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dreaming of painting

Met John for a beer after work. He’d heard about Media closing and offered to buy me a beer. We are both teachers, he in high school, me in a community college. We teach basically the same subject. Photoshop, web design, film making.

We talked about the challenges all teachers face, and his experiences running a similar program up north…that also closed. We also talked a lot about how, when we were younger,  people told us to forget about our dreams. He wanted to be a musician, I wanted to be an artist. We were both told to get a real job because there was no money in artistic work. And we both did. And now we both are frustrated artists working day jobs that are fun, and sort of artsy, but not what we dreamed of doing.

He told a story about visiting the emergency room and being told that his test showed he had a deadly artery condition on his heart. It was in-operable. Later tests proved this was a mistake…he was fine…but he spent an entire day thinking he might die.

As he lay there in the hospital bed, his thoughts were these:

I had two good kids, I feel good about that. But my career, my dreams of being a musician…I totally blew that…and now my time is up.

I looked at him and thought how similar we are. People our age are keeling over of heart attacks and dying. Someone did that a month ago at work. I knew him well. He looked just like me.

I’m at a fork in the road. I can use my part time status to study programming and get a full time job in either teaching, or web design, or I can take the other fork and use my  part time status to work full time as an artist. This would be on the days I’m not teaching. I will still be teaching web design for the foreseeable future.

But on those two days a week, instead of studying programming, I can take my easel outside and paint 10 hours a day, two days a week. I will still have time to climb on the weekends…but I will be painting 20 hours a week. I think we can survive on half wages for one quarter. That means I should get considerably better. My painting skill is all about practice.  With more skill, I can begin to build up a body of sellable work. I’ve been told I need 6 galleries selling my work, with about 10 paintings in each gallery. That is a doable goal. As a weekend painter, it’s far too easy to make bad art. But 20 hours  of painting a week, that could make a huge difference in my skill.

I’m looking forward to the challenge.

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Painting again

I’m looking at potentially reduced hours in coming quarters. I’m made a promise to myself:  I will not use those extra hours to play.  My temptation is to simply start climbing even more than I already do. A better plan is to use this extra time to develop a long ignored talent. To that end, I’ve started painting in my spare time. So far, I’ve got 8 hours in a Nisqually landscape, over two different days, and 3 hours into a portrait of dad.

What is unusual is that I’m doing it after work. Last night I got down to the Nisqually delta around 5-ish. I hiked out to my viewpoint, set up my easel, and painted for two hours until the light changed. But even better, I was able to get into that mindset where the painting doesn’t matter as much as the experience. In other words, I was having so much fun being “in the zone”, that the end product really doesn’t even matter.

I’m truly scared to look at the painting. Other hikers were telling me it was great…and I thought it was pretty good, but if I look at it now in the cold light of day, and it sucks…does that take away from the great experience of creating it?

That is the perpetual artist dilemma. We like making art, but it may not ever sell. Fortunately, I have a day job that pays the bills, for now at least, and my art does not have to sell. My plan is to simply have fun making art…a lot of art…and hope that I gradually get better.  It comes down to practice, assuming you have some baseline skills, talent and training.

But man, I was having so much fun out there at my lonely easel in the evening light! Being a painter is a real gift, I feel so fortunate to be able to paint. And no, I’m not going to post the painting until some time has passed. I want to savor the experience in my  mind for a while. As long as I don’t actually look at the painting, I can remember it as a masterpiece. It’s sort of like acting and feeling as if I am still in my thirties. If I look in the mirror, I will see a white haired geezer looking back at me. Best not to look.

I met a famous watercolor painter once at a large gallery . He was so big he had a TV show. I was still working as a bluecollar printer back them. I was considering going back to college to pursue a fine arts degree, and I asked him if that was my ticket to success as an artist. Here is his response:

“The last thing you need to do is go to college. To become a successful artist, here is what you need to do: Paint 5000 paintings from life. Don’t paint from photos, ever. Always work from life. Nature, and trial and error will teach you everything you need to know. By the end of those 5000 paintings you will be living on your art.”