Folks often ask me, "What's with the long limbs?" And to be honest, I really don't have a satisfying answer to that question. Believe me, I've dissected it hundreds of times…Read More
Sunlight pokes through the leaves swaying in the warm breeze. I feel the cool of dusk coming on as I dip my brush in an unnamed shade of gray. The depths of the forest beyond my easel beckon me, the still wilderness full of endless adventure and hidden wonders. But instead of venturing I stand, eyes darting between my sketchbook and canvas and the dancing shadows of the woodlands. I am in my happy place and it could be anywhere.
Most artists that I know come from humble beginnings. They began their art careers as hapless hobbyists, holding down a mundane job that pays the bills but offers little fulfillment, especially when compared to the thrill of creating art that they keep as their (often) secret pastime. They spend every spare moment in their makeshift "studio", often a rickety table in a spare bedroom or the dinner table once the dishes are cleared. They long for more time, more space, more money so that they can ditch the nine to five and put their artist smock on full-time (it's just an expression, nobody wears smocks). They are well-fed but yet, they are hungry.
I was a once a waiter at a restaurant in Boulder, Colorado called Turley's. The money was good and I'm a people-person so the work was enjoyable enough, but every weekend and many late nights during the week, I would go to our tiny spare bedroom and lose myself in my art. I had set up a mammoth wooden easel given to me by a prep cook who had acquired it when a boss from his second job was clearing out a storage garage. It's heavy, handmade, and perhaps the object I've sat in front of most in my life (a TV with a Nintendo plugged into it coming in at a close second).
This easel, currently standing idly next to me, has been lugged around to four different Colorado locations and one in Michigan, banging into my shins countless times and always presenting a challenge to my packing process when we move. It has held over a hundred paintings as they evolve from the proverbial "blank canvas" to a completed work of art. It has had paint hurled at it, been gouged, seared, and occasionally cursed at, but it holds firm. My easel is the best kind of friend.
This companion also has two little brothers: a couple of travel easels that I pack into my traveling artist bin when we hit the road. These two lively little fellas get all the action, bouncing around in the camper as we amble down a gravel road towards hot springs in Wyoming. They get to stand on a picnic table at the foot of the majestic Catalina mountains outside of Tucson as the warm desert sun welcomes the vibrant desert bloom. Or, as I described at the beginning of this essay, they sit with me beneath the towering oak trees on my sister's Wisconsin acreage. I've painted in a dank basement in St. Louis, on a lake in Utah, and in countless spare bedrooms of my relatives. It's not always ideal or efficient to create this way, but I've got to admit, I wouldn't have it any other way.
Through hard work, grit, a lot of mistakes and a whole heap of little gifts from God, my wife and I now own a building where I can create art in relative comfort. I have a dedicated space to stain and prepare panels, storage for shipping supplies and finished artwork, room for my drum kit that I bang on from time to time, and most importantly, a spot by two windows (natural light!!!) for my trusty easel. My wife finally has a dedicated office space (blog post on the horizon about ALL that she handles) and we even managed to squeeze in a little gym space for our pursuits in sweat. We feel so blessed and grateful for all that we've been given and looking back, it's been such an adventure to get here.
Yes, I've come a long way from hapless hobbyist to full-time smock-wearer and my hope is that my travel easels never get dusty. This family of four has some big travels planned and I appreciate you coming along for the ride.
Every year, every day, every in the studio, I strive to create something new.
I'm not interested in finding a winning formula and riding that horse until it's taken its last breath. I don't want to create an art factory that churns out slight variations of the same old ho-hum art. I seek to grow closer to being my true self, uninhibited and unapologetic.Read More
This past year has been a foundry, where all of my actions, ideas, and experiences from the past 33 years of life have been shoved into a cauldron, melted down, and forged into something new, something stronger as a composite than as singularities. Weapons were formed from this molten soul-metal and this coming year will be a time to get out in the world and brandish them in beautiful strokes. These are not weapons of mass destruction; rather, they are weapons of mass CREATION.Read More
Ashley and I were fresh in love. On a bluebird winter day in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, we had hiked the winding sledding trail to a hut overlooking the Alpine valley, where we enjoyed some Weissbier and sausages. Before pushing off for a thrilling ride down the forested trail on our sleds, I swallowed the butterflies trying to block the words I wanted to say to this beautiful woman and got down on one knee. Moments later, snow was spraying in our faces as we rocketed through the Bavarian pines, a newly engaged couple on yet another escapade together, smiles broader than ever.
