Does a true fisherman lament when he finds himself without tackle? No, quite the contrary, it is more of an exercise for his imagination and creativity to make his own tackle, or go back to a more primitive way of fishing, before sonar or fiberglass. A true fisherman at heart relishes in the idea of flexing his muscle to fashion a hook, line, net, trap, etc. He knows he is making himself a more fish-centric angler, rather than gear-centric and subject to current fads. This can be translated to most any endeavor that one may find themselves wanting to start, or start over, and such is the case with art.
As I have progressed in my journey through many types of media and art forms, I have always taken great satisfaction in starting from scratch, making my own tools and sometimes even making my own tools to make my own tools. In the day and age of the internet and Google, it is getting easier to seek out and get in touch with old masters of dying arts that are nearer to your location and more accessible than one may have thought in the past. In my personal experience, most of these seasoned veterans would love nothing more than a chance to spend time with a younger artist who is willing to listen to their advice, and heed any warnings of past mistakes and time-savers they’ve found along their journey. Most of the time this is free, but it doesn't hurt to show up with coffee or lunch for them. In the capacity of their experience and wisdom, free actually means priceless.
When I did my first festival (circa 1997), I set up on a borrowed table praying for nice weather because I had no canopy. I was peddling a truckload of Artist’s Conch Fungi that my family and I had collected by roaming the forest and pulling them from dead and dying white oak trees. I used a scribe that I made from an old dart and a paint brush handle to scratch pictures on their pure white underbellies of deer, trout and a myriad of Appalachian flora and fauna. Then mounted them on beautiful old dead, gnarled sections of tree roots that we also collected from the local woods. From there, I took any profit from those early festivals and invested in impoving my display and getting better materials to put finishing touches on the art, such as felt on the bottom, or special drill bits that made the screws and fasteners easier to hide. This all results in a snowball of profit, reinvestment, and better quality tools, and at the end of the day, a better finished product for which I, as an artist, can now charge a premium price. With that comes the soul and earned experience that certainly shows through in the art, and is appreciated by a picky collector.
Don’t refrain from learning a new skill or starting a new type of media because you can’t afford the absolute best tools and materials. I am utterly perplexed by the excuse-makers who are unwilling to start blacksmithing because they can’t afford the perfect anvil, or the painter whose canvases are sitting in the corner because they don’t want to use inferior paints, or worse yet, the painting is complete, but they can’t afford the framing. When I started working with metal, I used a sixteen inch piece of old railroad track as my anvil and a wooden baseball bat in a vice for making all the curves and radii involved in making my brass jewelry. Sometimes, when one is starting a new media, or is simply “underfunded,” one must revert back to the smaller snowball and start the cycle over again of creativity, profit and reinvestment that will eventually culminate in quality tools, paint and art. A hidden benefit of applying this process is that your art will take on its own distinct character, and stand out when placed in a sea of cookie-cutter art, where other artist are interested in making their art as “good” as everyone else’s. An innovative artist will redefine how good art can be, and will constantly be described as edgy, eclectic and maybe even the one that steals any show they attend. I’ve carved a little niche out for myself in this regard by originally not being able to afford frames, but I could afford a six-dollar miter box and refurbished old handsaw. With these two items, and a load of elbow grease, I would knock on the doors of farmhouses and ask if I could tear down their old sheds and barns, offering art in trade, and most of the time they were tickled pink to be rid of the eyesore falling down in their backyard. After my kids and I pulled the nails, I could transform these charming old pieces of chestnut and oak into frames for my paintings, oozing with the character that can only be obtained by a lifetime of exposure to the sun and weather. For better or for worse, my paintings would hang almost defiantly side-by-side and in stark contrast to the gallery wrap canvases and sleek black frames so popular with other artists to make their work look like it belongs. Once again, raise the bar and don’t chase good, redefine it.
If those are not enough reasons and examples to get out and make your art at any cost, we can also take into account the plethora of embellishments one can make to items you may already have laying around just waiting for new life to be given to them by a sharp imagination and careful hands. From the beginning of humans having things, human artists have made beautiful things, whether it was a spirit turtle-lovingly painting above the entrance to an Adena lodge 2,000 years ago, or an eagle carved into the butt-stock of a union soldier’s rifle. While my embellishments are usually on a more personal level, as in decorating my own tools for me to enjoy while I’m using them, I have had very positive feedback and sales in painting my watercolors on old book pages and topographical maps that I’ve bought for pennies at a yard sale or rescued from a refuse pile.
In the end, I think the point of all this hard work is to connect other souls to mine in the joy they get from seeing or buying a finished piece, and the reciprocal joy I get in watching them see it, and talking with them about the inspirations or techniques. At the heart of it all, one can be either happy or satisfied, and they are not the same thing. In this age of instant gratification, temporary happiness may come from doing something easy, but satisfaction comes from hard work, diligence and delayed gratification, and is a much more fulfilling sense of accomplishment which all comes out in the end product. It subtly shows itself by way of the intangible character that your pieces will exude when you make your art at any cost.