What Art Has Taught Me About Life

It took me nearly 40 years to get here


La Capella Sistina, Michelangelo Buonarroti, The Vatican, Rome

It’s Friday night and I’m sitting in my hotel room in Italy and I can’t believe it took me nearly 40 years to finally get here. Italy has truly been a magical, artistic pilgrimage for me. I wish I would have visited sooner, but then again I may not have been ready to see it this clearly at an earlier point in my life. It’s overwhelming to see so many of the beautiful drawings, paintings and sculptures I’ve only seen and read about in art books up until now. To walk on the same streets as artists such as Michelangelo and Bronzino was humbling. This is the story of how I got here.

I’m also writing this because I hope some aspiring artists out there might find encouragement and inspiration in my path to push ahead and live a creative life regardless of whether or not you feel you fit into the current art world mold.


ARTIST

My first painting, done at age 10. Acrylic on canvas, 1985

In hindsight, I now realize that art has been one of the most positive and consistent aspects of my life. I have been told that, as a child, I could often be found drawing and painting, which surely kept me out of trouble. The first valuable lesson I learned from art was about relationships and how drawing or painting connected me with family and school friends. One of my earliest memories is of drawing with my grandfather. And at school I got to know so many people from different walks of life through interacting with my art. It was a catalyst for me.

During my elementary school years in Miami, Florida, I attended after-school art programs, then a magnet program specializing in the arts for middle school, and eventually an arts high school, New World School of the Arts. There, I got a formal introduction to the foundations of art: perspective, color theory, and composition. I explored photography and figure drawing, and continued to create as much as possible. I was surrounded by all disciplines of the arts; musicians, dancers, actors, and visual artists filled the hallways. I welcomed this melting pot of artists with an open mind and was encouraged and inspired to experience all of this in one place on a daily basis. In this environment I was able to further develop my understanding of foundational artistic elements like motion, rhythm, character, space, and aesthetics. Art taught me to see and appreciate all the little details around me through these other disciplines.

I’ve never publicly showed my early development work, but here are some pages from my sketchbooks at that time:

(1992–1994) Early Sketchbook Drawings
(1992–1994) High School Work

After graduating from New World, I attended the Maryland Institute, College of Art (MICA), in Baltimore on one full year scholarship. My family was not in a financial position to put me through school so it was critical for me to do what I could to prepare my portfolio to qualify for the tuition free Cooper Union in New York City. Cooper Union, at the time, was given a budget to grant full scholarships for every accepted student. Transfer students were only accepted based on the number of foundation students that dropped out the second year. The year I applied only three spots were open. I felt like I had won the lottery when I got the call to transfer to Cooper Union to complete my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. I was thrilled to be accepted there because of the legacy of those that passed through the school before me. I was also fortunate enough to meet and be taken under the wing of professor and abstract expressionist painter Don Kunz, who became a mentor and close friend throughout the years until his passing in 2001. Still, even with the full tuition scholarship, the high cost of living in New York City meant I didn’t have any spending money for books and supplies or rent, so I ended up working a lot to make ends meet. I only wish I had been able to spend more time in the studio creating, but you make do with your constraints. Art taught me to be resourceful and visualize ahead to the final image.

I am proud to have been able to attend Cooper Union. When the school was founded in 1859, the president and founder, Peter Cooper, wanted to provide anyone, regardless of race, gender, or wealth, the opportunity to get a free college education. It really was a novel and admirable concept, and one that has also influenced a project I was to do 13 years later, Project 365.

Art taught me about respecting history and the many artists that laid the pavement before me. My art had a classical influence to it because I wanted to learn and understand these important techniques before approaching abstraction or conceptual work. After all, as a teacher once said, you can’t abstract from nothing. There’s a lifelong journey ahead, take your time and be patient. You’ll enjoy looking back on the evolution.

