Update (October 2019)

Hey everyone!
Apologies for my lack of posting here on this page: I have been very busy taking care of my 98 year old (!) mother on a full time basis so that leaves me precious little time for artwork and social media. I am however, squeezing in some outdoor photoshoots this week - so stay tuned for some new Pre Raphaelite inspired art

And also - you can check out my latest musings and shenanigans here:


The Tenth Commandment - Always Keep Going and Always Keep Growing

Perseverance is of course, a huge component of success in any field ( and paired with social intelligence it is a formidable force), but it is not enough to just mindlessly repeat our earlier successes or the methods that we used.
You always have to be learning, growing, expanding your knowledge and your craft.

There are the inevitable points where you will feel stuck, creatively blocked or just not good enough.

These are the moments you should use to try something new: like learning a new technique or method, or perhaps embarking upon a new series or maybe just working on promoting your existing work and spending a few months just tending to business and sales. then you can come back refreshed and ready to create anew..

The journey of the artist is a life-long one and should not be led by current trends or purely money-making pursuits. It should ultimately be your personal journey of fulfillment and self-discovery.
Now that may sound all new agey and “Spiritual” to the more pragmatic of you .. but it is true.

The ultimate aim (conscious or sub-conscious) of the artist is to chronicle one’s journey on earth (with your thoughts and emotions manifested in a tangible form) and then perhaps - you leave something beautiful or poignant behind that touches people’s lives who haven’t even been born yet..
In a way, it is a quest for immortality - for a deeper meaning and it serves a primal and deep-seated motivation that all humans have - to be able to say on their death bed “I was here, and I mattered”
The journey of the artist .. is the journey of the soul

Light the Way by Thomas Dodd

Light the Way by Thomas Dodd

The Ninth Commandment - Follow Your Passion

This should be the simplest commandment to obey, but often ends up being the most difficult one of all..
Ideally you should create art because you are driven to do it. Because you are compelled to do it.
You shouldn’t worry so much about making a living at it. Follow your passion and create the images you are COMPELLED to create, and people will come to recognize and appreciate your genuineness and THEN the money will come.
But “Ideally” quite often butts heads with “realistically” in the very “real” world we find ourselves living in (of having to pay rent and bills).

So what usually happens is something like this:
You get the photography bug because you are inspired by some particular imagery or photographer..
You basically fall in love with it!
You start doing it as a hobby and are consumed by it - you do it every day and are driven to get better, to learn more.. You live, breathe and eat your art (even though you have a day job).
Eventually people start noticing how committed you are and tell you “you should be making a living at this”.

You agree with them and you start trying to charge people and get frustrated by the fact that no one wants to pay you for your work.
Then you start getting on online forums and searching for how to make a living with your camera.
Maybe you start listening to what “seasoned pros” tell you to do and accept their experience as wisdom.
Then perhaps you enter into a genre of photography that wasn’t really what you originally wanted to do, but you figure the goal is to make money with your camera - so you study hard start assisting, then eventually spend all your time and energy devoted to this money-making pursuit.
Eventually the money comes and with that comes all the headaches of running a full-time business.
But hey - you are indeed making a living with your camera!
You may end up very happy and artistically fulfilled AND with the gratifying feeling of knowing that you are making a living doing what you love.. or you may end up miserable and feeling like you lost your passion along the way.

Please note - it is VERY IMPORTANT for me to say here that I am not putting down any of these valid genres of photography that can all yield a very nice living for you if you succeed at them. Commercial work, Family Portraits, weddings, boudoir, architectural photography , corporate/actor head-shots etc. These are all varied, rich and diverse fields and there are plenty of extremely talented, passionate and financially successful photographers working within all of them.
The trick is, regardless of your chosen field, to stay passionate about photography - bring that passionate zeal you had as a newbie to your money-making pursuits. Continue to grow and to innovate and you will be rewarded in many ways - not just financially.

Above all things: follow your passion - let it drive you on you journey as an Artist….

Me, being “passionate” about teaching.. at Imaging USA 2018 in Nashville Tennessee (photo by Alex VanZeelandt)

Me, being “passionate” about teaching.. at Imaging USA 2018 in Nashville Tennessee
(photo by Alex VanZeelandt)

The Eighth Commandment - Be Genuine

And this is really what self marketing is about - not bragging about your accomplishments or talking about your gear, education, or credentials.
It is about getting to the crux of why you create and what your mission is as a human and as an artist. If you are sincere and speak from your heart and your lived experience, people will want to buy artwork from you..

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The Seventh Commandment - Assume Nothing & Get Everything in Writing

Now some folks ( Including me) might say it is rather presumptuous to send a contract over to a gallery that just gave you a foot in the door (especially if you are just having one or 2 pieces in a group show - which is usually how a gallery will “try you out” to see how your art goes over with their collector base and also what you are like to deal with.. )
But at the very least you should have an email exchange with the curator that spells out what the terms of your exhibition, affiliation or representation are.

