I’m not sure how it happened.
A few autumns ago, I bought a new house.
And somehow got it in my head to use one of the rooms as an art studio.
Sure, I’d painted before. Twenty years ago, I owned an airbrush T-shirt company. I made banners for local bands. I dabbled in various art forms. I even spent a few seasons at art school, which ended up being the only education in my life I ever enjoyed.
But nothing like this.
On a brisk, windy day, my son and I left our new house behind, marched into our truck, and sped off to Hobby Lobby. You know Hobby Lobby, right? The bible-thumping craft store…which just so happens to sell gallery-ready canvasses, high-quality paint brushes, and paint…tons of paint.
Being fools, we walked into Hobby Lobby and exited an hour later with armloads (and a truckload) of the hugest canvasses we could find. Along with fifty tubes of acrylic paint, charcoal pencils, graphite powder, brushes, an easel, and…well…you get the point.
I’m not really sure why. It’s just what happened.
That first night, while the rain pummeled suburban Atlanta, and while my kid sat on the floor slathering yellow paint onto a canvas of his own, I stood in a daze in our new ‘painting room.’ Really, it was just a bare-walled empty space; most people would’ve used it as a dining room. You know…the room most families never inhabit?
Black paint hit the canvas hard. Directionless. Not quite Jackson Pollock random, but close.
Something like this came out:
‘The Emperor’s Vision’ – 2013
The Emperor’s Vision. It was a scene from one of the fantasy novels I’d written. Somehow…to see it alive on a canvas…I felt an awakening.
All it took was one simple painting. One glance at the strange world I’d accidentally created.
And I was hooked.
Autumn rumbled by. Winter settled atop us. During the long, dark nights, as the never-ending rain drowned our little neighborhood, I found myself wandering each night into the painting room.
At first, I lacked aim. Purpose. Meaning. (not to mention, talent.)
I tried painting people. More dark cities. Corrupted landscapes. Trees. I was nothing if not a bit brooding, a bit dark. I glued all the lessons I barely remembered from art school to my wild imagination, and strange things resulted.
For the next two years, I toiled in the shadows of my new, over-big house. My blank walls, once eggshell white, transformed into a cacophony of colors. Ten paintings became twenty, and twenty become more than one-hundred.
And then I moved. To an apartment. In which the walls offered only about 10% of the space I’d formerly had.
What am I going to do with all this junk? I thought.
I’ve got stacks of paintings…and nowhere to put them.
What if…? Nah…
A few quiet months went by, and another accident happened. A journeywoman artist moved to Atlanta, and we decided to paint cooperatively. No idea why. Once again, no goal existed. We just wanted to ‘art’ for the sake of art itself.
She sculpted. I painted. And I moved again, this time into another house. My new bachelor pad wasn’t nearly as big as my previous house, but the walls offered plenty of space to fill with our new three-dimensional creations.
Many months smoldered by. Summer. Autumn. Winter. Another summer.
Were we getting better? we wondered. Is all our work resulting in actual skill?
The walls of my newest house filled up. Once again, finished canvasses were stacked on the floor, collecting cobwebs as they slept well out of sight.
And then, a text message arrived:
“I’d like to buy one of your pieces.”
“Yes. I’ll pay shipping, too. Just give me the price.”
An accident. Luck. A door cracked open. A sliver of light shining through. One sold painting. Then five. Then Ten. Thirty. Fifty.
What just happened?
I’m doing this professionally, I said to myself.
An artist friend – Amanda Makepeace – had a booth and gallery at DragonCon that year. Sure, I’d been to D-Con before. No, I never dressed up or really participated in anything. Honestly, I usually went to party and haunt the art show.
The DragonCon art show.
Hundreds of fantasy, sci-fi, and other paintings…all in one place.
Thousands of people.
Look at Amanda’s art. It’s beautiful. I wonder…could I? Nah…right?
One night, while sipping scotch in my house and painting nothing in particular, I asked a few questions. Of my friends. Of Amanda. Of people I knew who’d attended DragonCon.
Ever the impulsive fool, I made a rash decision. I planned to paint seven pieces to submit to D-Con’s art show selection process. Why? I’m not sure. I’d no intention of succeeding. I really just wanted to challenge myself. After all, the three-person jury included three well-known art masters, two of whom I often emulated (Allen Williams & Brom.) How could my small efforts impress long-term professionals?
I plunged in. Did my homework. Bought a boatload of new canvasses. Stayed awake until 3AM painting alone or in the company of others.
And I worked.
On the day DragonCon art show submissions opened, I stood at the ready, my finger poised to submit what I believed in my head-movie were my seven best pieces.
I clicked ‘Submit.’
And I allowed myself to forget what I’d done.
Hundreds of applicants.
Best fantasy artists in the world.
This was a fun ride, but it ends here.
Honestly, I really did forget. There seemed no sense in agonizing over what I’d accidentally fallen into. I told myself I was just a guy goofing around in his kitchen, drinking whiskey, making funny shapes to put on my walls.
And it was true.
A few months later, when the phone call arrived, I awoke as if from a stupor. (No really, I was hungover.) And there it was.
“You’re in,” he said.
I want to tell you the rest of the story. But it hasn’t happened yet.
The DragonCon Art Show hits Atlanta from Aug 30 – Sept 3 this year.
I’ll have 12 original pieces and more than one-hundred prints.
I’ll probably still be there just to party. I don’t have a booth, so really all I’m doing is dropping paintings off for everyone to look at.
I hope you’ll stop by the art show.
And then find me down at Hard Rock Cafe.
Look for me at the bar.
First round is on me.
J Edward Neill
Oh…here’s a few snapshots of me laying out my gallery space.
All paintings are originals. J Edward Neill & Tahina Morrison.