How long have you been creating art?
“My dad says that I could hold a pencil when I was nearly a year old, so I guess about since I was born.”
Did you have another career before becoming an artist?
“I’ve always been an artist, but for my career I’ve done everything. I ended up in the paper mill business calling on about 28 paper mills in the northwest. I was in that business about 20 years, from manufacturing equipment to working as a draftsman in engineering and equipment design. Eventually I owned my own business, where I represented companies across the US and abroad.”
When did you leave the paper business?
“It was right around 2000-2001 when I gave notice to the companies that they were going to have to find a new rep. I opened my first art gallery on Main Street in Battle Ground with my wife, Jenna, on Sept. 18, 2001, seven days after 9/11.”
How did you end up in Ilwaco?
“By chance. My wife traded some of my mural talents for a couple nights’ stay in a house on Lake Street. I spent two or three nights here in Ilwaco and I didn’t really realize how hooked I was. While I was here, a fellow by the name of Pauly was just about ready to open Pauly’s Bistro at the port. He chatted me up about possibly having some salmon art in his restaurant and gave me the business card of the Saturday Market, which was to start in about two weeks. I kept on pulling that card out and looking at it, but I had never done a market before that. I thought I would use the Saturday Market as an excuse to come back to Ilwaco.”
When did you participate in Ilwaco Saturday Market and Astoria Sunday Market for the first time?
“2003. I participated in the Astoria Sunday Market in 2003-2004.”
What role did the markets play in your development as an artist and business?
“I absolutely recommend all artists do a market. An artist is a lot like a cherry grove farmer. It doesn’t mean that people buy your art right at that moment — it could be eight years later, like a cherry tree. Eight years from now that tree will produce a nice bunch of cherries, but for about six of those years there will be no cherries. In a market you get thousands of opportunities to have the artwork strike somebody. The market is super for providing exposure every weekend in the same place. Every time that you set up you’re moving closer and closer to that eighth year when everything starts happening. I once had a $10 day at the Saturday Ilwaco Market. The next Saturday it was a $1,000-dollar day. You can’t judge the markets on one weekend. You’ve just got to do it, and do it like you’re a farmer where later on you’re going to have a harvest. It’s hard, especially when nobody tells you you’re a farmer.”
Was there ever a point where you almost gave up?
“Yes, after that $10-dollar day. I went back to Battle Ground and said ‘Nobody will every see my artwork again. I’m done.’ I was so hurt, angry and upset. How could hundreds of people look at my art and I sell one $10-dollar print? I know now to remind myself that one day doesn’t mean anything. The next weekend was a $1,000-dollar day in Ilwaco, from a valley to a mountaintop.
“At the Sunday Market, I was sitting across from Bill Dodge, who sells $2,000 a Sunday. I would watch Bill and could see there was light at the end of the tunnel, that if you keep going you’re just building exposure and collecting momentum. Part of the success is being in the same spot. If McDonalds moved every 30 days, they wouldn’t be the chain they are now.”
You were still driving from Battle Ground at that point, when did you make the move to Ilwaco?
“In February 2004, for a Valentine’s Day away, I brought my wife back to Ilwaco. It was a getaway for me, too. I was just itching to be back after the winter away. The market ended in September and I was anxious to be back here. We were walking right out front when my wife asked me about my plans for 2004 and she said, “If you like it here so much, why don’t we just move here?” So basically I just never went home, I stayed here. Three years later we sold our house.”
How would you describe your approach to art?
“I think my approach to art is 100 percent different than most of the art world. I believe the art represents the soul, but not necessarily my soul. It can, but I believe the soul is where the personality is and the personality is full of art — music, literature and images. I believe my talent as an artist is meant to provide you with pieces of your personality. I can choose to paint something that represents my personality but I have the talent to do both, kind of like an actor.
“I believe in the idea that Martin Luther King Jr. had about greatness, that if you want to be great you have to get into service of your fellow man. I believe the artist should adjust their attitude. I work towards that. I’m not saying I’m perfect but I want to be great, and I know the path is providing the people on this planet with little pieces of who they are through my artwork. My approach is to use the artwork as if it were a super hero ability. And I ask myself, “Who do you want to help? I want to help the small business man, charities, nonprofits and events. I see myself as a servant to my community and all humanity by providing artwork for them.”
Do you remember your first commissioned work?
