My mantras and motivations

I've had a great year; I'm not going to lie.  The balance of working at the United Way and painting portraits has proven to be a winning formula for health and happiness.  Like I wrote to someone in a Christmas card the other day, "my passion and purpose get to dance with each other every day". Why have things transpired the way that they have?  How did all these crazy amazing things happen all in the span of a single year?

I had a fellow who works as an operator at one of the oil sands companies reach out to me and asked if he could hang out with me in the studio to get reconnected to painting after many years.  To respect his privacy, I'm not going to name him, but I will share that we hung out in Birdsong Studio for three hours last night and the night before, drawing, painting and talking.  The fact that something that I've being doing has rekindled a creative spark in someone else is another priceless result of a pretty extraordinary year.

I thought it might be fun to share some of the choices and practices that contributed to becoming "that painter dude".


I promised myself at the beginning of this crazy adventure in June of 2014 that I wouldn't let the painting go.  I committed to doing at least portrait a week, no matter what.  One painting turned into three, four and sometimes five paintings a week.  I decided to just do it; and I did.


Despite a long and growing list of commissions in the future projects pile, I still respond to the moments of inspiration that blow in with the wind.  If an idea pops into my head, an instinct, or an image, I make it a priority to listen and take action.  Every creative instinct that I followed ended up created a piece of magic.


When Marty and Dennine Giles asked if I would travel down to Calgary to do a live painting at one of their big charity events I jumped at the chance.  Instead of being overwhelmed by fear of failure, I embraced vulnerability and went to the event.  I put everything I had into that first live painting event and it ended up being a great success.  Many live paintings have followed, including the latest dance with vulnerability as I emceed a Christmas concert and painted a portrait of Mary and baby Jesus at the same time.


Behind every painting is a story.  The story connects people to the painting more deeply.  I've written many of them down, posted them on social media and told them to people in person.  I am a painter, but I'm also a storyteller.  The two strengthen each other.


I have been promoting this idea for years.  We all do some pretty amazing things, as individuals and organizations.  But, do we get maximum value from the things we do?  No, usually not.  I've tried my best to follow my own advice through the many mile markers of this painting journey.  I know I could always be better, but for the most part, I've been successful seizing the opportunities that have come my way and making the most of them.


I can't tell you the number of times that I've muttered to myself to "trust the process".  Like every single person who has ever tried to paint a portrait, I find that I struggle in the early stages of the project, sometimes through the entire thing.  But, I've learned to trust that if I keep working it, everything will turn out fine in the end.


My former boss at the OK Radio Group (CJOK and KYX98) passed along a lot of wisdom, but one thing he used to say a lot is one of the key ideas that has stuck with me the most.  Are you ready for it?

Tell them what you're going to do.  Tell them what you're doing.  Tell them what you did.

Tonight I'll be doing a live painting of Bo Cooper.  I started talking about it several weeks ago.  I'll post while it's in progress and I'll probably write about it tomorrow morning.


Early on in this process, I discovered that there was a market for the style of portraiture that I was developing.  That market was largely in Fort McMurray, but over time has widened out to include customers across Canada and a few in the U.S.A. While I once held on to my drawings and paintings, now I can't wait to pass them along to make room for more.


I maintain spreadsheets, folders, files, and blog posts that archive everything that has happened since I painted Elsie Yanik on the wall of my shop.  After creating over 200 paintings, I need help remembering what I did, when I did it, and who I did it for.  I'm still working on the systems that manage all of this, from how I manage the large number of commission requests to how I work with my wife Heather to keep the business side of things on track.    I've also started a practice of keeping high resolution images of each painting on my laptop, on an external drive, and in the cloud.  These files are a visual record of my work.  I can't afford to have a computer failure and lose everything.  Redundancy is key.  This blog also serves as a public journal of what has happened.


I focus on paintings one at a time, but I make sure I'm ready for the ones that are coming next.  I monitor my inventory of canvases and paints quite closely.  I like to have multiples of every size, just in case something pops in out of the sky that I want to do.  To that end, I have a workbench that is stacked with canvas ranging from 8" by 10" to 36" by 48".

I hope these ideas light a spark for you.  I'm still learning, growing and evolving.  It's fun and rather unpredictable.  I can't wait to see what 2016 will bring.


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