ADVICE FROM 14 PROFESSIONAL ARTISTS
I have been painting for almost thirty years, but curiosity and creativity have been in me since I was a boy. Since then, they have become an inseparable part of my life, informing my thoughts and interests.
Practicing my craft every day in or out of my studio has become second nature to me: a way of life in which there is no boredom. The rituals and routines of how I do my work are as important as the art itself. I am sustained by the years of my life poured into my work, and the body of work that speaks for itself.
I’m becoming more content with the joys and discomforts that arrive with living the creative life. I realize these feelings or moods are cyclical. I practice gratitude. My creative flow comes from daily practice, which builds a strong base allowing me to move forward.
I inch my way, removing obstacles and distractions. Art is problem solving and making adjustments. There are no mistakes, only adjustments.
The subjects I choose are familiar to me — I see them around me everyday and in my travels. In these subjects I look to contrast, balance and AMPLIFY WHAT I SEE. My interest lies in the composition by making it my own, allowing the viewer to find their own story.
Jewelry Designer and Goldsmith, Artist/Printmaker
A quick little blurb about me:
I was born in Hartford, C.T. in 1992, and grew up in North Vancouver. I have made art for as long as I can remember, and have been designing and making jewelry for 18 years. I went to school in New York at SUNY Purchase College and I studied Graphic Design and Printmaking with focuses on branding and typography, silkscreen and digital printmaking. I started making jewelry when I was 9 years old and currently sell in 10 stores in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. I’ve also worked for some large fashion companies like Juicy Couture, designing their jewelry collections, as well as working with the film and television industry. I’ve exhibited my artwork in Vancouver and New York and just wrapped up a group show at the Ferry Building Gallery in West Vancouver.
The Words of Wisdom:
It should be fun.
That doesn’t mean your work shouldn’t challenge you. We make art to express something of ourselves. You should enjoy doing it otherwise what’s the point?
Make sure that when you make art, you are making it true to your vision. You will more than likely encounter instances where you are asked to do something outside your comfort zone. This does NOT mean you need to change your style or ideas. Adapt them to the situation. (And I know this is easier said than done…)
Work on something everyday.
If you’re stuck on an idea, which we all are a lot of the time, work on something small. You don’t need to be making art every time you sit down to work. Do you need to stretch paper for watercolour? Gesso canvases or wood panels? Discover some new colours by mixing ones you have? Email someone? These are the times that you can prepare your future self for whatever ideas may come to mind. Another important thing to remember; work is not always making something tangible. Thinking is also working.
Try something new.
If you think you’re at the pinnacle of your artistic career, you’re not. Learn something new.
Why not take a class on something you’ve always wanted to try and incorporate something you learned in your own practice? You may be pleasantly surprised… Read about other artists practices and see what they do to get unstuck or how the generate new ideas, too.
Separate yourself from your work.
People who critique your work are critiquing your work. They are not critiquing you. Critiques are great ways to generate new ideas that you may not have thought of. Take advantage of them. If you keep your work very personal and close to you, you may never see opportunities presenting themselves. It’s also good to literally separate yourself from your work. If you get stuck on a piece you’re working on, put it away. Don’t look at it for a few weeks or months and then come back to it. You will have a fresh outlook on it.
Socialize and make money.
It might be a good idea to get a part-time or full-time job to supplement your own art work. There are a couple reasons this could be ridiculously beneficial to any artist:
1. You get to talk to other people about things that aren’t art. That’s a great way to get new viewpoints on all kinds of things and generate new ideas.
2. You make a bit or a lot of extra money. Self-Explanatory.
3. You separate yourself from your work. See above “Words of Wisdom”.
Now I know this is totally not the ideal situation. I was in the mindset for a very long time that just working on my own art was perfect and I didn’t need the extra cash or socializing aspects of having a part-time job. I was wrong. It has helped me to keep better timelines, make better work and come up with more interesting ideas. The extra money on top of that was a huge bonus.