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The Sixth Commandment - Do Thy Research

In this digitally connected world we live in, all art galleries are literally just a finger click away, so when searching for the right gallery to show (and sell) your work in , don’t just start randomly clicking on ones in the area you are targeting and then start sending them copied and pasted emails. .
Stop. Study their websites. Take a look at the artists they represent. Look at the past shows they have had and see if they ever have group shows or open calls. And most importantly, look at their submission policies for new artists
Honestly ask yourself “Would my work even fit in here? “

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The Fifth Commandment - Thou Shalt Not Speak Ill of Thy Fellow Artists

You are not going to get along with everyone you meet in life and the art world is no exception..
It’s a sad but true fact that sometimes in our journey, we have to deal with toxic people, narcissists, manipulators, psychic vampires and those whose ambition overshadows their compassion.

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The Fourth Commandment - Thou Shalt Be Kind to the Newbies

Be kind to the beginners, the newbies and the students of your chosen field. Answer their questions not with world-weary snark or arrogant disdain, but with an attempt towards being helpful and sharing your knowledge.
If you think something is incorrect or not a good idea - then offer them an alternative or (what you think is) a correct path based on your experience and share that..
In short - be helpful. Don't be a jerk.

It is not only good karma and the right thing to do, it (being a jerk) also can come back to bite you in the ass years later...
For a lot of these newbies eventually become your peers and sometimes rise to greater heights than where you are at...

It's a fact of human nature that people tend to recall perceived slights or blatant put-downs just as strongly (even more so in fact) than the helpful advice they receive at the beginning of their journey..
Or, as the old saying goes: Be kind to the people on the way up - you will meet them all again on the way down..


The Third Commandment - Honor Thy Editions

This is yet another example of building and maintaining your reputation through honesty and integrity.

When you do a limited edition print - you must be 100% accurate that if you say there are 20, that only 20 prints of that image exist in the the world!
Fudging by saying “I will do twenty 11 x 17s, then another twenty 20 x 16s, and another twenty 20 x 30s etc”. is tempting to do, but in my opinion inherently dishonest..

if someone pays for a piece that is marked 1/20 - they are buying it with the assumption that only 19 other people in the world have that image . Don't cheat the numbers or again you risk losing another collector for life..
As always, the gain of a few extra dollars in the short term is overshadowed by the irreparable loss of trust by your collector base.. and your reputation is the most precious commodity you have in the art world!

My limited edition print “A Little Bird Told Me” in a private collector’s home

My limited edition print “A Little Bird Told Me” in a private collector’s home

The Second Commandment - Thou Shalt Have Consistent Prices

While it may be tempting to have higher prices in big city markets and lower prices in boutique galleries, artist co-ops or smaller towns, you once again have to step into your collector’s (and gallerist’s) shoes and see things from their perspective to realize that this is a very bad (and reputation-harming)idea..

If a collector pays top dollar for a piece in NYC and then travels to Topeka and sees the same piece priced significantly lower - they will feel ripped off and never want to buy from you (and quite possibly the gallery they bought your piece from) again. You have lost a client for life and you don't even know about it.. Likewise, the gallerist wants to know that your prices are consistent and that no other gallery is going to undercut them.
Keep your prices the same in all markets (as well as on the web). Remember - we live in a connected world these days and price checks are really just a keystroke away.

“Dandelion” by Thomas Dodd in the Museum of Contemporary Art - Sicily

“Dandelion” by Thomas Dodd in the Museum of Contemporary Art - Sicily

The First Commandment - Thou Shalt Not Steal a Collector From a Gallery

(The first installment of my “10 Commandments of a Gallery Artist “
Thou Shalt Not Steal a Collector From a Gallery
This is the cardinal sin of all Fine Art sins.
It is the one thing you can do that will not only ensure you no longer exhibit at the gallery that introduced you to the collector, it may also get you blacklisted by every other gallery owner that the curator you screwed over knows.

I realize that the temptation to do this can be almost overwhelming for an artist, but don't do it!

This is how it usually goes:
Someone buys your work from a gallery and the gallery takes a hefty commission (usually 50%) from the sale.. Then a few months later, that same collector looks you up on the web or social media, contacts you directly and says they want to see more of your work.
Now perhaps the collector is thinking they can get a better deal buying directly from you and they want to cut the original gallery out of the transaction....and you are probably thinking "I can get a lot more money for this piece without having to pay a big commission to the gallery and then the client will be mine for life"!

Wrong! You may be acquiring one private collector but you are losing many, many more potential clients by screwing over the gallerist who introduced you to each other.. and again - you will possibly be blackballed by other galleries if the word gets around that you are not loyal to the unspoken rules of the Gallery/artist system.