At the end of our two years living and loving in Germany, we knew that it was time to return to our homeland and start the next chapter in our lifelong adventure. But where to go? After weighing various options and throwing many darts at maps of the US, we decided to head to a state that had charmed us from many angles on our countless excursions there: Colorado.
Seven years ago, we stumbled into Boulder with a pocket full of Euros and head full of possibilities. Since then, we've bounced around various parts of the Front Range of the Rockies, finding our proverbial path and never ceasing to be amazed by the beauty of this region. The people are wonderfully weird, the arts are thriving, and the entrepreneurial spirit is ubiquitous. Simply put, it fits us as snugly as the spandex bodysuits Colorado folks like to wear to brunch.
But we're moving. It has been a harsh realization to accept but we simply cannot afford to run our business, raise our family, and lead the lives we desire in this Rocky Mountain haven. We've been priced out of Colorado and it stinks. But who can blame all the young professionals flocking to this wonderful state? Who can blame the homeowners selling their modest home for three times what they bought it for ten years ago? Supply and demand. The ebb and flow. We have to go.
As we traversed these United States of America during our art adventures of the past few years, we've always kept an eye out for a new place to build our hive. We loved Arizona and New Mexico, but the location wasn't very central. San Francisco and the West Coast were great, but that wasn't any easier on the pocketbook or the drives to our Midwestern art fairs. We've been charmed by many regions, but none checked all of the boxes for the life we envisioned.
But then we realized that there was one spot that we always came back to, year after year. One place that always felt familiar and inviting. Where property is unbelievably affordable and the region is rife with outdoor enthusiasts, art-centric folks, tasty beer, and juicy blueberries. Where the vineyards thrive in the sandy soil and maple syrup flows like wine. Where the Dutch have built windmills and effigies to their (and our) motherland. Where an ocean of a lake is skirted by sugar-sand beaches and forested dunes. Yes friends, my little family and I are packing up our life and planting our roots in the fertile soils of southwestern Michigan.
From our conversations with close friends and strangers alike, the wonders of Michigan have eluded many. Most folks outside of this region don't know about the incredible natural beauty of the Lake Michigan shoreline and its charming lighthouses. But it's AWESOME here. The people are friendly and the landscape is scenic. Breweries and wineries are abound and you can pick fresh blueberries from the countless farms in the area and enjoy them on the endless beaches lining the coast.
The location is great for us as well. From our little acreage, we will be two hours from Chicago (where more of my paintings live than anywhere else) and closer to all of the Midwestern shows that we frequent. In addition, the East Coast, a market that was always too far away to explore, is now a day's drive away. As an added bonus, there is an awesome little elementary school just down the road where they teach an outdoors-centered curriculum. Booyah!
Lastly, the affordability of the area has allowed us to not only get a house, but also a separate building that will make a perfect studio, a dream that I never thought possible after perusing the Colorado real estate market. With our new workspace, Ashley and I will be able to work efficiently while keeping our personal and business lives separate. More space to work means room for bigger art and my lofty ambitions of creating large, sculptural work now seems more attainable than ever.
While we will have a somber time packing up our Colorado life and saying goodbye to the many fine friends we've made there over the past seven years, we're excited about our new beginnings in the Wolverine State and hope you'll stay tuned for the many artistic moves on the horizon.
From the mountains to the lakes. Goodbye Colorado. Hello Michigan!
Something just didn't look right. Did I get the perspective right? Was his expression on point? Is it something in the background?
None of these internal questions helped me find the "something" that was off, but I knew in my guts that The Gas Jockey II had a problem.
