You see a painting like the one above by Houston artist Stephen Dickerson. It strikes you so forcefully that suddenly you want to create something right on the spot. That’s what happened to me two years ago at the Des Moines Art Festival after I saw Dickerson's colorful cityscape paintings.
I burst out of the display area and sat down and sketched the Des Moines Public Library and the Principal building. When I look at my sketch I clearly remember talking to Dickerson, hearing his wonderful Southern drawl, and being totally envious that he was making it as an artist.
I called Dickerson after the festival in my ongoing quest to soak up the wisdom of artists and writers who make their living at their work. He wins the prize for quitting-day-job stories: after graduating from the University of Alabama with a BFA, he began working as a display designer for a large retail corporation. Eventually he worked his way “up” into management, working 70 hours a week and hating it.
After 18 years of working for The Man, he scraped together his collection of paintings (“I had time to do about one a year”) and entered an art show in Birmingham. That was 12 years ago and he’s been working full-time as an artist ever since. He lost $5,000 the first year, showed a profit the second year of $15,000, and for the past 9 years, has achieved his goal of making more money than he made while working for “that stinking corporation.” He has even been able to put his wife through pharmacy school.
Dickerson says he changes his style every year rather than get locked into formula-painting just to please customers. “I lose customers every year and get new ones,” he said, “but somehow it works out. I decided that if I’m going to do such a risky thing, I’d better please myself.”
I think about his next statement nearly every day as a freelance writer/editor (the emphasis is mine): “I feel like the luckiest person in the word. People buy these things I make; I do what I want to do; it all works out. The key is to find what comes easiest to you and not be suspicious of it."