa contacted all the participants personally twice during the course to discuss any aspects of the workshops or my own practice I wanted to talk about [NOTE – these private calls are now optional.] This discussion was organised with a series of questions sent before the discussion which helped me to focus and think about what I wanted. This was really valuable because I could ask about little things like organising sketchbooks or how to hang my work.

I thoroughly recommend this workshop and on that basis any of Lisa’s online workshops. She is very organised, very committed and kind.

~Trisha Findlay of Trish Findlay – Artist
Masterton, New Zealand
PS – Worried about an upcoming vacation conflicting with class?  It’s probably okay as I’m flexible and we have a built in catch-up week mid way through class.  Please email me if you have a question about your specific schedule.

Three More Reasons to Learn Abstraction – Growth, Confidence and Challenge

Abstraction Class Assignments, Margy Johnson

“This is the third class I have taken with Lisa, as with Design Elements and Principles the course was full of content, hard work and inspiration. They conspired to draw out work that I didn’t know I was capable of.

What took me by surprise was the way this course connected my interior emotional life with the weekly lessons. It was the hardest course of the three, getting to grips with Abstract art, figuring out who and what I am as an artist in this world and allowing the art to speak about the life events I was going through.

The group interaction on Facebook was a valuable part of this experience with discussions and a wealth of resources posted by the various members. Working in community provided encouragement and inspiration as we watched one another grow and helped during the tough times.

It was an incredible journey, sometimes painful; but wow, I grew in confidence, enough to show and talk about what was deeply personal, learned so much about abstract art and opened up very firmly locked doors in my artistic self.

In fact I now dare to call myself “artist”.

Lisa, without this class this would not have happened. Thank you.”

~Margy Johnson
Milton Keynes, UK

Learning Abstraction

Last year I wrote a post on Three Reasons to Learn Abstraction.  They were:

  1. Getting clear on the style of work you want to make.
  2. Learning to speak more intelligently about your artwork.
  3. Learning to put yourself into your work.

Today – using the words of former students I share 3 more reasons.  When reading the thoughts from Abstraction alumni I hear them talking about three major themes:

  • Growth – as our artwork evolves and becomes more personal, we experience personal growth along side it.   What Margy speaks of above is not uncommon.  By connecting to the why’s of our abstract artwork, you can connect to our own deeper whys.  It’s a powerful experience.
  • Confidence – are you ready to call yourself an artist?  Are you ready to trust your work is good enough to share with friends and family?  Are you ready put it on a website?  To exhibit it?  The number word that comes up in all of my student testimonials is Confidence.  My workshops focus not just on art skills – they also help my students claim their awesomeness so they can be the artists they are meant to be.
  • Challenge – through challenge we get better.  If you never fall down skiing you are unlikely pushing yourself to learn new things.  Ditto in the studio.  Through challenge our artwork gets better.  And who doesn’t want to be a better artist?


Abstraction Class Assignments, Mary Beth Thorne

“While paintings of the Impressionists were my first love, studying the many Abstract Art movements showed me how each new movement was a reaction to the previous one/ones. I called my own painting style “fuzzy realism” which was simply blurring the lines and shapes of a realistic object. I wanted to develop more complex pieces of art, but I had no idea how to do it.

Lisa’s Abstraction class gave us the opportunity to study many ways to abstract objects and ideas and then to practice doing them. My favorite exercise was recreating one of Kandinsky’s paintings. I became deeply involved with his shapes, colors and the placement of them.  Critiquing his painting helped my identify the elements and principles of design in his work, as well as in other abstract artist’s work. This led me to a greater appreciation of modern art in general.  

I found the huge variety of abstract styles to be both freeing and a little daunting.  But, becoming familiar with them and creating my own pieces in those different styles gave me the confidence to be creative in ways that I previously could not have imagined.

It has now been several months since I finished the Abstraction class.  My mind must have been busy behind the scenes because I recently put together two painting ideas with a new awareness for abstracting them. The result was my most complete, complex and finished painting!  It is still recognizable as mine, but it is so much more interesting – perhaps a “reaction”” to my previous style.  Now, I can’t wait to start a series of these paintings.

Lisa’s classes are like taking a challenging college course in a subject that you love, and doing it in your own space with your own tools on your own time-schedule. Combined with lots of valuable contact with Lisa and the rest of the online class, what could be a better situation?”

