“You have to build the ship to sail on. In other words, you can’t tell people about the ship you are thinking about building and expect them to buy tickets for the first ride. Instead you must first put in the work. That often means heavy lifting, isolation, heaps of doubt, and epic failures and setbacks. It’s a lonely place to be when you are building your ship. But when you do it, and you set sail, people will see how beautiful and majestic it is, and there will be a line to buy tickets.” –Rebecca Rebouche on building a career as a creative
As I’ve plugged away at this art business over the past six months, that quote has really helped me move forward. I haven’t done a particularly good job updating my blog, because, let’s face it, art is work and work takes time from doing other things. I’ve given small updates here and there on Facebook and Instagram, but have stayed pretty quiet on here. I was a little intimidated by the thought of getting back into writing mode, so I decided to ask my friends and followers what they’d like to know about me and my work during the time I’ve been chasing this crazy dream full-time.
Here’s (most) of what you guys wanted to know.
What’s your favorite medium? I LOVE drawing in ink more than anything else. I prefer painting in oil, but have found that either the smell of the paint or the fumes from the mineral spirits makes me horribly sick. I’ve come to love acrylic and the style I’ve built learning to work with it.
(On a side note, my favorite medium to look at is sculpture, and I have a lot of respect and admiration for the artists who create three dimensional work.)
How do you decide what to paint? Choosing subjects can be pretty tricky, especially when I’m working to feed my family. When I was younger, I relied solely on highly conceptual work that I found compositionally interesting and emotionally inspired. These days I try to balance what I find beautiful and/or interesting with what someone else might want to have in their home or workplace. I still like to keep a little bit of concept to my work, but I also work toward a standard of simplicity and accessibility.
Where do you get your inspiration? Inspiration is honestly a pretty rare emotion for me. When I’m feeling dry as a bone in my soul, I have a few safe places I go to recharge and reset. That’s about as close as I get to any level of consistent inspiration. I do, however, put myself in situations while I’m working that give me extra energy and motivation and excitement. I spend a good bit of time at the zoo getting reference photos, and animal activity gets me really excited because I know I might land a good photo to work from. I also really enjoy watching birds and wildlife whenever I can. Coffee and open windows are also always welcome. That being said, as a full-time artist, I can’t rely much on inspiration. Setting a disciplined, consistent artistic practice that I stick to religiously is the key I’ve found to getting things done. Inspiration comes and goes with very unpredictable results. Discipline yields results.
How do you stay motivated to create on a regular basis? Knowing that my family depends on me to survive is my biggest source of motivation. In my lower moments, life is a race to create as big a body of work as I can before death inevitably catches up with me. I also try to set deadlines and goals that propel me forward into a future that is cripplingly uncertain without them.
What’s your favorite project since you left the 9-5 corporate life? I’m in the slow process of developing a new style to add to my oeuvre that I’m really into and excited about. I also recently did a painting of a friend’s dog, Leo, who recently passed that I absolutely love. I’m also working on some elephants and a coyote that I’m pretty psyched to see finished.
Do you listen to certain music to help set the mood/atmosphere? I occasionally listen to stuff jazzy like Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, or John Coltrane. If I’m feeling moody I’ll listen to soundtracks by Clint Mansell or Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. It’s very rare that I listen to anything with words or repetitive melodies because I find myself focusing on the lyrics and music more than what I’m working on. My favorite soundtrack to work by is the ambient hum of the air conditioner.
What’re your favorite and least favorite piece you’ve ever done? My favorite painting I created was probably Sanctus Equus (the white horse with a halo) and my favorite drawing is Fatherhood (lion-man sleeping). Both are very personal and both look exactly how I planned them, so I love them.
To answer the other question, I definitely have some paintings I like less than others, but there’s one that I intentionally lost track of after the patron hated it so much she returned it. In my defense, it was only my second painting, I had no idea what I was doing, and it was huge. I hope somebody used it to fuel a bonfire in a desert somewhere.
Which creation has been the hardest one to paint? Which was the easiest? Why? That’s kind of a hard question to answer. My painting On the Rocks took over a year to complete, but I was also working full-time with a baby at home. Red Fox took over a year of trying and retrying to create in different styles and mediums before I settled on what became the finished painting. I spent more hours on Epistaxis than any other painting. I also have a painting based on a collage in my studio closet called Ostara that has been in process since the summer of 2010. The mural I just finished for T-Mobile was probably the hardest on my mind and body. I let you guys decide which of those was most difficult.
The easiest was probably a little painting of a blue scarab I did for my Aunt Jenny a few years ago. It only took 2-3 hours to paint, and it’s still one of my favorite paintings. (Weird side note: You can see in the photo that I signed it E+m because I was trying to rebrand as Ember&moth in an sad attempt at separating my art life from my personal life. I used that signature four times before abandoning it to use my name again.)
What have you learned about yourself and your work in the past 6 months? I’ve learn a lot, but the most important things I’m learning are that, despite the mounds and mounds of self-doubt I deal with on a near daily basis, I am actually doing this thing, that God is really continuing to use me and my talent to provide for my family, that I’m doing something so many people only dream of doing, that making art is just another job that feels like work a lot of the time, and that discipline always trumps feeling inspired and motivated.
