Why I Art-o-mat

Art-o-mat turns 20 this year!

On Thursday, April 20, from 6 to 8 pm, the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA) in Winston-Salem, NC, will host an opening reception for "20 Years of Art-o-mat."

The exhibit celebrates the brainchild of artist Clark Whittington, who since 1997 has repurposed cigarette machines to dispense affordable art for the masses.  The exhibit lasts through August 27 and will feature machines and art from the Art-o-mat permanent collection.

If you think this event sounds good, then you can see more details here.

Photo courtesy of SECCA.  Click above to learn more about the exhibit.

What exactly is Art-o-mat?

Art-o-mat is an art project and movement with the mission of bringing affordable, accessible art to folks where they are.

Think: $5 art in your favorite coffee shop.

Do not think:  Stuffy art gallery with crazy high prices.

In addition to providing an outstanding variety of artistic selections (jewelry, fine art, crafts), an Art-o-mat machine will vend your choice with a "kerplunk" sound - just like the delivery from an old fashioned vending machine.

If you like the idea of upcycled cigarette machinery saved from the landfill + attractive, tiny art selections, then explore more here on the Art-o-mat website.

Why I became an Artist in Cellophane

An A.I.C. (Artist in Cellophane) is someone who makes art for Art-o-mat.  To date, there are over 400 participating artists who handcraft their creations and display their work all over the world in more than 100 machines in the United States and a few internationally.

After illustrating a children's picture book in 2002, I painted portraits and landscapes in pastels. As time went on, I began working full-time in a "non-art" job and enrolled in graduate school.  My time for personal creativity decreased significantly.

By 2013, I was working full-time, mom to 2 children, and owned a business.  I craved a creative outlet, completely outside my normal work, and Art-o-mat became the answer to this need.  After months of contemplating my direction, I decided on a theme and applied to be an A.I.C.  Art-o-mat accepted my prototype in December 2013.  I was overjoyed to take on the title of working artist again.

My prototype from 2013

The work begins to multiply

My first series for Art-o-mat is called Mini Masterpieces and includes a tiny corner of a masterwork by one of the 20th century's preeminent abstract artists (Mondrian, Miro', Kandinsky, etc.).

Here is my second batch of Mini Masterpieces.

By 2015, my daughter had submitted a prototype for her series of Boogerbrains, which are imaginary creatures of very little intellect but exceptional joy and friendship.

Now Clarice, 14, works hard on her Art-o-mat output for her "job" when she wants to earn extra funds for school field trips, vacations, and mad shopping money.  Since she was 13, Clarice has been proud to say that she has a "job" doing something that she loves.

Another series

The phenomenon of social media has fueled Art-o-mat's popularity beyond traditional word of mouth.  Naturally, hosts have begun to approach Clark with special requests for specific work.

In 2015, I responded to Clark's call for more inspirational work.  I then began a second series for Art-o-mat called Little Inspirations.  These include a hand drawn flower and a word of encouragement.

A third series

By November 2016, I was ready to experiment again with an idea I had mulled over for some time.

Endearing Young Charms was born out of a desire to create handmade jewelry with a lightweight and carefree feeling.  Bottlecaps add a vintage charm to the pendants, as does a classic ball-and-chain necklace (just like the chain on my Grandmother's 1940s-era sink stopper).

With this third series, I had even more incentive to work on branding and merchandising.  For the first time - and all because of Art-o-mat - I was selling a "product," a tangible craft of hand-painted jewelry, rather than a work of fine art.  

Although Art-o-mat requires very specific guidelines on size and materials, this was the first time I had to abide by the discipline required of those who truly ply their wares as a retail product.

Ever growing as an artist

What I envisioned originally as simply an opportunity to remain creative has turned into something much more.  Art-o-mat has allowed me to continue to innovate and improve my "products" while maintaining fidelity to the themes of my individual series.

Even now, I am thinking of how to make each of my series better.  And I know that Art-o-mat will allow me to grow as an artist to make this happen.  To date, I have created 800 little works of art for Art-o-mat, and I have a new batch of 50 almost ready to go.

I hope if you have a chance to find one of these gorgeous machines, that you will spend $5 to add a little joy to your day.

Note for aspiring artists:  If you have an interest in becoming an Artist in Cellophane, please read over the guidelines and let Clark know that you want to participate.  You can always reach out in the Comments below or via email if you have any questions.  The A.I.C. community is a warm and supportive one, and there is always room for more talented artists.


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