~Mary Beth Thorne
Hot Springs Village, Arkansas



“The Abstraction course exceeded my expectations in every way. Not only do I now feel I have a grasp of the history and the basic tenets of abstraction, I feel as though I have new tools that I can use to create my own abstract pieces.

Lisa’s organization is nothing short of phenomenal, and I really appreciated her sense of structure as the class unfolded. Every aspect of the course has been well thought out and is beautifully presented. The website is terrific, the emails we received three times a week were rich in both information and thought-provoking issues, and the lectures were yet another way Lisa encouraged us to think about the subject.

Best of all, for me, were the assignments, each of which challenged us in different ways. Associated with each assignment was a series of provocative and thoughtful questions which led us to analyze and criticize our own pieces. As a result, I feel far more trusting of myself, and in charge of my own work. My confidence has grown enormously.

I hesitated to sign up for the course as the cost seemed rather steep, but it proved to be a terrific bargain. Lisa put so much effort into the course that it was hard not to at least try to live up to the level she set. As a result, I worked hard too. With only ten students in the class, there was a sense that we were all individuals. We approached the assignments in remarkably different ways, and thus were able to learn a lot from one another as well.

I am feeling incredibly energized by the class, and can’t wait to get at all the projects and ideas that have been generated. Thank you, Lisa!”

~Joan Backus
Victoria, British Columbia


Abstraction Class Assignments, Cindy MacMillan

“When I signed up for the Abstraction course my goal was to learn about abstract art and design principles. I am not a quilter so I wasn’t sure how much the course would actually translate to my medium of traditional rug hooking, but I decided to give it a try. I had been in a bit of a creative desert for a time after a family crisis and had just started to create again.

I should add that professionally I was the head of an instructional design unit for online courses at a state college and have taught online for several years. I was pretty confident that I had the technical skills to manage the online format.

What I found in Lisa’s course was so far beyond my expectations that I can only say it has truly changed my life and the way I approach my art. Lisa not only covered abstract art and design principles, she provided me with information that lead me to evaluate and change how I manage my studio time, my design process and in some ways my life. The course was applicable to my textile medium and it challenged me to develop new practices. I now look forward to spending time in my studio each evening, No more creative slump. The course and Lisa helped me examine my thoughts and attitudes as well as my art. And I worked really hard for ten weeks!!!!!

There was variety: lectures, critiques, assignments, personal phone calls, additional resources and it was fun to see how the others in my class approached the assignments. Their work was amazing. I think many of my friends are a little bit tired of me raving about the great course I was taking. I have told everyone I know how great I think the course is and how much it supported me to explore and grow. I plan to take more courses from Lisa. If you have questions, I would be happy talk with you. cmacmilla at gmail.com”

~Cindy MacMillan
Newtown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania\


My Online Abstraction Workshop

There are a total of 8 assignments, 10 recorded lectures, 30 emails packed with mindsets, art, design and art history over the course of 10 weeks.  Plus group interaction and encouragement on facebook and a weekly live group call where you receive personal feedback and critique of your work.

And there is a built in catch up week midway through the workshop so if you have a  tripped planned you should still have time to get all the work done.

Details and Registration are here:  Abstraction.

See more work and read form students thoughts about Abstraction here:  Alumni Directory – Abstraction.


PS – the next workshop starts January 9, 2017.  Why not start your year with a huge creative boost?

MakeBigArt in 2017 and Beyond

Art Blog Post: Reflections on Studio Time

End of the Year Reflections

It’s that time of the year where many of us reflect on the past to make plans for the coming year.

This year I started by looking at the time I spend in my studio.

By looking at the data (number of hours I’ve spent in the studio over the past 10 years) and asking myself three simple questions:

  • what worked?
  • what didn’t work?
  • what needed to change?

I was able to see that what I yearn for most is more time in the studio.  I also sorted out a plan to make it happen.

A few days ago I shared the results of this reflection on my art blog: making time for the studio.

The Impact on Teaching

The result of my reflection is a decision to do less teaching starting in 2018.

This is a great big huge dream – to make a living almost solely from my art.  And it is time to make it happen.

And it is rather scary to declare this publicly.  But here goes…

I’m going to use 2017 to

  • ramp up my exhibiting and sales to make more income from art work
  • reduce my expenses
  • restructure my teaching practice

2017 will be my last year teaching many of my online classes

This means if you have been thinking of taking one of my online workshops – this is the year to do it.

