Alright – so today we’ve got the honor of introducing you to Craig Palmer. We think you’ll enjoy our conversation, we’ve shared it below.
Craig, appreciate you joining us today. Can you open up about a risk you’ve taken – what it was like taking that risk, why you took the risk and how it turned out?
I’ve taken a lot of risks. Some of them paid off, others didn’t. For example…
Growing up, I lived in a small town where there weren’t many opportunities for a creative person. So, small town hick moves to the Big Apple. It paid off.
I accepted a job as a copywriter at a prestigious ad agency in Boston having never written anything other than a few English essays in high school. It paid off.
I invested a substantial amount of mine and my parent’s money in an attempt to get venture capitalists to invest in my business during the internet boom. It didn’t pay off.
I stepped waaaay out of my league and asked a beautiful woman out for a burrito. It paid off.
I quit my job as a marketing director and became a financial planner. It didn’t pay off.
The list goes on and on.
I saw a great quote once and it really sums it all up – “Take risks: If you win, you will be happy. If you lose, you will be wise.”
This was so true for me. Because even though I didn’t always succeed in meeting my goals, I still received a few unexpected rewards. Whether I learned a lesson to help me be more successful in the future or I expanded my circle of influencers, my glass was always half full.
Risk-taking has also helped me live my life without fear. I understand the pros and cons of my decision so I’m not afraid of failing. Fear can cripple you and prevent you from realizing your dreams. It will freeze you into one spot where you’ll stay until you choose to step outside of your comfort zone and take a risk.
So, with that being said, at age 62, I’m taking another risk. I’ve acquired a large facility and I’m putting in a lot of time and money to create my own large gallery and studio space. You see, there is no age limit for learning something new. “Palmer Modern” is going to be proof of that!
As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your back background and context?
I am originally from Elmira Heights, a small town in upstate New York. I graduated with an Illustration degree from Parsons School of Design.
After college, I put together a portfolio of spec ads and I went out looking for a job as an art director at advertising agencies in New York City. I was fortunate that my first interview resulted in a job offer. However, it was not as an art director. The creative director told me, “I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is, I’m not going to hire you as an art director because you’re terrible. BUT, the good news is I’d like to hire you as a copywriter.”
I began my career as a copywriter in Boston and New York City working for international advertising agencies writing television, radio and prints ads for clients that included Pizza Hut, U.S. Navy, AT&T, Campbell’s Soup, Burger King and Ponds.
I left New York and moved back upstate where I opened Palmer/Cosmopulos/Palmer, a full-service advertising agency. My clients included Corning, Inc., Serengeti Eyewear, LPGA and the American Cancer Society. As digital media began to grow I transitioned the company to a digital marketing agency that specialized in creating websites and interactive CD ROM projects. Called Pixel Head, we were the first privately-owned company in the United States allowed to create and host Websites for Members of the United States Congress.
I’ve also been a teacher. I have taught painting classes at the Cedar Arts Center in Corning, NY, the Arts Center in Bonita Springs, FL and at the Bohemia Collective, Boulder, CO. I spent five years as an adjunct professor at Corning Community College teaching website and graphic design.
My paintings are focused on exploring the integration of realism and abstraction by taking the skills and knowledge I learned as a realistic painter and applying them to abstract painting. My transformation to abstraction has provided me a contemporary approach to express my views of the world. I specialize in creating large format paintings that are not specifically representational or abstract, but a cross pollination that utilizes organic shapes, colors and textures found in nature.
Starting with a color palette, I create textures and depth by using countless layers of lines, colors and shapes. I apply paint and other media with anything that makes the marks I am looking for. From a spray bottle and plastic wrap to a squeegee and toothbrush, nothing is off the table.
When I create a painting, I generally don’t have a specific idea or emotion that I want each viewer to see and feel. I want them to interpret the painting themselves, so they each have their own individual experience and relationship with the art.
Can you share a story from your journey that illustrates your resilience?
I think my story is very similar to a lot of people who’ve tried to find time to create art while working and raising a family. In my case, I raised four kids and I ran my own business for nearly 25 years. There wasn’t much time to make art because I was really focused on my family and community…I coached sports, served on the school board, and I was even elected mayor of my hometown.
I was painting sporadically, but art took a backseat to life. In fact, I went 12 years without ever picking up a brush.
As my kids grew up and went out on their own, I forced myself to make more time to paint. I spent countless hours at night working on my technique and learning as much as I could about paint, brushes, etc. I pinched pennies and went to workshops. I joined arts organizations and met other artists. I did everything I could with the limited time that I had to make art.
Today, I’m a full-time professional artist, and my journey has not been easy. It’s been a lot of work and sacrifice, but it’s paying off by offering me many wonderful opportunities…I’ve received my first artist fellowship, I’ve had my first solo show, and I’m opening my own gallery/studio space, called Palmer Modern, here in Sarasota.
What’s a lesson you had to unlearn and what’s the backstory?
Like many artists, my first taste of acceptance came when my mom hung my coloring book pages on an avocado-colored refrigerator with colorful fruit-shaped magnets. I was taught that skies and water were blue. Grass and trees were green. Hearts and apples were red. And you always colored within the lines. I colored inside the lines almost my whole life.
I graduated from Parsons School of Design as an illustration major in 1983. My first regular commissions came from painting portraits NYS Police Officers upon their retirement. My art back then was dedicated to creating highly detailed renderings from photographic references using acrylics and tiny sable brushes.
However, I never considered myself an artist. I was just someone who was good at copying what they saw. So, I spent the next 30 years as a realistic artist specializing in traditional oil portraits.
Truth be told, I hated it. Painting a portrait for me has always been very stressful and not a lot of fun. I had a close artist friend who told me. “I can’t even go to sleep at night without creating something during the day.” Even though I had no idea what that even meant, I was jealous. I wanted to feel that, too.
Then along came 2020. I decided to take all the down time and commit myself to my art. I put away the photo references. I experimented with various techniques and mediums. I painted with my left hand. I did small paintings with a large brush. I drew with my eyes closed. I used a limited color palette. I tried everything I could think of to loosen up. It worked.
Slowly, I began to see the world through a new and exciting lens. I discovered that I could apply all the traditional techniques that I was trained in, which at times felt constrictive, and learned to enjoy the playfulness of creating large format abstract concepts.
I LOVE painting abstracts because I’m painting strictly out of my head. My paintings are not specifically representational or abstract, but a cross pollination that utilizes organic shapes, colors and textures found in nature.
After decades searching, I feel I’ve found my artistic voice! For the first time in my life, I feel like I can call myself an artist. Finally, at age 62, I am coloring OUTSIDE the lines. My artistic life has come full circle.
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