Giving it all Away

I was recently asked “what did it take to get to that next level?”

What? Rethink, reconsider, and recalculate that one! I’m here flailing around like a ship in a whirlpool. What “next level” are we talking about?

Looking from within, it looks as though I’m just spinning my wheels in the same old spot. Kind of like being around your children all the time, they never change. But when relatives come from afar for that rare, but sometimes “too often” visit, all you hear is “oh my how little junior has grown,” or “what happened to that little girl I used to bounce on my knee?” When you look at things on a daily basis, it is only the drama that gets noticed.

I believe it must have hatched as I bantered thoughts and ideas around with artist Jeffery Sparks as we talked of creating a group for artists here in the Midwest similar to the Hudson River school of artists, or the Southwest artists. he pointed out that we had to be good to help set an example. He believed we could be among the best in the region as we led this organization that is now called the Missouri Valley Impressionist Society. (MVIS for short)

Sure I agreed, but did I believe it? No, not really.

It wasn’t that I didn’t think I had the talent, I knew I had some, but being the best sounded insurmountable. I mean there are literally thousands upon thousands of artists just in this area. How in the world? No way!

So I put that pipe dream on the back burner, and just focused on painting, and me.

The next time anything like this came up was with my friend and mentor, Rick Howell. If you didn’t know Rick, he was a one of a kind guy, always giving, always caring, helping people, the land and all that inhabited it. He sat me down in his little artists’ retreat and gave me the “low down.” “It’s not going to be easy,” he said. “If you think you have worked hard at anything in yourlife before, you are mistaken.”

Rick told me about making a serious commitment, and passing that boundary of fear that keeps one from taking that step into the unknown. He talked of the proverbial “miles of canvas” that I had to put behind me before I even came close to those goals we wrote down.

What I heard in “Casa Estella” was not new stuff. But hearing it from this unbelievable artist who actually thought that I had the potential to be great was different! It’s one thing to hear words of praise and encouragement from friends and family. But Rick Howell was a professional with an amazing talent, and he began to help me to believe in myself.

Keyword “BELIEVE”

Belief is important. If you don’t believe in yourself, how in the world are you going to convince someone else ? But belief was not all, talent helps, now what in the world are you going to do with it?

Even with Rick behind me, I was still skeptical of all involved, and what it would take to take that next step. Could I do it? Could I commit so much of my time to these goals that we worked out around the kitchen table in a high plains desert? Commit so much time and energy, and money! I was working full time still as a master engraver. Itt was going to cost me quite a bit in salary to reroute into the world of fine arts.

But try to believe.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The time commitment, the energy, looking, seeing, feeling. Eeverything had to change. I did not realize this, but as I went along, this is what I found had to happen for me to even minutely close the gap between me and the upper echelon.

Did it begin slowly? I don’t know, but for me I had to change quite a bit. I had much to learn to take my art from the amateurish to the professional. I knew nothing of color, values, composition. Sure I studied in college, but that was what, 30 years ago, and we just began brushing on things when my career as a fine artist took a turn to the commercial side and family. So I’ve shelved the tales by Stephen King and replaced them with Carlson and Payne.

When I am alone my thinking turns to my art. I am now always questioning what I see, and how I might recreate it on canvas. I see things as I’m driving just around the block or to the next show and try to figure out how to mix that color up with my 4 color palette.

I squint all the time in the middle of a conversation seeing how things look in just a few values. If you see me kind of drift off, it’s probably not a flashback from the late 60’s. More likely I see something that caught my eye and I’m thinking how it might fit best in a horizontal or vertical format.

Is it a case of living, sleeping, eating art? Yes it really is, and I still feel like I’m not doing enough. At night I lay in bed working on inventory, and invoicing, and applications, and social networking. During the day it’s the same thing, but throw in the things that life puts before you, plus if possible a little painting.

I work on a balancing act because, yes, there are other things in my life that I love besides paintingmy wife Susie, and my wonderful family. I have friends and a home, and I still sculpt as an engraver on occasion, though that is becoming rarer by the minute. I do what I must first, then I do what I can after that.

