At the Start of it All

How did you begin as an artist? Did you know you were an artist when you started making art? Did someone encourage you to be one? It’s interesting to me to know everyone’s story.

Some people go through life and do things they don’t want to do before they come to art. Late bloomers. Late realizers. At least they arrive. Some come from an artist-parent who nurtured them to draw and paint. Those are the lucky ones that get that validation and, most importantly, confirmation.

My dad made sure we played a musical instrument, and in that, I was lucky. However, no one in my family knew anything about visual art. There were no paintings around. No art books. No art of any kind, anywhere. My mom doodled while she was on the telephone with her girlfriends. That was the extent of it.

But somehow, I was very interested in drawing. I did it all the time. It was something private I did with pencils and crayons since before I can remember.

The very first thing I made (that I remember) was a book of drawings for my mom. I was around five years old. I hardly remember making the thing, but I intended to lift her spirits. She was bipolar.

In any case, I know I wasn’t exposed to any art until I saw some posters in the waiting room at my mother’s psychiatrist’s office. I was six. I’d stare at them for an hour several times a week. One was a brightly colored painting by Paul Jenkins with gigantic brush strokes. Another was a famous piece by Kandinsky. I didn’t know anything about art, but I was fascinated.

When I was thirteen or fourteen, I started going to the public library. I looked for the style of art like the paintings I saw when I was little. I found out it was called “abstract art” and decided to look at as much as I could, making a study of it. I tried my hand at several styles of art, mostly in pencil and clumsily used cheap watercolor paints.

Design I, 1983. Mixed media on paper, 8 x 10 inches.
Abstract Watercolor I, 1984. Watercolor on paper, 18 x 24 inches.
Roller Coaster, 1985. Watercolor and ink on paper, 8 x 5 inches.

I kept experimenting and painting, or rather illustrating stories I was writing. By the time I was fifteen or sixteen, I started adding egg tempera and made small cartoons with watercolor and ink, abstracted landscapes, and portraits in a little bit larger format, like 18 x 24 inches. I used models out of fashion magazines and people out of National Geographic, painting them on 16 x 20-inch illustration boards.

Twisted Island, 1984. Watercolor & tempera on paper, 18 x 24 inches.
Ode to Maxfield, 1984. Watercolor on paper, 18 x 24 inches.
Only Diane, 1986. Mixed media on illustration board, 20 x 16 inches.
African Warrior I, 1986. Mixed media on paper, 20 x 15 inches.
Conrad the Girl, 1986. Mixed media on paper, 24 x 18 inches.

A friend of mine also turned me onto Maxfield Parish. She had several posters of his work in her apartment and a couple of full-color books of all his paintings and illustrations. I was in love, and he was a strong influence as well. It was most likely because of Parish why I painted both landscapes and people. Landscapes and people with an abstract spin.

Donna, 1987. Mixed media on illustration board, 16 x 20 inches.

But I still didn’t know all that much about art. I’d only just started reading about Der Blaue Reiter of whom included Kandinsky and Paul Klee, who I’d always pronounced “kleee,” not “clay.” I was as moved with Paul Klee as much as I was with Kandinsky. And so, with essentially only three main influences: Kandinsky, Klee, and Parish, I wasn’t exposed to much until I went to the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena in 1984. My life changed then. I went there to see a Paul Klee exhibition, but, of course, I saw everything else in the museum’s collection–my first actual exposure to art.

I got to see real Picassos and Van Goghs. I knew who they were beforehand, but I wouldn’t have recognized their work. And I only knew of Van Gogh because it was the name of an elementary school I went to for six months.

It wasn’t until I sold my first painting at seventeen (for six bucks) when I had the thought that I could be a real artist. I suppose, somewhere along the way, I always knew I was an artist, but I didn’t consider it to be my life’s passion or career until that day. And you know, I was living in my car at the time? I think I figured, after selling that painting, things could only get better, not worse.

G-5, 1985. Mixed media on illustration board, 16 x 20 inches.

It didn’t matter that my family didn’t believe in me, because they surely didn’t. My parents never once said a word about any of my art, only that it was a waste of time, so I don’t know where I got my tenacity. Maybe I had a chip on my shoulder to prove them wrong. That’s possible. Otherwise, I’m not sure where the fire comes from. But on it goes.

And for that, I’m just as lucky as anyone else.

How did you get your start?

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4 thoughts on “At the Start of it All

  1. Emily April 27, 2020 / 10:41 am

    love reading your blogs as finding out more about my uncle and also you.

  2. Carol Es April 27, 2020 / 10:45 am

    Thank you Emily. I wish you had a blog too. <3 🙂

  3. Patrick April 30, 2020 / 7:10 pm

    Fantastic art. I started writing when I was in the 2nd grade because my teacher gave us all binders for a half-hour creative period. My mother encouraged my writing because it meant I would read more like her.

    • Carol Es May 1, 2020 / 5:15 am

      Thanks!

      I think some of us start somewhere in school when we’re really young. Children are automatically attracted to crafts in preschool and kindergarten (usually), but writing is harder and I think you do need encouragement. It’s great your mom was there. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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