From the moment I saw The Night Watch painting by Rembrandt, I was hooked.
I was seven years old and we lived in Germany. My mom loved taking us kids to famous art museums, like the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam where this famous work of art was displayed. We walked into the main gallery and there it was, bigger than life, taking up the entire wall. It was so real that I remember feeling like I could walk right into that incredible scene.
When we got home I asked for a small watercolor set and I started painting. I was going to be an artist!
My older brother Ron turned out to be the great artist in the family, winning award after award, from high school through college and onto painting in Paris until he suffered a bad car accident that curtailed his career. I was his understudy at best.
My Dad must have known that as he said he would not allow me to major in fine arts, but only in art education—as I “could always fall back on teaching.” My Dad was my hero, too, but he was no artist. That was my Mom and Grandmother. They quietly encouraged me on with my crazy artwork, cartoons, clothing and ideas.
But the other voices were louder and much more numerous.
Everywhere I turned I heard negative comments on art and being an artist. After all, art was a hobby, not a career. Only the very elite ever made it in art. And look what happened to them! Even some of my friends talked about me getting a real job.
During my freshman year in college, my favorite art professor said in Drawing 101 that only a few of us would go on to become artists. He would have everyone do a hundred drawings on mundane things like shoes, or rooms, for homework—for every single class. Then he’d have us hang them up in the studio, only to have him tear them down and ball them up in a giant rolling trash bin. “These are terrible,” he would say. “You can’t become real artists until you can tear up 99 of 100 drawings.”
He was tough, and I can still hear him today. “Falling in love with your work will only keep you from getting better.” He was right. He was preparing us for the battles we would face ahead, just like new army recruits preparing for war.
When I got out of college I taught art for a few months, and felt like I had a legitimate job, but I was restless. So I quit and painted—a lot. I managed to have two art shows outside Philadelphia, and learned what it was like being a starving artist.
The voices were magnified and I wondered if they were right. You can be pretty hard on yourself when you have no money, no food and no gas in your car.
Then I got a phone call from a friend I worked with as a cartoonist in college. He had moved to Colorado and started an ad agency. He needed an artist and knew I could do the work. At the time, it was the closest thing to having an angel speak to me.
My career was officially launched and the rest is history. To this day, I tell budding young artists that nothing beats hard work to start a career. But I also tell them that they can’t let the negative voices get them down.
Especially with art, everyone’s an expert. Trust your own voice and keep getting better, learning something from each thing you do. One day you’ll find that you’ve made it—and others will, too.
What voices do you hear in your head?
If they are negative, listen to the positive voices that stem from what you love, who you are and what you believe. Surround yourself with good people who care about you.
Someday, you just might produce an amazing work of art that will live in the hearts of people around the world—and one that inspires them to do great things.
“Change your thoughts and you change your world.”
– Norman Vincent Peele