If this isn’t your first visit to my blog, you know that I’m a definite multi-tasker, my hands and schedule are always full, of paint and ink and stuff to do. I’m a strong opponent of the “starving artist” archetype, and even more distasteful is the image of the sloppy bohemian creative type. I’m always telling my students that despite the innate messiness of art, an artist has to be hyper-organized to survive. You have to be part businessman, your own publicist, event coordinator, a hustler, and above all, always looking for opportunity. I’ve known this for a long time, but it getting any good at it hasn’t been an easy road.
It doesn’t feel like so long ago that I was a disillusioned, even more sleep deprived than I am now, miserable art student. I had no idea what I wanted out of my art or my career in the arts except knowing that the emphasis on conceptual bullshit and “dressing the part” being prescribed by my school didn’t feel genuine or sustainable. I want to take a few minutes to express my gratitude for two important doors that were opened for me that helped show me what to do.
First, my sincerest thanks to Mr. Timmy Tatts. I’ve told this story over and over again to anyone who has asked me how I got into tattooing. I never start the story talking about my apprenticeship. I was going to get my first big piece, and went to one of the local standby shops. After a lot of excuses on their part (numbing cream, leave a deposit and come back in a few weeks, refusal to re-draw my crappy design) I walked out and happened to open a local magazine to an advertisement for a place called Vintage Tattoo. I made the drive up to Boynton Beach with my little quasi-tribal hibiscus design. As soon as I walked in, I knew I’d made a good decision. The walls of the shop were covered with hand-painted flash. The artist took a look at my design and listened to my idea and started re-drawing it right away – no problem, no deposit, complicated measurements, or numbing cream required. I stopped him before he got too far along and told him to just do whatever he wanted with it. I pointed at one of the paintings of traditional flowers, and probably said something stupid, but he got the idea, and I left with a tattoo that I still love and looks great.
I continued to send all of my friends to Tim, and got the above piece, probably still my favorite tattoo. During the time I spent at New World School of the Arts, I started researching traditional tattoos and, maybe in part as rebellion against the super avant-garde aesthetic being taught there, started filling my sketchbooks with hard-lined pinup girls and vultures, swallows, skulls and flowers. On one of my visits to the shop, I told Tim about a project I was doing in my printmaking class and he made me copies of some old flash to use as reference. I was hooked. Soon after, he closed the shop for greener pastures, I transferred to FIU to quietly finish my BA and started on the “figuring out my life” fast track.
Fast-forward to my last year at FIU. I had been substitute teaching, hardly making art at all, and getting into serious student loan debt. I decided that teaching would be as good a job as any to do while I was still doing some “figuring out,” aka waiting around for my then significant other to get his shit together. I found a job ad on MySpace for museum educator positions at Young at Art Children’s Museum. Aside from substitute teaching one day in a high school art room, I’d never taught art before, and Young at Art gave me all of my training in teaching actual art lessons. From researching projects, creating great themes, ordering and preparing materials, working with free or cheap supplies, frontloading students with information they’ll need to understand new concepts, the staff at YAA taught me everything that I would have been lost without, and that an Art Education degree probably wouldn’t have anyway. From being a sub, I learned good classroom management, but from Young at Art I not only learned how to be a great art teacher, but about how important it was to be my own artist again.
Recently, I got sort of annoyed when someone duplicated one of my workshops at another craft show. But then I realized that most of my workshops have been inspired if not just straight up stolen from things I learned at Young at Art, which prompted me to take a step back and think about the debt of gratitude I owe to the people who took time to help me on the right path. They didn’t do it because they had to, or because it would make them more money, or make them look better on Facebook, it was because they (Tim, Adrienne, Sue, Penny) really LOVE what they do, and believe in it strongly enough to make sure it’s getting passed down the right way, which is possibly the more important lesson.