I definitely will be keeping my master class and a few in person teaching gigs in 2018 and beyond.  But I’m unlikely going to be teaching the shorter 7 and 10 week online courses after this year.

At least that is the plan.  While I can’t say with 100% certainty that is how things will go – I’m quite determined to make this work!

The 2017 Workshops

I have 6 workshops open for enrollment at the moment:

Working in a Series


Intentional Piecing

Design Elements

Finding Meaning in Your Art – Find Your Voice

Design Principles

And I currently plan on teaching most of these again one last time in the fall (probably.)

If you are interested in one of my classes and have some questions please leave a comment here on my blog or send me an email and I’ll be happy to help you sort out which class might be the best for you.

“I have taken almost all of Lisa’s classes and what is remarkable is there is very little content cross-over. From readings to investigating new artists, to valuable feedback during class calls, there is always something to learn, or be heard in a new way.

Add to this, working with other serious artists helps remind that we are not alone. Others see the importance of creating not just for themselves, but as a business. 

I would not be where I am today in my own art career if I had not taken classes with Lisa.”
~Ann Grasso of Ann Grasso Fine Art

Make Big Art Challenges

One of my goals in doing less teaching is to free up more of my time to write more my blogs (both here on makebigart and on my art blog).  I’ve always wanted to create more of a sense of community around MakeBigArt – so in 2017 I’m going to do it.

Starting in the next week or two or four – look for the first MakeBigArt challenge.

I’ll share more details about the challenges soon – in the meantime – let me know if you have any questions about workshops.

Wrap Up

What are you big scary dreams and goals for 2017?

I invite you to become a fan of MakeBigArt on facebook where I share additional tips and comments about thinking big about your art.


My Version of a Gratitude Journal – Giving and Receiving


[I wrote a first version of this post 7 months ago but I never felt I explained things well.  This rewrite brings some clarity.]


I have a hard time sticking with a “traditional” gratitude journal.   You know – that list of 3 or 5 things that we should to write down each night so we can stay focused on the positive so we can manifest amazing things in our lives.  The Law of Attraction is powerful.

My lists tend to look something like this

  • my daughter had a friend over and they were silly.
  • I saw a double rainbow :)
  • dinner was really yummy.

I get bored with it.

How many variations of “my kids”, “my cats”, “my friends”, “nature”,  “my house” and “my dinner” can I really come up with each night?

It ends up feeling forced and inauthentic after a while.  I run out of things to write.  It becomes a rote exercise for me verses a way to tap into positive energy. Basically – it is just not me.

And I’ll be honest – it stresses me out.  I feel guilty for not doing it because this has some how become the thing we need to do to have a beautiful life.   Anxiety is not exactly the point of the exercise.

Narrowed Focus

My solution…  I do my daily journalling with a slightly different focus.

I use my nightly writing time to reflect upon the giving and receiving for my day.

My gratitude journal has two categories:

  • Affirmations – acknowledging all the gifts sent my way
  • Accomplishments – acknowledging what I am giving


This is a list of everything that came my way during the day as an affirmation I’m on the right track.  This list helps me to notice all the awesomeness that comes my way.

My list might be things like this:

  • Someone buys my art.
  • Someone smiles at me.
  • My work is accepted into an exhibit.
  • I get an email thanking me for my workshops.
  • I get a thank you from a collector for adding beauty to their home.
  • A friend gives me a compliment.
  • A gallerist shows interest in my art.
  • My workshops fill.
  • My artwork receives an award.
  • I over hear a friend telling someone my artwork is awesome.
  • They said YES!

This looks a lot like a gratitude list – I know.  I am indeed grateful for these things – I just find it easier to not get bored when I use different words to describe what I put on the list.

And it is more than that.

These are all the things I need to to open to receiving.  Really receiving – not just brushing off as a given.  Which can be far too easy to do.

When was the last time you accepted a compliment without discounting it?


In addition to the affirmations I also keep a list of my daily accomplishments.  This isn’t about crossing things off my todo list.   It’s a focus on what I am giving through my actions, talent and skills.

In addition to acknowledging my giving – this list is a fabulous reminder that I am taking the necessary actions to move forward towards my dreams.

Some days the list is big and impressive:

  • I worked in the studio five hours on work for my upcoming exhibit
  • I wrote two blog posts
  • I helped two artists during our coaching calls – one had an aha moment about what is blocking her.
  • I updated the sidebar of my blog.
  • I handled a challenging email exchange with grace.

