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Stories from the Road: Advice to my Younger Self: Alison Thomas

Alison Thomas is an artist based in Virginia, who successfully blends photography and digital art into gorgeous panoramas. While the photos are of specific places, the digital manipulation transforms the exact scene into the “vision of the essence of a scene”. She was born with a bond to to the outdoors and always sought the beauty in nature. Alison wasn’t a kid who took pictures all the time but started when she accidentally packed her sister’s camera when she moved to New Hampshire in her early 20’s. I had the pleasure of talking to this gifted artist at the Frederick Festival of the Arts this past weekend.

When I asked what advice she would give to her younger artist self today, Alison’s message was clear. “The main advice I give to someone who is young, and wanting to start in this business, is to start earlier, start now. When you are young, you don’t have the time and monetary obligations such as kids and a mortgage, or a host of other responsibilities. You can live on that third story walk-up and eat ramen noodles for dinner. Starting young is only half of it, because there will be tough days, and you must believe in yourself. There are a lot of the lessons in this industry you must learn yourself through being a practitioner. Then a young artist must have trust in their process and artistic talent since starting and building a business takes immense patience." This led to my follow-up question of what some of those early stepping stones were that led to her success.

One of the first lessons from Alison’s professional life as an artist was the importance of presentation. One piece of advise she was given still holds true today, talk to veteran artists. Her husband told her about great tents from Costco she could buy. Shockingly this was not good advice. Alison set up with her Costco tent at Winter Park when her neighbor told her “if your going to do art festivals, do it right!”. It was an important lesson for her, as many artists will say, presentation of your booth is the visualization of your business. Early on, Alison was able to sleep easy through stormy nights, because she properly invested in a quality tent, that was sturdy and gave her booth proper presentation.

Another lesson she learned was to critically look at her work. Alison had a poor show and naturally complained, when a gentleman came and said to her, “it’s because your work looks like everybody else’s”. It took her a few days to get over that negative connotation before she took it as advice to a young artist. She decided that he was right, and she had to differentiate herself as a photographer, especially because of the plethora of photographers in the industry. This is when she made the switch from photography into a blend of photography and digital art. The panoramas started selling better than her earlier work, and soon she had a new portfolio. She experimented with composition and presentation. "Just about any photographer can take a picture of a bird but only a true artist can transform it into the essence of the scene."

Alison currently lives in Virginia and her current work features the beautiful trees of the Mid-Atlantic, she is commonly known as the “Tree Lady”.

Alison is sharing her most important life lesson, you have to be different as an artist, but you must evolve, and you can’t find your most successful series until you try new things. Alison became an award winning artist, it could be a change of scenery but most likely it’s the result of the years of learning, trying new things, and exploring new places.

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