(1994–1995) Foundation Year Work

Immediately after college, I was both fortunate and unfortunate to be involved in the gallery scene in New York City but had some bad experiences with the business end of the art world. I quickly found myself running out of funds and looking for work again. It was imperative to me to not go back to Miami to live with my folks. I needed to deal with my situation and find a solution to be able to stay in NY. I felt if I returned at the time, my art would suffer and I wouldn’t have the urgency to make something work. I think of this as my “starving artist” period, which included couch surfing until I got back on my feet. I did whatever it took to continue to keep the inspiration and energy of NY around me. I eventually took a break from the gallery scene but continued to create for myself. During this down time, I had to find a way to financially support my art until I rebuilt my portfolio.

(1995–2001) Cooper Union and early gallery work

EFFECTS ANIMATOR

When Jurassic Park and Toy Story were released in movie theaters in the early 90’s, I remember watching those films and being fascinated, but like most people I couldn’t understand what I was looking at or how it was done. I knew dinosaurs didn’t exist to photograph for Jurassic Park and I knew drawing such accurate perspective in every frame would be extremely difficult in traditional animation for Toy Story. I had to learn how it was done to satisfy my own artistic curiosity. I picked up some trade magazines and learned a bit more about what went into creating visual effects. There was something about a virtual environment that was new to me after all these years working entirely on paper or canvas. It was like sculpture of sorts but also adding a fourth dimension, which was time. I was fascinated by this whole new world and found myself hooked on wanting to understand it more as a medium for creating images. The engineering school at Cooper Union had thirty or so licenses of Houdini 1.o that they weren’t using so while I was there (backtracking a bit here) I decided to sit down and read three massive manuals page by page, cover to cover, during my free time to understand how computer graphics worked. I never took any computer science courses so the language and concepts where completely foreign to me, but I would repeat tutorials until I could remember them by heart. That kind of repetition is what made it stick. I still didn’t understand that what I was doing was called trigonometry or calculus, but I understood that if I wanted to create a particular effect, I would do “these things” (vector math) to achieve it.

Coincidentally, my girlfriend at the time (now wife, Marissa) worked in advertising, and had a meeting one day with an artist rep and producer at her office. She happened to ask about my art that she had pinned to her office wall, so Marissa told her a bit about my background in both art and my new interest in 3-D animation. When the rep learned I also knew 3-D animation I was fortunate enough to be given an opportunity to interview at the commercial post production house where she worked, on 42nd Street and Madison Avenue, using what I had taught myself about 3-D animation between sessions of studio time at Cooper Union. This moment turned out to be quite pivotal for me.

Identity, 70 x 50 inches, oil on linen, ©2008

Since I was at a point where I really needed to work, I said yes to all the interview questions. Thankfully I was hired, but prior to this I had not yet worked anywhere professionally, nor did I know how I was going to pull off the work requested of me, but I rolled the dice and felt I could learn how to do this before they figured out that I couldn’t. I still live by that philosophy today. My experience with art taught me to trust my instinct.

On the first day of work, I was given a commercial spot to do entirely on my own. I didn’t have a place to live so I just slept under my desk, I asked questions constantly, read manuals and industry forums all night and watched over a co-worker’s shoulder during the day to figure out how to approach the work. When painted into a corner, you’ll quickly figure out how creative you can be to problem solve. Two weeks later and running on little rest, I delivered my first client commercial spot to the owner of the company. He approved it and I saw it on TV later that week. What a feeling that was! I learned so much in those two weeks, more than I feel I may have learned at any full-time animation school.

Fast forward three years to 2002 and my work eventually brought me to a visual effects industry convention, Siggraph, in San Antonio, Texas, where I presented some of my recent commercial projects. The other two presenters were Theo Vandernoot from Sony Pictures Imageworks, who was covering the blockbuster hit movie Spiderman, and Hank Driscoll from The Secret Lab who was talking about CFD (computational fluid dynamics) on the film Reign Of Fire. To save the two headliners for last, they had me present first. I had never done any public speaking before that. I also had never even seen a presentation in the visual effects industry so I had no basis for what one should look like. Of course I ended up going super overboard on my presentation. I had sound effects, a score that ran underneath my presentation and full on motion graphics to illustrate how I achieved a particular effect. I got a standing ovation at the end of my 20 minutes! As a result of my presentation, I was offered a full-time job at Sony Pictures Imageworks in Los Angeles to work alongside Theo on Spiderman 2. It was an exciting opportunity that was too hard to pass up, though the decision to leave New York was a difficult one; my wife and I both loved the city, and it was the place where I had always dreamed of being the artist I imagined. But I also felt I needed a change to stimulate my senses again. Art taught me to evolve and be receptive to everything around me. To continue to find inspiration and seek it out.

