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Yesterday's pastels.

Crashing Wave
8" x 10"
Derwent hard pastels
Aquabee Bogus Recycled Rough Sketch Paper
Photo reference by lani_noa from WetCanvas.com from January 2011 Pastel Spotlight challenge.

Also later in the afternoon I did a portrait again from a vintage black and white photo of a young woman. I thought her expression was interesting and liked her mouth, also loved her marcelled hair as shapes and masses. I had fun with her. First portrait in a long time. I think I'm getting over my burnout from New Orleans.

A Vintage Girl
5" x 7" approx.
Color Conte hard pastels
Aquabee Bogus Rough Recycled Sketch Paper
Photo reference by Wassie from WetCanvas Reference Image Library, posted to January 2011 Pastel Spotlight challenge.

I've decided to do all but one of the Pastel Spotlight challenge photos at least once and turn several of them including the seascape into series. I'll be doing the same reference in different ways, different pastels, different times of day or surfaces. But at first I'm just exploring this Bogus pad with different brands of pastels.

My burnout on doing portraits came from what happened when I lived on my art in New Orleans. It was the best day job I ever had, the happiest time in my life that I've supported myself. At first I lived in a very small studio apartment in the French Quarter itself very close to where I set up with my "B" license to sell art. The market was booming and I was selling them as fast as I could sketch.

I paid my rent and had money left over after groceries and bills. I bought art supplies. I got cable TV. I had an air conditioner that summer instead of sweating out the heat. I was way, way under the poverty line making maybe $3,000 or $4,000 a year - but my apartment was only $200 a month and living down there was insanely cheap.

Truth time. I was surviving on working only one or two days a week. I spent the rest of the week resting up from walking out to my setup spot and staying out there painting at an easel. I stayed on my feet for half an hour at a time painting the tourists. I got a lot better at life drawing just in the first month of it but I also started the gradual decline from overexertion that resulted in my complete health crash in 1994.

By the end I could barely manage a day or maybe two in a month, that was with taking a cab to my setup spot and a cab back from it. I threw my back bad, repeatedly, dragging a folding grocery cart with my supplies and matted paintings for sale. The sicker I got, the less sales I had when I went out.

People wanted to buy portraits from a happy free spirit, an artist who is having a good time being real and living on art. Jackson Square was and probably still is the nearest American equivalent of the Left Bank in Paris. Not from someone exhausted, keeling over in extreme pain and spasming with back trouble. I looked poor and felt poor when I was that sick, because I could not afford a chiropractor or a power chair - a power chair might have saved that meager income by itself.

I hung on to the bitter end before I gave up and wound up staying with friends for months of bed rest after a bout of pneumonia or something. I was always getting sick with something major and then not recovering from it because of general exhaustion and physical stress.

That wasn't the first time I lost an occupation to not being able to keep up with its physical demands.

It was the first time I lost one that I enjoyed, meant to do and did well. It's one thing to grieve getting fired from a cheap waiter job in a Mexican restaurant after being demoted to dishwasher because I wasn't fast enough. I only got that job because it had high turnover and it was lousy, it had no intrinsic rewards for me. It does for some people - physically vigorous people who love food (especially the ethnic of the restaurant they work in) and taking care of people.

It was another thing entirely to lose a boring office job as typesetter with lousy working conditions, decide to become self employed instead and discover that I could survive without ever getting up early on a Monday morning again. It was the biggest achievement of my life at the time, selling my art and living on my art. I did enjoy it when I was able to do it and I got better at it all the time. I enjoyed the materials for it, still do. I enjoyed learning more about it - gods, that's so lifelong it won't stop as long as I'm breathing.

That was the worst real failure of my life. I think it was my only real failure. Most things that I failed at were things I never wanted to do in the first place - work as a sub-minimum wage waiter, go to gym class, drag myself through dull office jobs or put up with retail sales. The only other job I enjoyed as much as Street Artist was the three different years I picked up holiday work playing Santa Claus.

Yes, I've worn the suit and been part of the legend. It's some of why I still love Christmas even though I'm not Christian. Santa Claus, Dickens, a lot of cool things about it are still important to me.

But the Santa job is mostly sitting down and only lasts a few weeks. Not long enough for the cumulative exhaustion to drive me literally into the ground to the point where I can't get out of bed. That's what I did to myself trying to hang on to living on my art. At first I sold celebrity portraits at movie/TV media conventions - similar to SF conventions but mostly focusing on cult movies and shows. I'd stay home and paint for a month or two getting ready, then fly out to a con and spend two physically exhausting days selling the art at the art show. Then live on that till the next convention.