“It would have been my dad or mom asking me to draw something up. I remember doing the calligraphy for my dad’s professional engineers of Oregon certificates. That was when I was challenged to be great. I got annoyed with my dad hovering over my shoulder while I was doing it and I said ‘Get off me!’ I was probably 17 or 18. His feelings were hurt and he went for the door and when he got there he stopped and turned and said, ‘Well, if you’re ever going to be a great artist, you’re going to have to get over that.’ Little did I know that his words would haunt me for the rest of my life. Any time I was in an art situation getting bumped or harassed while trying to draw, those words came back. It helped me a lot to overcome and not get stuck in some of the bad attitudes that prevail in the art world.”
Did you have formal art training?
“I took some art classes in high school, one watercolor class. I started to take some classes at Portland State University. I took a drawing class and got a ‘B’. I took some sign painting, lettering classes at an advertising art school in 1984, when I was 24. I took a cartooning class too. They were trying to teach me to draw the big noses and big chins, to exaggerate something. I decided in cartooning to exaggerate the size of the head alone and I wouldn’t make fun of a feature. It would just be funny because it’s a big head on a little body, and everyone love’s their cartoons.”
Who’s had the biggest influence on you as an artist?
“I do pay attention to artists, but I don’t have one because I tried so hard not to. I didn’t want to have a master. But the biggest effect would be a man by the name of Boardwell, which was my high school watercolor and calligraphy teacher. I spent a year in calligraphy with him and one course in watercolor. I never spent more time with any other art teacher or artist ever. His watercolor class had the biggest effect on me of all time. It was 15 years after the class that I would pick it up again.”
What’s the biggest challenge painting with watercolor?
“They say watercolor is the hardest medium. But that’s the first medium that they give you when you’re in kindergarten. You can’t call it the hardest medium, then give it to children. Is it possible that watercolor is so easy that a child could do it? Could it be the fastest way to have a career in art? Because watercolor, like pencil and pen, is some of the easiest to reproduce. Electricity is hard to control, but if you give it a path it goes where it’s supposed. Watercolor is like electricity, where the paper is wet is where it can go. You can control what you can control but watercolor is always — and that’s what’s so wonderful, no watercolor sky is ever going to be the same. It will be different every single time.”
Is there one piece that you’re most proud of?
“There is one piece that’s a part of me and my personality and it’s ‘Fat Jack.’ I put a big price tag on him ($31,000), so if you want to buy a piece of my soul…”
Why is ‘Fat Jack’ special to you?
“Somehow it’s connected down here (tapping chest). I love cigars. Not everybody does, but everybody loves smoked salmon. I painted a cigar-smoking steelhead and I sold it to a cigar shop I frequented. He bought the original for $500 and $400 worth of prints to sell in his shop. It took me about 20 minutes to do the painting and I went home that day having made $900. It shattered the idea of starving artist. The next day, with that kind of feeling and thought in my head, I painted ‘Fat Jack’.
“Art is subjective to the person looking at it. There’s no such thing as ‘fine art,’ there’s only art. Art is when somebody has a reaction. That’s what is important. It’s not about the quality or anything. If you like it, you’re not wrong and no king or queen or arrogant artist should tell you that you’re uneducated in what strikes you.”
What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned that’s helped you succeed as an artist and business?
“Service. It’s number one. Our parents have been trying to teach us since we’re small to take our eyes off ourselves and see the big picture. What I work towards is not to be the one affected, but to be the one that affects. It’s all based on the idea of happiness. If I can help you find your happiness through my art, that’s the way.”
What’s your routine like?
“I like to come in in the morning. I have a to-do list. There’s a time the morning before I open at 11 for projects. If I have a commission, I like to do it in the morning before I open the door. I usually end at 4. If it strikes me I can be down here late at night painting. I’ve never wanted to limit the talent.
What advice would you give artists trying to establish a career?
“First of all, set up a studio at home or somewhere the artwork is going to be created and dedicated. It’s not the kitchen table where you have to clean it off, it’s a room that is used for multiple things where you put your stuff away and get it out. If it’s going to be great, it deserves its own space to be created. Second, do it in front of God and everyone, and ask yourself all the time, ‘What would a great artist do?’ Then, as fast as you can, get into the Saturday and Sunday Market, even if you just put your artwork on a folding table. Start meeting the public and learning to talk to people. Every weekend exposes people to what you do.”