I want to talk about a period in my life I haven’t really before – the early experiences that have shaped my understanding of myself and led me to what I do today.
I can’t explain it, but for some reason, I’ve always felt like I was creative. But creative how? The answer wasn’t so straightforward. I couldn’t paint. I couldn’t draw. I couldn’t sculpt. I didn’t take any art classes in high school. But by accident (or was it fate?) I signed up for an art class at Santa Clara University. I was majoring in economics at the time, and wasn’t enjoying it. The art class made me realize I wanted to work with my hands and that nothing gave me more satisfaction than actually making something and physically being able to see it and touch it. I liked producing things.
It was like nothing I’d ever experienced. I confessed to my Dad that I wanted to be an artist.
“Steve,” he asked me, “Can you paint?”
“Can you draw?”
My Dad and I didn’t talk a lot, but I took the advice he gave me that day to heart. And it’s exactly what I tell my three children today.
He told me to follow my passion, and that if I did what I loved, I’d never work a day in my life. I haven’t since.
I left Santa Clara because it wasn’t an arts school and transferred to San Jose State University, which had a large arts department. I wasn’t exactly the traditional artist, but I learned a great deal from the program. I knew I wanted to go out and make things. And I did just that for the next ten years. I found that I could take fabric and sculpt it. I made stuffed animals with silly faces, essentially taking objects and making them come alive. I sold my creations at art shows up and down the state. Large fairs, small fairs, state fairs, county fairs, wine festivals. You name it – I sold there.
My friends at the time didn’t really understand what I was doing. My childhood best friend Bill Ray had a successful career in San Francisco, and I could barely make the rent. But what I was really learning was why people buy things. If people didn’t buy what I had out, I made something else. My livelihood depended on how well I understood what people wanted, in a way that is much more direct than most people’s jobs.
To be continued…
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