I thought it would be kind of fun to write a blog about my artistic path. It is possible that no one will ever read this. I mean, who really cares about my own personal journey to becoming an artist? Actually, I have never even blogged before. What the heck does "Blog" mean anyhow and who reads them? However if just one young artist out there reads this and feels inspired not to give up, it has been totally worth my time in telling them about my journey as an artist.
I guess it is helpful for you to understand that I have always known that I would be an artist, even before I could write with a pencil. My child hood memories are filled with the smell of crayons, making mud pottery in our pond and dreaming about being a great Artist with a capital "A". I could frequently be found in the city library with my face burried in a book about the history of Impressionism, or a biography of Georgia O'Keefe. I didnt draw particularly well though until I hit puberty, then one day, BAM I could draw! It shocked me so much that I began to cry. I felt like I had an angel guiding my hand, it was the strangest thing. My parents encouraged me to study art after receiving a few awards in highschool and so I received my BFA in 1987 from Bowling Green State University in my hometown in Ohio. Everyone thought I was going to be this amazing and successful "A"rtist. I was very gifted. My professors were encouraging and the scholorships kept flowing.
While I was an art student I began drawing portraits at amusement parks. It was hard work, but profitable at that time. Mostly I was just there to have fun and make a little beer and book money for school. I spent my summers standing in the blistering sun or pouring rain at Cedar Point, begging exhausted visitors to sit in my chair for a sketch. I never intended for it to be a life career, it was just something to hold me over until I reached the status of being a great "A"rtist. When I graduated from art school the company I worked for in the summers offered me a full time job managing my own art operation at Busch Gardens in Virginia. I choose the job over grad school and left Ohio behind.
I found myself in charge of around 40 young artists at the tender age of 21. I kept telling myself that it was not going to be forever, just until I found the time to become an "A"rtist. I worked at the park for the next 8 years, until I married one of my fellow artists and had a couple of kids. Eventually I left the park to start my own buisness of sketching quick pastel profiles in malls, craft shows, time shares and hotels in Williamsburg, Virginia. I did countless portraits of pets, taught craft classes at resorts and did what ever I could do to support us.
Eventually I found that I was a single mom with a 4 and 7 year old to support. No help, just me. I had forgotten all about my dream of being an "A"rtist. I was just stuggling to survive. For years my kids would sit at the base of my easel while I sketched one face after another, because I could not afford daycare. I would lift my pencil over and over again, like a machine, and draw until my fingers cracked and bled. I remember often times after my first sketch of the day, I would silently thank God that we could afford to buy a gallon of milk. A second sketch would sit and I gave thanks for the hotdogs that the sale would provide us for dinner that night. Those were dark times my friend. Everyone seems so amazed that I never stopped sketching, even when we didn't have any financial help, but somewhere deep in the back of my mind I knew that I would be miserable doing anything other than being an artist, even if I was just a quick sketch artist. I never even considered welfare.
Keep in mind that I average around 5 -7 minutes per face when I do a quick profile, and I often have a line of people waiting for their own quick sketch. It was not unsual for me to draw 50 to75 faces in just one day of marathon speed sketching back in the 90s. I began to realize however that sketching at that rate was starting to cause me pain after so many years. Yeah... it hurts a bit now. Being a portrait robot for 25 years is hard on your body. I especially realized it when I attempted to go back to the park for a few seasons to work full time a few years ago. I knew that I could not continue to do this much longer.
The worst part about sketching though, with that much intensity and for that many years, was that somewhere along the way I lost site of what I really loved. I loved making Art. Not quick portrait sketches, but "A"rt. I needed a new career. I took a job as the artist in residence at a very large local time share a few years ago, and I felt my artistic juices begin to flow once again. It was almost like God was leading me back to my original goal.
While researching art classes at my new job I began to remember how much I loved art history, and spending hours in the library soaking up books about real "A"rtists. I also began to dream about painting something other than McArt. I started by painting on copy paper using some of my kid's watercolor paints. I was shocked. I could still paint. I thought I forgotten how! This evolved into doing scherenschnitte using real watercolor paper. Then I just did watercolor paintings, each one growing bigger and bigger. My huge collection of pastels came out of hiding and I discovered an old set of oils hiding in the back of a closet last fall. Each painting is an evolution. Sometimes when I paint I swear there is a little voice in my head guiding my hand. It is as if I am recalling forgotten memories from another life.
I still do quick profiles, but only maybe 10 or 20 faces a week now. I also research, design and teach art classes and teach new young portrait artists for that same company that lured me away from my family all of those years ago. This sudden turn in my career path has also lead to learning other fun stuff too, like writing and leading ghost tours in the haunted 270 year old Manor House at the resort. The strange thing is that my love of this old house and everything paranormal has effected my paintings today. I tend to have almost a mystic or spooky affect to my most current work. Some might describe it as almost being metaphysical in its glowing light and dark midnight landscapes.
I am still wondering when I am going to become this great "A"rtist, but hey, I can paint! I may never reach fame. I may never be wealthy, but I have an amazing gift. I will never turn my back on it again.
You can see my work at my web site, Emilychristoff.com My Etsy shop is called Studio Christoff. E-mail me at Emilychristoff@aol.com. I love talking to and meeting new artists and art lovers. Please leave your comments or drop me a line and tell me about your own personal path to finding "A"rt with a capital "A".