Some days the list is less active:

  • I took a day of self care to rest – I got a massage, a pedicure, took a long walk in the sun and bought some tickets to go see my favorite performer.  I did think of a great idea for a blog post which I wrote down and I’ll write it another day.

Three Universal Laws

Writing my lists of affirmations and accomplishments helps me recognize daily that I am indeed in control of my world.  I have the power to create whatever I want.  My thoughts and actions mater.

Another way to think of it – I’m tapping into what three universal laws that I find are always working…

Law of Attraction – Demonstrates how we create the things, events and people that come into our lives.  Our thoughts, feelings, words, and actions produce energies which, in turn attract like energies. Negative energies attract negative energies and positive energies attract positive energies.

Law of Action – Must be employed in order for us to manifest things on earth. We must engage in actions that supports our thoughts dreams, emotions and words.

Laws of Giving & Receiving – In order to receive you must first give. In order to give you must also receive.

Wrap Up

One of themes I see over and over in my coaching is clients that have trouble connecting to their own power.

They tend to focus on what went undone.  What failed.  The rejections.  They lack confidence.

When clients start focusing on their actions and the affirmations they are receiving the result – they gain confidence.  And with that confidence – they become unstoppable.

How do you stay connected to all the good coming your way and all amazing things you are doing?



Imperfect Action is Better than No Action


Five Months – No Art

My life the last 5 months:

  • April and May – packing up my house in Denver and putting it all in a container headed to New Zealand.
  • June – exhibiting at my very first art fairs in New Zealand and packing up my apartment in New Zealand.
  • June/July – 3 weeks in Australia teaching
  • July/August – the container arrives from Denver – six weeks unpacking and moving into my new home on the beach on the Kapiti Coast of New Zealand.

No studio time!

And really, since I arrived in New Zealand in April 2015 I have no had a regular studio practice.  I spent most of my free time traveling and relaxing.

Getting the Habit Back

I miss being an artist on a daily basis.  It is a core part of who I am.

Yet there has been some fear around getting back to my practice.  What if I can’t do it?

What if I forgot how to make art???

I always  think that after a break from the studio.  It’s really rather silly, yet the thought seems to always surface.

I used it as an excuse to set up my kitchen before setting up my studio.

I walked on the beach vs set up my studio.  I sorted out my spices vs set up my studio.

I needed a nudge to get moving.

100 Days Project

Then I heard about the New Zealand based 100 days project.  Do something every day for 100 days – then post it to the group website – every day.  Could be art – could be anything.

What a perfect way to get back to a regular studio practice. What if I committed to making a completed artwork every single day?

  • It would force me to get my studio set up.
  • It would provide an external deadline (I love deadlines!)
  • It was long term, so my regular studio practice would be re-established.

It was perfect.

But I had just days to get the studio set up and that seemed rather daunting.

So I thought about doing something really easy and quick that didn’t require my studio so I wouldn’t fail.  Because failing is no fun.  Especially publicly.

I also thought about skipping it and just waiting until next year – when I could do it right.

Making a Commitment

And then that part of me that wants the best for me. The part of me that makes the right decisions and isn’t afraid of risk – she  jumped in and committed to making a completed 6×6″ textile painting each day.  For 100 days.

A commitment of 2-5 hours a day.  For 100 days.

That’s all I needed.   A commitment.

Result – I got my studio set up on time.  I posted my first completed textile painting on Day 1 on time.

By getting clear on my intention – “return to my regular studio practice by leveraging the 100 day project” – I was able to take action.

Imperfect Action

Almost.  The afternoon of Day 1 I left town.  For 5 days.  A bit of an impromptu vacation.

So I immediately fell behind.   Which was okay.

Because that smart part of me is smart, I committed to make 90 out of the 100 days.  I told people I was aiming for imperfect action.

At least on paper.

Upon my return from vacation I tried to catch up before I posted any more days.  Because I didn’t want to actually be imperfect.

Result – I just got further behind and I started avoiding the studio.

Fortunately the part of me that got me into this in the first place, she stepped in and said “embrace the imperfect”.

The goal is rekindling my studio practice – not proving to the world I am super  human.

And so here I am on day #20 with 9 completed textile paintings (only 6 posted online).

Which is excellent – because I’ve been working in my studio 2-3 hours a day.  Most days.

And that was the goal.  Will I catch up?  Will I make 90 out of 100 completed works of art?

It doesn’t matter.