Working on “¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?” in my studio

I spent the next eight years in Los Angeles working on visual effects for films. However, I felt I was doing less of my own art than I would have liked, mostly because of the demanding hours I was spending on the film work. I realized I needed to find a way to be in an environment where I could dedicate more time to my own art again. As timing would have it, San Francisco Bay Area based Pixar Animation Studios was looking for someone fluent in the software I used (Houdini). They were looking for someone versed in it to act as a point person. A friend I worked with at Sony Pictures Imageworks had moved on to Pixar the previous year, so he suggested that I would be a good fit and arranged an interview. Not only are they pioneers in the industry, I also knew Pixar had a reputation for appreciating artists, and having a sensible understanding of work/life balance. After an intense interview process, I was offered a job, so my wife and I packed our bags again and drove up to the Bay Area where I started work at Pixar.

After work and on weekends I was again able to read, develop my own art, and visit exhibitions to feed my soul and mind. The Bay area is beautiful, surrounded by water, mountains, forests, bridges, cityscapes, farms and quaint smaller towns. My mentor from Cooper Union, Don Kunz, once told me, “If you want to create beautiful work you need to surround yourself with everything beautiful.” Art taught me to look at the beauty in everything around me.

I didn’t fully understand this at the time: that you become a reflection of the world around you, and the world around you becomes what you create. I certainly felt I was in the right place for this kind of inspiration.

Some current work. You can see the influence of understanding 3-D space from animation work.

The work I wanted to create in New York I picked up again and began creating in San Francisco. I began exploring who I was and where I wanted to go with my artwork. I had moved across the entire country searching for something to help me find my place in the art world. Everyone kept telling me that being a professionally successful artist is like finding a needle in a haystack. But the truth is, if you know there’s a needle in that haystack and you pick through it one piece at a time, you’re eventually going to find that needle. It’s going to take a very long time, but with persistence, patience, and perseverance, you will find it.

I feel that I may have found that needle in Project 365, something I worked on in 2013. Perhaps the entire time I was asking the wrong question: what I could do for me, when instead the real question should have been what can I give back to the world with my art? You know that old saying, “you can’t take it with you”. We can’t take anything with us when we leave this world, but we can leave the world something when we go. Art taught me the power of images and the influence and impression it can leave on someone. We all do this with memories, relationships, and experiences we share with one another. I wanted to create an experience that could live beyond the sale of a work, an exhibition, or even my lifetime.

PHILANTHROPIST

In 2013, art news from blogs, tv, newspapers and websites were all dominated by headlines of record breaking art sales from auction houses like Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bonhams. I was watching what was once a medium for the masses now becoming a commodity traded like stocks on Wall Street. It’s an exclusive, members-only club that very few are fortunate enough to experience and enjoy. As an artist, I’ve always felt that having original art from those I admire in my studio while I work would be a huge inspiration. There’s definitely an energy when standing in front of a piece of original art that you connect with. There was another person, human, artist behind the creation. You want to know more about that person’s story and look deeper into the image, finding traces of their process…spilled coffee, brush hairs, a fingerprint, debris from the studio. All those qualities add to the mystique of the artist and the action of creating this work. That experience is what I set out to share with at least 365 people that year.

The concept as I imagined it was pretty simple: I would do a quick sketch, sign it, photograph or scan it, and upload it onto a website where someone — anyone, anywhere in the world, regardless of their political or social connections, religion, race, gender, ethnicity, or wealth — could ask for it, and there was nothing anyone else could do to get that piece once it was claimed. It felt like a pure, unbiased return to the original relationship between artist and collector. That relationship does exist today, but it’s very rare, especially for the average art lover.

