LOVE, WHAT ELSE?

[Admiring the October page of her nature calendar. It features stunning tree reflections in the pond at Wilson Farm Park. The image was taken back in 2013 with my…wait for it…FLIP PHONE! Remember those? You know how I always say: you don’t need to break the bank on camera equipment for great photography? Pennsylvania Autumn Reflections is a classic example]. Anyway…where’d September go??? The leaves are transitioning into regal golds and reds. This is when the air should be crisp. So how come people are shopping for Christmas cards in 90 degrees? This isn't even Florida! But it's never too early to get a head start on your holiday shopping (even if you need a shower after an afternoon stroll down a vendor-packed street).

Nothing puts yours truly in a holiday mode like going through the winter inventory! The cards look amazing, even if I say so myself. So does wall décor. You've got Pennsylvania birds, flowers, landscapes, and a few surprises from across the Atlantic. Whether matted, framed or metal, my prints are an excellent addition to your home or office not to mention gifts! Remember: my images can be printed on a multitude of products including throw pillows and tote bags. To show you that I practice what I preach, I kept my red tulip tote bag. It never leaves my sight and comes with me everywhere, from the supermarket to the beach! I can honestly say: this tote is the perfect travel accessory.

As much as I enjoy promoting my photoart locally, I'm thrilled when my artwork has an international reach. One of my prints, Girls Night Out featuring a black and white rendition of a bunch of close-knit dogwood blooms looking like they're having a good time, has found its way to Switzerland. Another framed piece, a collage triptych featuring one striking Myrtle Beach Sunset, is going to Ghana! Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that my artwork would end up in Africa. Having my photoart enjoyed all over the world is incredibly exciting, rewarding, and humbling. It may sound like a cliche, but seeing that happy look on the customer’s face when he/she has found the special piece is what fuels my passion.

I keep on pushing my creativity and exploring new venues to share it. 2018 was all about getting my feet wet (but hopefully not the inventory). I started off by participating in juried art & crafts shows in Chester County, eventually extending to Delaware County in the summer of 2019. Every venue and visitor to my booth has a distinct flavor. Some come determined to find that special piece for their space or someone else’s. Others just want to browse. I've had a few photographers share their images. All are welcome!

So, what happens in October? Nothing. This is my month of rest. NOT. The time between shows is spent organizing and re-charging my batteries for the next one (Easttown Library, November 16th). I did miss an October event which my husband thought would've been great, if not for the little fun fact that he told me about it AFTER the application deadline had passed. I keep an eye on local happenings, but this time it was hubby who happened to discover a new venue. Imagine my shock when this piece of intel came from a guy whose ideal art show is the one that gets rained out and canceled! Let's face it: who wants to be carrying racks, tables, sand bags, dealing with tents, especially in triple digits or when show schedule conflicts with his soccer coaching or - as in the last couple of cases - both? Not this guy. But he does it anyway. If all that nightmare of insane logistics, extra driving, heavy lifting and set up/break down on steroids just to help his "artsy-fartsy" wife isn't love, I don't know what is. With our 16th wedding anniversary fast approaching, the one question I keep asking myself is, How’d I get so lucky, Rob Costello?

Until the next show.

Dramartfully Yours,

Maria Costello

TIME FLIES AND IT'S SEPTEMBER!

Nothing says OMG like returning from a looooong drive back from Myrtle Beach on Saturday, dropping your suitcases, and rushing to pick up school supplies - in addition to lotion because your sunburnt skin is peeling like crazy - because your kids start school Monday. Oh, and having not one but THREE art shows to prepare for! That OMG emoji on your phone? This month is ten of those for yours truly.

