Look Back, Part 2: Bill Alexander

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In the previous post, I left off with me in my garage with a Bob Ross paint set. So, how did my first attempt at painting turn out? It was pretty awful. But, for some reason, I wanted to give it another shot.

And another.

And another.

It was around painting Number Six or Eight that I saw promise. I painted it New Year’s Eve, 2016. I remember because I was so proud of it, I brought it inside and set it on a small easel on a table in our dining room. All throughout dinner that night, I kept looking over at it, impressed with myself. Even my kids noticed. My oldest said, “You really like that one, don’t you?” Yes, I did. And still do.

I painted constantly. I had no inhibitions, and I could see progress with each painting. By the middle of January, I had grown bored with Bob Ross. To help my growth, I turned to YouTube, and through a painter named Jason Bowen, I learned that Bob Ross had a teacher named Bill Alexander. A few clicks later, I was on Alexander Art’s webpage.

I’ll probably have more to say about my experience with Alexander Art in another post. For now, let me say that finding Bill Alexander and Alexander Art was a real boon for my painting. I started off watching a lot of Bill’s TV shows and then moved on to Alexander Art’s Master Classes.

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The Master Classes were taught by one of Bill Alexander’s students, Tom Anderson (pictured above). Before learning from Bill, Tom had a lengthy background in art, and through Bill, Tom was able to put it all together. He owned his own gallery/studio in Northern California for twenty years and was a popular teacher — both in person and on local public television stations. Throughout dozens of hours and more than fifteen instructional paintings, I learned more about art and painting from Tom Anderson than I even knew was possible.

It took me about eighteen months to work my way through the Introductory, Intermediate, and Advanced Master Classes. During this time, I was a diligent student and did my best to learn as much as I could. Why did I throw myself into this hobby? Part of it has to do with my personality: I’m an all-or-nothing kind of guy, so when I find something I’m interested in, I give it my all. But another part of it was this: even then I was thinking to myself, “Maybe this is what I want to do with the rest of my life.”

However, when I finished Alexander Art’s Advanced Master Class, I felt a little out of sorts. I read somewhere that one of the problems student artists face is the transition from being a student to being a professional. It has nothing to do with money and everything to do with audience: for your entire student life, you have a built-in audience, and all that goes away when you graduate and set out as a professional. I certainly felt that. But there was something else, too. There are the things we know we know, the things we know we don’t know, and the things we don’t know we don’t know. That last category — not knowing what we don’t know, a.k.a., true ignorance — is bliss. You can happily engage in a hobby just puttering along. But once you start to become aware of all the things you know you don’t know, things get difficult. Especially if you’re an all-or-nothing kind of person. Like me.

For the next ten months or so — from about July 2018 to May 2019 — I lived in a state of artistic frustration. Because of Tom’s excellent teaching, I was now aware of many things I didn’t know. And so, despite all the encouragement from my family and friends about how I should set up shop and start selling my work, I knew I wasn’t ready. My ignorance was too great; it wasn’t bliss at all. So I started looking at other places — books, YouTube channels, Udemy courses. Nothing appealed to me. Books were too haphazard, and YouTube and Udemy were too basic and focused on the hobbyist, the Sunday painter. If I was going to paint, I wanted to be the best painter I could be. And besides, finding a teacher as good as Tom Anderson was proving to be next to impossible.

And then one day I happened upon a YouTube video entitled “How To Train to Become a Successful Working Artist.” I watched the full ninety minutes in one sitting. When I was over, I knew I had found a teacher not only as good as Tom Anderson, but perhaps even better. He was certainly more intense, and it was probably his intensity that appealed to me the most.

His name is Jeff Watts, and he’s the founder of the Watts Atelier of the Arts. In May 2019, I joined their online program.

To be continued…

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