Q: Did you learn a lot of the things you know now through art school or on your own?
A: Great question – the answer would be both.
I had fantastic instructors in school who opened my eyes to just how much I had to learn and how much work it would take. Leon Parson graduated top of his class from Art Center in Pasadena where he averaged 2-4 hours of sleep a night 6 days a week – no joke – he kept that pace up for almost ten years until he had a physical breakdown and had to slow down to 4-6 hours a night (art school is worse than medical school).
I won all kinds of awards and was the top artist in the state of Alaska during high school – when I got to college and watched Leon draw from life I realized I didn’t know much at all in comparison.
The value of drawing and painting from life was drilled into me. Watching Arlo Coles do painting demonstrations in a Russian Impressionist style showed me how to paint with courage and gusto and juicy color.
For the past 27 years since college I’ve worked hard to increase and expand my understanding of what I learned from all of my prior instructors, which is where the real growth and refinement has come from. I don’t think I would have come this far nearly as quickly without that early schooling foundation.
I still tend to sleep just 5-6 hours a night because there doesn’t seem to be enough time in a day, especially with all the online art teaching I’m doing now.
Today artists have a great advantage over years past because of all the online resources available, but in order to excel they will still need to be disciplined – not necessarily getting too little sleep at night, but working and training daily.
Because of my beliefs I don’t work on Sundays, but I’m in the studio or out on plein air painting excursions 10-15 hours a day generally 6 days a week, taking time off only for family and church events.
I was blessed to get exceptional teachers at my college, but I would not recommend many universities in the U.S. for art training today. Professional ateliers and workshops are a far better use of money and resources if you’re serious about growing as an artist.
Be careful not become a workshop junkie though, where you jump around trying out a new style every other month. Be clear about where you want to improve (values, design, color harmony, etc), find an artist or two that you greatly admire who has mastered that skill, take a couple workshops from them, and then spend time practicing what you learn in your own studio.
Galleries and collectors don’t care about college degrees – it’s all about the artwork.
Most importantly – have fun – if you don’t love it you will never make art that is worthwhile.