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.