Free Drawing #339, graphite, ink on paper, 5.5 x 7.5 inches

I put a lot of thought into what the best platform would be to reach people with this project. I knew there was potential to reach hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people with the help of the web. But to build a site from scratch would be out of my league, and would also be quite time consuming on top of everything else I was trying to do. By chance, I came across Erika Napoletano’s book on marketing, The Power of Unpopular. It was the beginning of many serendipitous events that would take place throughout the duration of the project, almost as if someone was guiding me and knew I was ready for what was to come. In the book, Napoletano talks about how to reach people in today’s tech-savvy generation, covering various internet techniques. I decided to go with Facebook; it already had everything in place for what I needed: a social media site that supported interaction with likes, comments, messaging, image sharing, links, albums, and analytics to track the progress of the project. It seemed like a one-stop shop. I set up a fan page, and at first forty or so people followed it.

I uploaded the very first drawing on January 4th, 2013, which was a small, graphite on paper drawing of a resting rescue dog. Coincidentally, a friend who trains, fosters, and volunteers with animal shelters in California commented on the drawing first, so I said she could have it. She was very excited and shocked to get an original drawing — especially without the need to pay for shipping or expenses, truly free! I asked for her address, wrote it down on an envelope, put a stamp on it and dropped it in a nearby mailbox. I felt that sense of joy that you get only when you give something to someone with no expectation to receive anything in return. In this way, Project 365 made its start.

The first week into the project, I realized I had signed up for a huge undertaking, one that would not allow me to have weekends, sick days or holidays off. But I still hadn’t really grasped the scope of the project. I would go home after work, walk into my studio, and think I would do one simple sketch that would take fifteen minutes, get it out of the way, and get back to working on my other larger paintings. I did this for the first couple of weeks or so, but I found myself getting anxious about putting my name on work that I rushed out the door. Increasingly from this moment on, I realized that the project was going to mean a year of commitment, sacrificing my free time to dedicate it to the public. The message I hoped the project would send was, in my mind, equal to the task to which I had set myself.

With the first batch of pieces I created for the project, I varied the size of the work. This meant building custom cardboard envelopes for mailing each one, so the cost for the variety of sizes and weight was quickly adding up. I knew that to make the project feasible, I needed to come up with a predictable, consistent cost. I bought a box of 6x9-inch envelopes, took them to the post office and asked how much it would be to send one envelope with one piece of paper and a postcard in it, both domestically and internationally. The cost? One first-class stamp. That was easier overall, and I was able to predict and plan for the cost of the remaining images. Even better, having all my images smaller than 6x9 inches meant that they would fit in the scanner I had bought to improve the quality of the images I was uploading to the project’s Facebook page (I had originally just been using my mobile phone to photograph each piece). So my overall pipeline became more streamlined: Create, document, upload, and mail!

The first recognition the project received was from Lost At E Minor, a great website based in Australia that focuses on fine art, design, photography, and illustration. They were interested in the project’s concept and decided to post about what I was doing. Since they receive over 300,000 unique visitors per month, their mention of the project was helpful in getting some attention on the other side of the globe, which was exciting. I started receiving emails and gained new followers from Australia and New Zealand. Later, The Jealous Curator came across the project and also decided to write about it. The project and its message were really starting to reach people. The number of followers started to exceed the amount of work I was going to create. I would have been happy with 365 followers — one drawing per person — but that quickly grew, and as the number of people following the project continued to increase I worried that some would be disappointed about not receiving a piece by the end of the year. Gladly, and to my surprise, most were happy just to see the art in their news feed on a daily basis and weren’t upset not to have a piece for themselves.