Have any questions for me or want to chat? Shoot me an email! firstname.lastname@example.org
As a child whenever I had the opportunity I would build something and draw.
It was an easy decision to study art after high school in South Africa. I studied Fine Art then graphic design which lead to a career in commercial art and illustration but I always knew I would eventually be a painter. Having the design background has been really helpful with my painting (color and composition) and creating art as a profession is most rewarding. To be able to spend your days producing something from your imagination and then have people respond to the work and even want to have it in their homes.
Learn from Others.
When I started out I copied from any artist I admired to learn their approach/technique. After college I wanted to make movie posters so I collected and studied every Drew Struzan movie poster (Back to the Future, Hook, Indiana Jones, Star Wars and hundreds more) that he created. I would rent the videos so I could make copies of the covers for more reference to study. I wrote a letter asking if I could visit his studio in America. This was airbrush and pencil days (no one had computers except NASA) and once I worked out the process I could fashion my own style. I built a portfolio and it lead to many commercial jobs doing posters and illustrations for 10 years. It was the best way to learn. Art school taught me the foundations but there was much more to learn. To arrive at my own painting style I had to study the work of those I admired. When I wanted to move away from commercial art and into paintings, I looked at the work of John Singer Sargent as I liked his brush strokes – then Anders Zorn. The best was seeing the originals in museums after only looking at books. All that copying enabled me to get a pretty good handle on painting and I managed to get some portrait work. Find artists you admire and learn from their work. Your own style will come from that. I am now looking at Mark Bradford, (his layering of glued paper, then removing it, is similar to the way I work at the moment) his is with paper and mine with paint and a sander (he gets 10 million for a piece and I don’t).
Painting on canvas is only one approach to making art. Try mixing in building materials. Use disk sanders. Score wood panels then throw paint on top. Paint on wire mesh. Use plaster mixed with acrylic (I do all of these). Find objects at the local dump to make art with. I dedicate at least a half a day a week to “messing around” and that often turns into a complete new series.
This is the most important ingredient in my type of work and the work I gravitate toward. I never really know how the painting will turn out and that keeps things exciting. My work is all about random things happening along the way. After building up layers of different colors, then sanding the surface, “accidental” things start appearing. The colors and textures are often a complete surprise. There is also an element of spontaneity because not too much can be predetermined. The work will appear chaotic at one point but it can be pulled into order as needed.
If you really do not feel like painting and you do it anyway then that lack of enthusiasm will probably show in the work. Conversely, if you can’t wait to get to your studio to tackle a painting or experiment with something new then you will find great things happen. I have found an easy path to being inspired:
A. I look through books of art I love or start browsing for art online. Watching the making of art or sculpture – process videos also makes me want to try different things out.
B. I start scribbling / drawing with paint, crayons or pencil ( nothing in particular). It’s a warm up exercise and I find it gets my mind on the right track.
Take a job that pays the bills but also adds to your creative life (if at all possible).
Paint, draw when you can.
Take part in any local group shows. Get people’s opinions. To make a living from art it helps to be somewhat obsessive about your craft. After being consistently at it for a while, your own style will emerge. If your work has it’s very own “look” and maturity (as in, you have done it many times before) and you can produce a series of work in this style, then a gallery would be more interested in taking you on. Make the work look like it came from the same hand but each piece is different.
Enjoy the process!
I consider myself to be an abstract realist painter.
My work could be best described as “Americana meets Pop Art”. In an essay by Peter London, appropriately titled, When Less is More: The Art of Melissa Chandon, I believe he describes my work accurately. What can we say is Chandon’s primary project as an artist? She describes it somewhat like this.
To create a body of art work that invites us to consider the nobility that lurks just beneath the surface of common things; noble because these same things are nothing less than incarnations of the American dream.
I have found my own voice through a process of analysis and reduction. I look to a number of 20th Century painters, drawing inspiration from their imagery – the directness of David Hockney’s work of the 70’s, the romance of Edward Hopper, Wayne Thiebaud’s delight with color and surface, and the intriguing abstraction of Richard Deibenkorn.