Imperfect action is getting me exactly where I want to be – in the studio, rebuilding my  studio practice.

Learning and Growing Imperfectly

I find I often skip taking classes and seminars for the same reason – because I know I can’t do it perfectly.

Classes that I really really want to take.

Years go by without signing up because I’m sure the time will be better later.  Because next time I’ll have time to listen to every single recording and do every single exercise.

And of course next time I’m busy with something else because the reality is I will never not be busy.

Inspired by my imperfect studio action, last week I signed up to learn from someone I’ve been wanting to work with for over 8 years.

  • I won’t be able to attend the live event. I signed up anyway.
  • I’m likely not going to be able to do all the homework.  I signed up anyway.
  • I’m going to miss things as my mind wanders off while listening to the content.  I signed up anyway.

Why sign up if I’m not going to get 100% out of it?  Because that isn’t the point – to be the perfect student.

What is the point?  The point is that I want to move forward with adding more coaching into my business and this program is going to help me to that.

Right now I feel like I’m treading water with my business.  It’s time to get it moving forward.  One imperfect step at a time.


Wrap Up

Where might you accept imperfect action in exchange for moving towards where you want to be?

I invite you to become a fan of MakeBigArt on facebook where I share additional tips and comments about thinking big about your art.



PS – Registration is now open for 3 workshops starting soon in September and October – Working in a Series, Advancing the Series and Finding Meaning in Your Art.  Learn more here.

Are you stuck on the Okay Plateau?

Lou Ann Smith
Flying from Santa Barbara to Denver
©2013 Lou Ann Smith
Lou Ann’s website

How Do We Get Better

Have you ever thought about why you never getting better at typing even though you might spend hours a day practicing this skill?

They say practice makes perfect but if that were all it takes I should be an outstanding typist given that I spend 8-10 hours a day at a computer.  Right – just think of all those blog posts and facebook updates I type.  I should be blazing fast!!!

According to this test I type about 60-65 words a minute, which is above average, but it’s not exceptional and I’m pretty sure in high school I was typing about the same speed.

Basically I’ve not gotten better in – well – a lot of years.  How fast do you type? When was the last time you got better at it?

Turns out to get better, we need the right kinda of practice.  Just doing every day typing isn’t going to get me faster or better. Although if I were to spend time doing drills and focusing on increasing my typing speed, I would get better.  I would need to be intentional in my practice.

The same concept applies to being an artist. Just making art is not all it takes to becoming a better artist. We could spend years churning out the same average artwork over and over unless we take the time to practice our artwork with the goal in mind of becoming better.

The Okay Plateau

This phenomenon is sometimes called the okay plateau. When we are learning new skills we get better at it for a while – until we reach the place where we are satisfied with our level of achievement.

Once we reach this plateau – we essentially stop getting better.

This is because when we learn new skill, we go though 3 phases:

  • Cognitive – considerable conscious effort is required.
  • Associative – some parts are controlled, some parts require conscious effort.
  • Autonomous – we’re on autopilot.

This is fine for typing – at some point we are good enough.

But for most of us, this isn’t what we had in mind for our artwork. We don’t want to get stuck at “okay” – most of us would much prefer to make art that results in people saying “wow”, not “it’s okay”.

Moving Beyond the Plateau

So how do we do that? How do we get better at our artwork?

The trick is to stay out of the autonomous phase. You must consciously work at getting better.

Here are a few suggestions on how to do that:

  • Musicians get better by practicing scales – not just playing the same song over and over. What are you doing to improve your design sense?  Do you sketch?  Do other design exercises?
  • Study yourself failing. When things don’t go well, do you take the time to evaluate why and formulate a plan for improvement? Treat your artwork like a scientific study – create a hypothesis, test your theories, tweak your methods to obtain the desired results.
  • Work outside your comfort zone. Are you consciously thinking about design? Or do you just work intuitively all the time?  What do you do to shake things up?  Where are you trying new things?
  • Get critical and immediate feedback on your artwork. Learn to give yourself valuable critical feedback. Surgeons get better over time because they get immediate feedback to their work. Interestingly radiologists reading mammograms do not get better over time because they do no receive any sort of immediate critical feedback on their work. It can take years before their mistakes are discovered. This idea of critical and immediate feedback seems to be key in improving our skills.
  • Study what those that you feel are more successful are doing. What can you learn from them?

Working in a Series

To become a better artist, I believe rigorous practice is what is needed. And this is one reason I work in a series.