Before this project, I had my own idea of what worked in my art, but the feedback I received on the daily drawings reinforced that there truly is something for everyone. You can’t please everyone, but the variety of subjects represented in Project 365 is proof that you can create anything and there will be an audience for it somewhere. That freedom was very liberating for me and a lesson all on its own. I quickly used that opportunity to jump around and explore various content and materials. I did have some limitations of course. For example, I couldn’t use material that was too brittle, had a slow drying time, or couldn’t fit inside an 6x9 inch envelope. As long as I worked within that framework, I was free to choose whatever I felt like exploring that day. When you have to come up with a new concept and do an original piece of art every single day, it’s on your mind all the time. The world really opens up to you; everything becomes a potential subject. I started looking at random things just a little bit more closely. That was an interesting lesson for me in this project.

As my work for the project progressed, I started to receive messages and comments from followers about the art and what it meant to them. I quickly realized I was doing something that was beyond just making original art more accessible.

Some images sent to me from fans following Project 365

Interestingly, there were a number of serendipitous connections between the art and the people who received the drawings. For example, Drawing #293 was of a bat and the person who got it was a bat biologist. Another follower was collecting pine cones for months for her wedding and the day I loaded Drawing #123 of a pinecone, she got it! Drawing #183 of a Roman helmet was collected by a recently retired army veteran. I received messages from followers telling me that their win was the first original piece of art they’ve ever owned and that it would stay in their family for generations. Project 365 was filled with stories of this sort. Reading comments and emails like this meant the world to me and genuinely inspired me to get through the countless nights, weekends, and holidays that were ahead. It felt extremely gratifying to create my art and share it with the world in this way. It all started on a whim and I acted on it; I didn’t overthink it or pre-plan how I was going to execute it. I just picked up a sheet of paper and started creating and connecting with people. Art taught me to be spontaneous. Throw some paint around and solve the problem in the act of painting. It’s both terrifying and equally gratifying at the same time.

Images from Project 365

Halfway through the project, I saw that I was building a community of people all around the world with the universal language we all shared: art. I felt I should capture and preserve that somehow and thought a book would be the perfect format. A book is something we learn from, sketch with, and keep memories in. Initially, I considered contacting publishing companies to help produce it, but then I started to realize that if I did that, I’d be turning my art over to someone who likely wouldn’t have even followed the project who would then profit from it. I felt I had to find a way to self-publish this particular book because of the very nature of the concept. I also didn’t want people to think I had a master plan of giving away free work only to sell a very expensive book in the end and profit from it myself; I had to make sure I had control over where the profits where going. I began looking for a charity that supports and nurtures the arts, preferably one that helped to benefit our younger generation. In the United States, funding for the arts is getting cut out of education budgets more and more, yet imagination and creativity is so important for children, pivotal in some cases. I’m not sure where I would be if I didn’t have the arts in my life growing up. It provided me with a way to express myself and discover who I was to become.

When I was younger, I was never concerned with what my art was worth, its deep meaning, or what gallery it was showing in. I simply wanted to create something, then share it with my family and friends. Project 365 reminded me again why I enjoyed the arts as a child. Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

Project 365 Kickstarter Video

I’m so glad I came across the Children’s Creativity Museum, as they support this philosophy. They’re an interactive art and technology museum in San Francisco, open to kids from all walks of life. They are transforming the way children learn and play, promoting invention, production, collaboration, and engagement. They inspire and help kids express themselves. They believe that the success of the next generation will hinge not only on what they know, but also on their ability to think and act creatively as global citizens. Because of this, I chose to support them by giving them 100% of the proceeds from book sales.

At the end of the project, it felt great to connect with people who truly valued my art. It was also comforting to know there are 365 homes around the world that share a piece of my work on their walls. And all this positivity had nothing to do with money at all. At the end of the project, my wife sent me another Picasso quote she found that I thought was a nice message from the universe that made me feel like I was doing the right thing: “The meaning of life is to find your gift, the purpose of life is to give it away.”

Soon after Project 365 was finished there was something I felt, as an artist, that I had never felt before. Something about my art that went beyond the gallery walls. It was using my art as a form of philanthropy. A way to communicate between my physical community and the community that I was building on the web.