I’ve gathered my vision of Americana from across the country – from my early years in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to working on the family ranch in the Sacramento Valley, and onto urban life in hope that sharing my view of the American landscape may help to bring about a conscious effort to preserve the shared heritage of our recent past.
I received my under graduate degree at Santa Clara University and my graduate degree at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. In addition to my practice as a painter I teach full time for the Design Department at the University of California, Davis.
If I have but a few ideas that I can share with anyone who thinks they want to get a degree in Fine Art and pursue a career as an artist here they are:
Many people will tell you perhaps you should go for a degree that is more practical. That is exactly what my father did he was an engineer. I simply told my dad I had to follow my heart.
No career is easy especially as an artist. It takes hard work, discipline and simply showing up with a firm commitment to do what it takes. Be creative, inventive ask for help and guidance when ever possible.
Never give up on your dreams. Only you can follow your dreams, while seeing yourself living your dream. Make a list and a plan. It is important to evaluate on a regular basis.
I am a firm believer in research and that 90 percent of the work is done before you go to work. By this I mean you will have made several decisions; concept, what size the works will be, the images you are going to produce and the materials that will be used.
An Art Dealer’s Perspective (abridged)
I have been working in private galleries for 30 years in the area of promoting, marketing, and selling art. I have worked with 100’s of Artists; locally, nationally, and internationally.
I am in a fortunate position to witness and examine why we make art, why we enjoy art, and why we buy art.
What is most paramount for an artist is to craft the ability to collect, harness, and distill creative ideas into a familiar and universal visual language. To communicate these ideas well is to understand and manoeuvre around the limitations imposed on the artist by the single viewer and mass culture. These limitations may range from perceived facts (i.e., the sky is blue, the sun is round), to our physiological abilities to discern colour, or to cultural biases and aesthetic prejudices.
Success for an artist is very difficult to measure. Does it come by monetarily or by recognition? Many very talented artists will never achieve either. What drives most true artists is the unrelenting need to create and express, regardless of either. The bravest and riskiest act for any artist is to send their work out into the world.
To encapsulate in a brief summary; find your own voice, hone your skills, be creative, bold and clever.
The life of an Artist
The secret to being a successful Artist is to just DO IT. And do it again and again. It’s called Passion. I wanted to be an Artist since I was a little kid. I was the one who could sit and draw for hours upon end.
Through various circumstance I ended up going to Nursing school but I was determined to still be an Artist one day. Three years after I was employed full-time as an RN I applied to Emily Carr College of Art. The day I was accepted was one of the happiest days of my life.
I worked as an RN every Saturday and Sunday 12 hour shifts and went to Emily Carr Monday through Friday. Monday’s were my favourite day without a doubt. After 4 years I graduated with Honors and didn’t owe a penny.
So, after that I worked part-time as a Nurse and painted on my days off. I often said, “The Nurse worked so the Artist could paint”.
Now I have fulfilled my dream and have been painted full-time for the past 8 years. I have PASSION for painting. I can’t wait to get up in the morning and paint. Someone said to me:
What if you didn’t feel inspired when you got into your studio?
And I replied, “Well, it hasn’t happened yet.”
At the risk of sounding very selfish my studio time is “sacred” and I guard it protectively. Every morning I walk into my studio, chose some music and approach whatever painting I have on my easel. I work at whatever I think needs my attention. I am not saying every day is EASY just that when you are doing what you love it just works, and it doesn’t feel like work. I paint when it’s cold, I paint when it’s hot, I paint when I am tired or sick. No excuses. It’s what I LOVE. I very lucky to finally live the life I dreamed of.
I paint everyday just like musicians I know play their instrument EVERY DAY.
My advice is to paint “in your own voice” and paint your version of how you see things in the world.
Paint because you have to.
Do something that excites you.
