Many of my friends who have only ever known me as a software engineer, fitness instructor or motorcycle racer, were very surprised to find out I had a “hidden” (actually dormant) talent for drawing. So they ask: 1) why wasn’t I doing art all these years instead, and 2) what made me finally go back to art?
To answer the first question, well, you know that cliche of the “starving artist”? There’s a reason that cliche exists: it’s reality, most working artists don’t earn much of a living from their art. I sure never wanted to live hand-to-mouth, and I was afraid of ending up that way. So that’s why I veered away from an art career after college. But what about doing it on the side? Well, art takes a lot of time. What I do bears little resemblance to doodling absent-mindedly on a notepad during a meeting–it requires full attention for hours on end to produce a drawing that you would want to hang on a wall. Working full-time as a software engineer in Silicon Valley isn’t just a 40-hour-a-week commitment, it’s usually 50 hours, sometimes even much more. When you don’t get home until 8 or 10 PM and still haven’t eaten dinner, there is no energy or time left for creativity before falling into bed, and weekends are for catching up on chores.
This is not to say that I had no life outside of work. I was very involved in amateur motorcycle roadracing with the American Federation of Motorcyclists for seven years, and my “hobby job” for more than 20 years has been group fitness class instruction. I still am an on-track riding instructor with ZoomZoom Trackdays.
Over the years, I avoided going into art supply stores because it was torture to see all the wonderful supplies that I could be using, feeling the urge raise its head, knowing I had no time to use the supplies I already had tucked away. It was like being a diabetic with a sweet tooth in a candy store!
But in 2009 the urge started coming back more persistently. I don’t quite know how to describe it other than “urge”–a feeling that I needed to be doing something with my art, that I should be drawing. And I started seeing “signs” (for lack of a better word). A drawing pencil laying in a crosswalk right where I was crossing; a chance meeting with a woman who is a patron of the arts and gave me several large sheets of excellent drawing paper. The one that really hit me over the head, finally, was a conversation with a software engineer friend at Adobe who had arranged to cut back to part-time, 4-day work weeks so he could spend time on his art. I didn’t even realize this was possible in Silicon Valley! My mind went to spinning. The idea of having one whole day every week to dedicate as “art day” was too much to resist. I had to do it.
In short order, I negotiated the same arrangement with my employer, and a room of the house became my studio. As 2010 progressed, I finished more than 15 drawings, including five commissions, and even more “signs” occurred: my mother had a massive stroke just one day after I finished a portrait of her; the Colored Pencil Society of America held their annual convention just three miles from home; and finally, my employer, PGP, was acquired by Symantec, making me “transitional”. This seemed like a logical point to make the full migration back to art.
So here I am in early 2011. I’m drawing like crazy, learning how to market my art, and making a go of it. The rollercoaster car has left the platform!