Now that the boys are back to their routine, Mom can focus on the important stuff…the stuff that doesn’t stink or growl. The Easttown Library exhibit is happening right now. I try to be as inconspicuous as I can, but it’s kind of hard when you’re armed with a monster ladder and over a dozen pieces of artwork. Installation tests the limits of one’s agility and patience. I think I passed, but I won’t hold my breath for any calls from Cirque du Soleil. Anyway, the photo art is ready for your viewing - and purchasing - pleasure. Speaking of Myrtle Beach, there are a couple of stunning seascapes which will make a great addition to your home or office décor. And if you have any fall birthdays coming up, what can be better than a gift of art? I’m just saying! Happy to be back at Easttown for the second year, and to contribute a portion of the proceeds to the library. If you do happen to drop by, check out my greeting cards, too. There are lots of cool new designs!

So now that I’m all set at Easttown, where I shall remain until October 2nd, it’s time to prepare for the Malvern Summerfest. The art festival is on Sunday September 8th. This will be my first time there, and I’m psyched! Keeping my fingers crossed for sunny skies. Hey, I’ll take overcast as long as there’s no rain. Unlike cozy libraries, outdoor shows put us at the mercy of the weather. This is a rain or shine event, but who wants to get out let alone buy art in the rain?

Next up is the Lansdowne Arts on the Avenue. This one is on Sunday September 22nd. Again, my first time there and again, I’m looking forward to trying a new venue and hoping for a nice day. This one’s especially exciting since it falls on my birthday weekend. What a way to celebrate!

All of the details like times, locations, booth # etc. are posted on my Events page as they become available so be sure to check back in and I’ll see you there!

Taking it one show at a time,

Dramartfully Yours,

Maria Costello

CATCHING UP

I’m kicking off August with a quick update about my website:

First of all, the gargantuan effort of transferring all of my images into frames is complete! This display takes the guess work out of "Hmm, I wonder what this flower would look like on my wall?" Now you can visualize what every piece would look like as wall decor in your space or, if it's a gift, in someone else's. Thanks to the wonderful selection of interior decor apps and the genius minds behind them, not only does my photoart have context but a wide range of applications. Artistic nature photography makes an ideal accent for kids’ rooms, living rooms, bedrooms, bathrooms, hallways, home, corporate, and medical offices, furniture stores, restaurants, hotels, and spas. Dear Real Estate Agents: I'm happy to discuss staging opportunities!

Next, I couldn't resist adding this Notes section, to show some of my thoughts as my portfolio evolves and to add some more transparency to the process. After all, I enjoy writing as much as photography.

Last but not least, I added the Reviews. The reviews are posted in real time on my DRAMARTFUL Facebook page. However, as we've already established, Facebook is full of surprises. It won't show you all of the reviews, but my website will.

As to the dearly departed Portraits, while I welcome an occasional detour, I want to keep my website consistent and reflective of my main focus: nature photography. You can still view my portrait work on the DRAMARTFUL Facebook page.

Dramartfully Yours,

Maria Costello

EQUAL RIGHTS FOR ALL SHAPES

Below is my response to the now long since retired Wall Street Journal journalist Barry Newman, who in his November 15, 2007 piece titled Don’t Be a Square at the Post Office - There’s a Surcharge reminded card designers and retailers that square cards are not a good choice because the sorting machines can’t handle this shape - at least not in the US. I’ll have to see if somebody else at the WSJ wants to follow up.

Barry,

I'm reaching out to you in response to your 2007 WSJ piece "Don't Be a Square At the Post Office." I'm a self-taught fine artist and nature photographer, with a newly-launched line of greeting cards. In fact, I just published a post how I started my card line, which gives this email context.

I sell my cards at art shows, and recently began pursuing retail. Ironically, the first place where I pitched my cards was the stationery boutique in the upscale Philly suburbs where my now husband of 16 years and I had bought our wedding invitations. When we started going through my box of cards, the owner threw the squares to the side as if they carried the plague. She told me in no uncertain terms that she does not - and will not - sell squares because of extra postage. The knee-jerk rejection to square cards and thinly veiled annoyance with my postal ignorance were the shop owner's reality. Mine was the fact that I had already mailed and sold two dozen square cards.

