Wednesday, August 2, 2017

How Did I Get Here?

-By Heather Theurer

"The Insatiable Mr. Toad" 
2015

(Record scratch) *Freeze frame* You’re probably wondering how I got into this situation. Actually, I’m wondering how I got into this situation myself. I blame my parents. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be here. Oh wait, that might be going back a little too far. I’ll try to keep it relevant.

I often find myself in this similar situation—wondering “how did I get here”? I’m sure many of you feel the same way sometimes. Looking back over my art career, however, I’ve decided that it’s out of those boggling moments that come some of my best work, my favorite sparks of inspiration and the most impactful connections. Because of that, I’ve learned to embrace the new, the challenging, and the awkward. For the sake of clarity, I’ll share a few experiences.

Way back in the stone ages, I decided that I was ready to make creating fine art my career. Knowing how to make that come to pass was completely foreign knowledge. I hadn’t had any art schooling or taken an particular classes on the subject. I didn’t know of anyone, personally, who I felt comfortable turning to for answers. Sure, at the beginning I was creating “art” as a job. As a graphic designer for a publishing company I produced innumerable images for college textbooks. Mostly math graphs. It was exciting work—(insert sarcasm here). But then something happened. I got laid off because the company went under. At the time I thought that this was a horrible thing. I posed the question, “how did I get here?” I was honestly frustrated and directionless. I didn’t know what to do. My options? In a small town with not too many options to choose from, I could have stuffed my dream into a closet and settled for the next best thing—probably a job at Home Depot. Instead, an off-hand comment from a friend mentioning the word “freelance” piqued my interest. I was off and running. Well, maybe not running. I tripped up a lot in those first few years of freelance work; but jumping head first into the world of freelance forced me to learn some valuable lessons. Lessons about managing my own time, budgeting my money so as to keep the bank account balanced even when the income wasn’t regular, and learning not only how to carry conversations with clients but how to meet their needs (as well as my own) without having actually met them in person.

Commissioned artwork for Bella Sara
Hidden City Games 2006

Looking back, I’m glad that that experience happened when it did. It set the groundwork for everything I’ve done since.

Fast forward to 2002. It was my first year at the San Diego Comic-Con and I had an Artist Alley table. Staring out over my piddly display of prints at the thousands of attendees, I was not just asking “how did I get here?”. I was asking, “how the holy flipping crap did I get here?!” It was one thing to have a client approach me about a freelancing job they felt confident I could accomplish and to have a personable conversation with them. I could handle that. It was another whole thing altogether to have to come up with pleasant, passing comments (and sometimes silent smiles for those who offered not-so-kind criticisms) for the thousands of people who rambled past my table over the course of five days at SDCC. I was insecure and quite literally it was all I could do not to crawl under the table to hide. If they asked how much I was selling my prints for, I returned it with a shaky, almost questioning, “twenty dollars?” I had devalued myself as well as the art I was trying to peddle. After my first show there, I wondered whether I’d ever go back. Thankfully, a very good friend convinced me to continue (and continued to convince me for the next few years while I hesitated). It took a while, but sticking it out even though I wanted to run away with my tail tucked between my legs to find something I felt more comfortable doing compelled me to learn to communicate—boldly at that—as well as to find the intrinsic value in my art. It was no longer about how much that piece of paper cost but more about the value of what people got out of it when the carried it away.

"Fire Dragon"
part of a series of elemental dragons 2007

One last experience.

"Thaddeus The Boss: No. 9"
full page spread from the book "Thaddeus The Boss" 2010-2011

Several years into my art career and after I felt I had agreeably reached a degree of competency in my communication and art skills, I came to another point in my life (there’s been too many of them to count which one) where I asked “how did I get here?” At this point I had become somewhat self-sufficient. Instead of struggling, I was comfortably helping to pay the bills (thank goodness for the support of my husband through all of my wandering up until then). I’d even won an art competition or two, been showcased in magazines and had my crazy mug recorded in nationally viewed videos for the sake of posterity, whether they wanted it or not. Here is where it got dicey for me. The recession hit and my husband was without a job for nearly two years—and I decided to get reckless.

"Temptation"
2011

I’d been busting my butt to finish painting after painting and commission after commission just to keep us afloat. Just before this reckless moment, I had barely finished my first children’s book, fully written and illustrated by myself, which included twenty-six 16x20 full-spread detailed oil paintings finished over the course of less than five months. But in the middle of that hectic, stressful adventure, an image came to me that I felt I should paint. It was independent with no connection to anything “useful”, let alone to any money. It was a risk to dedicate my time on something that had no guaranteed outcome of success. Sitting in front of that canvas I was definitely thinking “how did I get here”? Or maybe more appropriately, “should I abandon ‘here’ for something more certain”? The reckless part of me took over and decided to do it anyway. Long story short, what happened was that I changed. I discovered who I was and why it was that I needed to continue to create paintings like that image I took a risk on. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I indeed continued to take commissions and fill in the gaps with guaranteed work, but my direction had changed. Once I had figured that out, there was no going back. And It wasn’t until I entirely embraced that decision that things started to fall into place.

"Triumph"

It’s been a few years since that risky “how did I get here” moment. And I’ve had a few of those moments since then. But now, instead of cautiously approaching them, I stride boldly toward them to shake them by the hand and make them a part of my creative process. I look forward to the next “how did I get here” moment. Who knows what I’ll learn or where it will take me.


Bring it on.

5 comments:

  1. This article was a bit of an emotional ride, fortunately with a happy (inspirational) ending! Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to your posts here on MC :-)

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    1. Thanks! It HAS been a roller coaster, but looking back, I wouldn't change a thing! :)

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  3. Thank you for sharing your experience with us, I've been looking up to your work for a couple years now, always in awe with your dragons, your angels, of course, your Disney's paintings but also, your incredible equine art. I hope this doesn't sound wrong, but your artwork it's part of my studies and practices, observing every piece on your website is just a whole learning experience. It's wonderful to learn more of your work and your journey so far! I'm so excited to read your articles in the future here! I really cherish a print of "Never Let it Go" my husband got for my bday a couple years ago, you are an incredible artist and human being, and a big inspiration!

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    Replies
    1. Dianita, thank you so much! It doesn't sound wrong and in fact I feel very honored that I can be of use to you, through my artwork, during your studies and practice. I wish you all the best!

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