The Making of an Artist

When I was about knee high to a grasshopper, I drew things.  I was all but two or three years old armed with a fresh box of Crayolas and paper.  And if there was a shortage of paper, there were always the walls.   They didn’t have washable crayons or Mr Clean Magic Erasers back in those days. I use to draw and draw and draw.  No fear of deadlines, subjects or criticism. Maybe just my mother beating my ass for drawing on the walls again. But hey I was willing to take one for the team, all in the name of artistic freedom.  I didn’t care.  My dogs could be purple with 8 legs.  My birds could be fat and orange. It didn’t matter.  This was my world, I drew what I wanted.  I was quite the rebel in those days.

Then one day, I hit a wall. Not one that I drew on either.  A mental wall.  People!!! Other People!!!  This was a challenge I wasn’t willing to accept.  So I didn’t.  I passed right on by people and went to inadequate objects, like toy cars, vases and knick nacks. You know, stuff that was easy and didn’t move.

I was still at the top of my game.  No one in elementary school could hold a candle to my artistic super power.  Until one day, in fourth grade a new kid showed up.  He could draw. He could draw people and really good too.  I remember one of my talentless classmates saying “Hey Gary! He can draw too.  And he’s better than you!”  This new kid showed me up.  I didn’t like that feeling.  In fact, I had no idea how to react.  So I didn’t.  Drawing was no longer fun for me.

One day my father sat down with me and gave me a talking to.  Don’t be a quitter.  Get back on the horse.  When the going gets tough the tough get going.  Giving me the royal Dad Pep Rally.  And then he gave me a book.  It was a library book, but a book just the same.  The book was on how to draw people. Now mind you I was about eleven years old at the time.  I’m pretty sure to this day my father never actually opened the book.  I know that because within those pages were people.  Naked people. Actual photos.  I never did tell him about it.  I reviewed the book quite a bit.  He probably thought I was sure to be an expert on drawing people way before the summer would end.

I was well into my thirtys when I did scale this wall.  I sat down and finally threw fate to the wind.  The worst I could do was mess up.  Then what would I do? Throw it away and start over, that’s what.  So I did. My first attempt was something you would see in a child physiatrist’s office.  You know the picture you show him when you think your child has serious issues he doesn’t want to talk about. (other than the nudy book his Dad gave him that summer to borrow from the library)

I read a story about these parents. They found their son’s artwork in his room.  They notice he never drew hands on any of the people.  This must be a sign that something is going on with this kid. They had a friend who was a councilor. They asked him to stop over one day to talk with the child. The friend sat with the little boy in his room while the parents listened from around the corner outside the door.

He asked him how school was. “Fine” he said.

Did he have friends. “Yes” he said.

“Are you having any problems at school. Is anyone picking on you?” “No” he replied.

The friend took out one of the handless drawings the parents showed him.  “Is this your drawing?” he asked.

“Yes” the little boy replied.

“Your parents wanted me to talk with you because they are concerned that something is bother you.”

The little boy looked puzzled. “Why?” he asked.

“Well” the councilor said “I noticed none of the people you draw have hands and we think maybe something is bother you.”

The little boy now looked confused.

“Is there anything you would like to say?” asked the friend.

“Yes” said the little boy.  “I didn’t draw the hands because they are hard to draw.”

The making of an artist begins at birth I believe.  I think talent is something you are born with not taught. Either you have it or you don’t. Now you can probably learn enough to have a hobby. But in the end it’s a gift.

Somewhere between the moon and New York City, other people step on your dreams of being a creative person.  In fact, they just kick the shit out of you. Tell you how you should be. How you should act.   My favorite line came from an ex-girlfriend’s Mom.  “Did you ever here the expression Starving Artist? Well there’s a reason they say that.”  I think this might have been the soul reason I did become an artist.  Actually, the encouragement came from a different girlfriend’s father. (I had quite a few back in those days. All of them a little nuts in their own way) He was a tattoo artist.  He fit the part too. Long dark beard, leather cap, jeans and jean vest.  His arms were huge and he looked means as nails.  And I think he might have been.  He was no stranger to jail because that’s where he learned to give tattoos. Or at least that’s the story he told me.  Who the hell was I to doubt him.  Anyways, I was at his tattoo shop one night.  Not that I made a habit of hanging around there, my girlfriend invited me there to hang out.  I think she liked the fact that I was the only stupid person she knew who would come within ten feet of her dad.  Anyways, I got to chatting with him that evening.  I mentioned that I thought it was great he got to do what he loved to do.  Doing his art and getting paid.  His response surprised me.  “Why can’t you?”  I had to think and I honestly told him it was because other people told me there wasn’t any money in it and everyone wants to be an artist but very few make it.  “Bullshit!” he said. “Why are you letting other people piss on your dreams?  You can do anything you want and if you don’t, make sure it’s because it’s your decision not someone else’s.”

This was my first realization that it didn’t matter what you did for a living.  The important thing was, you will spend most of your life working.  Paying your dues.  At the ole Grind. Punching the old time clock.  It should be something you enjoy doing.

The next day, I made arrangements to go to art school.  Despite what anyone thought.