Art is synonymous with freedom and individuality, or at least it used to be. It's the one place in this increasingly Orwellian world where we get to be ourselves without having to worry about "fitting in." Just as I photograph multiple subjects, I print my cards on both rectangular and square formats. I can't imagine not having this basic choice. It's not going to be the retailer or the post office who will dictate the shape of my cards but my aesthetic.

Not in a million years would it occur to me that not all shapes were created equal. In fact, some of my favorite and best selling designs are square. Square is the best - and only - format for many of my images. There is a reason why other photographers - especially those who work in black and white - choose this shape. It's simple, well-balanced, visually pleasing, and accommodating. It just works. Obviously not for the post office but for me, as a nature photographer and card designer, and for my happy customers who love seeing fresh, exciting images of birds, flowers and icicles on...wait for it...square cards! It used to work for other card makers, too, until they felt they had to hand their squares rectangular pink slips.

But does the post office's negative attitude towards the square card match reality? Based on the current communications technology trends, square format is gaining popularity. iPhones offer square format for picture taking. I can't tell you how many times I took advantage of this feature back when I had an iPhone 7. Instagram and Facebook favor square avatars and even force visual content into squares, causing much dismay among us artists and sending some to the app store. I often see a fellow photographer comment about how the social media moguls butcher his landscapes, mercilessly cropping them into squares. April headline from Digital Information World is Facebook Recommends Square Aspect Ratio for Link Ads. I switched from an iPhone to a Google Pixel 3 because of its highly acclaimed camera, and even here square images lend themselves beautifully to 9-image collages. Collages allow for an instant visual impact; rather than having to scroll through the album, viewers can see your photos all at once. Whether it's one image or nine, square just works. You can't underestimate the importance of fast 'n easy!

The fact that the post office refuses to get with the times will not stop myself or others from producing square cards. Nor will it deter customers. As I'm sure you know, sentiments are a very personal thing. If somebody really wants that square card, and is willing to spend $5 for a DRAMARTFUL card or $8 for a Hallmark card (sigh), do you honestly think an extra 15 cents of "postage penalty" is going to stop them? This is especially true since millennials - the unlikely demographic keeping the greeting card industry afloat - is focused on quality vs. quantity. They don't mind spending extra on good cards for a chosen few.

Another reason why I had no idea that the post office had ganged up on squares is because none of my dozen square (GASP!) Christmas cards were returned, nor did I hear from my square fans. When I asked the local USPS clerk how come all of the square cards got delivered, his response was "sometimes we catch them and sometimes we don't." I'm not complaining, but clearly archaic equipment isn't the only issue.

Could it be that the timely solution to this shapely problem isn't boxing the creatives into rectangles, penalizing customers with extra postage, and losing revenue on those who either 1. quit making square cards or 2. won't give up, get lucky and don't "get caught" by the hand-sorters, but updating the equipment? It seems to me that Equal Card Rights would go a long way to ensuring that artists have an unrestrained flow of designs, customers get more options, retailers can relax, and the post office can enjoy a more efficient workflow, higher mail volume and revenue.

I realize that card shape is pretty low on the list of priorities. Nevertheless, a decade later, at least one concerned square enthusiast thinks the topic is worth revisiting.

Maria Costello

Owner & Fine Art Photographer at DRAMARTFUL

Advocate for Orphaned Squares & Shape Equality

GREETINGS FROM DRAMARTFUL

To quote Richard Branson, "the best businesses are born out of frustration." My idea to launch a greeting card line was a product of desperation. I'd given up on "Hallmark," which, by that point was synonymous with tacky and overpriced. I was growing more and more disappointed looking at endless shelves of mediocrity. Sure, once in a while I'd see a funny card I'd want to give one of my girlfriends for her birthday, but typically I'd find myself fleeing the store before some stalker card jumped out at me and started doing a dance I wouldn't be able to unsee. I have enough circus just opening my internet browser. Online selection was equally as depressing: gazillions of somebody else's ideas - or lack thereof - staring back at me from the electronic void. You would think an $8 billion (!) card industry would have something to offer customers other than an eye roll! This situation was unacceptable, and I intended to fix it...eventually.

