My garden is often the source material for my Digital Mixed Media Paintings. Though I am not a Photographer, I like to use my digital camera to record the progress and changes in my garden from day to day and year to year.
Springtime is such a hectic time since I’m always late uncovering the perennial beds. These jolly yellow daffodils came up in my entry garden and I was lucky enough to catch the early morning light behind them.
My entry garden is still in need of some tidying but putting the pansies into the pots and baskets takes my mind off the leaves from last fall.
Though I like to create gardens and like to create Fine Art using my garden, in the garden I get messy and dirty while my Botanical Art is clean and stylized.
This Digital Mixed Media Painting is a very popular piece that surprisingly sells all year long, not just in the spring as I would have imagined. People buy this Single Yellow Daffodil as an individual piece and also as a grouping along with some of my other daffodil Art Works. You can see them in my Store.
Westhampton Beach Art Festival in 2004. Notice the webbed beach chair.
As with all the other aspects of your booth design finding the perfect chair is extremely important. Much as you may not think so you need to have a very comfortable chair available for you to rest during the inevitable slow times in the booth at an Art Festival.
My first chair in 2004 was the same one I had used at the beach and at softball games prior to exploring the world of Art Festivals which now keep me hopping on the summer weekends. It was a standard webbed chair that is really too unprofessional for a sales situation. Fine for behind the booth but not in it.
My next chair was a high folding Director’s chair which I got at Pier One. It was very comfortable and the style of wood and fabric I picked looked good in my booth. It kept me up high when I was sitting so that if a customer came into the booth I could speak to them eye to eye without getting off the chair. Sometimes potential customers feel intimidated when you get off the chair to speak to them so the higher design of the Director’s Chair worked very well.
One problem though, the wind kept knocking it over since it wasn’t heavy enough. We kept repairing the split arms until they were too ugly and then we’d buy another one. This worked until 2007 or so when the chairs were discontinued at the chain.
Tall bamboo chair for art festivals makes a big difference for the artist and the customers
So I cruised the internet and found the chair of my dreams with Hollywood Chairs which is sold by Totally Bamboo. http://www.totallybamboo.com
I got the Tall Deluxe Hollywood Chair and I didn’t forget to get the cup holder for my Starbucks. It is soooooo very comfortable, good on my back, good for my feet. Even if I don’t sit on it I lean my bottom on the seat and it relieves back pain. It is a bit large for the trailer but we put it in first and take it out last and store it in a carton to keep it looking brand new. The wood is really bamboo and smooth and soft to the touch. It makes you feel rich just sitting in the chair. The seat is padded. It has never blown over in the wind and it is easy to wipe off any food that get on it. This Hollywood Chair was a great investment!
Hicks Nursery Winterfest January 2005. Flimsy tables didn’t last long.
Finding the right furniture for your Festival Show booth is not an easy task and for us it took quite a few twists and turns. Granted the work I’ve been showing over the last four years has also taking dramatic zigs and zags, I spent more money, time and energy trying to get my sales desk right.
In 2004 when I started doing Art Show and Festivals, I bought some extremely cheap folding tables for $11 each. They had aluminum legs and an almost cardboard top but they served the purpose for a few shows. I put some tablecloths over the top of them and they seemed to work fine. I was even able to store inventory underneath. Then the moisture got into them and the tops warped too much to be useable.
I replaced them with foldable molded plastic tables which have adjustable legs for height variations. They were much heavier and could store less underneath but they were much more durable. In fact, I still have them and use them once in awhile with tablecloths when I can display more outside the booth.
Desk set up at the Connecticut Flower and Garden show in February 2007
In 2005 I thought I found the perfect solution. On the internet
February 2008 Connecticut Flower and Garden Show with the ProPanels desk
I found a folding crafting desk with flip up sides and drawers in the center to hold all my office material like stapler, tape, pens, sales forms, my credit card reader, lunch, etc. Well, after two shows the flakeboard cracked and fell apart from the back and forth transportation in the trailer. The look of the desk was fantastic but the materials weren’t made for the rigors of road travel. Even collapsed into the size of a night table, the desk took too much room in our trailer so we discarded it. Money down the drain.