The market took a dip in fan art and I had a convention that only broke even, didn't pay the rent. I knew I couldn't keep up with that so I moved from fan portraits of actors and characters to life portraits of tourists in New Orleans. It seemed that every time I tried something different in selling art, it would work for a while and then I'd start losing sales and get too sick to paint.

Toward the end I couldn't draw well. I got too sick to be careful with the paintings. I made stupid mistakes that I knew better, because I was exhausted and in too much pain. I understand that now. I look back and I know I did give it much more than 100%. I didn't cut bait till a pneumonia almost killed me. After that I went out tarot reading instead, because the setup was lighter weight. I had the same problems - did well for a few months and then the exertion caught up with me. I still needed to survive so I pushed myself and kept going until I couldn't get out of bed.

I wasn't as attached to tarot reading as I was to the art. While I did the tarot thing I remembered doing the art and envied the artists. Eventually I moved away from New Orleans and the grief welled up way too much. I gave away most of my art supplies, only kept a few things and my Prismacolor pencils because those weren't about making money. I'd discovered Prismacolor painting wasn't cost effective at the prices I could get so my constant buying replacement pencils got subsidized by pastels.

After moving out of New Orleans, I didn't even want to draw for years. It took a decade to recover enough from that grief to enjoy doing a few small sketches. I'd been proud of my accurate portraits before when I was living on it and when I was picking up a good side income while working - I started selling part time before I wound up changing professions.

I didn't want to touch that at all. I just didn't want to draw people. Somewhere deep down I expected the person I drew to pay me for it and felt like it'd be wasted effort otherwise. I had too many bad customers and too many bad days and most of all too much heartbreak when I couldn't survive on it any more.

If you read under the cut, thanks for letting me share this. This is the first time I've really put it together - understood just what made losing my Street Art gig one of the deepest heartbreaks in my life. I wasn't used to losing or failing if I threw all of my effort into something and really cared about it. Things I cared about that much came easy and went well. But not that time. It wasn't lack of effort. I just couldn't do it.

It's not irrational to grieve a loss that deep or be afraid it'll happen again. It's worth doing.

Thank you, Johannes Vloothuis. Throughout your classes you woke up all of the good memories. You reminded me what it was like to live as a self employed artist. How cool it was to get up on a good day and relax, just paint, know that someone out there wanted this painting and will love it that much.

So I'm not Retired and Disabled any more. I'm a disabled art student at the moment and when I get some other things taken care of like the tax number and so on, I'll start selling art again.
Explore-Oil-Pastels-With-Robert-Sloan.com Articles at eHow.com, ETSY shop, My Bonanzle Booth, deviantART gallery, SFFmuse and look for art by robertsloan2art on eBay. Listed on Art Blogs 4 U
Proud member of the Oil Pastel Society
Interesting art blog: Patrick's Art Blog focused on realism!
New Topical Blog: www.robs-art-supply-reviews.blogspot.com for all the cool art stuff that isn't oil pastels!


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 6th, 2011 03:27 am (UTC)
deep sigh

I've been thinking i'm happy to see you posting again
and your art has improved so much

i've seen my handwriting disintegrate as my jobs trashed my hands
i've not dared to draw/paint to see if it was gone too
ou have such courage

I really am glad to see you feeling better
gentle hugs

and a big ball of Love
This year will be better for us all !
Jul. 14th, 2011 09:07 pm (UTC)
Thank you. Yikes! Drawing and painting might help you rehabilitate your hands. It sounds like you need to get into a different line of work. It'd be hard if you don't have the fine control you used to, but it's rewarding anyway. If it's gone, it may not be gone forever.

PURR yes, this year will be better for us all!

I am moving back to San Francisco. This post was a memoir about losing the job I loved most - street art. Now I'm going back to the place I love most and will be able to do it again under better conditions, with a power chair and real help closing the logistic gaps.
Jan. 6th, 2011 06:35 am (UTC)
Well, you know I'm a bit of a butterfly collector, and I'm subscribed to your updates on ebay, so if you put stuff up there I shall have a browse.
Jul. 14th, 2011 09:04 pm (UTC)
Purr thank you! No butterflies went on eBay. Butterflies all go into your box. I won't be able to work on Wombat till I get there and unpacked, but I made a promise and I'm keeping it.

The only one I want to retain is one that I forgot and did in a bound sketchbook. If you wouldn't mind, would it be okay if I just redo that one for you rather than debinding it? I'm fond of that sketchbook and don't like tearing up the ones that don't have perforated pages. If I can replace it with a slightly better one, I'd appreciate that.
Jul. 15th, 2011 12:38 am (UTC)
That's fine! I don't want you damaging your sketchbook!
Jul. 20th, 2011 05:55 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'll be happy to copy it as soon as I get there and get settled in. The new one will be even more beautiful.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )


2013 Nano Winner
Robert A. Sloan, author of Raven Dance

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