It is a commitment, and it takes a good supporting cast around you. I know I could not have gotten this far alone. At one time I thought so, but for me admitting that I needed help was freeing. I’m not the great and powerful Oz that I once believed.  (I think my parents kept trying to tell me this, but would I listen to them?) Well, this is something you must build and nurture constantly, starting in the home, the community, and then beyond.

All this just so I can paint. That’s really what I want to do, and maybe one day that will come. I now believe in myself, and I have seen a little glimpse of the potential within me. I am slowly, ever so slowly, beginning to paint the things that I love to get lost in when I visit galleries.

What does it take to become the best?

I have no idea and will probably never know. What I do know is that it’s not just having the talent.Talent is nothing if you don’t do anything with it.

I’ve heard forever “you’ve got to want something bad enough”. (sports cliché)) I always thought that it doesn’t make a difference if everyone wants the same thing, that doesn’t help. What in the world does it mean “they wanted it more than me?” No way!

What I’ve found is that what you do because you want something bad enough makes all the difference in the world. Maybe that’s what they really mean?

“If you can dream it, you can make it a reality. The possibility lies in your ability, enthusiasm and hard work to realize it.”  Lailah Gifty Akita

I’ve changed the way I live, the way I think, the way I see. Everything and anything I can think of that might make me a better artist. I see it helping, and I’m enjoying the journey. You’ve got to do that because if and when the end ever arrives…

rg at heaven hill farm

photo by Turner Vinson

…that’s it.




  1. Deb on July 1, 2015 at 1:49 am

    I think you’ve become quite an artist. It’s changed your entire view of the world. You’ve found passion and joy. I think your paintings and attitude are amazing.

    • admin on July 1, 2015 at 4:09 am

      Thanks Deb, I guess I’ve found something I’m passionate about… even more than tennis 😉

  2. Carol rubsam on July 1, 2015 at 2:36 am

    This came at such an ideal time. I’ve spent the last few weeks wondering if I can really do this. I need to find a focus, and I need to be a whole lot better, but I will work it out. Thanks, Greg.

    • admin on July 1, 2015 at 4:10 am

      No better time than now, set some goals, short term and long term and get going. Thanks for taking time Carol.

  3. Marian Fortunati on July 1, 2015 at 3:22 am

    Nice thoughts, Greg…. yep…. it’s quite a journey…. Love each step!

    • admin on July 1, 2015 at 4:11 am

      Isn’t it great, with great people all over the world. Look forward to painting with you again… and thanks.

  4. Shirley A. Leslie on July 1, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    I loved your story Greg. I am teaching myself and trying hard to believe I can do it but I have faith and truly want to be able to paint even if I never become an artist. I love all your work and when I talk to people about what kind of paintings I am interested in doing, I always bring up your name and how I love your landscape paintings and love how most of them have water… I am so happy you made it and am inspired by you.

    • admin on July 1, 2015 at 12:32 pm

      Exactly! But who is it to say you are an “artist” or not? Being an “artist” is the creating, or practicing of art. Call yourself an artist because you are. Thank you for taking the time to write back and I appreciate your words on my art. I do enjoy painting water, it is just so fun to watch and look into. Thanks again, Greg

  5. Peggy on July 1, 2015 at 1:06 pm

    Excellent post on many levels Greg. It has been such an interesting and rewarding experience to watch your career and passion in painting grow over the past few years. Leaps and bounds forward. When you are wrapped up in the moment, it’s harder to see all of your wonderful accomplishments. Your path has been, and will continue to be successful! You are one of the hardest working artists I know. Right UP THERE with ‘those Arkansas boys’! And I say that with respect and honor. Thank you for taking time to reflect and journal your wonderful journey!