We bought a pedestal desk from Pro Panels. Lightweight enough, fully collapsible and it has two shelves inside. http://propanels.com
I created a curtain with some fabric to put on the open back of the desk to hide my paraphernalia. At the last show I didn’t realize until it was too late that people were just reaching into my desk to steal my shopping bags because they didn’t want to carry their literature even though some huge company was handing out free literature bags at the entrance to the show. Every single show is a learning experience. I guess that every day of life is too.
On January 5, 2008 I was featured in an article in Newsday titled “Dream Chasers.” The subject was the choices and sacrifices some people make when deciding to step off the corporate treadmill in order to pursue more emotionally or spiritually rewarding careers without regard to financial restraints.
The author of the article, Arlene Gross, wrote about the choices, decisions and sacrifices of five different individuals. The various paths we chose to explore in our second careers are as different as our paths in our initial and primary wage earning pursuits.
Noel Rubinton, the editor of the Act Two section of Newsday, however, hit on a different issue when he encouraged people to use the New Year as an opportunity to explore yourself even if you couldn’t at this time make the giant leap of a whole new career.
Noel wrote that, “A line that really resonated in our cover story came from Mary Ahern… finding that switch took work. ‘The hard part at first was trying to find inside myself what that dream actually was. You spend so much time marching forward and doing what you do, you lose the essence of yourself’.”
When my husband Dave gave me as a wedding gift, which coincided with my 50th birthday, the opportunity to re-invent myself you would think I would have immediately jumped into my studio. Instead I whined and anguished for a months over what I wanted to do with this great new vista open to me.
I was so overwhelmed with the immense possibilities I now had available to me that I suffered each day trying to make the right decision with this precious gift. I spent so much time trying to fathom what makes me tick, what intellectually interests me, what direction would support my value system, what new career would be feasible and sustainable for the next 30 or so years, what would not impinge on the home life that we had just found together and cherished so much.
I talked about it endlessly. I beat it to death. I’m sure there were times that Dave wished he hadn’t made the offer since I was so annoying in my pursuit of the “what if’s”. Massage therapist? Lawyer? Chiropractor? Quite frankly, I never even considered Artist.
I knew one thing for sure. I was tired of computers and wanted to become a Luddite. And then one Saturday morning, sitting on our deck, having coffee while surrounded by the gardens I designed and have worked on for decades, Dave suggested that since we loved the gardens so much and they gave such joy to people, why not design gardens for others.
Ten days later I was enrolled as a full-time student in the Ornamental Horticulture Program at Farmingdale. I knew I wanted to be a landscape designer and this was the best beginning. Two years later I graduated with my degree and a new career.
I was featured in a Newsday Business section article written by Arlene Gross. The excerpt focusing on my background and my life choices is copied below. If you’d like to see the article in it’s entirety you can see it on my website in the Press section.
At midlife, taking lower pay to begin more satisfying careers
By Arlene Gross
Special to Newsday
11:07 AM EST, January 4, 2008
Mary Ahern had (experimented) in art for many years, but had never been able to actually make a career of it. Until four years ago, that is, when she made the switch to full-time artist.
“I had always been a creative artist,” the Northport resident, explained. “Life, however, intervened, and as a single parent, I was never able to create my art on a full-time basis.”
Changing careers at midlife is no small feat, and switching to one with substantially less earning potential is more difficult still. According to Randy Miller, founder and president of ReadyMinds, an online career counseling service, downsizing a career can be a source of great anxiety.
Yet for some people, any fear or hesitation is mitigated by the yearning to follow a dream. Seeking more spiritually uplifting endeavors can be the ultimate challenge, and Miller said any attendant loss of income is often compensated with a renewed sense of purpose and newfound happiness.
“There are a lot of people who go through life and think, ‘What if?'” Miller said. “With a strategic plan, coupled with the new passion and ultimate objective of doing something different, one can more easily achieve their ultimate goals.”
