What a difference a year makes: My second foray into the SAMA vortex

My second SAMA conference has come and gone, and wow, what a difference compared to last year. I had a slightly better idea of what to expect and that helped me feel a bit more at ease and better manage my energy and sanity throughout the week.

I knew a few more people than when I went last year—those friendly faces are such a safe haven for an introvert!—and made so many more connections this time around. Whereas in Philadelphia nobody knew who I was, this year people were actually starting to recognize me. It felt both weird and kind of neat to hear the odd person exclaim, “You’re Julie Sperling!” And people were enthusiastic not only about my work but also about my blog. It’s really encouraging to know that there is an appetite for both aspects of what I do—the work and the words.

Hey look! That's me in Marian Shapiro's talk!
Hey look, that’s me in Marian Shapiro’s talk! (Not a great photo, I know. Sorry!)

One of the highlights for me was getting shout-outs in two of the presentations. Marian Shapiro referenced the blog post I had written a while back about getting the most out of a mosaic workshop in her talk on teaching, and Karen Dimit included some images of my work in her talk on how SAMA has shaped her practice. It was a big honour to be included in her talk alongside artists I’ve looked up to and admired for such a long time (and still do).

The other highlight, of course, was having a piece in Mosaic Arts International and getting to talk to people about it and see it hanging with such a strong showing of the incredible diversity of work in the mosaic community. As an aside, I was heartened to see so many works with an environmental message; I counted five of the thirty-five mosaics in the show, including my own.

In good company (with Atsuko Laskaris and Angela Sanders)
In good company (with Atsuko Laskaris and Angela Sanders)

It was also really lovely meeting Sherri Warner Hunter, the juror who chose my piece for her Juror’s Choice award (and who also ended up buying my Salon piece, (Un)Acceptable Loss—I couldn’t have asked for a better home for it). Here’s what Sherri had to say about choosing Dialogue:

My Juror’s Choice was Julie Sperling’s “Dialogue (The Burden of the Message)”. Language was one of the recurring themes in the works that were submitted. I was particularly drawn to the random coloration of the tesserae, only to discover they were created from spray paint chips and shale. Both materials carry connotations of our misuse of the environment, however here, they are elevated to a thing of beauty.

Me and Sherri Warner Hunter---she is so lovely!
Me and Sherri Warner Hunter—she is so lovely!

The other big highlight for me was taking Marian Shapiro’s “Bend, fold, and undulate” class. If you ever have a chance to take her class, don’t hesitate—she’s a fantastic instructor and you will learn a tonne. I’m really excited to put what I learned into practice, so keep your eyes peeled for future additions to my Fiddling While Rome Burns series that incorporate some of these techniques.

I will say that I find these conferences physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. My theory is that the physical and mental toll will never go away—for example, there will always be lack of sleep to contend with and conversations and presentations that stretch you and get your neurons firing—but the emotional exhaustion will lessen. I think the emotional toll is largely tied to the newness of each experience. Right now, everything is a first for me (e.g., first SAMA, first MAI, first time being recognized by strangers, first important missed opportunity / connection, etc.) and so I feel them more intensely. The highs are higher because I’ve never experienced them before and same with the lows. My hypothesis is that things will start to even out as I go further down this path and the experiences become more familiar.

This SAMA really pointed out to me that I’m in a bit of a transition phase, and this transition seems to be happening quicker than I had anticipated. In one year, I’ve gone from flying under the radar in near-complete anonymity to now adjusting to the fact that people are watching. That idea—and the anxiety and self-imposed pressure that come with it—is taking some getting used to. It’s proving to be very difficult to shake the feeling that I’m the annoying kid sister struggling to keep up on my trike while the big kids speed along on their bikes. I still very much feel like a student and find myself deferring all the time, but every once in a while I can see hints of a not-too-distant future where I’ll finally feel like a peer / colleague.

Anyway, as with last year, I’ve picked a little personal anthem for SAMA 2016. This one was chosen a bit very cheekily:



Julia, congratulations ! I’ve been watching you for a few years now and I always just assumed you were already ‘running with the big dogs’! I’m very excited for you and just wanted to tell you. I love how you articulate your journey and process with mosaic and life. You truly are gifted…..Mazel Tov!

Oh Elizabeth, thank you! It’s funny, I think my web presence gives me the illusion of being more of a “big dog” than I am — you don’t really get a sense of where I fit in the mosaic ecosystem. It’s nice to know that that perception is there, and I hope one day it will be borne out in reality! At least that’s what I’m working my butt off to get to :-)

You are shining in the vortex Sperling! As always, a pleasure and inspiration to read your words and watch your work. Great summary of a week that has kicked lots of butts over the years but also manages to make the magic. You have a great grasp of the big picture. You are “one to watch”.

Awww thanks, Rachel (though “one to watch” feels like a lot of pressure). Also, I think the official tagline for SAMA should be: Kicking butts and making magic. That’s a pretty perfect description of the experience.

Let me know what you think!

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