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Second Generation Artist

I wanted to talk about one of the influences in my art that i’m reminded of on some nights when my son sits in my studio doing his art and I am working at my computer on illustrations or my video game work. I’ve told him how in our very packed house growing up, with eight children and two adults, space was scarce, especially private space.

My bedroom at one point was the loft at the top of the stairs, where in winter months my mother would move her art table (from the enclosed front porch) to the bottom of my bed so she could continue working. On some nights she would work late, and I’d fall asleep listening to the light clacking of her metal knife as she edited books.

My mom was a graphic artist. Back in the days before books were created on computers and easily edited, artists like her would make essentially slave wages to manually lay out each page on full two page spreads. She would cut pages up with exacto knives and using wax lay them down on the page. I’m probably screwing up the order of things; I think the next step was she’d retouch full size negatives that were made of her frankensteined together pages. At this stage she’d remove any lines that showed up, and ink with a tiny metal pen the dust and scratches. It was a time consuming process that was under appreciated by her bosses.

Back in those days I took comfort falling asleep listening to her work at the bottom of the bed, lit from below by the light table that cast a soft blue glow across the room. I remember it clearly, from the smell of the paint to the way it faded from gloss to dull.

My mom is one of my art influences. It may not be obvious to some because she was never a published artist, although she wrote children’s books that only my siblings and I got to enjoy. I still have early memories of her working, though. Red ink, flowery designs for things that I don’t even have conscious memory of what they actually were she was working on, still find their way into my books, sometimes just the color alone as homage (like the red griffin in Monkey Marbles).

Her writing endeavors never came to full fruition, but I still appreciate the efforts she made. In between time that she was raising eight children and then later taking care of a stroke stricken husband, she would write children’s picture books. Let me underscore that again: she had EIGHT children and a SICK husband and still somehow found a little time. Holy shit, I can barely find my way with two children and still have energy to write and illustrate.

I’m a second generation artist, but have spent much of my career working in computer animation, visual effects, and architectural work. In some respects I’ve followed my mom’s path, doing work for others and ignoring the internal need to create things more personal, because, you know, food and stuff. This probably accounts for some of the hard times I’ve gone through during my career because I wasn’t listening to the internal voice that said I wasn’t content. It may also account for the need to still do something personal and let the stories out that I feel I need to release.

My mom is 82 years old now, and I wanted to write this blog post now, when she is still here with us, to let her know how grateful I am for not just the hard work she did raising eight children under impossible odds, but for her influence on my art, and her encouragement along the way. Having recently gone home to help her move out of her house, I was reminded of it again when I found perhaps my oldest portfolio. The artwork I found? Well, to me it was okay, and sometimes just plain embarrassing to behold. I blushed when I showed some of it to my wife. Somehow I continued to find encouragement and turn those awkward stumblings in art to something real. Let’s be honest: sometimes I feel like I’m still stumbling a bit.

Someday I hope to be a published author – you know books published that children actually read. I think if I do it will not just be an accomplishment for myself, but for my mom, too, who influenced me.

I’m a second generation artist. To me that figures as importantly as the fact that Andrew Wyeth is the son of NC Wyeth, that Stephen King’s children are also writers, or that Ben Stiller’s parents are Stiller and Meara. Like them, I have it in my blood, and for that I am grateful.

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