For Ahern, a new husband provided the impetus and financial support to move forward. Income, the couple concluded, was less relevant to the quality of their lives than the legacy they wish to leave behind.
“When we married, Dave urged me to follow my dream,” she recalled. “The hard part at first was trying to find inside myself what that dream actually was. You spend so much time marching forward and doing what you do, you lose the essence of yourself.”
Once their five children — all from previous marriages — were finished with college, Ahern felt it was OK to follow her calling.
“My income from my art doesn’t yet come close to the money I’m used to making in either my career in computer graphics equipment sales or my own graphics design firm,” she said.
One of her greatest sacrifices was a big dip in retirement savings, which now come exclusively from her husband’s salary.
“We have a comfortable nest egg,” she said, “but by coming out of a conventional career, I no longer have the extra cushion to add to my existing portfolio of tax-advantaged savings vehicles.”
Despite her diminished earnings, Ahern says she is happier. “I am living the life I am meant to live,” she said.
Excerpt of Article posted in The Times of Northport
Artist cultivates her livelihood like a garden
By Arlene Gross
June 13, 2007 | 02:39 PM
Northport resident Mary Ahern is a successful artist who practices a unique technique she describes as. “Digital Mixed Media Painting”.
But Ahern, who… (was) among the exhibitors at Arts in the Park in Northport July 8, (2007) was not born an artist. “I didn’t come to paint until I was older,” she said. “I didn’t even know I had a facility for it.”
As a young girl, she focused on music: playing trumpet and saxophone for the high school band and conducting her Fort Hamilton High School graduation in Brooklyn with a rousing rendition of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
“I’ve been in the bleeding edge of those kinds of issues,” she said. “In those days, girls didn’t conduct.”
A life-changing moment came in her 20s, when a friend gave her a coffee table book of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings.
“I opened it up and turned the pages and wept,” she recalled. “It was completely transforming. I could only look at 10 pictures a day, it was so overwhelming.”
From that moment, Ahern knew she must study art and, then a resident of Queens, attended Queens College.
Although she was influenced by O’Keeffe and painted similar subjects, such as close-up and sensual florals, Ahern said she did not mimic her idol’s technique. Whereas O’Keeffe painted with direct and rapid strokes, Ahern’s traditional paintings were created in grisaille, or gray scale, and layered with washes of pigment on top, giving the subjects a glow through the optical blending of glazes of pigment.
After divorcing her first husband, Ahern took a job at Barnard College’s career counseling office, where she herself was able to get some career guidance. Through her Barnard position, she attended Columbia University for free by working there while raising sons, Chris and Michael, then ages 10 and 8.
“I knew if I couldn’t stay home and be a mom and paint, I had to make a decision: I’m going to make as much money as possible,” she said.
With profit in mind, Ahern went into technology sales, selling computer graphics and eventually becoming Northeast regional sales manager at Chyron Corporation in Melville (and a National Marketing Manager at The Dynatech Video Group.) Then she started Online Design, a digital graphics company.
For Ahern, feminism was not a word to bandy about but, rather, her day-to-day reality – working as a single mother in a male-dominated industry.
“My single-minded focus on providing a good life for my sons enabled me to ignore the tremendous obstacles, prejudice, emotional assault and loneliness that comes from breaking through social barriers,” she said. “I, like my father, pulled myself up by my bootstraps. As a woman in a male industry however, I, like Ginger Rogers, did everything in high heels and backwards.”
In 1989, Ahern fulfilled her dream of buying a house with a spacious garden in Northport, which she said, “was like a step back in time to a slower and more gracious lifestyle.”
“The center of town with a Main Street embedded with trolley tracks leading to the harbor breezes and music in the gazebo captured my attention and insisted upon my attendance. I needed to move here.”
Eleven years later, she renovated her home, adding an airy, second floor art studio, and now natural light trickles throughout.
The garden, which Ahern designed, encircles the house, with its artfully designated focal points and meandering paths, everything flowing gracefully.
