Friday, July 11, 2008

Juggling act

(The picture above is by five year old Rebecca. It's a family portrait with left to right: Rebecca, Logan, Mommy and Michael on her MagnaDoodle)
As some of you may know, I am not only an artist but a husband and father of 3 children ages 5, 3 and 1 yr old. My wife, Melissa, is an artist as well, a ceramicist to be specific.

I have been drawing since I was 7 years old and have been on the road to being a professional artist ever since. I had figured that I would probably be alone most of my life, so living the life of an artist would only affect me. To be an artist is to give up alot to practice your craft. The term "starving artist" came from somewhere, didn't it? So after high school, I started art classes at Kirtland Community College, not looking to get any type of degree. My goal was to get better at what I do, while taking a class here and there and MAYBE I would earn a degree along the way. Well, after 4 years of drawing, painting, photography and the occasional english or math class, my financial aid ran out. But not before sneaking off to Cabo San Lucas in 1999 for a week. While there, I visited the Cabo Wabo Cantina daily, with paper and pencil in my clutches. I also brought artwork for Sammy Hagar, who owns and frequents the Cantina. I felt so much appreciation for my abilities while there. If I was drawing, people would stop and stare and ask questions and seemed genuinely interested in my artwork. It was an exhilirating experience. I also think of the trip as a sabatical (did I spell that right?).

When I returned to school the following week, I met a new instructor by the name of Melissa. She taught a college course to 8th graders and was using the photo lab I worked in. This was in October. In December we were seeing each other. In 2002 we married and had our first child, Rebecca in September.

And that's when things got complicated.

Since then, I've left one job after 9 years, started back to college, had two more children, started another job and tried to continue my art career. The jobs I've had were non-art related. The year after our daughter was born, I decided to go back to college (my financial aid at Kirtland ran out in 2000 and I left) and the day I signed up for classes at SVSU my wife lost part of her job that would have kept us supported well enough. When I tried to return to my job of nine years, I found that while I was off to college, they had "terminated" me and I was unemployed for over a year. My only source of income was my job at school as lab attendant.

My schedule from 2003-2007 as a full time art student and part-time husband/father consisted of Mon-thurs on the road by 7am and leaving classes at 10pm with a one hour drive home. Throughout the night, the baby (or kids as it came to be every two years) would wake us up. Friday through Sunday would be filled with Melissa teaching on Friday and me working those three nights (I got a minimum wage job in 2005). The only time I had for my art was at school for classes, which wasn't always the most fulfilling since the work was to satisfy instructors and not me.

Once a year, and sometimes twice, I would get a commission job, where someone paid me to do a portrait. When this happened, I would have to wait until the kids were settled enough so that Melissa wouldn't need help with them and I would lock myself in the bathroom in our apartment and draw or paint. If someone needed the bathroom, specifically our potty training toddlers, I would have to rush around to hide and cover my supplies so they wouldn't get into them, unlock the door and let them in and wait until they were done. By that point, they wanted to play with daddy so I would give up my quest to create. We moved into a house with a basement in 2006 before our third kid, Logan was born. Same situation, but harder. I have to basically abandon my family to work on my artwork. I've been doing it since I started my family, pushing myself away so I can continue down the path that I started on 23 years ago. Whether it was going to college for my Bachelor of Fine Arts for four years ( I graduated in 2007) four days a week and leaving before they awoke and coming home after they're in bed, or being lucky enough to get hired for a portrait and hiding in the basement so they don't know I'm in the house. As it is, I am currently working on a commission piece. It stands on my easel in the basement and has been for 3 months. In three months I've put roughly 12 hours into the project. I might work an hour and hear a blood curdling scream or Melissa calling for me and I have to stop, climb the stairs, fix whatever problem's come up and most of the time I don't get back to the work.