Such is often the case when I'm painting. I always strive to push myself and grow as an artist and the contemporary artists I most look up to are those that continually reinvent themselves and think outside of their comfort zones. (e.g, Michael Reeder, Jenny Morgan, Basik). One vital component of achieving this type of creativity is making mistakes.
To err is human, but it is what that human does with those errs that shows their character. As I continue to explore the history of the worker with The Jobs of Yesteryear, I am continually searching out for new, subtle ways to enhance the visual narrative I'm spinning. One example is changing the surface I paint and collage on from canvas to wood panels, a move that I have been delighted with. Another, more recent change that some of you may have picked up on, is the use of graphite to sketch in some of the details in the background of my work. Both of these moves worked out to great effect, but the sailing isn't always that smooth.
And as I put what I thought to be the finishing touches on The Gas Jockey II, that nagging feeling that there was something off continued to well up in my guts. When my own eyes fail to solve a riddle like this, I often turn to my favorite fresh (dare I say inviting) set of peepers; those of my wife/muse/boss, Ashley.
As she gave my latest work a once-over, I stood anxiously by, still wanting to impress this fair maiden after nearly six years of marriage and ten years of chasing her adoration. Her reply was quick and to the point, "What's wrong with his arm?"
AHA! His arm! It made logical sense that the gas station attendant's right arm would hang by his side, similar to the left arm pumping the gas, but the fact that he was wiping the windshield made the posture look awkward and unnatural. His upper arm should be lifted, making it look like he was applying pressure to the rag.
I began work immediately on remedying The Gas Jockey II's arm. Luckily, the mistake was caught quickly enough that the glue hadn't had a chance to set. I carefully peeled the arm off, made a couple of careful cuts with my trusty X-acto knife, rotated the arm at the elbow, patched, painted, and re-adhered it. The whole process probably took another two hours, but I was so relieved to have finally found the culprit of my uneasiness and look at The Gas Jockey II with that satisfaction of completion.
In my studio, I follow a simple rule that I will never let fear of failure keep me from attempting to do something new or challenging. As a result, mistakes happen and are expected. I am not ashamed by them; rather, I'm proud to know that I'm challenging myself to the point where I am making occasional blunders. The Gas Jockey II had an ambitious pose. He was in the three-quarter turn towards the viewer and set in the scene between the car and gas pumps. It was a challenge to get the perspective right along with his posturing, and because I had refused to let the challenge scare me into switching his pose, I went for it and slightly missed the mark.
From these missteps comes growth and over time, they allow me to evolve and develop my distinct voice as an artist. And it is this bold voice that helps me celebrate and preserve the stories of these antiquated workers. May I never stop making mistakes in the studio and may their stories never be lost in the sands of time.
The Gas Jockey II found a home over Labor Day Weekend in Sausalito, California, along with The Elevator Operator II and The Lighthouse Keeper. I am truly humbled by the patronage and support that you all provide and I promise to continue to push the boundaries of my abilities, celebrating my marvelous mistakes along the way.
I sat idly at my easel in our spare bedroom. Outside my window, the moon shone bright, illuminating the massive heaves of rock resting against the foothills of the Rockies. The Flatirons have always inspired me but offered no answers this night. What to paint. What to paint. What to paint. Silence.Read More
For most folks, we have stories like this that define us. Some are joyous, some are tragic, but they all provide a shortcut to get at the heart of our identity. We use them to try and illustrate who we truly are underneath it all because those stories somehow transformed us, however slightly.Read More
As the crowd mingled, taking in the three newest exhibits at the Yuma Art Center, a tall, lanky cowboy strolled into the gallery. My latest series, Tall Tales, was making its debut and one of the four characters, Slim Pickens, was now being embodied in the flesh by this lanky fella' making his rounds at the opening night reception.Read More
The Jobs of Yesteryear Series have been coursing through my creative veins for nearly seven years. My brother-in-law recently reminisced about seeing an innocuous post-it note with the words "Jobs of Yesteryear" stuck among the myriad of half-baked ideas adorning my desk back in 2010. Since then, I've completed almost 50 paintings depicting obsolete jobs from the past and collected innumerable tidbits of history in the process. This idea, to learn about how the life of the worker has changed throughout modern time and explore the stories I find with my art, has become an integral part of my identity as an artist. The Jobs of Yesteryear allowed me to take the leap of faith and quit my job to pursue this idea full-time. It has fed my family of four and allowed us the freedom to roam this great planet of ours.
