Reefweeds the Story: Year One in Review and a Photo Montage
After losing my entire article last night, I figured I would start again and save it this time! So, without further adieu, here we go!
It’s been one year since I reached out to Josue Matias - the infamous Joshporksandwich - asking if I could use some of his photos as examples for some ideas I had for paintings and put brush to canvas with some insanely bright paints. Better known as the birth of Reefweeds! It's been an exciting year! A fun year! A frustrating year! A busy year! A year of hard lessons! A year of learning! A year of painting! A year of everything all wrapped up into one!
While I typically try to make this blog about my reef tank, the next few posts will be all about the art and the journey of the past twelve months, what I have learned and where I am going next. First off, a big thank you to Josh! He couldn't have been nicer and if you're in this hobby, you know that Josh has some serious inspiration in the form of zoanthids (and other stuff, but holy cow, those zoas). I had bought some UV paints back in June of 2016, started a reef painting and never finished. It just didn't seem to shape itself into what I was wanting to do and I didn’t like the result. Last January, I had been looking at Josh's zoa photos and was inspired: I wanted to do a zoanthid garden painting! My husband, Jeff, had mentioned a couple days prior that it would be really cool if the abstract painting I had over my reef tank reacted with the reef tank lighting and the idea was born: a UV-reactive zoanthid garden!
My background in art really is landscapes and seascapes, mixed in with some still life and some random tangents here and there. I’ve been painting as long as I can remember. My style has always tended to lean more towards the impressionistic style and I have painted mostly in oils the past 10 years. That being said, I had wanted something to go over my reef tank that wouldn't get washed out with the blue light spill for some time so this new idea really got me excited as oil paints don't really do it over a tank. To me, the aesthetics of the tank and the surrounding area are just as important as what is in the tank so creating that fluid environment from wall to glass to water was important. I set off on my new task and thought I would start with some nano sized paintings first. I had been posting some tank updates on Instagram so I figured I would post up my UV paintings there too. I also didn’t want to deal with the negative feedback from my “traditional art” following, so Instagram was the answer for me (more on the negative feedback and how I dealt with it tomorrow). Up went photos of my first nano-sized ReefWeeds paintings and the rest, as they say, is history.
A couple weeks in, Chris from World Wide Corals contacted me on behalf of Lou and Vic indicating that they were interested in some custom pieces. If you're in this hobby, then you know who World Wide Corals is - it’s as simple as that. So of course I was super excited! I did a 3 foot by 5 foot custom zoa garden, a 2 foot by 2 foot zoa garden and a 2 foot by 2 foot single polyp Illuminati zoa. What I loved was that the guys from WWC gave me total control over what I wanted to paint. They literally said “paint what you want to paint” and let me get creative. I loved that! They didn’t want to control the process, they wanted me to paint what inspired me.
While I was painting for the guys at WWC, I also had been prepping some work for the Northeast Frag Farmer's Market. Needless to say, things got really busy really quick. In May, Justin Credabel Grabel’s Credabel Coral Lab and Gallery opened in New London, Connecticut. I’m fortunate to have some of my work for sale and on display at Justin’s place. World Wide Corals also had their grand opening of their new coral farm. The paintings that Vic and Lou commissioned were for the WWC Farm. After their opening, I continued to get requests for custom work. I was so excited!
After Vic and Lou got their first two paintings, Vic called me and we chatted about me doing a booth at Reef-A-Palooza NY. Vic and Lou had literally just bought all the paintings I had available so after the first couple minutes of excitement, the reality set in: I had a short couple months to get enough paintings done for Reef-A-Freaking-Palooza New York! I painted and painted and painted some more! I kept learning more as I went along, both about the industry as well as the properties of the UV paints. I honed in on my style. I knew I wanted something special for Reef-A-Palooza and the Reef Koi Series was born. I brought close to 40 paintings with me to Reef-A-Palooza and only came home with 6. The show was a blast and what I considered a success! My good friend, Kevin Vinal and his fiancé Stephanie came with us (me and my husband, Jeff) and helped us out tremendously at the show. It was a BUSY weekend. At times we were 6 deep at the booth. We all really loved talking with everyone and hearing about their experiences both at the show and in the hobby. I also liked seeing the reaction people have when seeing my work in person under reef tank lighting. It's very hard for me to capture the UV properties via camera - similar to how it is difficult to capture the true fluorescent beauty of our corals in our reef tanks.