    • admin on July 2, 2015 at 4:29 am

      Thanks Peggy, means a lot coming from you. I’m loving what I’m doing and trying not to get too discouraged when things don’t go the way I had hoped, and I go at it again. Like a dog with a bone I am 😉

      There is no catching up to those Arkansas boys, they are both great and wonderful people and artists. I will focus on me and what I can control and not worry about the other stuff. Thanks again.

  6. Wyndham Dennison on July 1, 2015 at 1:58 pm

    Greg, I read your words this morning as I looked over at a painting I did from several years ago that I’m displeased with. I’m wondering how others seem to like it when I’m mad at myself for not fixing the basic mistakes that are so glaring. There is something about the next level that seems tied to the problems of the past that holds on in our mind like a pattern that seems to reoccur in future work. That speck of black that no matter how we try by adding white never seems to come clean, that’s how I absorb what you struggled with as i do and every one seems to struggle with.
    Just joined the blog and think I’ll find a challenge here, Thanks Wyndham

    • admin on July 1, 2015 at 4:37 pm

      Thanks for writing Wyndham. I like what you wrote and your observations. Would you have ever been able to see that “speck of black” had you not moved on? Like history our paintings from before teach us where to go. Those older pieces with their blaring mistakes are wonderful tools to learn from.

      Those who cannot see those glaring mistakes have not gone the same path as you. It is those who we are following that can see that illusive path to perfection.

  7. Walter Bruning on July 1, 2015 at 2:41 pm

    I spent almost 20 years of my retirement devoted to watercolor, teaching myself, learning from fine artists, then teaching classes and holding my own workshops. I exhibited, I sold art, I judged shows and met hundreds of fine people. Those who worked at it, developed some level of competence. Those who fiddled, did not.

    I gave a lot of time and energy to it, lived it and loved it. I never was able to make the commitment you have, Greg, time just wasn’t there, but I did achieve a certain self-satisfaction by the art I produced.

    Now, at age 76, I have abandoned watercolor and am devoting myself to oils. My health is such that painting outdoors just isn’t in the cards. I work indoors and have discovered I love to paint portraits of hunting dogs. I get up every morning excited about the day’s work and try to bring to life on canvas one of the beautiful, brave creatures from the panoply of hunting dogs. The more I paint them, the more I learn about oils, color mixing, brushwork, surfaces, mediums, in short, all the fun of oil painting.

    I agree–talent is not the issue. I am a good example. My drawing is very poor, but I find that if I can get it drawn, I can paint it. I push myself to try more complex subjects, different lighting, different perspectives, different levels of detail. The more I work, the better I get. I hope!

    • admin on July 1, 2015 at 4:30 pm

      I love what you said about getting up in the morning excited about the next painting, it’s a wonderful feeling doing something you love. It is that self satisfaction that one should strive for, heck with all that other stuff. That said it’s harder to make a living at it without some of the “extra” work, which in it’s own way is satisfying.

      I am driven and have committed my life to art, creating, teaching, learning. It does take a lot of time and support from those around you who are willing to pick up the slack where art takes a priority. I congratulate you for pushing yourself, and finding a satisfaction there. I hope you continue.

      Thanks for taking the time

  8. Jeffery Sparks on May 21, 2016 at 4:55 am

    Greg, wow, I’ve really enjoyed reading your posts. I am so happy you have kept up Rick’s charge. I know he would be–is–so proud of you. It’s always a joy to check back at your website from time to time and see your amazing journey, especially from Rick forward, he was sure one of the best and he was the wisest artist I have ever known. I just put his video in last week and it comes flooding back. As you continue to aim for those goals, I look forward to seeing your work along the way.

    Peace and blessings on the way,

    • admin on May 25, 2016 at 1:34 pm

      Hi Jeff, So good to hear from you, and thanks for the comments and kind words on my posts. Sure miss Rick’s guidance as I seem to be always flailing about in this crazy world, but I do still vision him looking over those glasses and just shaking his head. Guess he will always be there.
      Look forward to seeing you and your amazing art again, you’ve a great mind that hopefully is being put to good use. Wish you and Julie the best, Greg

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