Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels
That pivotal moment came – after personal tragedy
I was Twenty years old – lost, depressed, and confused after my cousin Billy committed suicide. We were close growing up as children. Billy’s suicide was the dark storm that wrecked me. As a child of the 1970’s and 80’s, drug use was commonplace with teenagers. Billy became an addict and succumbed to the effects of this lifestyle at a young age. He shot himself in the temple. A common (and preferred method) for men. Billy was twenty-one years of age. And, as I said, I was twenty. I was no angel either, however, I wasn’t an addict. Instead I was in danger of becoming an alcoholic. At the time of Billy’s suicide, I was in the process of getting my act together. Daunting at best, as I had little (to no) resources or support. I proclaimed to myself – I would avoid going down that same path ever, ever, EVER.
Kicked-outta’ the house and living on my own (after graduating high school) life was difficult for me.
Photo by Min An from Pexels
I found a single room (in a Boarding House). The Glenside Inn, located in the town I grew up, was a restaurant and bar with single rooms upstairs and a shared bath. The Inn became my home for a bit. I found full-time work in a print shop – an old vintage print shop. The shop, in operation since the 1940’s, was still (at that time) using those old typeset letters and burning metal plates for the printers.
Photo by Wendelin Jacober from Pexels
Available today as collectibles on ebay https://www.ebay.com/itm/250-Vintage-Lead-Typeset-Letterpress-Block-Letters-In-Drawer-1-4-3-8-/113272846465 .
Ha! No secrets here, I’m an OLD man! Okay – I might be overdoing things a bit… however, millennials such as my son might agree with this.
But – I digress.
My job at the print shop was to shoot the mock-up’s, develop the film and burn the metal plates that attached to the large Heidelberg printing presses. Of course, back then, the graphic artist did all the mock-up’s by hand – cut and paste (pre-digital) – an acquired skill and tedious to boot.
What got me jazzed was the grit and grind of the shop
The cool-looking, large plate burners – the graphic artist, angry and stressed – cutting/pasting/smoking – the piles and piles of cut up papers and magazines, stacked messy and high on the drafting board. Yellow dingy windows – the dark and dirty factory atmosphere – the frenzied pace of deadlines – the photography – the typesetting – the wooden print shop relics – and the humongous LOUD printing machines. All this chaos, captured my fascination. I became transported back in time.
After working all day, alone and depressed in my room, I started to draw again. With weekly trips to the library I found art books to study, copying Picasso’s and Van Gogh’s – determined to learn more. I developed a love for abstract art, and began experimenting. I drew my little sister’s elementary school pictures, dogs, abstracts and strange, distorted self-portraits.
No matter what – I wanted to BECOME an artist
This was a bold awakening for somebody that had NO real direction in life. My parents education level – both of them high school dropouts – struggled to raise us kids. Unspoken yet expected – the norm had been – you would somehow GET A JOB when you graduate.
J-O-B’s – weren’t enough
So…I enrolled in night school at Penn State University’s satellite campus. I had no idea what I was doing. I muddled through the process. I spent time planning and studying financial aid (still mystified) I pressed on. Attending part-time at night, while working full-time to pay rent. Art classes during the day and Liberal Art classes at night, I succeeded in bringing my grades up. The daytime art classes were my favorite. My art teacher mentored me, showing me how to get a portfolio together. This was invaluable.
Ultimately – I transferred full-time to an amazing art school
The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, I couldn’t believe I was there. The whole experience was super exciting and new. Considering, at first, I snubbed the idea, I wasn’t sure I wanted to earn a degree. I believed I would find an artist community and be self-taught. However, that idea folded quick. And without this experience, I might have ended up with my own personal tragedy. Following my passion saved me. Four years later, I graduated, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a certificate in Art Therapy. Eager to conquer the art world and live my ARTIST life, I succeeded.
The after artist’s life (so to speak) is a whole other story…
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