The right thing to do when a collector contacts you directly is to copy the curator who introduced you to each other on the return email to keep them in the loop and let them know that you will give them their commission on any further sales that result from this relationship ..
Not only because it is good business and good karma - it is also acknowledging that if it weren't for the reputation of that gallery the curator has painstakingly built, that collector would never have seen your work in the prestigious position of being displayed in (and promoted by) a top-tier gallery.
A lot of artists tend to minimize the importance of gallerists/curators , but a good gallery owner has a client base that trusts their tastes and buys exclusively from the stable of artists they represent.
Gallery owners also act as unofficial PR agents and managers for their artists - getting you coverage in local and national media, talking your work up to the movers and shakers and monied interests in their community (as well as placing it with designers, interior decorators and art consultants), and finding you commissions and private collectors , all the while adding prestige and gravitas to your artistic brand
( not to mention the numerous hefty expenses that are involved in keeping a top tier gallery afloat)

In short - just don't it!
So much of success in the Art world is based on maintaining long-term relationships. Acknowledge the importance of those you work with and they will do the same for you!

photo of Thomas Dodd by Jon Kay

photo of Thomas Dodd by Jon Kay

How to Effectively Use Facebook Groups as an Artist

A common mistake I see artists making on facebook and other social networks is joining an artist networking group and then just posting their artwork, where it mostly gets ignored..
Why? Because everyone else in the group is an artist looking to promote their OWN work!

The fact is the majority of your potential audience will more than likely NOT be artists or in artist groups... Your audience will be in other groups, where non-artists congregate.
For instance, I have determined that the main market for my commissioned portraiture is middle to high income women in their 30s to 50s.
I can reach this audience much more efficiently by targeting yoga groups, neighborhood groups, parenting groups, decorating groups and new age spirituality type groups then by posting my work in photography or “share your art” groups.

And this is key - I don't just join and immediately spam them with my artwork. I start out by joining in conversations and in the course of contributing and conversing, I mention that I am an artist and then I can link to my facebook fan-page or post a picture of some children's or family portraits I have done... All of this is in the course of an online conversation. The trick is - you have to participate in discussions . No one likes a spammer - online or off!

Social media rewards “sharing” and penalizes self-promotion..


Is Creativity Theft?

Here is a provocative quote on the nature of creativity by the American filmmaker Jim Jarmusch:

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows.
Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery - celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: ‘It’s not where you take things from - it’s where you take them to.’"

What might make you bristle when you read this is his use of the word "steal" - which of course is something we have all been trained to recoil from and think of as wrong and sinful.

But Jarmusch is not telling people it's OK to rip off one particular idea or image from a fellow creator. He is talking about the true essence of creativity - in which we amalgamate all our influences and what I call our "visual vocabulary" (the sum total of all the images we have processed in our memory) into our new creations ( or, as I often tell my students "Use everything at your disposal"). Art is not created in a vacuum of ideas..

Of course, the last quote from Godard is a key qualifier "It's not where you take things from, it's where you take them to.

left -” Pietà” by Sofonisba Anguissola , right - “Pieta in Gangland” by Thomas Dodd

left -” Pietà” by Sofonisba Anguissola , right - “Pieta in Gangland” by Thomas Dodd

Why Artists Should Listen to Criticism

There is a meme currently making the rounds in the online art world and especially in the growing “art coaching” scene..
It goes like this:

”A young artist exhibits his work for the first time and a well known art critic is in attendance.
The critic says to the young artist, "would you like my opinion on your work?"
”Yes, " says the artist.
”It's worthless," says the critic
The artist replies, "I know, but tell me anyway."

In my opinion this meme is actually giving very bad advice to young artists, inferring that they should just ignore ALL criticism, especially the criticism that comes from a respected art critic (not just a random stranger on the internet) while also postulating that a professional art critic would walk up to a young artist and just try to crush them with a two word assessment of their work. Perhaps that may happen in some extreme scenario, but I guarantee you that the majority of critics would be much more likely to simply ignore your work (if they found it “worthless” ) or maybe tell you what they thought you needed to work on to make it better (if they thought your work had promise).

We must be aware of the Dunning-Kruger effect from either extreme (ie - unjustifiably thinking your work is great or self-defeatingly thinking it is worthless).

Agreed, artists should follow their own paths/visions and not be slaves to trends and/or the comments of random strangers, but we should also listen to intelligent criticisms of our work and actually seek out critiques from industry insiders whose opinions we respect.
You may discard the advice which you think would take you down a different path from that which you are currently on (the one which your passions and intentions steer), but I guarantee you that there is something to be learned from every intelligent and thoughtful critique you will receive in the course of your artistic life.

