What’s your background?
I fell in love at fifteen years old, and that has never changed. When the film, Forrest Gump, came out, I was five years old and still barely speaking, but I demanded to see it in theaters four times. My family has at least nine ethnicities represented. I used to want to be an ornithologist. I went to business school for all the wrong reasons, and didn’t go to art school for all the right reasons. I got my BA from the University of Chicago and lived and worked for a time in China. I spent six years cooking professionally, and then over a year in an office.
What got you interested in the arts to begin with?
My mother is an artist. She majored in fine art in college, etc., etc., and eventually turned to graphic design. She did quite well in that field, but I know it wasn’t what she wanted. I hear a lot of people say 3d animation destroyed illustration and the role of traditional artists in industry, but I say it was the vector that did it.
After college, it was only a serendipitous string of stumbles and discoveries which revealed to me the possibilities. The very real possibilities.
When did you decide to dedicate yourself to art?
I can pinpoint it down to the moment, actually. I ran across a drawing in a newspaper in my brother’s recycling. I remember nothing else about that paper, or the article. I just looked at that drawing for a long while. Something in me was responding to it. Though, at the time, I wouldn’t have been able to articulate even that much. So I tore it out and folded it into my wallet.
I was hit with the need to create. Something. Like. This. I don’t know how else to put it. I had never “designed” any of my art in this way, didn’t even know how, but that didn’t stop me from trying. I took off from there and pursued a misunderstood concept of illustration. I had no real idea of what that meant or where that would lead me, and no goal other than to create. Something.
It was a long struggle of figuring things out on my own, and then finding resources to help me, and then people to help me. By the time I found the Oatley Academy, I turned in my notice as Pastry Chef and everyone who cared about me was pulling their hair out.
Do you remember your first piece of art you were really proud of? The one that made you say yes I am an artist!
Hmm. Pre-personal-reformation, I’d say it was Hamlet, my fourth-grade teacher’s pug. I painted him in acrylic on canvas from start to finish on red background and framed as an end-of-year gift. I haven’t seen Hamlet since I was nine or ten years old. So Hamlet may be awful. But I was proud of Hamlet. Little guy, bug eyes, pathological indecisiveness.
Post-reformation, oh man. In all honesty? It was my fancy animal (Chris Oatley’s Magic Box month 1). It’s not good, by any means. And I did so much wrong; but I learned some irreplaceable lessons during the process. It was my first piece of representational art that was successful since making the switch to digital paint. My fancy animal (Bear with a Pearl Earring, in case you’re wondering) was proof positive that I could draw and paint with a stylus.
You know when you’re dreaming and in your dream you have everything you’ve always wanted or are about to get everything you’ve always wanted and you’re deliriously happy, and then, you wake up? It was the exact opposite of that feeling.
What sacrifices have you made on behalf of your art career?
It’s hard to call my art career an art career when I’m still working an unrelated day job which actively prevents me from making art. Sacrifices for the sake of making art nevertheless include, but are not exclusive to: free time, sleep, mild alcoholism, general peace of mind, feelings of progress, income security, and the emotional well-being of my life-partner. More than anything, my choices as related to art-making have cost me the faith of those I care about. They’ve been put through the wringer.
Consider this in context for a moment. I chose to be a humanities major in college. A bit of arbitrary work experience later, and I’m a cook. That goes over well. A few years later I’m a production baker, then sous chef and pastry chef. I’m doing well in a tough career in two tough cities. People are getting used to the idea, I think.
BUT, it’s getting harder to draw and paint in my off-time. So I work up the nerve to turn in my notice. I jump into the deep end of improving my art while looking for a job that will allow me to continue to pursue it and earn a decent living. A few months later, I find it.
So, I imagine those close to me are just waiting for the bomb to go off at this point.
It’s hard to argue, if that’s their assessment. But they trust me enough to stick by me, at least. And I believe they always will, which is without value, truly.
Do you ever feel like giving up and doing something else? If so, why and how have you overcome that feeling?
No, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t felt terrified. I’m terrified of burning that last bridge, of wasting my time and my family’s time. I come from someplace foreign to this existence. I’m not terrible at insulating myself from what others think, but I often feel people looking at me like a child at play. It’s not a game for me, and it’s not play; even when I’m painting Vikings or dragons or children playing at Vikings or dragons. I do not possess the linguistic cues or nuances of articulation to explain this, even to myself. Maybe nobody does. To me, this is the greatest affliction of the industry and of the resources shaping future generations of representational artists whose interests lie in representing the fanciful and mythic. What is life without a bit of fancy?
I do not overcome that feeling. It overcomes me. Maybe I’m terrified that one day it will overcome me to finality.
What advice would you have given yourself ten years ago?
No, no, kidding. Ten years ago I would have been 17, in my junior year of high school.
I would have told myself to read more Ray Bradbury (I got into him tragically late). And to walk my dog more, and to convince Mei to come see Brian Jacques with me, at all costs.
I’d tell myself to draw every day. I wouldn’t listen, but I’d have to say it. Draw every day, and draw over myself, and make a MESS. Not every picture you make is going to be good, and that’s perfect.
But seriously, buy Apple.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Go to her.
What are you working on right now (other than this project)? What are you currently obsessed with?
I get a few freelance jobs every now and again, but unfortunately don’t have a lot of time for any grand personal project. I’ve begun teaching art to kids, which I’m really enjoying.
My dad has taken up writing for kid-lit, which I’m on-again-off-again trying to engage with him on..
I’m obsessed with the so-called Golden Age of American illustrators (NC Wyeth, Howard Pyle, Norman Rockwell, etc.). These were book covers, magazine covers, advertisements; hand painted and crafted! This market is nonexistent anymore, but the art is AMAZING.
We have lost something gargantuan, and I protest.
P.S. I found Hamlet!
And the drawing which started it all.