Painting as a Profession
I have been very interested in painting since high school. I, however, chose not to pursue a fine arts degree but to pursue a business degree for the simple reason that I did not believe I could make a decent living as a professional artist. And also, perhaps like you, I was influenced by others, to pursue what they determined to be a “real career”. You might think of this as a cop-out and that it would be a source of regret, but for me it was quite the opposite for a couple of reasons:
- I don’t see my interests as being singularly focused. I have had a successful career in the investment management business which I have thoroughly enjoyed. In this business, like most, successful people are typically creative thinkers.
- This career path did not prevent me from studying art both at the university level as well as through courses, workshops and a growing library of books.
- My pursuit of painting was a great balance to my primary job.
- The hours I spend in the evenings and weekends painting are for me, and for the pure joy of the endeavour. There exists no deadlines or obligations. In fact I often avoid commissions for exactly this reason.
What is behind every good painting?… In my opinion at least
Like any creative endeavour, I see painting as process of exploration. It requires persistence and a willingness to embrace failure. You need to set high standards for yourself and be comfortable with the fact that to produce really good paintings you need to first produce many, many, many, shitty paintings. I have found a good way to experiment, explore and get those many shitty paintings under your belt is to paint small. I spent at least a year or two painting only 6’x6’ oil paintings. I think I painted at least 50 of them. Most of them – junk. I learned more from that process than from any book or workshop. For this to work, you must begin every painting with the expectation that you will throw it out or wipe it when done. If it somehow works out then great, but don’t get married to it.
As painting is a journey, and one where we are always learning and exploring, I also find it very helpful to keep a journal. Before painting, write down what you are going to focus on and what your intention is. Document the steps, this is particularly helpful if you work with multiple glazes or veils. Most importantly, when you are finished, document what worked and what didn’t. From this you will increasingly learn what to focus on more in future paintings and what to avoid.
Where did it begin?
Where did it begin? It’s hard to unravel the journey when the path, as it has been said by the poet Antonio Machado, is made by walking.
When I was six, I remember sitting in the hot sun with my mother waiting for a bus. I asked her to draw me something, and like most of us she protested “but I can’t draw”, and yet there, into the palm of my hand, scribed with a blue biro, flew a bird. This sense of magic, this gift and its accompanying felt-sense of creation is remembered as my first moment of inspiration. That something could appear from nothing was like breath. It was life arising from the invisible, it was essential and I wanted to make my own birds fly.
I wrote stories, I drew and copied drawings. I liked to copy interesting faces I found in magazines. I made things from scraps of wood, fibre and glue. I stitched and sewed. I wandered in woods and back alleys. I looked deeply at the world and its enchantments. In essence, I was unknowingly developing a practice. I made forts out of driftwood or the tangled lengths of willow branches that cascaded from the old tree in a nearby abandoned lot. These were my first studios and in them I dreamed.
I grew up and went away to university on an athletic scholarship. All of my youth I was training my body as well as staying actively connected to creative pursuits. I look back and see that this rigor and discipline, the desire and focus I maintained to achieve at an elite level of sport has been of great value to my artistic practice. We are capable of so much and each of our passions fuel the other. All the years I travelled the world competing with the Canadian National Volleyball team I kept up my notebooks. I recorded my impressions of what I saw and felt. I studied the arts. I had no idea I would eventually make my living as a painter. When I left university with my degree, I travelled a bit, ended up back on the coast and began messing around in boats. I lived in a small coastal town and apprenticed with a wooden boat builder. I learnt new skills. It was still an analogue age and I loved to hold in my hands the sharpened steel blade that touched to a block of rosewood could coax from fragrant, oily grain, my first curved edged plane. I learnt to put a 16′ plank of cedar into an even longer wooden box and let it steam to the point of such pliancy that it could be wrapped like wet kelp around the boat’s hull.