It provides me the structure necessary for improvement.

I view myself as a student – each piece in my series is simply an assignment to learn something. To improve, to try something different, to test a theory about color.

If you are ready to move beyond the okay plateau in your art and would like some guidance and feedback on your artwork, I’d love to work with you in my upcoming Working in a Series online workshop.

If you are ready to turn the “okays” into “wows” this is the workshop for you.

Details and Registration

Lou Ann Smith

“Lisa’s class was truly extraordinary. I have been taking art classes all my life, and have never had an experience quite like this.

Lisa provided a varied list of artists whose work we considered through the course, along with material to think about regarding design and process every week through email on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This, along with her one-hour lecture on Sundays, provided a rich coursework with plenty to think about without it becoming overwhelming.

Lisa’s assignments were clear and her critiques every week of everyone’s work was extremely valuable, thorough and insightful. I think I got the most out of her critiques of my work and her assistance helping me critique my own work. She helped me see my work objectively and continue to improve things that didn’t work in the original composition.

For me, working on a piece a week created a nice flow of design. Her class offered me a new way to work in a series by offering new ways to pursue the concept I had originally envisioned. I feel that I have a better perspective of my work and my process after completing this course.”

~Lou Ann Smith (artwork above)
Goleta, California

Janice Stevens

©2014 Janice Stevens
©2014 Janice Stevens
Art Quilts
Janice’s website

“Becoming an artist is a journey with many barriers in its path, some from outside of us but most from within. Most of us struggle with questions of whether we have anything to say, whether we have anything original in content or style, whether we are good enough.

In our quest to find answers we often do course after course hoping to find the magic answers that will give us a direction, a voice and the confidence to dare to try.

In the Working in a Series course with Lisa Call, I found all of that and more. She didn’t provide us with magic answers because there are none but she guided us through ten weeks of intensive work that gradually gave us insight into how to be an artist.

The tri-weekly emails gave us information on design principles, introduced us to a large number of artists and helped us develop more efficient and productive work habits, all of which were invaluable, but for me, the most important thing that I learned was how to believe in my artwork and to trust my own voice.

The way that I learned this was by learning to critique each of my pieces for myself. This is not as easy as it might sound but is an invaluable skill to have if you want to be able to follow your own vision rather than being unduly influenced by other people’s opinions.

The decisions and discoveries I made were reinforced by the weekly group feedback sessions which also improved our ability to critique other artists’ work.

I had never really understood the benefit of working in a series and tended to make unique pieces as one-offs and then proceeding to a new topic. As the course evolved I began to see how this working in a series gave me ideas that would lead into the next exploration of my theme in an almost seamless way. This saved a significant amount of time in searching for a new subject, a new approach, a new design; I was therefore able to produce seven quilts in seven weeks which is an unprecedented pace for me.

Discovering these things about myself greatly improved my self confidence in my ability which then allowed me to start a new phase in my art development. As Jasper Johns once said “I am going to stop becoming an artist and be one.”   This course is impeccably organized, extremely well taught and invaluable for those who want to take that next step on the ladder.”

~Janice Stevens
Koh Samui, Thailand

My Interview on Working in a Series (and other topics)



A while back I was the guest over on Creative Insurgents. I’ve know Cory Huff for several years and was honored when asked to be on his show.

Of course the topic turned to my thoughts on working in a series and artists studio habits in general.

If you are curious about the content of my online workshops this video will give you a glimpse into what they are all about.


Antzee Magruder

Antzee Magruder
Aerial views of the Delta
©2012 Antzee Magruder
Fabric, Fiber and Paper
Antzee’s website

“Have you ever looked at your artwork and a nagging voice asks “what is missing?” Well that was me. I would hang my artwork in my co-op gallery and look at it wonder why I did not feel like it was complete. I had a great collection of well matched pieces much like a well coordinated outfit but they did not that cohesiveness that I needed.

I found Lisa Call’s workshop through a Twitter post and immediately knew this was the next step for me. Lisa is a professional and every aspect of her course is planned, informational and motivating. I am very busy and my time is limited and the schedule of the course allowed me flexibility to complete the work.

I have completed this course and now I feel like I have the information to take my artwork to a new level. Take the course, do the assignments and enjoy the results. It is so worth it.

~Antzee Magruder
Memphis, TN


PS – I’m now enrolling for my next session of working in a series. I’d love you have you join us!


Additional testimonials.