This is My Story
My life has been filled with a passion for art. My earliest memory was at 3 years old when I drew my first piece on my baby brother’s belly with dry erase markers. My mother played an instrumental role in my love of art. She was an amazing artist who taught me the basics of composition and shading with graphite at a young age. In high school, I would do a few drawings for friends as well as the occasional infatuated doodle for a girl in class. During this time, I focused on graphite, pen, and charcoal renderings of faces and hands. I gravitated to creating realistic pieces, spending hours on the details of a face until I was satisfied with it. This perfectionist approach creates a time problem when you realize the amount of detail that needs to be in place for a cohesive finished product.
I can’t remember how many pictures I’ve left unfinished after spending hours on the face and hands only to feel overwhelmed by the amount of work required to complete the rest of the piece. After high school, I pursued other more socially practical interests such as nursing school, the military, and starting a family. Yet, in the back of my mind, I still craved that creative space that art provided me to make sense of my dreams and emotions. Still, despite my passion, it would be more than 10 years before art would find its way back into my life.
In June 2014, my wife and I separated while I was stationed in Hawaii, taking my two young sons with her to our roots in San Diego, CA. I was crushed. To say that I was frustrated with my personal and work life would be a massive understatement. I needed something to make sense of what I was experiencing. I began with journal writing, mainly in the form of poetry, philosophical musings, and short stories. I would occasionally post one of these on Facebook, which started gaining some very interesting feedback. Many people pointed out the vivid imagery in my writing, and eventually someone suggested that I turn one of these poems into a painting. The idea felt right to me, and I decided I would give it a shot. At that point, I had just replaced the phone my youngest son Jackson had unintentionally shattered with a Samsung Note 3. I liked the fact that it had a stylus so I could sketch ideas while I was on the go. I had also purchased an art program called ArtFlow that seemed like a good fit with my newly acquired sketchbook/phone. I was very surprised at how natural drawing felt on my phone. The pressure sensitivity provided by the Wacom digitizer technology was much better than I expected, providing me with a compelling and dynamic platform with its combination of power and portability.
Also during that time, I had come across an artist named Nikko Lockertsen, who specialized in iPad art with a program called ProCreate. I read an article of his on how to use ProCreate to make high quality, professional level digital paintings. In his tutorial, he outlined how he would start his paintings by filling the canvas with a single midtone color. From there, he took his favorite textured brush and started forming the composition by blocking in the darkest areas. Then, he switched to white and identified his lightest areas. He emphasized the importance of being satisfied with the big picture before working on the details. I remember thinking of this as an almost philosophical approach to life, which set off a light bulb in my mind. It finally made sense. I had been doing it wrong all along, focusing so much on the shading of hands and faces while the big picture got lost to my detailed perfectionism. With this new understanding, I set out to start my first works, based on the imagery in poetry I had already written.
One of the very first digital paintings I did was one I named “Look & Live”, inspired by the story of Moses and the brazen serpent in the Old Testament. I posted that painting on Facebook and had a great response. A few days later, an artist friend of mine issued a Facebook challenge to me. He challenged me to create a new painting every day for 5 days. I accepted the challenge, and got to work. During that challenge, I created the pieces “Entropy”, “Wonder”, “Edge of Eternity”, “DragonRidge”, and “ArchBeauty”. In less than a week, I had completed more art than I had ever completed in my entire life. In every painting, I hid an infinity symbol as a little reminder to pause and look for God in your day to day life. People seemed to really connect with that, and I felt it was a healthy way to own and repurpose that infinity symbol I had tattooed upon my ring finger during those more hopeful days of my marriage. The response I was getting was truly inspiring. I began to feel momentum and purpose as I started connecting with people through my creative expressions. Those small Facebook successes encouraged me to see where I could take this newly rediscovered passion. Some people began asking for prints, and I began seeking out ways to bring these digital creations into the physical world. I started by printing my work onto high quality canvas prints called Giclees. They were beautiful, and seeing my creations come to life in reality sparked a fire in me. I felt alive in this new art form as it pervaded every aspect of my daily life. At the time, I was serving in the active duty side of the Air Force. A few of my wingmen who knew what I had been going through were very curious about what I was doing to cope with what some might consider the most stressful life events a person can experience. Most people had no idea that I was going through a divorce because I was so happy all of the time. It inspires me to think that all of this joy had been directly fueled by the pain I had been experiencing just a few months prior.
