Sunday, November 18, 2012

My Career in Art

This is a shirt.  I thought about photographing it or cropping it, so that it wouldn't look like a shirt, but it is after all a shirt.  I am not an artist.  I may draw and paint, and use the tools of an artist, and sometimes even make art.  I don't think that makes me an artist.  In the same way that I am not a singer, a plumber, a driver, a stripper, a writer or a dog walker.  I'm not employed as an artist; I don't spend most of my waking hours in art, and history will likely not remember me as an artist (or at all probably.)

I used to be an artist for a little while.  I was just finishing high school.  My sister was a student at Pasadena City College. She made a friend whose parents owned a women's apparel company.  They did a lot of screen printed tee shirts.  I'm not sure how it came up because I wasn't there, but my sister met the art directer at the company.  My sister is not given to understatement, so she told him I was an artist.  I think she meant that I drew well and liked to take art classes.  I think she even showed him stuff I had drawn.  The art director agreed to meet me.  He didn't interview me; he could barely speak English.  He gave me a picture of a chrysanthemum and told me to draw it.  So I did.  I think I spent a couple of hours on it, and when it was done, the art director said it was nice.  It wasn't a test, it turned out; it was my first day of work.

This was before the advent of personal computers.  The art director (hereafter "my boss") would go to the downtown L.A. library and borrow pictures he thought would make good shirt designs.  There was a fashion designer too who was hired soon after me.  She'd draw shirts with little indications of where the art would get printed and some idea of the subject.  I'd render drawings in pencil, and then finish them with ink or paint or whatever my boss decided would look best.  The art for the shirt above was airbrush over pencil.  I did the pencil; the boss did the airbrushing.

Meanwhile I enrolled in college.  When I explored possible fields of study, I decided not to be an art major.  I thought, based on my experience, that it would be no problem at all to get a job doing art while I pursued liberal arts for the love of learning.  The art department at my job grew by a couple of people.  And when it was time for the department to get smaller again, they cut the part-time untrained college student.  I had the job for less than two years.  I think when I got a passport, it said I was an artist.  I looked around for another job doing art, but people wanted to see a portfolio.  I had some drawings and some shirts.  My next job was preparing fast food.    


  1. Barbara, I just love your stories. This is a neat glimpse of your early art career!

  2. Hi Barb, loved your story. Glad you didn't give up creating art....

  3. Enjoyed your story about your creative phase of your life..

  4. Dear Barbara,
    Thank you for sharing the story. I'm happy to know you keep enjoying art up to now!
    Best wishes, Sadami

  5. My first job was assembling bongs, and yet I don't consider myself a drug addict. Great story but unlike you with your shirt - I haven't a bong to show for my troubles.

  6. MMoOMm! Don't say you won't be remembered.

    Otherwise very lovely post.