My best friend in high school said the first time she ever noticed me in class was the day I wore orange pants, orange socks and an orange T shirt. There was definitely something different about me, she said. Soon after, we were inseparable, and spent a great deal of energy carving out well earned reputations as geeks. In my early college years, I changed course, trying desperately to fit in, and conform, and this stretched into my first years as an artist.
When I first began painting, I created traditional subjects in oils with a limited palette and produced super realistic works using all manner of tiny brushes. I began losing my joy and feeling like I was clocking into work, or hopping onto a treadmill each time I entered the studio (aka the kitchen table in my tiny apartment, fancy, yes?). I knew that if I kept on that path, I would soon stop painting.
Ten years after I first picked up a brush, I stopped trying to fit in. This was truly the first day I became an artist. I threw away the brushes, and moved to palette knife for two years, forcing me to loosen up. Next, I expanded my limited palette and added transparent colors to my list of staples. I created a split palette of opaques and a split palette of transparents, and I dove into color without fear. The first important art group that recognized my work did so because (they said) it was different. I wasn’t simply copying the artist du jour, or trying to recreate what was popular at that time. I was no longer on the traditional track. Clearly, I liked color too much, according to jurors who regularly rejected my work from art shows even after Disney called.
Sometimes I wonder where I would be today if I had an art journey do over, and if I had not spent the first 10 years on a traditional painting track. But I also know that foundations were created then that are integral even in my most fanciful periods today. I still hear the siren call of super realism from time to time, and am always questioning what’s ahead. This is also an essential trait we artists share, the self-doubt and inner voice that shrieks with fear each time a blank canvas appears. The best way to squelch these misgivings is to move through them, to keep painting, and to know that the future is scary, but it’s also very, very interesting. After all, I could still be sitting at that desk in corporate America, watching the hands of the clock move oh so slowly toward the evening hours of freedom and painting. As the snow falls outside my studio, and the year moves toward another ending, how thankful I am to be a full time artist, to teach and paint, and to live a life I once only dreamed of. Instead of thinking of time wasted, I will consider that as time spent building my mojo, and finding a real path toward what was truly meant to be as a societal off-kilter nonconforming artist. Maybe your path is like mine, and you’re that round art peg trying to fit into the square art hole. Think for a moment about painting as if no one is watching. What would you create, if so? And where would you be, 10 years from now, if today you stopped trying to fit in and began creating only what makes you happy? The one thing I know for certain is, you would still be painting, because your joy will increase tenfold.