I grew up in a home where there was art all around me. My father was an avid art collector, and his passion included art magazines and books. Not only that but he was an artist himself, or more accurately what used to be called a “Sunday Painter”, which meant that he painted as a hobby. It was hardly surprising then that I soon developed a keen love for art, and began drawing pictures from a very young age, something that my father encouraged.
Throughout my school years, I continued to study the subject, as well as creating my own work during my free time. Slowly I began to develop a style of my own, while dreaming of becoming a professional artist some day. But alas, not all of my family members were so supportive of my dreams, and soon their criticisms and negative comments began to affect my confidence, which was already low due to my being dyslexic and having been diagnosed with Minimal Cerebral Dysfunction. Despite all this, I was able to finish high-school and pass the art course as well.
And yet there was this nagging feeling that I still was not good enough, which led me to seek employment elsewhere rather than following my dream. This continued for a number of years until I announced to my family that I wished to attend art college so that I could increase my skills to the point where the work I produced would be of a high enough standard that it could be sold.
Upon hearing this, my dad welcomed this decision and even offered to finance my tutoring. However, as usual, other members of the family were somewhat skeptical of my talents.
One even mentioned: “You’ll end up like Vincent van Gogh did” (alluding to the fact that he died in abject poverty having only sold a single painting in his entire lifetime).
To which I replied: “If I achieve a fraction of what he achieved, I would be overjoyed!”
Nonetheless, I applied to an art school in the middle of the city and was accepted. I began in the July of the same year, and achieved a National Diploma in fine art a year later, but not before running afoul of one of the senior lecturers who disapproved of my style, and did her best to fail me in the final exams.
Yet again, even though I had taken a huge step towards achieving my goal, I still was plagued by doubt. This was spurred on once again by one of my family members. When I once mentioned that I was an artist, and intended to dedicate my time to the craft, the response was almost crippling.
The reply was: “Oh, so that means that you expect your family to look after you until the day you die.”
I was so despondent that I began working in other jobs once more. Some were more successful than others, but none would fill the gap that could only be satisfied when I was in front of an easel in the process of creating a work of art. The first opportunity came when a colleague of mine offered me a position as a designer and creator of hand-painted signs for restaurants and other businesses, something that I enjoyed immensely, but sadly the demand was not enough to sustain the two of us, and three years later I was forced to seek employment elsewhere once more.
Nearing the end of this stage, my family again were quick to say: “We told you it wouldn’t work out!”
This time it was a five year hiatus before I would return to my much loved passion. During that time I still painted, but like my father, could only do so during my free time. I had even got married, an arrangement that ended in total disaster! So much so that I went to a counsellor, who pointed something out to me that changed my life for the better.
She noted: “It seems that you have compromised and compromised, until you have reached the point when you have almost compromised yourself.”
It was then when I recalled my grandmother’s last advice to me: “At all times to your own self be true.”
Thus, after quitting a job that would have cost me my life if I had stayed, both because of the stress and the long working hours, I began to advertise that I would create commissions for private customers. My first patron was a man by the name of Charles who had recently lost his wife, and gave me the task of drawing a number of sketches in memory of her using old photographs that he had kept. This commission lasted for almost a year, and earned me a decent amount of money, but more importantly it gave my confidence a much needed boost, knowing that a total stranger had taken enough of an interest in my work so as to even pay for my services.
It was quite some time before another commission came my way. This time it was in the form of a series of illustrations for a client who was researching the history of his Scottish family, one that dated back to the 1600s. Soon thereafter, I was hired to create a collection of watercolours that would be used to decorate a travel journal, and almost as soon as I had completed this, another commission came my way. This time it entailed creating a pictorial presentation of the history of one of the tribes in Southern Africa. The work was fascinating, and afforded me the opportunity of travelling to the region which had been the tribe’s homeland in order to take photographs of places of interest to use as references for this project.
But alas, then disaster struck, almost ending my career as an artist completely! As a young boy, I had fallen and broken my right wrist no less than three separate times, the last of which was the most serious. Over time I developed arthritis in the affected wrist, which made painting and drawing more and more painful, reaching a point when I could not continue. And so it was that I was forced to put away my brushes and paints, seemingly for good.
Then, a few years later, I made a discovery that not only meant that I could begin creating artwork again, but in fact was able to improve my skill dramatically. This find was a digital art program called Krita! Now I could ‘paint’ using a computer screen as an easel, as well as brushes and pallet. Not only that, but I could post these works both on art pages and social media. It was from this that I was offered another commission, one that lasted until fairly recently.
And so, despite all the challenges with which I was faced, I was finally able to live out my dream of being a full-time artist. Sadly dad never got to see my latest work as he passed away just before the most recent project began, but I am almost certain that he is smiling down upon me as I venture onwards. Granted, there have been times when the work has dwindled, and even dried up almost entirely, but I have persisted nonetheless, choosing to follow my life’s ambition rather than compromise it for the sake of mere financial security. And besides, if the comparison made all those years ago was accurate, my legacy will become as legendary as the artist with whom I was compared.
The lesson that I have learned is that one should never compromise one’s life dream, regardless of what others think or say. If I had not meandered from my chosen path so often, the chances are that I would have enjoyed success earlier than I did, and thus achieved the same financial security my family desired for me. There is a saying that goes: “Fake it until you make it”, which is only partially true. Rather the one that says: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again” is more applicable.
And in any case, I have always believed that true success does not merely mean financially, but rather in persisting in one’s ambition no matter what.
About the Creator
I was born in Rhodesia (now called Zimbabwe) and currently live in South Africa. From an early age, I seemed to have a knack for poetry. I have written a number of stories, poems, and several novels, ranging from fantasy to non fiction.
Very well written. Keep up the good work!
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