Thoughts on a recent challenge

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The past week and half was a challenging one for me as an artist. My original training as an artist was in the sign industry. I painted those billboards that are now just wrapped with giant vinyl posters basically.

The training I got was from two men, one an artist, the other an old school sign painter. Between the two I learned the tricks of the trade, and how to duplicate nearly anything – from headlights on cars to leather motorcycle jackets – for 5 years I honed my craft before launching into a new art field; decorative painting.

Again I found myself duplicating. This time instead of an ad agencies artwork it was nature: stones and marbles, clouds etc.

For about 21 years then, I made a living duplicating in paint, what we see everyday.

When I’m “off the clock” what did I paint? Abstracted, colored outside the lines stuff, as far from reality as possible. Today I go between realism and slightly abstracted reality. I guess I’m still finding where I fit in, but mostly I have fun with it, it’s an escape for me and then I’m happily surprised when other people want my work.

The past two weeks, I found myself back in the world of duplication. Although this time it was much more personal as I was working in collaboration with my good friend and artist April Murphy.

April designed and began painting a 36 x 72 inch painting of zoo animals in a playground, I followed her progress about 2 days behind her duplicating her work on a 9 foot by 18 foot mural.

In the beginning I was a bit cocky, thinking “this will be easy, I’m a cartoonist too, I can do this, this will be nothing like painting the grill of a shiny new pickup truck that’s 20 feet wide!” (billboard)

I was way off base!

April has been painting like this for more than 6 years. She’s slowly evolved this style and I’m sure she paints now without even realizing the complexities of each step. Once done, her work literally comes to life!

I had fun, and I learned some new tricks. Will I incorporate them? Maybe, probably but adjusted to my style of painting. Will I attempt to paint like her? No. I enjoy painting her work, but when I pick up a brush for me, it is going in my direction, not April’s. Remember I paint for the enjoyment of it, the escape. The mural is work. Hard work if you look closely at April’s paintings!

We had an ongoing slightly uncomfortable conversation about copying other’s art. I think this came up because I was in fact doing just that. Obviously, everyone involved knows why, we were hired to paint this mural and April is the designer.

The uncomfortable part was where that line is drawn. Recently I ejected an artist (2 actually, one everyone knew and liked, the other was not as known) from my show that was plagiarizing artwork. That is to far, and though there really is no comparison between what we were doing and plagiarism, it came up.

It’s a very strange thing to find that someone you respect and admire, was being less than honest. This was never discussed openly, and I did not broadcast it. No reason to really, it came out though. Anyone that goes to such an extent to hide the truth from others, has most likely hid it from themselves too. How else can one continue to deceive if they don’t believe it. Then when called out on their deceit, they become the victim.

It saddens me to see such talent, wasted like that.

Thinking on it, I realized that I may have a talent for duplication, but any skilled artist does. That’s how we all get started, copying the work of others. For me it was cartoons. I was fascinated by them from when I was very young right into my 20’s. I had “wars” and “battles” on paper with friends.

I created my own characters and funny, they looked like offspring of some of my favorite cartoonist’s characters.

Painting is like that too. We learn by doing, by duplicating the work of those we most wish to be like, or in school – that is part of the learning process, painting the master’s work. That’s why student artists are not allowed to sell their classroom work.

Everything of mine that I paint, has all the skills that I have learned over the years combined into one, from my college classes, billboards and the years as a decorative painter.

What I learned most from April’s techniques surprised me. Her work is much more complicated than I imagined, and she has some very creative techniques she has adapted to her style.

My take away wasn’t in technique, it was in attitudes. “Don’t worry so much about it. Let serendipity take over. Faith. Have fun with it!”

Those were the thoughts that came to mind as I painted, looking at her art, trying to interpret how to proceed. The phrases seemed to be her technique verbalizing the style. Be serious here, but have fun there, relax, enjoy the process. I can do that!

Thanks April!

More on the mural project here.