I outgrew the town and moved to the city. I continued with the notebooks. The path meandered, but always remained connected to creativity. I worked in furniture building, libraries, and once, for another artist. I painted houses. This afforded long hours of meditative action in which my mind was left free to compose poems. Eventually boredom and the inner knowing that I was not contributing to the world in the way I was most capable, led me to return to graduate school. I became an art therapist. Rewarding, valuable work, and yet as I encouraged and facilitated the creations of others, I became more and more desirous of making my own paintings. Clumsy, awkward, derivative but strangely compelling. I just kept painting. I got my first studio. I renovated the studio, I learnt the routines that made my studio a second home. I kept painting. I watched videos of painters painting. I collected a library of books on the work of artists I loved. I kept painting. I read about painting and looked at paintings in galleries. I kept on painting. I showed one person, then I had a show in my kitchen, then a cafe, a hair salon and more cafes. At the invitation of the owner of a high-end retail shop I showed a group of work that might now be remembered as the first paintings stylistically recognizable as my own. I was on my way to gallery representation.
All of this to say that becoming an artist for me was simply an unfolding through time, a collection of small decisions that, like composing a painting, consisted of a series of gestures, marks made and unmade, passages laid down, painted over, inquires, excavations and inventions, erasures and findings, steps retraced, made anew or reinterpreted. Each brushstroke, each layer removed is necessary for the version of the self or the painting to reach its felt harmony. Painting is a process of discovery. Your life is a process of uncovering what remains when all that is unnecessary falls away. For me, what remains, is to create. To continually invent myself from each shed skin.
The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels…. These things are your becoming.
— Cheryl Strayed, author of “Wild”
I have been a practicing artist for nearly 35 years.
For the last 15 years my paintings have been focused on landscape. Before that I was a photographer… and before that I was an illustrator/painter. For the last 8 years I have supported myself solely as an artist.
I live in Burnaby now, but before that I have lived in Massachusetts, NYC, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and for two years I lived on a bicycle and cycled from the southern point of South America to Inuvik, NWT.
The following list is some of the many jobs I have had throughout my career:
– Showing apartments before they were built, in lower Manhattan near WTC
– Fabricating hand-made high-end costume jewelry for a Soho gallery
– Hand-painting decorations on hand bags for a NY designer
– Gilding and restoring furniture and frames
– Mixing paint colors for hand-screened and painted custom wallpapers and fabrics
– Salesperson in an art supply and framing shop
– Teaching painting workshops
– other similar (meaning art-related) freelance jobs
I was a competitive Scottish Highland dancer since I was 5 years old.
I am now retired from competition and teach in West Vancouver, and adjudicate at competitions.
I continue to seek out other artists that I would like to learn from. I know I will never run out of artists to choose from! Workshops are super important for my growth. Not only do I come away with knowledge, but I will likely make friends that share a common interest.
In 1996, I applied and was accepted to a week long workshop with a famous photographer in Maine, USA. That week changed my life, and the photographer, along with many people in the class became a life-long friend and mentor.
In 2015, I took a week long painting course in Arizona. What the instructor said in the first half day seemed like more than I had learned in 4 years of Illustration. He I are still good friends as well.
I will always be an artist.
Bullet Points on being a Working Artist
1. Work hard
2. Self motivation
3. Spend many hours alone in the studio
4. Say no to useless distraction
5. Practice curiosity
6. Use your hands
7. Study other artists/find out what you like and don’t like
8. Develop a consistent work habit
9. Get comfortable making mistakes
10. Think of mistakes as adjustments
11. Be able to talk about your work
12. Create a Brand/who are you?
13. Study art history/where does this all come from?
14. Ask for help
15. Help others
16. Find a mentor
17. Creativity is nurtured and builds throughout your life.
18. Be kind to yourself
19. One job to pay the bills/art to sustain your spirit
20. Maybe get a trade
21. Go to Art School
22. Take a business/accounting class
23. Art school will not make you a success, only continued work.
24. Keep a journal of ideas
25. Visit Galleries and Museums
26. Go to Art Fairs in other cities
27. You and your art are a package
28. Form a group to exhibit and critique
29. Must be your own advocate/Blow your own horn
30. Study how others artists work and have worked
31. Think long term career
32. Creativity takes care of boredom
33. Doodle/limit your social media
34. Go for walks with no destination in mind.
35. Practice mindfulness
36. Get comfortable being by yourself
37. Do not compare yourself to others. Compare and despair.
38. Live a balanced life
39. Go to workshops
40. Always carry a sketch book
41. Look up
42. Pay attention to smells and the memories they invoke
43. Live simply
44. Create at the kitchen table if you have to.
45. Learn to be a good listener
46. Practice empathy
47. Go to life drawing classes
48. Find the media you love and explore it completely
49. You will never have all the answers
50. The journey is what it’s about
51. Get lots of sleep
Social Media to Watch and Read
Brian Rutenberg on Youtube. There are #70-15 minute videos available to watch.