“I practice nonviolent gardening – no rose bushes to stab you – all soft inviting plants,” she said.
Seventeen years after her first marriage ended, Ahern married David Ruedeman, an engineer at Chyron. The couple worked together there but got to know one another only when he became a client of Online Design. This year will mark the couple’s 10th anniversary…
Early on in the second marriage, wishing to reinvent herself, Ahern got a degree in horticulture from SUNY Farmingdale in 2000, with the idea of becoming a landscape designer, which she did for a year. “It was too much for my (aching) body,” she said, of the many hours spent working on bended knees.
From there, it was a two-year course studying botanical illustration at the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx.
Her (Mixed Media) painting, a culmination of expertise paralleling her life’s progressive journey, combines a passion for the fine arts, gardening, computer graphics and botanical painting.
“To be creative, you need to know your medium,” Ahern said of her computer graphics skills. Through her paintings, she seeks to make people look around them and become more aware of the nature surrounding us.
Dr. Roberta Koepfer, her friend since 1971, said, “She’s like a phoenix. I have seen her rise up from a fair number of devastating experiences. Every time she comes back, she comes back more dynamic, more focused on her art and with an increased zest for life and personal growth.”
When it came time to sell her art, Ahern’s business savvy came in handy; she started in Northport as an exhibitor at the annual Arts in the Park series (in 2004) and now participates in about 15 art shows in New York and Connecticut between May and September, with her husband lending a hand.
Ahern’s work has also been the focus of several gallery exhibitions, including a one-person show at Greenlawn’s Harborfields Library this past February.
Susan Hope, gallery coordinator for the library, noted that Ahern’s exhibit was well timed: her cheerful florals brightened the gloom of winter. “It has an eye catching appeal,” she said. “People really enjoyed it, whether they were art savvy or just seniors on their way to their meetings.”
Today, Ahern is either painting her botanicals, selling them or lecturing on the business of art at libraries or schools, although her business persona has changed radically over the years. “I did trade shows in high heels and silk suits,” she said, “now I’m doing business in Birkenstocks and shorts.”
To anyone seeking career guidance, Ahern advised, “Don’t throw away anything you’ve done because you want to transform yourself. Take the good portions, the positive elements and try to incorporate them into this new self you’re creating. That’s how I’m living my life.”
Now that I make my living by creating Botanical Fine Art, image my surprise when I stumbled upon my first botanical drawings, dating from 1976. In an effort to document my classical art education I have gone to the attic to retrieve my early drawings and paintings along with the schoolwork I saved from the excellent Art Education curriculums I attended at York College and Queens College, (CUNY), City University of New York during the 1970’s.
Branch with details, an early horticultural drawing
Without any historical background regarding the long tradition of botanical drawing, I documented the branch structure, flower and leaf as well as the knothole of a branch, which I more than likely retrieved from my garden in Queens Village, NY. I was an avid, but highly amateur gardener, tending to a huge cherry tree, a multi-stemmed white birch and three peach bearing trees in my tiny garden.
Drawing of a dead branch
Drawing of a dead branch
The drawing of my houseplant has been badly damaged by mold but it describes nicely a succulent houseplant I nurtured for years without realizing that it would ever flower. When the plant finally graced me with a huge, star shaped hairy flower, the stench it emitted attracted an abundance of houseflies much to my dismay. The flower itself was stunning. Very large in proportion to the plant itself with reflexed petals and patterned markings. I, many years later, found that the common name of my trophy was, the Carrion Plant, and the Latin name is: Stapelia Gigantia, from the Family of Asclepiadaceae.
Considering the amount of flies that I remember finding their way into my home I am not surprised to have discovered that it was known to attract pollinators by emitting the horrendous odor of dead meat. I don’t remember exactly what happened to the plant but I think that it failed to flourish after blooming that year. That may either have been because the effort it took to produce that huge flower weakened the plant or it may be because I was so offended at the smell that I was not longer enamored enough with it to tend it with care.