And now, The Jobs of Yesteryear have evolved.
In my research of the history of the worker, I often come across occupations that are historic and intriguing, but that don't quite fit the bill of being an "obsolete" job. For example, firefighting has changed a lot since the Romans organized the first bucket brigade back in 300 BC. The Ancient Egyptians invented the first water pump a century later and this evolution has continued down the halls of history for two millennia, connecting those first Roman bucket slingers to the brave men and women who respond to all sorts of calls these days. It's quite the story.
And up until this year, the history of the firefighter wouldn't fit in with the obsolete Jobs of Yesteryear, since it is a job that still exists. However, I've made the decision that stories like that of the firefighter are too important to not include in my survey of the history of the worker. Thus, I've expanded The Jobs of Yesteryear to now include jobs that aren't necessarily obsolete, but that have a rich history and have changed dramatically throughout time.
One of the very first paintings exploring this new territory is The Firemen, which was commissioned by a lovely family in Michigan with firefighting in their blood. This piece, which includes an uncharacteristic splash of red, is one my favorites and I am excited to announce that I will be offering prints of The Firemen on our 2017 Art Adventure. I will have a whole slate of new prints and original mixed media paintings coming to an art festival near you, starting in Tucson and Tempe the next two weekends. For the full schedule, check out my calendar, which will continue to fill up in the coming months.
I'm grateful that I've found The Jobs of Yesteryear and I will continue to explore this intriguing subject through my art. If you have any ideas for historic occupations that I haven't painted, give me a shout. And thank you always for supporting for my art. Stay tuned...
2016 was weird and hard and wonderful and triumphant. But my favorite year is always the one on the horizon...Read More
I breathed out the sadness and the stress of the flood onto the paper. The irony that I was using water, the element that caused us so much hardship, to create something new, was not lost on me.Read More
Back in 2011, I created The Lamplighter, the very first painting in The Jobs of Yesteryear series (I've painted 50+ since) and the most popular image I've ever made by a long shot. Since that first Lamplighter, I've painted two other versions, both of which were very different portrayals. But I had yet to revisit the original composition. It has been my golden calf and I've always thought that creating a new version would just lead to disappointment because it wouldn't live up to the original creation.
Then Clyfford Still stepped in.Read More
...we've decided to make our family a party of four and have realized that our cute little cheese curd on wheels just won't cut it anymore. So alas, this is perhaps our last summer living the Scamp life and I thought I would take this chance to tell of our highlights so far.Read More
My relentless months in the studio had culminated to this moment and I took the time to let it all soak in. I felt like I could finally breathe and boy did that gallery air taste good.Read More
On April 6 at 8:46am, I put our newest steed, a sharp 2011 Chevy Express 2500 into drive and eased out of our parking spot. Our little 13' Scamp was in tow and this was the first mile of nearly 20,000 that my wife, son and I will drive on our Art Adventure 2016.Read More
Last June, under the towering oaks of Salina, Kansas, I talked with some nice folks about my art. A young woman casually walked by my tent, pausing to grab one of my business cards, and continued on before I had a chance to say hello (something I try to do to every person who visits my display). This happens thousands of times during the course of an art fair season, but, little did I know, this seemingly insignificant event would forever alter my path as an artist.
The woman's name is Lindsay Benacka and she is the Artistic Director at CityArts, a sprawling visual arts and cultural facility in the heart of Wichita, Kansas. Lindsay later wrote me an email to offer what I thought would take years to acquire: a solo exhibition in their main gallery space.