True, I had been planning on adding cards to my line of print products. I tried (and sold) larger cards at my first CRAFTED Eagleview show in June of 2018. I love the way my artistic interpretation of nature looks on different surfaces such as canvas, metal and paper. Customers respond very well to striking images of landscapes, abstracts and wildlife. But it was just an idea - nothing concrete, and certainly without a date.

That all changed on October 16th 2018 when I received an email from the German Christmas Market on the Main Line inviting me to join their vendor team...for the December 8th-9th fundraiser! They said my holiday calendars and cards would be a big hit...By third week of November, they wanted product photos to put on their website. I was thrilled and terrified. I had calendars but CARDS?! WHAT cards?! They were expecting a product which, up until a click ago, was only a thought... OK - a dream as I'd had a few recurrent ones about launching a card line. Fine - I might have made a few prototypes: oversized frameable flat cards which I had printed at home. Now I had just a few weeks to make my dream a reality!

And so it began. I knew which images would work for Christmas cards. Obviously, cardinals... Blue jays and...more cardinals! Who doesn't love a good cardinal? Icicles (I love macro photography so have plenty of those...BRRR!!)...Winter landscapes (BRRR again!!)...I didn't have snowflakes at the time but I did have a cool macro of Queen Anne's Lace against a black backdrop. It looks like a snowflake and no, not just to me; a few people actually thought it’s a snowflake! Then came the messages and the fonts. And the sizes! Those were fun. Did you know that square cards require extra postage? Neither did I. It's like 15c more. What did the square cards ever do to anybody? Apparently, (ancient) post office sorting machines just don’t like them. But I do, and so do my customers. And so I will keep making them.

I was like a kid in a candy store! No. Make that a dog with a bone! Well, whoever I was, I was up to my eye balls in greeting card design, working non-stop to make my vision of a non-cheesy card come true. Sleep? Ha! Sleep is overrated! Food? I had all the eye-candy I could eat. I remember being on pins and needles awaiting my first card order to arrive. I remember holding my breath as I tore into the package, that incredible high of opening my first, very own Christmas card followed by the terrifying low of realizing I'd ordered the wrong card stock! I learned my first lesson in how wrong paper can ruin an otherwise perfect card.

Conclusion: Never. Order. Matte.

Luckily, I left myself plenty of time for precisely this kind of a “surprise.” I re-ordered the cards in gloss (at no additional cost to me since the vendor conceded that their images of texture were misleading and that nobody in their right mind would ever order matte stock for holiday cards). Second time was a charm! I was holding the magic of the holidays in my hand! My striking red cardinal popped on white backdrop as it glistened on thick, glossy stock. A handsome cardinal wishing you “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year” was classic minimalism at its best. I was ecstatic! Even my stoic husband who, with a well-masked horror of a typical Englishman, had been watching DRAMARTFUL take over not just our dinnertime conversations but the entire house, was impressed. Just like he isn't easily scared, this man isn't easily impressed. I'd passed the toughest scrutiny. I was relieved, excited, and exhausted. In a matter of days I created a product I was proud of. It was mine, my precious, and it had my brand on it! The customers loved the bold colors, intricate detail and unique designs which came on thick, glossy stock. I was happy to be able to offer weary card shoppers hope, to revive the magic of hand-written notes which was getting crushed by the wave of lackluster Hallmarks and migraine-inducing e-cards. Most importantly, it felt amazing to be able to send our loved ones my own brand of cards. And just in case you're wondering, our days of subjecting our kids and ourselves to the annual torment of Cheesed Out family holiday card studio photo sessions are over. Our boys are too old, and so are we.

