How did you get started doing what you do?
When I was very little, my uncle Adrien, who was an artist would come to our home and use one of us kids as a model for something he was working on. He was a fascinating character who drove a little red sports car and never married until much later in life; he eventually returned to the Netherlands after just a few years. He didn’t physically stay in my childhood, but his memory certainly did. I think uncle Adrien presented a sort of model for what I would some day pursue (with the exception of the single life.) I began to draw and make things from a very early age. I was left alone a lot and when I wasn’t watching TV, I was drawing or making things.
What’s your inspiration?
I am inspired by old mail order catalogs from the ’40s and ’50s. I love vintage clothes from that era. I, of course, look at other artists’ paintings and sculptures from all different times of history. Frida Kahlo, Henri Rousseau, and Balthus were all early influences, as well as Howard Finster. Lately, I have been looking at Max Beckman and early-career William DeKooning. I am also drawn to the various views of my hometown, Grand Rapids MI, and often paint views of the city, as well as use them as backgrounds in my portraits.
What does your typical day look like?
I get up around 5:30 and begin a journaling and reading time that takes me to about 7:00. I do an exercise routine and then go online to answer emails and check stuff like Facebook and Instagram. My wife and I have breakfast together and talk over what we are thinking about and what we might do that day. I then usually go into the studio to work until lunch. After lunch, I do a short 20 minute meditation time and then back to work ’til about 4:00 or 5:00. Our family has dinner together and the evening is free time to play music, go to the movies, or hang out with kids or friends, or just whatever. There are days like today when I am not working on art in the studio but doing things like cleaning or business related things online.
How long does it typically take for you to finish a piece?
It really depends on the size and how complicated the piece is. Also, sometimes pieces just go really smoothly and quickly for some reason and other pieces seem to bog down for months. With that said, a 32” x 32” painting, if things are going my way, will take about 2 1/2 months to finish. I am also usually working on two or three pieces at a time that I go back and forth between from day to day.
How do you keep motivated?
I find going to the art museum helps. Taking time to be with the work of other artists. I also like to visit other artists’ studios and see their spaces and the projects that they are working on. Sometimes I watch various artist interviews and demos that I find on YouTube. Pinterest has become a great place to find and store favorite images that can sometimes motivate me to make things in response to what I see. I also love movies about artists. I have probably watched Basquiat by Julian Schnabel 10-12 times over the years. Another strong motivation are my 4 children still living with us. I am a full-time visual artist and knowing that I have to create work that I will eventually sell keeps me going out to the studio to create the next piece. Our whole income is derived from my art sales.
How have others reacted to your work?
My favorite reaction is when people buy my work, because they want to live with it. My second favorite reaction is when people shed tears, which has only happened a few times that I can remember. I have also noticed that when I have people over to the studio they are fairly quick to open up about their lives and share sometimes personal experiences in response to what they are seeing.
How would you say your surrounding have influenced your work?
I have always had small studios and this has encouraged me to keep working fairly small. I think living in an old wood frame house has also had its influence. If I lived in a modern style apartment building downtown I might make different work. We have never had a lot of money to speak of and living close to the poverty line has caused us to be frugal and resourceful. This has meant handcrafting my own frames and being cautious about the amount of paint I use and, again, the scale I am working in. For the last twenty-three years we have been living with children who did not go to school, so they were always around the house with my wife and I. This has also been a big influence — not only that I have used them for models, but they have had a powerful way of keeping me humble and nailed down to earth. All the interruptions have almost always been good for me and for the work.
What do you want other to take away from your work?
I would hope that my artwork would make people’s lives richer somehow. I think humans are hungry for not only good food, but for good images, words and sounds as well. I want to feed people’s souls. I want people to come away from my work feeling somehow renewed and haunted by what they have seen. I would like them to even see something of themselves when they look at my work. I would like them to be opened up in some way. Icon painters believe that the paintings that they make help people to connect with their Creator. I would like my paintings to do that as well.
What’s the best advice you have been given?
A good word of advice I got from Paul Klein from Chicago is: “Get out of your studio and meet people.” This is especially important if you are trying to sell work and/or just move your career forward. It is easy for artists to become isolated, so taking time to go to events (and be friendly when you are there) can be a great way to draw people into what you are trying to do. I think it can also be a good idea to get a business manager. I have only recently begun to do this and I am finding it to be a great help, as there are so many aspects to maintaining a successful career that I am either not good at, or just don’t think to do.
What are you thoughts about art school?
I had kind of a mixed experience myself. I think it was really good to get exposed to people and ideas that I may have not otherwise come across. In that way it helped me to grow. I think having some kind of supportive community around you as an artist is essential, and art school can be a way to find that community. But you can also relocate to a city, or area of your city, where you are more likely to find other people who will be inspiring and encouraging to you. I worked for an artist when I was in my last year of college and I found this very helpful as a way of getting an inside look at what a successful studio practice looked like – which I could later replicate in some ways.