One of my absolute highlights of my entire year was meeting Julian Sprung. He is such a legend! I got to meet Julian at RAP New York. He had contacted me via email after WWC's Farm Grand opening about purchasing some work. So when I got to meet him finally at RAP NY, I think I had trouble speaking (yeah, I'm not exaggerating). I'm totally honored that two of my pieces are owned by Julian. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to top that!
After Reef-A-Palooza New York, ReefWeeds really took off. I had gotten so much valuable exposure at Reef-A-Palooza and from Vic and Lou over the prior few months. At one point, I was booked out 5 months with custom work and I realized I wasn’t leaving enough time to do work that I could post for general sale online. People that wanted “non custom” paintings were getting frustrated as I didn’t have new work posted online and I wasn’t sure what to do about it. It is hard to figure out the balance between custom work and general work. I’m only one person - and I have a very busy “day job”, so the time I have available to paint is limited to early morning, evening and weekends. I realized I was painting in the morning, then working, then painting after work, then going to bed. Day after day after day, including painting both weekend days. If I wasn’t starting to burn out, I would soon. My last burnout lasted two years so I knew I didn’t want to get into that again. I did some planning and realized that while “a bird in the hand” is guaranteed, doing just custom work isn’t what I want to do. I made the decision to only take commissions/custom requests over a certain dollar amount and to limit them to no more than 6 per year. Custom work for me isn’t nearly as fun as being able to create something that I want to create. While I appreciate the business, it is less inspiring from the standpoint that it limits my creative control over a piece. Plus, by focusing so much on custom work, I couldn’t get the amount of work out that I wanted to. With custom work, it takes longer. You have an approval process with the client, and there is pressure to ensure that the client’s vision is met. Overall, it limits the amount of work an artist can complete. In turn, this is why artists generally charge more for custom work, but that’s a topic for another day.
With my new plan, I realized what was missing was the fun and joy I find in painting. By taking back control of my art, I was less stressed and much more creatively inspired. I started doing an online live painting series I call ReefWeeds Live and it was a blast! I got to share how I paint with people and could answer questions they had about my work. It was a good way to share what I was doing and to interact with everyone. I try to do them every Wednesday either on Facebook or Instagram. The paintings I would work on “live” would generally sell before they were even done, which surprised the crap out of me (Jalen Hulse who I affectionately call Buddha is one of my best and favorite clients! I met Jalen at RAP NY where he purchased a few pieces and since he has purchasedI believe 3 or 4 items from my live shows).
Towards the fourth quarter of 2017, I needed to start planning which shows to do in 2018. I knew I wanted to do both Reef-A-Palooza Orlando and New York and also wanted to do the Northeast Frag Farmer’s market in March as well as the Keep On Reefing expo at the end of April. I also will be doing the Greater Niagara Coral Show at the end of March in Canada (Brian Waugh, an awesomely skilled reefer, has put this show together and it will be a great event). Given the fact that I front loaded the shows this year, right now my focus is getting work done for show season. I need to get enough inventory done to sustain myself through RAP NY at the end of June as the shows will be coming fast and furious. For a full list of events including location, dates and times, click here.
That brings us to today! That is the synopsis of the first year of ReefWeeds and my somewhat self-indulgent story. I appreciate you reading along.
I would love to hear your thoughts as well, so if you have a few moments, comment below and let know what you think! I've also included a slideshow of some of my photos from this past year. Take a look!