Robert and Sara Genn. Twice-Weekly Newsletter. Many in the archive as well.
Artful Painter, podcast
Michael Palin speaking on Art
The Art Assignment on Youtube
Any Youtube channel to do with the arts
Google Andy Goldsworthy
How To Be An Artist by Jerry Saltz
The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe
Clear Seeing Place by Brian Rutenberg
Broad Strokes by Bridgett Quinn
Lucian Freud by Phoebe Hoban
Portrait of an Artist, Georgia O’Keefe by Laurie Lisle
An Absorbing Errand by Janna Malamed Smith
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
The Art of Rivalry by Sebastian Smee
Some thoughts about getting to make art for a living and how I got here
I believe each one of us has certain strong talents which coincide with our interests and passions, and that these things emerge in our childhood/teenagehood. If we or someone around us discerns this, we can direct this ability with practice or education – e.g. if it’s art, going to art galleries, taking art classes, learning to woodwork or draw or work with clay. The jobs/careers where we will be happy and successful are usually at the intersection of our interests and our abilities.
Being an artist means that you’re so compelled/obsessed with making art that you find a way to do it no matter what – whether you have a job that gives you the time or you can do it full time, whether you planned to be a career artist or found the calling later in life.
The only way to get “good” at the craft of making art is to spend thousands of hours doing it, and the only thing that makes you do that is the obsession which makes you an artist in the first place.
Seems like most artists don’t start making good art until at least in their late 20s/early 30s, so it’s clear that learning as much as possible about the world around you, art-related or not (i.e. economics!) and experiencing as much as possible is a good way to get the maturity necessary to make good art. Lots of inputs. Once you’re a bit older you get the discipline to put in the thousands of hours to distill those inputs into something unique.
Fundamentally being an artist is a spiritual practice that will last your whole life. It’s about making physical objects that are expressions of your deepest self. It’s about the faith that it’s worth pursuing something that is hard or takes a long time even though it might not end up being perfect or making you any money – just for the joy or satisfaction of making. It’s about love and being vulnerable all the time. There’s something I’m learning about listening your innermost voice, call it your conscience or whatever, your deepest you, and doing what it tells you. You already know inside you what you need to do, not just in art making but in any part of life, and the goal is to remove all the other voices, expectations, anxieties, and doubts that obscure this voice. So being an artist is emotionally intense and you have to be OK with that.
Recent Interview with CARLA TAK
i. I work as a Painter.
ii. I do this creative work because:
It keeps me grounded and my head straight, it also brings me and others joy.
iii. Personal qualities that help me in my work are:
Fearlessness and incredible work ethic.
iv. The greatest challenges around doing this work are:
At this stage, I have none. Earlier on I had much self doubt. I was beginning at 50 and had not gone to art school. Fortunately I was still working with a Reiki master who helped me through the transition.
v. Creative childhood hobbies:
Playing for hours outdoors and cooking.
vi. Other creators who inspire me:
Architects, Interior Designers, Furniture and Lighting Designers – really all designers and makers of things…
vii. Training that has helped me in this career:
Being my sole supporter at 15, 30 years of counselling, and work ethic.
viii. A common trap that can hurt people in this career:
Being too sensitive to how others perceive their work.
ix. Some proud career moments:
Changing from a successful career at 50, to something completely unknown.
x. If you want to work in my field, I suggest that you:
Have a strong sense of self-worth, combined with strong work ethics.
xi. A professional goal I have for the future:
Generally I do not look to the future; I am a very ‘in this moment’ person.
