Hi Craig, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
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. I raised four kids and ran my own business, so there was never any time to draw or paint. Because, let’s face it, making art takes time. And making good art takes a LOT of time.
Even though I had a strong desire to paint, it was just going to have to wait. In fact, I went 12 years without ever picking up a brush.
Then I met Tom Buechner in Corning, NY. Tom was a highly acclaimed artist with paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. He graciously took me under his wing and became my mentor. I think we bonded because he was also a “late bloomer” who didn’t seriously pursue art until he was about 50 years old.
He taught me so much about the business and the technical aspects of painting. “Painting is simple,” he said, “All you do is take the perfect color, put it in the perfect place in the perfect shape with the perfect stroke and, voila, you have the perfect painting.” Easier said than done, but I’ve been trying to do that ever since.
As my kids grew up and went out on their own, I found more time to paint. I spent countless hours working on my technique and learning as much as I could about paint, brushes, etc. I went to workshops, I joined arts organizations, I tried immersing myself in art. But, at the end of the day, I wasn’t enjoying painting realistically.
Then along came the 2020 pandemic. I took advantage of all that free time and went on a life-altering journey. Slowly, I began to see the world through a new and exciting lens. By taking the traditional principles of art that I was trained in, which at times felt constrictive, I learned to enjoy the playfulness of creating abstract paintings. Instead of rendering the life out of my subjects, I attempted to capture the spirit and soul of whatever I painted.
In February of 2021, I became a full-time abstract painter. My transformation to abstraction has provided me so many wonderful opportunities. I’ve received a fellowship from Halo Arts Project here in Sarasota. I’ve been invited to have my studio in one of Sarasota’s finest galleries – MARA Art Studio|Gallery. Mara Torres is giving me my first solo show for the month of April! And I’ve sold more abstract paintings in the past six months than I sold portraits in 30 years.
Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome? I
wouldn’t say it’s been a rough road, but it has been a long road. A very long road.
When I look back, it’s actually quite remarkable that I’m an abstract artist. Like many artists, my first praise as an artist came at 5, when my mom hung my perfectly filled-in coloring book pages on our avocado-colored refrigerator. My skies and water were blue, grass was green, and apples were red. I always colored inside the lines precisely and perfectly.
I’ve always been good at copying what I see. Whether I draw and paint from life or a photograph, I can accurately capture a likeness of what I’m looking at. And because I was praised and recognized for that skill as a child, I spent the next 30 years as a realistic artist specializing in traditional oil portraits.
I never admitted it, but I hated it.
Painting portraits only felt stressful, not inspiring. It doesn’t matter how beautifully you apply the paint, if the drawing or mechanics aren’t exactly right, it doesn’t work. My way of dealing with imperfection was to chuck the bad painting into the woods behind my house. I still continue to wonder if the successive owners of that house ever ran into my graveyard of rotting canvases.
Being good at copying real life never really translated to feeling like a “real artist” for me. Something was missing. I had a creative friend who told me, “I can’t even go to sleep at night without creating something during the day.” I couldn’t relate at all, but I longed for that feeling.
I tried to change. I really, truly, tried.
I attempted experimenting with different styles. I tried to get inspired. But I couldn’t shake my dependence upon detail. I always fell back on that skill that I was praised for when I was five instead of trusting myself. I guess that’s just human nature – the desire to be loved and accepted.
Then the pandemic hit. That was life-altering for almost every one of course. But for me, it took away excuses to play it safe and allowed me the freedom to let loose…well, a little. It was hard. I realized it took much more than just deciding to loosen up, it really required that I change my entire way of thinking about everything: about who I was, what I wanted, and deciding to paint for myself, not for others. It was time to bring in a professional.
I found an amazing counselor who helped me work through personal issues that I learned were holding me back. She opened windows in my brain to let in a bright, beautiful light and for the first time, I could see. Honestly, I’ll never be able to explain exactly how she did it, but I will always be infinitely grateful for the gift she gave me. Soon I was experimenting with various techniques and mediums, painting with my left hand, drawing with my eyes closed, and any other challenge I could think of.
Then one day, I had an epiphany that gave me the focus I needed. Why not use the same principles of painting (shape, color, value, edges, line, texture, composition) that I use to successfully create a traditional portrait or landscape, and apply it to painting an abstract? It was so simple, but I finally cracked the code. From that moment on, I began to explore the integration of realism and abstraction into my paintings and it was finally making sense. After decades of soul searching, I did what I thought I could never do…I created my first abstract painting!
For the first time in my life, I now finally feel like a real artist. One who can’t go a day without creating. Finally, at age 60, I’m coloring OUTSIDE the lines.
Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
My creative career has taken me down many different roads.
I graduated from Parsons School of Design with a degree in illustration. Soon after graduation, I put together a portfolio of spec ads and I went out looking for a job as an advertising agency art director. My first job offer came from Stavros Cosmopulos. Steve was one of the founding partners at Hill Holiday in Boston. After the interview, Steve 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 (he actually said something unprintable). BUT, the good news is I’d like to hire you as a copywriter.”
Thus began my career as an advertising copywriter. I worked for a number of international advertising agencies in Boston and New York City writing television, radio and prints ads for clients that included Pizza Hut, U.S. Navy, AT&T, Campbell’s Soup, Burger King and Ponds.
As my family grew, I left New York City and moved back upstate where I opened Palmer/Cosmopulos/Palmer, a full-service advertising agency. Yes, that same Steve Cosmopulos who gave me my first job became my partner. Our clients included Corning, Inc., Serengeti Eyewear, LPGA and the American Cancer Society.
As digital media began to evolve, I transitioned the company to a digital marketing agency that specialized in creating websites and interactive CD ROM projects. We renamed the company Pixel Head, and we specialized in creating websites for Members of Congress. In fact, Pixel Head was the first privately-owned company in the United States allowed to create and host .gov websites.
One of my notable accomplishments was being elected mayor of my hometown. I also spent five years as an adjunct professor at Corning Community College teaching website and graphic design. 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.
Today, I’m a professional artist living in Sarasota, FL. It’s been one helluva ride!
Before we go, is there anything else you can share with us? After all my experiences and struggles, I realized living a good life is pretty simple and it’s so much fun. Do something nice every day. Tell your kids and partner you love them. Call your mom and dad. Go outside and look at the stars at night. Be fair. Be honest and vulnerable. Learn something new. Fix something old. Apologize to someone you hurt. Laugh with a stranger. Slow down. Go offline for a day. Adopt an old dog or cat. Paint a sky without using the color blue. Listen more. Talk less. Spread love.