As far as my work goes, I’m kind of unlocking the Divine element to my work. What started simply as studies of animals I had interesting pictures of have has become unified commentaries on freedom from enslavement and the unification of creation through the life-giving breath of God. I’m also learning how my mind uses animals to makes philosophical connections that help me understand myself and the world around me. It’s kind of always been that way, but I’m learning to harness it and use it to give my work the meaning and worth I’ve previously felt it was lacking.
What’s been harder than you thought it would be vs. what did you think would be hard and isn’t? I didn’t really anticipate the levels of isolation, self-doubt, and anxiety that would come with this. Working mostly at home with little exposure leaves me pretty blind to the impressions my work leaves on people. I’m looking at galleries and I’m preparing to show at an art festival this fall, but until then I’m pretty much a hermit.
The main thing I thought would be hard and wasn’t was rallying the support of my loved ones. Katie has held me up when I couldn’t stand on my own and kept me going when I wanted to quit. My friends have continuously backed me up when I didn’t think I could go on. My mentors have pushed me and encouraged me and given me everything I need to urge me forward on this very uncertain path. It’s really been kind of a dream.
What does your day look like? We’re in kind of a transition right now with Florence going back to school, but this is how the new schedule looks:
8AM- Wake up/Get me and Florence ready for the day
8:45AM- Walk Florence to school
9:15AM- Brew coffee and prep my workspace
12:00PM- Lunch with Katie
1:45PM- Pick Florence up from school
2:15PM- Put Florence down for a nap
4:00PM- Play with Florence
4:45PM- Cook dinner
5:15PM- Dinner with the family
6:30PM- Bath time for Florence
7:30PM- Story and bedtime for Florence
7:45PM- Time with Katie
10:00PM- Free time when Katie goes to sleep
I’m a stickler about my schedule and my routine. It has to go as close to design as possible to ensure I get as much done as possible. Food, coffee, and adequate sleep are also big keys to my creative practice.
How do you balance/prioritize being a stay-at-home dad with being a full-time artist? Spending time with Florence and Katie is my highest priority. With Florence at home with me during the time between summer camp and pre-K I’ve had to really try to spend time with her and keep her entertained while also stressing that, though its pretty cool that Dad’s an artist, artists have to work and I need that time to work. That being said, Florence typically understands when its work time for me and stays entertained close by with movies, music, toys, or artistic projects of her own. My favorite times are when she works in her notebook or on her own canvas while I work. She’s a pretty active, outgoing kid, but we understand each other pretty well, and she knows when I’m good to play and when I need to be quiet, low-key, and introverted. Mainly, though, I work when I can work, and I play and give her attention as she needs me. I’m definitely still figuring it out and know several places I could improve, but she seems happy and content to be my best studio assistant.
How do you keep your work life from bleeding over into your personal life? I always try to put my family and friends over my work, but, whether there’s a brush or pen in my hand or not, I’m always working. I have a really hard time quitting at the end of the day and usually obsess over photos I’ve taken of my work and concepts I’m building well into the night, which makes me really hard to connect or spend time with. I do usually try to stop the physical part of my work before dinner and avoid touching it until I have my own time to work. I also don’t allow my artwork in my bedroom in an effort to give myself a sanctuary from my work and my perfectionistic tendency to continuously pick everything I’ve done apart.
What are your favorite and least favorite parts about freelancing? Hands down the best thing about being a freelancer is that it frees me up to go and do when I’m needed. If a friend needs to talk over lunch, I’m there. If I need to answer a text, no one’s watching over my shoulder to ride me about my productivity. If Florence needs one-on-one time or Katie wants a lunch date, I can stop what I’m doing and go (unless there’s a threat of my paint drying). Since I’m so often consumed by my work I also have the freedom to take a day off when I know I’m going to have to spend significant time engaged with other people or when I’m feel overworked and frazzled.
My least favorite part of being a freelancer is the administrative side. I don’t mind doing the math or the work, but I don’t really enjoy answering emails, giving quotes, collecting money, doing parking lot art drop offs, or maintaining what’s been done and what needs to be done. Its an area I’m really striving to grow in. I really just needs a legit studio assistant, so if you’re cool with working for free for an emerging Birmingham artist hit me up.
How did your career change help your mental health? Generally its only upped my anxiety levels and heightened my neurotic tendencies. But I’m working with my counselor to find a good balance, and I’m learning to find my worth in more than just the quantity and self-perceived quality of my work and the limited engagement that comes almost exclusively from social media. I will say that mental health care has made pursuing this dream something achievable. If I weren’t on medication and pursuing counseling and peer support I wouldn’t be able to do as much as I do.
What do you want to do more of in the future? I’ve got a few things in the works for the next year. I’m going to continue growing my animal portraits, and I’m going to keep developing the new style I’m working on. I’m really into the idea of exploring landscapes and cityscapes in my own unique style. I’m going to draw more. I’d like to try oils again, but who knows when/if that will happen. I’ve kind of been toying with the idea of branching into sculpture, but I hold the art form in such reverence that I may never attempt anything. I’d also like to start offering prints and products.