Very aware of all opportunities right in front of me.
xii. If you want to see my work, go to:
Art Rental & Sales at the VAG or book a studio visit at CarlaTak.com, @carla_tak.
Father, husband, Artist, Stretcher maker, canvas stretcher…
I didn’t intend to be an artist. Two things happened that turned a BSc Honours student (Bio & Chem) into a flaky Plain Clothes Hippie living in the Comox Valley and trying to “find himself” after two life changing events.
First I “accidentally” discovered the work of Michelangelo Buonarroti and secondly, (returning from two years working in rural West Africa) I was overwhelmed by the power of Haida art, artists and craftsmen.
So the first lesson for me on being an artist was to surrender control of how my life was going to turn out. As hard as that was, it was easier than convincing my parents.
The next lesson took years to absorb, but slowly I realized that being an artist is Damn Hard Work (and I’m basically lazy). It often comes with little in the way of material rewards, and in my situation, entailed a rejection of the consumerist carrot-at-the-end-of-the-stick.
I also had to throw out all the Ideas I had about what Being An Artist Looks Like. At 68, I’ve given up trying to have shows and get gallery representation. At art school the beginnings of a business dropped into my lap and has sustained me ever since. I build artist canvases and panels and use the space and the materials for doing my art. “What?” you say, “how can someone be an artist and not show their work?” That’s thinking INSIDE the box! Being an artist, in my experience, means continually redefining the juggling act of life. Grit your teeth folks, and get used to it…or become an accountant.
I also have had to be leery of Other Peoples’ Answers, Theories, Philosophies etc. in my life and cultivate instead a search for Meaningful Questions. Oh crap! I thought it was about the parties. (I could go into paragraphs about “Meaningful Questions”, but I think I’ll leave you with just that thought.)
As I got older, it didn’t get easier. Too Bad. It gets harder to keep reaching inside; into the mysterious places there, and staying open for the next…whatever….
Hi, everyone! My name is Shirley Williams and I’m a painter.
I paint the landscape, and other living, shifting growing things, like the ocean, trees and plants (but not people or pups…yet!) These subjects challenge me as they ask me to take a serious look at them, and because I paint in the ‘realistic style’ a certain degree of knowing the subject and accuracy in depiction is important to me, so I look hard and work hard.
I wasn’t always a painter and didn’t come to this place in a very well thought-out or linear way: in high school (Carson Graham) I was in the concert band and played the trumpet (poorly), but was also in the Vancouver Junior Symphony, where I played the violin (well). I have always sung (well) and accompanied myself on the piano (poorly) . My Elton John songbook was always on the piano stand. I spent my ‘free’ time drawing (music was a ‘must’ in my house…both parents being professional musicians…mom:opera, dad:trombone), and took Drafting (the old-fashioned way: with a board, a set square and pencils) and Industrial Design. Architectural Design at BCIT came next and the violin was set aside for other (stupid) off-hour pursuits (my biggest regret…honestly…because today, 40 years later, I can barely play a note).
Advice to my younger self: don’t throw any of yourself away…keep all passions operating! No need to ditch one for another.