Photographs by Eva Kolenko, Project 365 book

It wasn’t until I completed Project 365 and went back to visit cities I lived in, like New York and Miami, that I realized the once small shops that made up the unique character of the landscape were largely being replaced with big box franchises. When I travel now I find myself seeking out the small, unique businesses that make up cities big and small, and instead more and more I’m finding myself surrounded by chain stores. I started to notice that the very identity that gave each city their character was slowly being replaced.

So, this sparked another idea: 52 Pick Up. This time, I wanted to find a way to use my art to generate and direct awareness to these small, local businesses. A way to give them a voice that could potentially reach a lot more people via the online community I was now a part of. With that in mind, I set out to create 52 original pieces of art, once a week for an entire year, to connect with small businesses in my community and highlight some local shops. To mix things up a bit, this time I spoke with Luke Esterkyn at Medium.com about using them as a platform for my next project. It felt perfect. Medium felt like a relatively new business and it was local to me here in San Francisco. The interface was clean and modern so it satisfied the aesthetic side of what I wanted my next project to feel like with the advertising banners and sponsorship ads removed. How it worked: I did an original drawing once a week for a full year and took it to a different business each time. Then I published a post on my Medium account with the business’ address and a little information about what they do and why I chose them. Whoever was following the project could go to that business in person to pick up the art for free, I just asked that in return they support that business in some way, like by buying something from them and/or posting about it online to help spread awareness.

At first I thought it would be simple to identify these 52 companies I was going to feature right away, create a list, and in a few months I’d be able to create all of the drawings and articles and be ahead of the game. It didn’t turn out like that at all. I found myself searching for companies week to week who would be willing to participate. But it was ok — it got me out on the weekend to explore and pop into shops in various neighborhoods that looked interesting. My wife was a big help reaching out to the owners, proof-reading, taking photos, and sometimes sharing the task of writing articles, which was new territory for us both. From a relationship perspective, it was nice creating something new we could share and do every weekend. Initially she wasn’t entirely thrilled that I was taking on another year long project, understandably, but once she went with me to meet the owners she would see for herself what a project like this meant.

It was clear that the companies and owners I’ve met and interacted with are a big part of the community they worked in. Without them, neighborhoods would be missing that character and uniqueness that make them stand out and make people want to shop and spend time there. I’ll miss the weekly task of walking into each store and introducing myself, getting people excited about the project. I enjoyed getting to know who the owners were and having a conversation with the folks behind the window sign. I learned a lot about what it takes to build and sustain a small business, which is not for the faint of heart. They compete on a daily basis with online marketing and big box store discounts. They usually have to put in twice as much work, and at the end of the day, their brick and mortar shop closes while large online stores are open 24 hours a day. But aside from that pressure, everyone I spoke with was full of passion for what they do. I feel that if you start a business with money as the only motivation there’s a good chance you’ll fail almost immediately if there’s nothing else behind it, but if at the core there’s true passion about what you’re doing, you can succeed no matter what. Even failure is a form of success if you’re passionate about what you’re doing because you’ll learn from it and find another way to solve the problem in the next go around. That persistence and determination will prevail in the end.

Within the art community, some other artists have questioned how I’m affecting the value of my art by doing projects like these and giving pieces away for free. The feeling was that I was lessening my place in the art market by doing this. Well, I’m not selling it for $1 so there’s no numerical value associated with it. I’m connecting with my community and using my art as a conduit to connect two people that otherwise wouldn’t have had a conversation, and all the while adding a boost of exposure to a small shop who may need it. For that, I feel my art becomes invaluable in a different way. We’re in the 21st century and I wanted to explore mixing philanthropy, art and the web. No one else that I knew of was doing it in this way. There was a time when artists would barter with their work for food, supplies, housing, etc. Some gain satisfaction from a monetary reward, some from inclusion in a particular exhibition or collection. I feel that success is personal and it should be measured by yourself and no one else. I completely agree that one needs to make a living, just like I do (I still have a day job too), but there was something beyond any monetary reward I learned from these projects and that was the relationships I built along the way. From the messages I received from fans receiving the art to business owners knowing that someone cared was way more humbling than I expected and that, for me, was invaluable.

