In my last blog I mentioned I would tell you the story of how I became an artist. This is how it all began, and I hope you find it interesting.
Back when I was a young man in high school all I wanted to do was play football. I enjoyed the game immensely. All my spare time was devoted to conditioning and developing the skills necessary to play and succeed at football. The result was a successful high school football career, which led to numerous college recruiting calls across all NCAA divisions. I even had some calls from Division 1 programs, which certainly fueled my ego.
As a 17 year old, with all this attention, I felt as if I was living my dream. College coaches valued my skills enough that they wanted me to come and play football at their schools. I was on my way to a career in the NFL, at least in my own mind. Art and being an artist was the farthest thing from my thoughts, although I did have a talent for drawing cartoon style figures.
I made my decision to attend Wilkes College, now Wilkes University. I made the starting team as a freshman and that first autumn playing football at Wilkes was wonderful. As a starting football player, I was a popular guy on the team and around campus, and was invited to many of the popular drinking parties, which I participated in far more than my class attendance. The result was very poor attendance and academic performance.
But when I received my grades for the first semester, they were embarrassing. I earned a .45 GPA, and was placed on academic probation. About two weeks afterwards, I received a letter informing me I was no longer eligible to participate in NCAA sanctioned sporting events. I would only be allowed to play again after bringing my GPA to a 1.47. Having devoted all my time, energy, and skills to playing football and drinking games during my first semester, I wondered how I would achieve what appeared an impossible challenge.
I turned to some of my friends on the football team for help in regaining my playing status. Fortunately, two of my friends on the line were actually fine art majors. They noticed I had some skills in drawing and advised me to take several art classes. It was not the way I had anticipated I would overcome the hurdle, but scoring easy grades in art classes sounded good.
In the spring semester, I selected 2 art classes. The first was a drawing class, and the second was an introduction to painting class. To my surprise, it was the painting class that I found most intriguing. Not so much for the content being taught, but due to the passion of the professor teaching the class. I was amazed and inspired by how much this man loved to paint, and how magical and alluring he made it all appear. He spoke of the riches and value to be derived as an artist, and how artists see the world differently. These were all concepts I had not previously considered.
As the semester progressed and I applied myself to all my classwork, but especially to my drawing and painting classes, as they were the payoff classes in regaining my playing status. The more I engaged in the painting class and came to know the professor better, the more I found myself wanting to paint better. It was a drive similar to the one I experienced when I decided I was going to be a successful football player. I found myself wanting to become a successful painter, as much if not more than I wanted to play football.
My painting instructor was J. Phillip Richards. He was first and foremost a water colorist, and a signature member of the American Watercolor Society. At the end of the semester, I spent some time practicing watercolor painting. The image above is one of my first watercolors that my instructor thought had some merit. I have saved this painting over the years—not because it is a great painting—but because it is the first thing I did in my young life where someone I admired recognized me for something unrelated to football. This painting represents a turning point for me. As a result of the kind words Phil had for my painting, and the motivation he provided, I decided during that semester to change my major to art.
I developed a wonderful friendship with Phil, who was a true mentor. I had the benefit of his insight from that spring semester in 1973, until his passing at age 85, in 1991. He changed my life. He helped me understand how visual observation can produce knowledge, and how knowledge can inspire creativity. He introduced me to collectors, and gallery owners, but more importantly he shared his philosophy with me, and instilled in me the passion to paint. I carry that passion with me today.
So there you have it. That is how I came to be an artist. I welcome your comments and feedback. It is my desire to make this blog and web site a destination you like to visit frequently. Please let me know of any specific subjects and topics you would like to see going forward.