Fast forward nine months and I'm currently painting like a madman, churning out up to three paintings a week, as I prepare for a giant leap in my career. In November, we were lucky enough to discover a quaint house for rent on the outskirts of Fort Collins, Colorado for the months of January and February, and we've settled in nicely here to life off the road. As an added bonus, the woman is an author (whose book, Wild Mama, I highly recommend) and has a lovely little writer's studio in which I could create. I affectionately call it The Shed (The Scamp sits nearby awaiting its next departure in April).
My solo exhibition will run from April 29-May 21, 2016 and my work will fill all 1600 square feet of CityArt's main gallery. It is a chance to show the world what I can create, to excite the public with stories from our past, and to paint like I've never painted before. It is, by far, the biggest undertaking of my budding career as an artist.
When this opportunity plopped itself in my path, I knew that it was also a chance to experiment a bit and reimagine the way I depict The Jobs of Yesteryear. Last Fall, as my wife and I perused the amazing galleries of Santa Fe while pushing our sleeping toddler around in the stroller, it dawned on me: many artists I admire paint on wood panels. Why can't I do that? Wait, I can do that.
Previously I had always painted on canvas, since that seemed like the popular choice among artists. Painting on wood panel offers a smoother surface and a more solid material to affix my long-limbed and collaged workers. I also thought of the added depth I could achieve through letting some of the wood grain show through in the finished painting. This adds a nice layer of subdued color as I can use different stains on the wood to change the overall feel of the painting. It was the exact epiphany I was waiting for.
Never in my life have I created art full time. I've always tucked painting into the weekends and late nights, longing for a time when my art could be my main focus. Well, my dream has been a reality these past two months and I'm absolutely electrified by what I've been able to manifest. As of writing this, I've finished 18 new paintings and hope to have over 30 by the time my solo exhibition rolls around in April.
It's a very exciting time in this artist's life and I appreciate you taking the time to share it. Follow my progress on your social media of choice, and check out the facebook event for my exhibition here.
Wow, what a year it's been! My wife, son and I have been very blessed with our new life on the open road getting the word out about my art and peddling our collective wares. We've had our triumphs and our failures; we've had our dreams come true and our hopes dashed; but most of all, we've found that this new life suits us well and we are more excited than ever to see what's next for this humble trio.
As with any new experience, I feel that the key to learning the most from it is to pause and reflect from time to time. Being the end of the year and seven months into my new life as a full-time artist, I thought I would take a moment and share what I've learned so far from my family's adventure in art.
[ O N E ] Grit & Discipline
Painting is a lot of fun when your creative tank is full and you've got a pocketful of fresh, exciting ideas and a good night's sleep. Painting is not as fun when you're tired and unmotivated from being on the road for 9 hours the day before and that looming commission deadline is creeping closer by the minute. The majority of artists who I've talked to that are making this artist life work hold themselves accountable to be productive every single day, no matter how full their tank is. Being a successful artist takes grit and discipline and I admire those artists who've stuck with it through the easy days and the rough.
[ T W O ] Find Common Ground
From my experiences on the road (all 15,000 glorious miles of it) I've learned that we are all more alike than we are different. At festivals I set up my booth and talk to nearly every single person that wanders in, mostly about art, but often times our conversations go beyond that. My Jobs of Yesteryear series stirs up memories of grandparents, history, technology, how far we've come and so much more. The folks I meet don't always strike me as people that I would easily connect with, but I've found that it's not too hard to find common ground as long as you speak from the heart, listen attentively, and keep an open mind. One example is Doris (pictured below) who I met in Salina, Kansas. She took one look at The Ice Cutter and told me a comical story about her three year-old sister getting her tongue stuck to the ice chest when she was little. Like Doris, the vast majority of people are good-natured and would rather share a laugh with you than anything else.
[ T H R E E ] Trust the Path
There hasn't been a clear path down this road as an artist and I don't expect the fog to lift anytime soon. I've learned to trust the path I'm on and trust my gut (and brilliant wife) when it comes to decision making. I do my best not worry too much about the future, which helps me be present and enjoy every breath God blesses me with. Sure, there have been times when the bank account is dwindling and we're not selling as much as we'd hoped, but then, just at the right moment, an email will show up about someone interested in an original painting or we'll have an incredible show the next weekend. I've learned time and time again to trust the path because it'll all work out somehow.