Fast-forward to the beginning of March 2019. I was on the phone with a friend. It was well after midnight, which is normal texting hours for us artsy folk. Her son was getting married at the end of the month, and somewhere between the suits that needed to be tailored and the presents that needed to be picked, was this question of The Card. I just so happened to be editing one of my older images - an elegant white cherry blossom duo - and I asked if she'd gotten her card yet. "No" was followed by a sigh. She’d been looking for a card that’s “beautiful, memorable, and special,” and big retailers kept coming up short. So I sent her a couple of design ideas, and minutes later, she had a customized card with a beautiful line from her favorite poem on the front and her own warm sentiment inside. The look of joy (and relief) on her face when the card arrived was indescribable. Thick metallic stock with pearl finish shimmered in the light. The cherry blossoms looked as though they had melted into one, a perfect canvas for Anne Bradstreet’s “If Ever Two Were One, Then Surely We.” The card oozed elegance and taste. And just like that, I designed my first wedding card.

As you can imagine, this was only the beginning. I was licking my chops at all of the possibilities. I would go to bed and wake up envisioning my flowers, birds, butterflies, autumn leaves, and waterfalls come to life on cards! After receiving a few samples, I narrowed my list of online vendors down to three. Each company meets a unique need, and all of them offer consistent quality, sustainable materials, and reasonable prices (although some retailers may disagree with the last part). The result of all those sleepless nights? Two card racks filled with several dozen bright, fresh cards, featuring the natural beauty of Pennsylvania and beyond. The cards are available at my shows, and my shelf at the Spa Car Wash & Detailing Center of Berwyn ***734 Lancaster Ave.***

Time will tell if the DRAMARTFUL line of cards was the best business idea. So far I'm off to a great start and loving every minute of it. Being able to channel my creative energy through such a meaningful outlet and give someone a card which is both pleasing to the eye and inspiring…I can't ask for much more than that.

Thank you for reading, writing, and your continued support!

Dramartfully Yours,

Maria Costello

UNTAMED

I came across an article recently where a fellow photographer had offered a few sales tips. He advised fellow members of a prestigious online community against sharing the fact that some of us are self-taught. Apparently, such a revelation would raise eye brows, deterring potential art collectors, much like learning that their doctor is “self-taught” would deter patients. Talk about apples and oranges!

For starters, medicine is science, and art - a creative expression. One is a heavily-regulated industry which requires a medical if not law degree, with little room for interpretation. The other - an infinite playground where the only limits are those we place on ourselves. Besides, I’m not asking you to trust me with your life - only with your walls.

This is not an attack on formal education. Medicine and art are not incompatible. There are plenty of doctors who are artists, and art therapy is definitely a thing. I have a history degree. My (talented!) peers with art degrees believe that schooling gave them a foundation. Based on my experience, it certainly gives them an edge when approaching many, if not most, of the art galleries. My recent visit to a suburban gallery is just one example.

The curator appeared before me as if she were a hologram, introduced herself and began firing off a meticulously rehearsed spiel. She listed each artist’s pedigree, making sure I understood the monumental importance of EVERYONE (!) being a graduate of Pennsylvania College of Art and Design. So eager was she to cement this critical point that I was beginning to forget why I was even there. Once she was done, I thanked her and said, “Hi, I’m Maria Costello. I’m a fine art photographer and I’m completely self-taught. Here’s my card. Have a nice day!” The look on the woman’s face was unforgettable.

What if we let art speak for itself, evaluating each piece based on its merit instead of the size of student loan debt? I choose to view my self-taught approach as an asset rather than a handicap. I’m not bound by arbitrary ideas of “right” and “wrong.” I prefer being out in the (snowy) field to going cross-eyed flipping through equipment manuals. I rarely follow “the rule of thirds,” and my histogram looks nothing like what they teach in photography school. I chart my own path using instinct and relentless quest for self-improvement. This is my story, and I own every page.