Graffiti artists have been giving art away for free for years on the streets to connect with the community. Sol LeWitt created installations that couldn’t be collected as an anti-commercial commentary, but you only got to experience them if you were part of the art world circle. “Spiral Jetty” by Robert Smithson was a site specific installation that also couldn’t be privately collected so the public could enjoy it, but you had to travel to Utah to experience it. The concept of Project 365 and 52 Pick Up was just another form of connecting with the public in a different way.

I won’t lie, selling a work of art is great. It keeps the artist financially independent to develop and pursue their practice in the studio. At the same time, I don’t want to forget why I started drawing and painting in the first place. To inspire and bring people together, and that started with the people around me.

Based on what I’ve learned from 52 Pick Up: get out and meet your neighbors. Not just the person who lives next door, but get to know those you buy your food or other products from. You’ll feel good about supporting them the next time you have to buy something. They’re often happy to talk, give advice and share what they’re doing. It’s hard work and they often work in small groups so they’ll welcome a conversation with a new face. I only lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for four years before I started this project. I didn’t know much about the various neighborhoods then, but a project like this got me outside and looking for unique and interesting shops, and I’ve met so many fantastic people along the way. It’s nice to have a personal connection in all different parts of town now, and I wish them all success in what they’re doing. So if something is one or two dollars more at a local shop than it is to buy it on Amazon, I urge you give it to your local business instead if you can. You’re watering the plant in your backyard that’s eventually going to bear fruit and it feels great!

Images from 52 Pick Up

There are so many lessons I’ve learned from creating art and I’m still learning and growing. When drawing, you sketch quickly, covering the overall composition and how your subject fits within the boundaries of the paper. Then over time you begin to correct your lines and proportions. As you work through your drawing, you finally bring out the characteristics of your subject and fine tune the detail all the while making confident and deliberate marks. If you start with the details, then try to make your composition and proportions work, you’ll step back and quickly realize it’s all wrong and often extremely difficult to fix at that point. It wasn’t until I was nearly forty years old that I felt I was at a stage where I was starting to draw in the details and could see the image emerging around me. It’s that magical moment for an artist when their drawing makes the transition from a simple sketch to three-dimensional space. To this day I still get excited about that moment.

I’ve tried to approach everything in my life like my drawings. I’m not sure what the details will look like in the end, but in the beginning, I make broad strokes to find my footing and then fill in the details as I go. I’ve taken a somewhat unorthodox path in my art/creative life, but being an artist isn’t only about showing in a gallery or museum. It’s about living a creative life. Seeing the world as most don’t. Being inspired everyday by what has come before you and what’s happening around you.

Right now I’m at Pixar, and at the same time I’m creating my own art and mixing philanthropy into it. I have no idea where this will take me, but at the moment, it makes me feel great. Project 365 and 52 Pick Up have taken on lives of their own. I was recently invited to be a keynote speaker at KDU University in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to speak about Project 365. Talking to an entirely different culture about it and watching how a project like that can move someone on the opposite side of the world feels wonderful. Teeside University in North England and Animex in Mumbai have also recently asked if I could share the story with their students. I’m over the moon that people are connecting with the message of these projects and I’m even more excited to share it with anyone who likes to hear about it. Hopefully it will inspire people to give back in their own way as well.

If I may lend some advice that I’ve distilled over the years, it’s the following: Commitment, discipline and passion have to be your primary motivations for being an artist. The financial and public success, if that’s what you wish to achieve, will be a byproduct of all the efforts you put in. Trust yourself and your instincts. Don’t just recreate what’s trending or fashionable in the art world. Be inspired everyday. Never stop learning. Have an open mind and go see as much art as possible. Smile more. Do what feels right for you regardless of what others think, because that’s what makes you and your art unique and interesting. It may not be your time now, but perhaps sometime in the future, it will be.

In the words of Henry David Thoreau — “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”

I look forward to reading your story! :)

Photograph by Chloe Aftel

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