[ F O U R ] Be Bold
I've learned to put myself out there and make mistakes. I try not to play it safe with my art and I do my best to continually push the boundaries of my abilities. This often takes the form of an uncomfortable feeling when it's time to tackle a challenging part of a painting. When I was painting The Reinsman, I was dreading painting the carriage and horses. I knew that they would be the focal point of the painting and challenging to depict. The only reason I had to not paint them was because I was afraid to fail. I've learned to choke that feeling down and just go for it. Paint hard. Be Bold. Throw caution to the wind.
[ F I V E ] Accept & Give Generosity
Life is too hard to try to do it all yourself. I've learned to accept generosity from others, to compliment strangers (even if it's a bit uncomfortable) and take time to pay it forward when the opportunity arises. Back in July, we were on a long stretch of road, traveling from Michigan to Washington in four long days. We had just hit Wyoming when the "Check Engine" light came on. "Uh-oh", I thought, as I exited the interstate to the nearest parts store. After checking the cause of the light being triggered, I talked over options with the store clerk. Lo and behold, the fella in line behind me was a mechanic with 20 years experience and he happily helped me fix the vehicle right there in the parking lot. Afterwards, he refused to take anything for his services other than a handshake. I always think of that man when I'm given the opportunity to help someone else out and be kind.
[ S I X ] Slooowww Dowwwnnn
There are always a million things to do and it's easy to sink into the mindset that you need to figure them all out right this instant. Even typing that sentence got my heart racing. I've learned the value of slooowwwwiiinngg dowwwnnnnn and enjoying the little gifts given to us each and every day. The most common form of this lesson from our life on the road is the frequent breaks we need to take so that our two year-old Ivan (and his parents) can retain a level of sanity during long days of travel. We've discovered some neat little gems along the way, simply because we took the time to seek them out and fought the urge to get to the next destination ASAP. The Pony Express station in Gothenburg, Nebraska, the amazing Ice House Museum in Cedar Falls, Iowa and the world-class smoked meats of the Konop Meat Market in northern Wisconsin would have all been missed, had we not slowed down and enjoyed the sights along the way during our journey.
[ S E V E N ] Celebrate the Small Victories
As we forge ahead on this new trail, my wife and I often take a moment and celebrate how far we've come. Five years ago, we did our first art fair in Estes Park, Colorado using a rickety green (green?!) tent and chains to hang the art on. It was a meager first effort but it was a place to start. Since then, we've experienced thousands of little victories that have led to where we currently are. We've learned to take the time and celebrate those little triumphs before pushing them aside and starting to work on the next task. We've had many brews to celebrate selling an original painting or having a successful fair or just finishing a long, stressful drive, and it's this practice that helps us cultivate gratitude and a sense of accomplishment about the new life we've created.
Thank you so much for supporting our adventures in art. Stay tuned for more big moves being made by this little art family in 2016. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year to you and yours from the Voorhees crew.
Tyler, Ashley, and Ivan
As an artist, I am particularly invested in inspiration. It is the fuel that feeds my productive fire, the food that fills my creative belly and the spark that ignites my passion to paint. To continue to grow as an artist, I must keep my tank of inspiration full so that I can always push the boundaries of my abilities without running out of gas or ideas. I fill this by visiting museums and galleries, following my favorite artists on Instagram or perusing my fellow artists' tents at art festivals.
With the festival season drawing to a close, I thought I would share a list of seven artists, both past and present, that have been big sources of inspiration for me.Read More
I create my characters from hundreds of hand-torn collaged bits of kraft paper. I do this not only to make them "pop" off of the canvas but also because I want the job to be the focal point. The main reason that I created The Jobs of Yesteryear was to preserve the stories of these forgotten occupations. Collaging the figure out of paper drives that story home more effectively and leaves a lasting impression.Read More