When people find out I’m an artist the first thing they usually tell me is, “I can’t even draw a stick figure.” That comment (most likely exaggerated) is followed up quickly with the question, “When did you first know you were an artist?” For me, the short answer is that I have been an artist as long as I can remember. The creative process is something that has always come naturally and been a tremendous source of joy for me.
As they say, you know you have found your true calling when you lose track of time doing something you love. For me that love comes in the form of painting, designing and creating things that would not be around if not for my time and imagination. In this post, I’ll share a few of the milestones and observations that helped clue me in along the way to the fact that yes…I am an artist.
FOLLOW THE LEADER
The first clue I can remember that hinted at me being an artist was in the first grade when kids started copying my art projects and stealing my ideas for posters, school calendars and all the things kids create at that age. As annoying as that was, I reluctantly came to understand the truth in the saying, “Imitation is the highest form of flattery.” I did start finishing my art projects at home once I caught on. As a result, I have found I still prefer painting alone in my own studio…but most artists do.
My takeaway was that I realized I could use my natural artistic ability to create things that others wanted, I knew then that art just might be my “thing.” I was so into my art early on that I would collect the drawings and paintings I had created and sell them door to door for a quarter to the people in my Chicago neighborhood. I figured, if I’m selling my work…I must be an artist!
Throughout school, there were multitudes of ways to use my creative talents beyond the art classes I always enrolled in. If there was a need for an artist or photographer, people always came to me. Whether it be helping with theatre set creation, yearbook ads, t-shirt design, team posters…you name it I had a hand in it.
Things started really getting interesting for me in high school when it seemed my paintings and drawings would consistently win, if not the blue ribbon, some level of ribbon at the art fairs and community art shows. I wound up with several odd jobs in the arts because people who saw my work in the fairs would ask if I could do this, or that, for them.
One of the most memorable and ongoing odd jobs I had (before I was sixteen and could legally work) was illustrating for a commercial holiday decoration company. They sold the popular holiday decorations that cities and townships hung on the streetlight posts, along main streets, on buildings and in shopping centers.
Back then CAD design was not available to render their holiday product on the streetlight posts using photographs of the buildings or towns they were making their pitch to. Artist’s like me would illustrate the main street of the town and paint the illuminated holiday decor for their sales team to use in making the sale. I was making money illustrating which beat babysitting any day…I must be an artist!
WHAT’S YOUR MAJOR?
Before going to college we all have that conversation with our parents about what we are planning to major in and what we will do with the degree when we get out. When I said, “I’m going to the University of Kansas and I’m going to be an artist,” it didn’t go over well with my third generation Yale graduate father and my Rice University graduate mother.
The first thing that came to my engineering father’s mind was, “I don’t want you going to college and coming out a starving artist. How about business school?” By that time, I knew in my core I was an artist and that my soul would suffer if I did anything other than become one. I felt I was good enough and could make my way somehow with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. So, that’s what I did.
The conversation with my dad stayed afloat in my head, of course, when it came time to meet with the professors at the Fine Arts School in KU. I opened up what I thought was a spectacular portfolio of paintings, illustrations, and awards only to have the professor give me career-altering (Dad-like) advice. He’s said, “You are an accomplished artist without having a degree. What are you here at KU to learn? You can always paint and draw with the talent you already have.”
Taking my professor’s advice, I went on to receive a Bachelor of Fine Arts, in Visual Communications, from The University of Kansas. The first five years out of college I worked as an art director with two different Kansas City-based advertising agencies. Feeling the “artrepreneurial” tug and a need for more creative freedom, I left the agency world in 1989 to form Ubel Arts, formerly known as Ubel Design. As it turned out, the business school my Dad recommended may have come in handy once I decided to open my own business. Regardless of my degree, Ubel Arts has done very well without that business major and I’ve never looked back.
While my 30+ year career has produced a versatile portfolio of award-winning photography and design, it is my calling as a fine art painter that began re-emerging in full, vibrant fashion about four years ago. I sought out an art mentor because, unlike the illustrations and paintings I had done in the past, I now wanted to do something completely different and paint large, abstract and acrylic works.
While I still design books and do some branding art direction, I now happily paint full time with sales increasing each year. My artwork is represented by three art galleries, can be seen on the sets of NBC Network and ShowTime TV series, and has been purchased by hotels, corporations and individuals.
With every experience I have, I get closer to the artist I have always known I am. Each step along the way has informed the next and the collective experience is what you see on my canvases.
If you have any questions about the path I have taken or where I plan to go with my art, please leave it in the comment section below!