Welcome to DRAMARTFUL! Feast your eyes on my striking transatlantic collection of nature-inspired fine art photography! Photography isn't just an outlet: it's a need which borders on addiction. Landscapes, wildlife, macro - I love it all. Nature intrigues, inspires and drives me. I'm constantly pushing myself to embrace new challenges, all for the thrill of creating a powerful image which can strike a cord deep within.

Somewhere around circa 2016, I realized that what I had originally assumed was just a “phase” essentially took over my life. My portfolio grew so quickly that texting images to friends one at a time just wasn't an option anymore. That’s when I decided it was time to build a website and spread the joy.

There's so much untapped beauty just waiting to be discovered right outside your front door! No need to spend thousands of dollars on exotic destinations or fancy camera equipment - all you need is a pair of eyes and a willingness to look around. But who has the time in this day and age of selfies, ubers, starbucks and boss who wants that report yesterday? That's where I come in. I hope that my work helps you pause and look up, one cardinal at a time.

If we enjoy what we do, it's only fair that we ignite this passion in others. If we like what we see, it's only fair that we make a dignified effort to leave behind a sustainable legacy. Appreciating this beauty starts with each of us, our ability to dig deep and relate to ourselves, each other and the outside world, at times perceptible only through a macro lens.

I’m here to help you foster this connection by reinventing your personal and professional space in a way which is meaningful to you. I offer my unique aesthetic and a wide range of products to help you rediscover some of what may have gotten lost in the daily shuffle.

My goal isn’t to sell you a print so it can collect dust. That would be a failure on my part as an artist and yours as a collector. I want you to be evoked by my image just as I was when I created it. I can say why out of gazillions of rain drops I chose to photograph this one. Can you say why out of gazillions of pieces of artwork this is the one you want on your wall? It's easy to find a piece of art that matches your couch. Let’s find one that speaks to your soul!

Dramartfully Yours,

Maria Costello

KEEPING IT TOGETHER

I enjoy writing, photography, and guess what else? Writing about photography! I typically post my articles on my DRAMARTFUL Facebook page, but I’m tired of putting myself at the mercy of Facebook’s algorithm. For starters, not everybody even uses Facebook. Apparently, “young people” see it as something their dinosaur parents use to spy on them, and move on to greener pastures. With feeds being uber-customized, organic content distribution is almost non-existent. This means that everybody has an echo-chamber based on their clicks. If you like cats and are constantly putting sad faces on animal shelter memes, your feed will consist of cat food and grooming ads, along with adorable kittens waiting to be adopted. At some point they’ll probably throw Trump in there just to give you something else to click on. Maybe you’ll want to adopt him too - definitely groom. So even if you are following my page, unless you prioritize it in your feed and constantly engage with my posts, you will gradually see less and less until you stop seeing them completely. As much as I appreciate my subscribers, I’m realistic about how high wall décor stacks up on your list of priorities. Last but not least, Facebook’s algorithm is increasingly hostile to users unless they pay to run questionably successful ads, which are constantly being pushed under the guise of helping me “reach a wider audience.” Considering its bogus statistics about my existing audience, I'll pass. But it’s not all bad. Facebook does allow me to keep my content, events, and reviews in one place. And yes, I have been asked about Instagram. I used to have an account. First of all, the followers are flaky; second, you can’t schedule events, send out invites, or have reviews; third, Facebook owns Instagram so I didn’t see the point of having an extra mouth to feed. I’ve “lost” absolutely nothing since deleting my Instagram account. And no, I don’t tweet, pinterest, etsy or ebay. I’ve decided to keep all of my information together here, on my official DRAMARTFUL page. I purchased my domain name and pay a monthly subscription fee for Squarespace to host my website. At least I know what I’m paying for. This is not to discourage you from following DRAMARTFUL on Facebook - only to make sure that you don’t miss out on anything. However you decide to follow my journey, I hope you enjoy it.

Dramartfully Yours,

Maria Costello