I got up very early this morning to spend some extra time in solitude on the dock at this Adirondack paradise. It’s my last Sunday here for this summer. It’s a little cloudy this morning, and there is a dimness to the light and a coolness to the air. The distant sound of loons crying out their eerie tune maybe be a reflection of the melancholy feeling I get each year when I leave here.
Though I hate leaving, I love looking forward to coming back. That feeling buys me hope through a school year filled with activities, work responsibilities, and business trips. Knowing I won’t leave the lake during the summer makes everything somehow more worthwhile the rest of the year.
Yesterday in the car, Laurie and I were having a discussion about what the contents should be of a book I want to write. I’ve decided to write another book because I’ve not yet written an art-related book (though I’ve produced many art marketing videos) and because I’ll soon be on a television show about art that will be distributed worldwide. I see all of it as a chance to spread my mission.
“You should write about inspiration,” she said. “People always tell me you’ve inspired them to do something. And your book should be a little something for everyone, since you are not only helping people discover painting, you’re working with experienced painters and beginners, and with art collectors.”
She got me thinking. Since my goal is to teach a million people to paint, and since my life was changed by painting, I wondered what I could do to inspire more people to paint. After all, a show with millions of viewers might help me quickly ramp up my goal of helping a million people to discover painting.
Often when I’m outside painting I’ll encounter people who say things like, “I wish I could do that, but I don’t have any talent. I can’t even draw stick figures.” Of course, I always try to convince them that painting is a process they can learn. And that gets me remembering my own story.
Though I had some exposure to acrylic and watercolor as a child thanks to my artistic mother, it was not till Laurie bought me an art lesson for my 40th that I got interested again.
I had learned of a teacher in my area who studied in the tradition of Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), a French painter and sculptor. Gérôme had taught Filadelfo Simi (1849-1923), who taught his daughter Nerina (Nera) Simi (1890-1987), who taught my teacher (and many other greats) in Florence. This teacher had also studied with Robert Hale Ives Gammell (1893-1981) and Frank J. Reilly (1906-1967), names I was unaware of at the time. But I was impressed that this guy had good training.
I remember the Saturday morning I visited the Armory Arts Center in West Palm Beach. After parking in the back lot, I walked in the door of this room, looked around at all the work the students were doing, told myself I could never get to that level of painting, and turned around and walked out.
“Yoo-hoo, can I help you?” were the words I heard as I was walking out the door.
“Oh, hi,” I said. “I heard this would be a good class to take, but after seeing what these people are painting, I could never do that, so I decided to leave.”
The man introduced himself as Jack Jackson, the teacher, and told me that if I gave him 18 months, he could have me producing work as good as the work I was seeing. He said, “Come over here,” and without even asking me if I wanted to stay, told me, “Sit here. Take this photo and make a grid like this on top of it.” Then he proceeded to show me how to transfer a drawing from a grid to a canvas.
After we did that, he showed me how to paint a grayscale tonal painting of the black-and-white photo I had just transferred onto the canvas. He was smart. He didn’t let me go, and he instantly got me engaged. I stayed in his classes for five years, until I moved away. He died shortly after and he never saw the fruits of his influence.
Think about this for just a moment. If I had slipped out of that classroom unnoticed and had told myself that I could never do that quality of work, I would have missed the last 22 years of great joy.
Not only did I take up painting, my eyes were opened to a whole new world. Suddenly I had an appreciation for art like never before. In fact, a seminal moment in my life was when I was on vacation and visited the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco and saw The Broken Pitcher by Bouguereau, and I wept. I wept because, after studying and copying the artist’s work, seeing it in person was overwhelming. I now had a small taste of what it took to accomplish such mastery, a mastery I had not begun to touch. I was amazed at the figure’s feet, which were at eye level, and the fine veins on her forearms. No piece of art had ever touched me this way.
I never would have gone to see or appreciated this piece of art with the eyes of an artist had my eyes not been opened for me by Jack Acetus Jackson (1935-2001).
We rarely know the fruits of our influence over others. In my case, Jack exposed me to painting, academic painting, and gave me an appreciation for the academic realism movement that was just beginning at that time.
Because I make my living as a publisher, Jack’s influence led me into the art publishing world, resulting in Fine Art Connoisseur, PleinAir, Artists on Art, Fine Art Today, PleinAir Today, the Plein Air Convention & Expo, the Figurative Art Convention & Expo (which I’m dedicating to Jack), plus all of our training videos.
My life was enriched by this man’s being alert, not letting me out the door, and encouraging me and giving me confidence that I could learn to paint when I felt I had zero talent.
Once in awhile I’ll hear from someone who tells me I had an impact on their life and I didn’t even know it. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes not. One person recently called me on the carpet because I had unknowingly discouraged her a few years ago with something I said. I felt awful. Others have told me of things I didn’t even remember saying that set them off on a new path.
Our words and actions matter. By being alert, by having a spirit of generosity and a desire to help all people, we will, hopefully, find a natural instinct to encourage others.
I had not thought about this story of Jack Jackson pulling me into the class for a long time, but it was that one action that changed my entire life and led me into an art career. I owe him so much. My only regret is his not knowing what happened, and never knowing it was because of him.
This is the very reason I’m driven to teach a million people to paint. My eyes and heart were opened as an artist and I blossomed in new ways because Jack said, “Yoo-hoo, can I help you?” — and because he realized I did not believe in myself and that he could help me.
One of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received from a human was the gift I received from Jack Jackson. He did not do it for personal gain, he did it because he loved art and wanted others to discover it.
What about you this Sunday morning?
What are you doing to encourage and support others?
What gifts do you have that you can share?
There is no greater gift than encouragement and helping people see something in themselves that they could not see before.
Here’s to a week of encouragement for others … starting today.