Every year the day my children start back to school is a magical day for me. I make a date with myself the first day that sets the tone for how the rest of the year is going to go professionally. At first these little miracles would pop up on their own without much forethought. Now I have learned to open my mind and ears so I can recognize them when I see them.
Two years ago after dropping my daughters off at school, I drove to Cancer Survivor's Park and walked the labyrinth. I stepped up to the entrance, closed my eyes and posed a question to the universe, hoping that by the time I made the journey out, I would have the answer. And I did!
That question and answer continues to weave through my life every day. It was recovery related and although I had no idea how dark it would get before the light, I know I am the person I am today because I dared to ask. Today I am a better person for it, and my painting has become a "real" job as a result.
Last year I went to the Center for Southern Folklore after I dropped the kids off at school. For what reason, exactly, I have no idea other than the fact that I had never been. I took a tour by a wonderful volunteer tour guide who was very helpful and chatty. I met the director, had coffee in the cafe, and perused the gift shop for a long time. I had to laugh because the woman at the gift shop told me that although they highlighted the contributions of many Memphis musicians, Elvis was the one that sold consistently to foreigners, their primary clientele. The problem, she said, was that there were too many Elvis paintings, and nothing the people could toss in a carry-on bag for their flight home.
All this was fascinating to me, and I took notes. In preparing for the Winter Arts Show, where I had to come up with a way to make my paintings into product, an idea began to fester. There were some horrible Elvis paintings, but no matter what, you could still identify who it was. My inner Q&A dialogue kicked in...Who else is known the world over as well as Elvis? If I were to do an Elvis painting, what could I do that would make it unique? Is it something I'd want to try to sell here? Where else could I put it? And as what kind of product? If Picasso had painted Elvis, what would he have looked like? Would he still be recognizable? What are the traits that make him recognizable?...
And the questions continued from there until I developed the outline for the 12 Months of Hunka Hunka Burnin' Love Calendar, Elvis as depicted by the Masters. I chose artists that I thought would be recognizable the world over, and paintings that would be recognizable by people who weren't artists. And thus my little experiment began.
A year later and the concept has moved from my sketchbook to the front cover of the Desoto Magazine featuring Klimt Elvis. I've sold enough calendars, cards, magnets and prints to cover the cost of production and maybe make a little for myself. But it was a very big gamble that paid off!
Some gambles never pay off. And some take years to pay off. It's all part of the trial and error of being an artist. But Elvis allows me to paint what I want to paint when I want to paint it. I can explore the passion and subject matter that is not as "sell-able" by putting out artwork that is, without compromising my taste, sense of humor, artistic style or integrity. This is all part of being a fine artist.
Last week I had lunch with an old friend who does graphic design, my major in college prior to a powerful meeting with my revue committee that encouraged me to switch majors. He asked me to talk to the daughter of a friend of his who was weighing the pros and cons of a fine arts degree. We joked about all the scary stories I was going to tell. I told him about the time my mom cried when I told her I was switching majors from graphics to painting. She said, "what will you have to fall back on?" I said, "I guess I just won't fall back!"
A great friend of mine, Ann Lewin-Benham, introduced me to the Reggio Emilia schools, and I helped my great friend Dalila open a Reggio Emilia school in Cooper-Young several years ago. There are so many wonderful things I could highlight about the schools, but pertinent to this post and life in general, is the fact that the philosophy is one which states children will learn what they need to know, when they need to know it. It is not as ambiguous or flaky as it sounds, it really is how we get through life.
I don't have a business degree, and yet I've learned how to: write business plans, calculate budgets and projections, run a small business, start a small business, build a website, put together a marketing package, do market research etc. etc. etc. I'm not always successful at the above, but I learned how to do it. When I told my friend all the things that go into being a fine artist, he seemed a little stunned. By switching my mentality of hobby-artist to one of professional-artist, painting now takes up thirty percent of my time. The rest of it goes towards business related things. And I actually really like that!
At my husband's class reunion in rural Oklahoma last weekend, I had to chuckle at the responses from people when I told them I was an artist. They stared in disbelief, like I was a UFO. I forget what life is like outside an artist community like Midtown Memphis. People tend to stereotype artists. Words used to identify artists are usually negative: flaky, flighty, temperamental, unorganized, unprofessional, starving...
And although I may be one, or several of the above, and far from being rich in monies, I am rich in life and talent. I feel that makes me a success and makes me proud to say I am a fine artist by profession. Not to mention how cute it is when my kids show pride in what I do. And that is priceless.
P.S. As for the little miracle the first day of school this year? I had coffee with an editor who "gets" my vision, so let's see what journey that will