I didn’t go to school to learn about art or to learn how to become an artist. I don’t begrudge anyone who decides to expand their artistic horizons with a bit of higher learning, but it’s not essential or even all that necessary. If you’re artistic, creative and motivated, then you are. You don’t need to go to school and get a fancy degree to prove it to yourself, or anyone else for that matter.
When people ask me how or where I learned to sculpt, I tell them the God’s honest truth – that a chance encounter with a childhood friend and his quick introduction to the world of sculpture is what put me on my artist path.
I’d always been a “crafty” guy, spending hours upon hours making a variety of Native crafts (dreamcatchers, medicine wheels, etc.) to sell at powwows during the summer. I enjoyed doing it and it gave me a little bit of extra money in my pocket to help supplement income from various other jobs ranging from stocking shelves at grocery stores to yes, you guessed it, trucking.
Trucking was an interesting job in that I got to travel all across Canada and the United States and, because I had a young family to support, it certainly helped pay the bills. But it meant long stretches away from home and, when I was home, I spent most of my time catching up on sleep and preparing for my next haul. I’ve spent numerous holidays (including Christmas) on the road hauling loads, doing what I had to do to put food on the table.
One day about 18 years ago, I ran into a childhood friend of mine named Idris Moss-Davies (you can read his bio and see samples of his gorgeous work here.) I asked him what he was up to and he told me he was making a living sculpting stone and selling his sculpture to art galleries and collectors. I admitted I didn’t really understand what he was talking about so he invited me to his place to show me exactly what he meant.
He thrust a piece of stone into one of my hands, and a small grinder into the other and told me to “get carving.” I’d never done anything like this before in my life and was unsure of myself and skeptical of my talent for this type of work. But I managed to focus and spent a few hours working the stone until I managed to create something – a small bear’s head.
Idris looked impressed (which was a pretty big deal since he is such a skilled sculptor) and said, “See, I knew you had it in you. Now just keep going with it and see what happens.”
The next day, I brought my small sculpture into a gallery in Ottawa and sold it.
I kept trucking and spent what little time I had at home sculpting stone. I taught myself how to manipulate tools like Foredoms and grinders; developed my own techniques for sanding and polishing sculptures; and gradually, my sculptures became larger and more refined. I never had any problems selling my pieces and it wasn’t long before people began contacting me directly to commission me to create pieces for them.
By this point, I was growing weary of working for others and of having to be away from home so much. I wanted to work for myself and I wanted to spend my time creating beautiful things for others. That’s when I decided to abandon trucking and the other forms of traditional “work” I was so familiar with and become a full-time artist.
I’ve been making a living as a professional sculptor for the past 18 years and believe me when I say there have been plenty of times when I’ve wondered if I made a huge mistake (stay tuned for future blog posts on this very topic). Each time I’ve wanted to give up or thought about returning to the traditional workforce, the universe slaps me upside the head, tells me to smarten up and puts me back on my artist path.
Just as the pieces artists create have stories behind them, so too do the artists creating them. We can never forget that art is created by human beings (in most cases – ha ha!) and that we are just as interesting, unique, complex and multi-faceted as the art we create. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be very good artists, would we?
I’m grateful for every job I’ve ever had, because without those experiences, I woudn’t be where I am today. If it weren’t for the 18-wheeler, I would never have picked up the 7-inch grinder and begun my life as an artist.