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Thoughts on Age and Art

January 19, 2010

Today is my 66th birthday, and for some reason, I find myself reflecting on why I continue to work so hard at being an artist.  Certainly, I need and want to sell my work, because the income is important, but that isn’t the driving force.  Fame?  If that was it, I’d be working harder at self-promotion, instead of pulling back from certain activities that consume more of my time than I like.

There is a clue in something my wife said recently… that I simply have to be doing something creative, something artistic… all the time.  She said it matter-of-factly, not begrudgingly.  This is the woman who, twenty years ago, encouraged me to bring a drawing pad and pencils with me when I came to sit on her couch and watch TV with her.  This is the woman who, after a meal, would say “Go draw.”, while she started cleaning up the kitchen.  The one whose first Christmas present to me was my now cherished limited edition copy of Robert “Shoofly” Shufelt’s “1000 Mile Checkup”.  The one who sacrificed so much during the failed Ruidoso years.  Trust me… she knows what she’s talking about.  Today, in between writing this article, setting up some digital displays of photos of grandkids, and trying to figure out what the current painting in progress needs, I will probably step up for five minutes to the keyboard sitting against one wall of the studio, and play a quick but soulful improvisation of “Summertime”.  The itch has to be scratched.

I retired from my regular job a year ago.  But “retired” is the last way I would describe myself.  A few years ago, Nell said I didn’t have any “toys”, and agreed to the purchase of a digital keyboard that I salivated over at a music store.  I spent hours at that keyboard on weekends, eventually producing a somewhat amateurish CD of several songs.  There was never any thought of becoming a real musician.  I did it because I loved the doing of it.  Years before that, I wrote three novels.  Never got to the hard editing part.  Never attempted to get them published.  I know now that it was just simply the doing of it that was so important to me.

Maybe it’s “the doing of it” that makes me work so hard today at painting.  And the sharing of it.  We did 11 art festivals in 2009.  We sold 26 of my little landscape paintings.  My prices are low, so we’re not talking about a lot of money here.  But the fact that total strangers like my work enough to pay for it, regardless of the amount, brings a great sense of accomplishment.  And yet… why do I feel that need to “accomplish something” at this age?

While I did a few paintings nearly twenty years ago, most of my work consisted of drawings.  I mark my “official” start toward becoming a painter at three years ago.  Once I started truly focusing on painting, everything else took a back seat.  One of Nell’s sisters, after hearing one of my simple music CDs, said “if Ralph would focus on just one thing, he could really become good at it”.  I have since accused her of being responsible for my current obsession with painting.  When I started painting, I was 63, and as I looked around I realized that if I was going to become good at it, I needed to go into overdrive.  Over a two year period, while working 40 to 60 hours a week at a regular job, I put in an additional 20, 30, sometimes 40 hours a week with a brush in my hand.

I have nothing to prove to anyone.  I put in my years at the grindstone, and earned the right to relax a bit.  I could spend my days puttering around the house, watching the History Channel, and helping Nell by keeping the cleanest house in the neighborhood.  But I suspect that if that were to start happening, she would start to worry about me.  Today, I live, breathe, eat, sleep and dream art.  Nell would say that’s nothing new… that I have been that way for as long as she has known me.

So, maybe it’s just who I am and who I will be until I start drooling and eating the paint.  I say that only partly in humor.  My mother died of Alzheimer’s disease.  She was in her 90’s.  I live in fear that I inherited the gene, so I find myself racing the calendar.  My hope is that I can stay ahead of it at least into my nineties.  Maybe by then, I will have become a good enough painter.

So… I have to paint.  It’s an itch that needs constant scratching.  Oh yeah… I also need to start setting up the 2010 art festival schedule… and get some of those little street scenes framed… and find a cargo trailer… and work on figures more… and do a couple of winter paintings… and another river scene… crap, it’s almost noon and this article is all I’ve accomplished so far today…

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. benedictedelachanal permalink
    January 19, 2010 8:41 pm

    Happy birthday Ralph. I wish you many many years of creativity in any field that pleases you.
    I find that funny that I will be 56 tomorrow. So many things you say that I agree with and after a lot of questioning… I just want to enjoy being creative.
    And yes, get these street scenes framed, there are good.

    • February 10, 2010 2:07 am

      Bonjour, Ben! Thank you so much for the greeting, even though I’m late responding to it. I’ve decided to simply continue the journey, and let the destination take care of itself. So much less stressful that way.

  2. Gary McCarty permalink
    January 20, 2010 3:45 am

    I have followed your posts from Wet Canvas to your website and now your blog. Soon to be 65 myself, I find your thoughts encouraging or even inspiring. I have tinkered with painting for years. My painting was an aid to looking at other peoples’ paintings. I have been working at pastels the last 5 years or so and want to try something else for a while. I hope gouache will be a good fit. Love your work.

    • February 10, 2010 2:01 am

      Sorry it’s taken so long to respond, Gary. I do appreciate your comments. You should try it. You might even enjoy working over gouache with pastels. Thanks!

  3. February 18, 2010 7:53 am

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Sorry it’s late but it’s from the heart Ralph. You’re a long way off from your 90’s so you have plenty of creating time ahead of you. Grab Nell and go off dancing once in a while! hahaha. Enjoy life as much as you do art and music. It was a good read Ralph. I play the drums when I have to scratch my itch…they are 10 feet from my easel. I used to think the same way too…if I could zero in on one thing long enough I’d be really great at it. Art, music…what a toss up. I think in my case I settled for a bit of both but art is ahead at the moment.
    You create great art Ralph…enter shows with it! Keep up with showing at the artshows too. Hope you had a good birthday too buddy!

  4. July 26, 2016 8:28 pm

    I love to hear about your experiences because I can relate to them. Funny that I’m reading this today and this time it’s my birthday!
    Many have told me I “missed” my calling. Maybe because I’m today 55 and just now I’m really getting serious about art.
    I mostly draw too, but I’m getting more and more involved with watercolor. I paint or draw every day. I just stop when my eyes get too dry or I cannot fool around anymore and have to put on the home maker hat!
    Your art is beautiful! I am a huge fan and look up to you. I wish I could be half of the artist you are! Please, don’t stop painting or drawing!

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