As a practicing artist, one has to be selfish. They have to surround themselves with creative environments and leave their schedules open for things like exhibits, meetings, art competitions, and just be able to work. As a father, I can't be selfish. I have to do everything I can to keep the kids and my wife happy, or at least healthy. Artwork, especially in my area, does not sell well. I may have an exhibit or have an article in the paper, but I am not making the money needed to support a family of five. It's a constant struggle to justify continuing as a professional artist, because it isn't paying off. I never wanted to think of it that way, that this painting might sell better than this, or maybe I should push my project aside to do something more popular that might sell. But, if I don't make money on the artwork , I can't abandon my familyupstairs to do it. Even if it's for money, working on a project is complicated. My wife constantly rolls her eyes when I say the words "I gotta work downstairs" or mention that someone asked me to demonstrate at an event. As an artist, she knows the pull of the craft, but her responsibilities as a mother take center stage. And I try to do the same, but at the same time, I'm trying to build a reputation and a career on something that doesn't sell well, so I have to work jobs that take up alot of my time from both my art and my family. If there's a day off, I don't work on drawing, but rather take the kids out to play or stay with them so mommy gets out for once.

Right now, the job situation isn't an issue, because I quit the job that didn't allow for a raise or promotion. I was trying to support a family of five on minimum wage for 15 hours a week. And I was being lied to and lied about. My wife and I are traveling 65 miles one way to teach classes four days a week at the Midland Center for the Arts for two weeks, and she's teaching once a week in Saginaw for 3 weeks. Right now, being an artist/husband/father is very stressful and complicated. I cannot travel to different areas for art competitions or exhibits because it's a selfish thing to do to leave my wife with three screaming kids while I do what I enjoy. I will never make it back to Cabo unless the kids are old enough that my wife and I can both go or all five of us can go, but it won't be the same sebatical as before. I can't move to a larger, richer area because I have to uproot my entire family and take them with me.

I am currently selling what I can on Ebay for as low a price as possible just so I can make something from my art career. To pay my bills and get diapers.

I am very proud of my accomplishments as an artist. I have met my heroes, exhibited solo 3 times and multiple times in group exhibits, been in newspapers and radio, and am occasionally recognized as "the guy that draws Sammy Hagar". I graduated from college while raising a family of five (saying it like that sounds like it was just me. I became a weekend dad, and even then I wasn't around alot. Melissa raises the kids. I just paid for the diapers. Sometimes).

I am also very proud of my family. My oldest is starting first grade in September and draws FANTASTICALLY!!! She's very smart and fun and beautiful. My son (3) starts preschool in September, has the best comedic timing I have ever seen, is also very smart, very creative, and handsome and affectionate. Our one year old is just as smart as the older ones, if not smarter (at his age), he's strong and has a great sense of humor and adorable. Melissa is a great mom and great artist who doesn't get recognized as an artist often enough.

When I started drawing portraits for girls in junior high, I never imagined that I would eventually have a great family and fine artistic reputation while still not able to pay for toilet paper or a decent wedding anniversary. I would like to think that things will get better and that this time in our life is going to make us stronger, but I thought that last year, and the year before that. I am working on focusing my time on my art career since I have alot of spare time where a job used to be. I hope that this blog is an integral part of my success, as well as an entertaining and/or inspirational read for its readers.

A few days ago I posted about seeing Sammy Hagar in concert. He has been a great inspiration to me and my path. He is a strong, successful artist who has a family and powerful career. He started out on hard times. During his show, he talked about following your dreams. He said that he gets inspired by those who struggle through the hard times, to see through the fog and have a clear vision of what they want. In the end, it's the dreams that you strive for that force you through the tough times. It's the strong dreamers who grasp the grail. Reach for the stars and don't let anything get in your way. It all sounds cliche, but it's something that I really took to heart and realized that through this music and his life, I've seen that inspiration, even before I got married, and am following my dreams. I have achieved some of my goals due to my perserverence. Alot of people, family members included, have told me I should just put the art career to the side and get a real job. They want me to give up. Too many artists give up and get into other careers, other ventures. Screw that. I've worked hard to accomplish what I have and I told myself years ago that I will NOT give it up. I want to show those who question my decisions that I can do this. I refuse to give in. My only concern is that my family will suffer because of my stubborness, but I'm also doing it for them. I don't want my kids to look back and find out that I used to draw and paint but don't do that anymore. I want them to be proud of their parents.
In the end, I hope that my children see what I see and know that I tried.

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