I have been thinking a lot the last couple of months about what it means to be an artist. The word has so many connotations and often negative ones, as if people still think becoming an artist is this easy thing that rich, privileged kids get to do for fun. Well, that hasn't been my experience nor that of any of the artists that I know, so I thought I would so a shout-out to all my hard working artist peers who pour their sweat and blood into being an artist, which requires being a bit of a renaissance (wo)man. This is installment #1, and is dedicated to my mom, who gifted me my trusty toolbox, my artistic talent and most of my handyman knowledge. Thanks Mom!
Almost all the artists I know are very handy, especially the female ones. Even non-visual artists, particularly those into theater props or costumes. I find it sort of amusing (and terrifying!) when people ask me what I do as an artist - meaning, do I paint? If so, what? But there is so much more to it than simply rendering a picture on canvas. Occasionally people do ask about my process, and I enjoy explaining how I take (amateur) photographs or sketches, collage them together and then create a painting.
And then there's the nuts and bolts part of that question. The part that makes a hardware store my 2nd most favorite type of store to shop in (after the grocery store and before the art store, which has many, many beautiful and unaffordable things). As a painter, my first order of business is making my own stretcher bars, stretching and prepping my canvases, and when the painting is complete, attaching the proper materials to hang the piece on different types of walls. That is pretty standard, but then there is the harder stuff. Like painting walls between every show at the gallery you work at, or tearing up the old nasty carpet and replacing it with faux wood flooring in the building you are helping renovate for your new art collective. The stuff that builds your muscles, or as Calvin's dad would say, "builds character."
And this is not necessarily a bad thing! I know many artists who have worked as house painters, construction workers, home-improvement builders and/or in hardware stores as their day job to support their art. One often reaps benefits from this type of work: discounts on materials, free use of tools, seasonal work that allows you to work on your art, introduction to cheaper, non-traditional materials that inspire new and more interesting art (not to mention the know-how to make your own home improvements when you do become rich and famous and buy a house!). All-in-all I think there is a sort of toughness that develops the more serious one is about pursuing art, and this translates into the work, whatever medium it may be (stand-up comedy, musical theater, poetry). This sort of thing weeds out the people who became art majors in college to study something "easy" from those of us who are (maybe too) serious about our work.