Right as I was really starting to feel this momentum, I met Adair, the owner of the “Art Truck” in Hawaii, who, after seeing my work, offered to help me get some exposure by hanging my art in Kissaten, a 24-hour coffee bar that features local artists on their walls. He told me I would need at least 8 high quality pieces to hang, and I set a goal to have everything ready for this display by April 14, 2015. Based on feedback I was receiving from friends, family, and everyone in between, I started to develop and refine my style. I connected with the vibrant colors and flowing lines, and followers of my art began to recognize my style instantly. They also knew to look for the infinity in each new painting. My first art show took place on April 17th, 2015, where many friends came to support me. After the show, I wanted to continue to experiment with the new medium. In August 2015, I had presented some of my work to an art marketing director named Justin at a printing lab in Oahu called Chromaco. He told me that selling digital art would be a challenge because people don’t understand it yet. He said that people tend to assume that digital art means you simply applied a filter to a photo, and that while there are some artists who have carved out a name for themselves in the digital medium (Android Jones comes to mind for me), I would have to find a way to put my art in a different category that could not be compared to traditional mediums like oil or acrylic painting. I knew he was right. I recalled many occasions where someone would ask me what kind of paint I used for my canvas prints. Many assumed my work was airbrushed. That was when an idea popped into my mind. What about these metal prints I was seeing offered by the printing lab? I asked my printing professionals if anyone had ever printed their art on metal before. They said they hadn’t seen anyone do that yet, and while metal was typically used for photography, my use of vibrant colors might translate well onto their clear gloss panels. I did a test run of two 16×24 clear gloss aluminum panels and brought them into work to see what people thought. The response was immediate. Coworkers began purchasing my work left and right. I noticed certain colors showed best on clear gloss, while others became muted, so I began adjusting my color palettes, vibrancy, and saturation in order to showcase this new discovery. I decided to adopt metal as the expressive vehicle of choice for my digital creations. I eventually paired up with FujiFilms Hawaii after a major 3-day storm rendered the dye sublimation printer at Chromaco unusable for weeks. FujiFilms Hawaii did incredible work, and their general manager, Kalani, had the spirit of experimentation, always looking for ways to improve their offerings. They’ve done an incredible job at consistently delivering high quality work and are my current printing lab partners.
In October 2015, I separated from the active duty side of the AirForce and joined the Air National Guard to pursue my bachelors in nursing. Classes would begin in January 2016, and I took this time gap as a massive opportunity to pursue my newly formed art business. On many occasions, friends of mine would ask me what made me choose nursing. They would point out that I have an entrepreneurial spirit that would be better suited for business, rather than nursing. I tended to agree with them, but, having two young boys under the age of 5, I felt obligated to choose the “safe” path offered by nursing. After a few not-so-gentle tugs on my soul from within, I decided it was imperative that I at least gave the idea a shot. One of my all-time favorite quotes was my guide: “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” That’s when I set out to perform an experiment to determine which path to choose. I made the choice to purchase a large amount of inventory, fly out to Hawaii, and sell my art at the Schofield Army Base exchange during the 2 and a half weeks I had there leading up to Christmas 2015. My first Saturday and Sunday at the exchange I sold a single, solitary piece. Had I made a mistake? I started to feel a sense of urgency. That Sunday night, I said a prayer. I prayed to understand what God’s will was for me. He had planted this desire in me, and I wanted to know what it was I needed to learn from the experience. A feeling of peace washed over me as a single word flooded my mind—patience. I knew I had been compelled to take this journey for a reason. The next day was a complete shock. On Monday, I had sold hundreds of dollars in inventory. The next day, even more. By Friday, I had reached my break-even point—the point at which my expenses for the trip, inventory, and daily living costs were covered by what I had earned. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude. Serendipity was my constant companion for the remainder of my trip. I was able to secure a retailer for my art in Oahu, and made some incredible business connections as well as personal connections. I decided to change my major to business and focus on moving forward with the momentum created with that fateful holiday trip.
While this journey has just begun, I hope you will find a seed of inspiration that you can plant in your own life. Each of us has been given a gift, a passion that gives us a clue into our destiny and purpose. My hope for you is that you take that gift and use it to do 3 things… to Create something meaningful, to Connect ideas and people together in ways that make their lives better, and to Inspire those around you to do the same. With enough voices, even whispers can become a roar that shakes the earth.
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