I kept singing, and drawing, but with no intention of pursuing careers in either. I took a job at an interior design studio immediately after school and made enough money to move out and get an apartment in North Van. There I built a career in commercial design and eventually married (a pianist…who accompanies me (well), had 2 kids and ran a small residential design practice while juggling community and school volunteering (always arts and music-centred). I’d been involved in set design for a large church production in Vancouver, and one year, as set construction was underway, we lost our painting crew, so I stepped in. Having to address that large scale ‘canvas’ was daunting and completely outside my comfort zone. I found an old gallery exhibition invite that I had saved from a local artist, popped it into my tool box and followed his image and painting style all the way to a decent backdrop scene. This nerve-wracking experience got me totally hooked on painting and was a huge turning point for me. From then on my goal was to figure out how to be a real, full-time artist. Rented a studio in Gastown, where I worked for 8 years, tentative and directionless at first, finding my way, building up experience, working towards a self-directed solo exhibition, meeting and working with other artists and travelling to study with established professional painters. Today, ten years later, my art practice continues pretty much in the same way: when I’m not outside learning and painting I spend most days in my much-closer-to-home-but-not-as-cool studio in North Van learning and painting. I continue to take workshops with artists I admire, make work, sell work and look, look, look. There’s so much to this pursuit…the more I learn, the more obvious my LACK of knowledge is. And therein lies the challenge…and the appeal. I love it, and I can’t get enough 🙂
I want to share these words of collected wisdom with you, to encourage you on your journey, however your heart directs you. I so wish I’d paid attention to this stuff when I was your age:
Dream BIG dreams, not safe little boring ones.
Find your tribe…the friends that get you and the people you look up to.
Explore. Be curious. Look really hard. Get to know yourself. Be brave, inspired.
Copy those you admire ( art, music, theatre, writing, science…all of it)…at the end of all the copying, and adjusting for personal taste, you will find who YOU are.
Forward your interests/career by seeking advice and expertise in the areas where you lack knowledge or experience…and help others with what you know…
Keep a sketchbook…for doodling and great ideas and reminders of things thought.
Read. Start with ’Steal Like An Artist’ by Austin Kleon. I will buy you a copy if you reach out to me via Instagram @shirleyclairewilliams or my website shirleyclairewilliams.com
Practice, whatever-it-is, everyday.
Good luck, hope to hear from you and thank you for reading through this…love, Shirley
Am I an Artist? I don’t know, but I sure hope I am!
Art was introduced to me at a very young age. I grew up in a creative environment and my father encouraged me to draw and paint, but when I decided to quit UBC and attend Emily Carr College of Art, he was not happy. This route of education was not going to lead to a prosperous life and I was never to become a professional artist! On my first day of art school our colour theory teacher, Sam Carter, announced to us young and naïve art students that only 1% of the students who walked through the front doors of the school would make it as an artist; one’s dreams were either shattered or his words motivated you to prove him wrong.
I have always felt the conflict between being a wife, a mother, a daughter, a teacher and myself. As I age, I truly believe that art is a part of me; it steers my days and distracts me from other things I should be doing. One has to question: “Can a woman who is an artist ever just be an artist?” It is a challenge, but one that I face with energy, optimism, and enthusiasm.
We often question our validity in society; art validates myself to myself. I am uncertain if art is a vehicle for acceptance – acceptance from other artists, acceptance from the viewer, acceptance from my students or is it something I do merely because I want to do it? There is no space or time for this sort of hesitation; it takes focus, dedication and determination to create authentic art.
Recognizing my personal intentions, and the challenge of being true to myself is something that has arrived with age and confidence. I will always have self-doubt. It is a continuous challenge to look at myself through my own lens and not through the lens of others but I have friends like Ross Penhall who support and push me to do more; he has helped steer the wagon!
The above photograph is a self-portrait when I was 18 years old. A portable television and a stack of art and fashion magazines sit beside me; media was an integral part of me then and is today. It is my priority to remain informed about what is happening in the art world but I must be careful not to get too caught up in it! I am both inspired and influenced by others’ work yet looking at their work can be more harmful than good. I strive to keep true to myself and in my attempt to produce a constant stream of work and stay focused on my plan.
I have just begun to appreciate women artist who did ground breaking work. They persevered in a male dominated art world and succeeded in creating art that is monumental and everlasting. Some of these artists are: Celia Paul, Beverly Pepper, Barbara Hepsworth, and Helen Frankenthaler. These women are more than inspirational, they keep me on track. I am currently working on a body of work which includes ceramic orbs, landscape photographs, and hazy water colour paintings. Even though I am committed to my plan, I am often distracted by some new idea or concept that I want to work on or by one of the many other responsibilities, but I am always drawn back to my art!
My mantra – Be what you want to be, be yourself, and it will arrive.