I have been a professional artist for only twenty years; hence, I often use the description “contemporary” in my biographies. Just to be clear—I’m old—the paintings are young.
Although I always had a knack for drawing, sketching and painting, I lacked the confidence that anyone would purchase my art. It was a nice hobby, but not a profession.
Early in my life, I was determined to become a pharmacist and work within the legal boundaries of drug dispensing. I graduated from the University of Iowa in 1973 with a degree in Pharmacy, and worked in my family’s small ethical chain of drug stores for ten years. I was busy being married, working, raising two daughters and occasionally dabbling in painting. The art results were boring, at least to me—barns and still lifes.
Forging ahead twenty-five years, after some significant milestones, various health care and computer jobs, a divorce, grown children and still chasing rainbows, I remarried. It was an inspirational intersection of where I was going and where I had been.
Out of nowhere, I had a great desire to us acrylic paints and develop a style, create my own color palettes and play with subject matter, then see if anyone liked what I had done. The results were interesting, but at first they were drab, dark and almost colorless.
It was a great boost to my confidence to appear in numerous galleries and make a few sales. It wasn’t until I forced myself to use unusually bright and uncomfortably bold colors did I start to create a unique perspective and concise focus.
The first thing I realized was that I had to stop being a perfectionist. One man’s Picasso is another man’s trash. Obviously, we are all individuals with independent likes and dislikes, which are neither right or wrong. To this day I am amazed when I sell a painting I didn’t originally like and didn’t think would sell. I had to stop being overly judgmental of my work.
I discovered that I really enjoy acrylic painting on archival paper, then matting and framing the finished work. Many people, after seeing the original paintings under glass, think they are prints or reproductions. The typical size is 23 inches by 23 inches. My paintings on canvas are usually 3 feet by 3 feet. I focus on using vibrant colors and palette knife work.
The next step was to understand the art fair festival scene, associated costs and how to best take my work to the masses. I did my research. It’s expensive, but I bought a tent and display racks, made my own travel packaging and decided to apply to a number of juried shows within a 250-mile radius of my home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This included the Chicago, Minneapolis, Kansas City and St. Louis regions. My wife and I have been participating in summer shows for almost nine years and have sold close to 600 original paintings.
We’ve met hundreds, if not thousands of people. It sounds like a lot of work, and it is, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. I now paint all year long and at any given time have 30-50 paintings in inventory.
I’m very proud to have been selected as the poster artist for both the 2018 St. Louis Art Fair and the 2020 57th Street Art Fair in Chicago. I very much appreciate the acknowledgement of my work by show promoters and patrons who keep me going. When I’m not painting, I seem to always be managing my website. And yes, I still remind myself not to be too judgmental.
I feel intimately connected to the smallest fragile life form, such as a minnow, a bug in my garden, or a sapling. My aim is to create artworks that reflect their transitory existence. They are so precarious and yet have an enduring commitment to a vibrant life.
An artist for as long as I can remember, I sold my first two watercolors at the age of ten to a movie studio. I majored in Art History at University of California, Berkeley, and spent a wonderful semester in Florence, Italy, studying Renaissance art with Boston University.
Ironically, a pivotal moment in my art career occurred in the early seventies when I was a graduate student in Computer Science at Berkeley. A professor was giving a couple of us a ride into San Francisco and apologetically had to make a quick stop at Xerox Park research lab on the way.
It turned out this lab was working on some of the very earliest graphical user interfaces and art software. At that time, computers were not fast enough. They didn’t have the processing capability to be a reasonable tool for the type of art I wanted to create. But I was intrigued with the possibilities.
A couple of decades after that visit to the lab, the first commercial art software became available. I had a period of health troubles when I didn’t have the mobility to get up, put on dirty clothes, and set up my easel. My husband surprised me with an art software package so I could paint from my bed on a laptop.
Someone in that software company had a sense of humor, because the disk came in an actual one-gallon paint can. When the lid was pried open, there was a quick scent of paint.
Using the computer as an art tool unleashed endless potential in my creative process. The ability to make marks, undo and save intermediate versions, helped me to create stronger, more well-conceived compositions.
Beyond that, this tool helped me build upon stylistic features that were already a part of my process. I had been experimenting with visual effects suggesting a push-and-pull sensation, evocative of the pulse or rhythm of life. This endeavor was enhanced with art software, and the ability to counterpose virtual media. For example, I could mix apparent watercolor with crayon, or oils with ink.
I feel community with the Renaissance Artists I studied in Italy. They explored the spectrum of possibilities with media which were at that time new and evolving. I take pleasure in working on detail, and I relish interjecting tiny visual elements which will probably be overlooked on first viewing, and hopefully discovered much later in delighted surprise.
To be open to possibility, fully aware, and yet in tune with the most ephemeral aspects of our being, is where I find meaning in life. These are the makings I bring to my work.
Your Personal Stories Help Your Dreams Come Alive Personal Storytelling is not sales talk. Someone in a gallery or at a show may refer to something about an artist’s story when presenting art, but that is incidental to Personal Storytelling. No matter what artists want from the process of creating art, they need the assistance […]
Highlighting the voices of Black people and people of color within our local arts and creative community.
If you didn’t get a chance to purchase one of the Crucible curved card scrapers, you can make your own with a dry grinder and an existing card scraper. It takes about 30 minutes.
Download and print out the following template. It’s a hand-drawn version of Chris Williams’s scraper, which is where our design started.
Cut it out and affix it to your card scraper with the help of spray adhesive. Or make a cardboard template and trace its shape on your scraper with a permanent marker.
At your grinder, set the tool rest to 0° – parallel to the floor. Dress the wheel of your grinder (we use an #80-grit wheel, but a #60 or #100 will also do) so it has a slight convex shape. This convexity in the wheel makes the scraper easier to shape.
Get a bucket of water and put it by the grinder.
(Hey wait, where are the step photos? I’m in a hotel room that’s 400 miles from my shop. You are going to have to use your imagination.)
Place the scraper on the tool rest and start grinding the excess metal away. Don’t work on one part of the scraper for more than a few seconds. Keep moving around the perimeter. After 10 or 15 seconds, try to pinch the scraper with a finger and thumb. If….
… you can pinch the scraper with no pain, continue to grind.
… your fingers reflexively jump away, cool the scraper in your water bucket.
… you smell bacon, also cool the scraper in the water bucket.
Once you have ground down to your line, you will have become pretty good at grinding flat shapes – congrats. Now you need to remove the grinder marks from the edges.
Use a block of wood to hold the scraper at 90° on a coarse diamond stone and stone the edges. Remove all the scratches from the grinder. Then move up to a #1,000-grit waterstone (or soft Arkansas) and then up to a polishing stone. Then you can proceed with normal scraper-sharpening procedures.
This is exactly how I made all of our prototypes. I promise that you will become emotionally involved with your scraper after putting all the work into it, and you might not ever want to buy one of ours.
So be it.
— Christopher Schwarz