I realize ultimately this is just a meme trying to bolster confidence in a world where people are often unsure of themselves and their work, but again - any art critic worth their salt would never say that kind of thing to a young artist..
An intelligent critique/criticism lists your strengths and weaknesses and gives you a blueprint for advancement - especially if you can detach your ego from it and actually use it to your advantage and growth process..

The path of the artist is often like a tight rope walk: there are a lot of outside influences and distractions trying to pull you off of that rope, and while there are indeed many success stories about people who proved the nay-sayers wrong, there are many, many more of people who learned from the criticisms and critiques they received along the way in their lengthy careers and grew as artists as a result..

My ultimate advice to artists is “Use everything” - even if it is just using criticisms for the fuel in your artistic fire..

photo by SNAP! Orlando

photo by SNAP! Orlando

The Spirituality of Imperfection - Punk Rock and Julia Margaret Cameron

I will never forget the cathartic “Eureka!” moment that led to me being a musician (and consequently - a visual artist decades later).
This was the moment that propelled me down a path that I still am on today - where expressing the depths of the human condition has been a mission and calling, as well as a career and a means to (hopefully) inspire others.

It was back during my teen-aged years (1977) in Orlando while listening to FM radio (WDIZ) that I first heard the music of the Sex Pistols (the song "Sub-Mission" played by a DJ/program director named Craig Michaels : who I heard was later fired for that very bold and forward-thinking decision) and was immediately inspired to start playing guitar as a result of hearing that aural onslaught of anger and bravado. 

It wasn't only that the Pistols’ (and other bands like the Ramones, Clash, Stranglers and the Damned) music encapsulated  my teen-aged rage and angst, it was the overwhelming feeling of "I can do that too! " that the primitive sounds of late 70s Punk inspired in me.

I had listened to bands like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin before then, but never imagined myself playing that music. It all seemed so perfect and polished - as if it was being manifested by unearthly gods that had deigned to bestow it upon us mere mortals as a soundtrack to our insignificant existences..

But Punk Rock seemed so raw and vital to me - as if I was participating in it with the "performers" ( and Punk definitely sought to break down the barriers between audience and stage ). It was commanding me to shun the norms and conventions of the routine existence that the aforementioned Rock Gods had been merely an escape from and soundtrack to. 

I  almost immediately went out and got a guitar and began writing songs, starting bands and embarked upon a  music career that lasted damn near twenty years (eventually ending with me playing Celtic harp in a band called Trio Nocturna , that put out 3 albums and developed a fan base in the Gothic and Celtic scenes), so when I switched to photography I already had that experience of being a freelance artist and I never forgot the lessons that Punk Rock taught me : Do It Yourself - don’t wait for anyone to “discover” you or tell you what to do. Just get out there and do it, and it doesn't matter if you aren't technically polished, or even proficient.. What matters is that you have something to say and that you are never ever boring and/or following mainstream thought programming.

In my 30s I began reading the writings of Joseph Campbell - he postulated that the main two forces in Art are best represented by the the Greek gods Apollo and Dionysus. Apollo represents skill, order, mastery and left- brained logic. Dionysus represent passion, revelry and the right-brained principles of improvisation and intoxication through immersion in pure passion.

The balanced artist harnesses both - although there are extremes on both sides. There is the virtuoso player with no passion or “feel” (as comically represented by Yngie Mamnsteen and other "shredder” guitarists popular in the 1980s) as opposed to a primitive punk band or bluesman with a modicum of technique and lots of “feel” (I would rather listen to John Lee Hooker banging away on one chord  about a woman who done him wrong over the the showy “look at me" riffing of a Stevie Ray Vaughn or Eddie Van Halen any day)

To this day I still listen to raw and unpolished bands with very little technical prowess but I still can not listen to purely virtuoso type music, unless maybe you categorize the Baroque music of Bach and Telemann in the latter..

I have found a similar dynamic when I look at the work (and biography) of Photography pioneer Julia Margaret Cameron - whose portraits encompassed "mistakes" such as blur, scratches and even fingerprints on her plates. These “flaws” made many of her more Apollonian peers ridicule her work, but the last laugh is hers, for her work has stood the test of time and today is considered a pinnacle of "Fine Art Photography".
Cameron's subjects transcended mere portraiture - she used Mythology in her themes and thought more like a painter than a documenter of realism.
The rawness combined with the imagination of her work has weathered well as we have moved from realism back to a more esoteric style whereas the more polished and staid work of her “realist” contemporaries has faded into obscurity.

The lesson here is: Passion should always be the driving force. Having something to say is paramount. Technique and technical mastery should always serve the idea and the creative impulse. It is a life-long journey and we should never be afraid to improve our skills and technical mastery , but above all - we should communicate emotion and the human experience with these skills...