Thursday, April 27, 2017

Painting Parent Chris Benavides

How many children do you have? What are their ages?

My wife Tina and I have 2 grown boys. Their ages are 28 and 24.

How did your artistic career begin?

I’ve actually had 2 artistic careers. I currently have a day job as an Illustrator for the American Greetings Corporation in Westlake, Ohio. I’ve been working for the same company for nearly 40 years.

What you might call my second artistic career in painting began in earnest only about 4 years ago.

When I was in art school I dabbled in oil paints and I liked it a lot. But being young and inexperienced I couldn’t conceive of an actual job that would pay you to paint in oils. My actual major was fashion illustration. I chose fashion illustration not because I loved fashion so much, but because I loved drawing the figure. Most decent sized cities then had one or 2 newspapers with a fashion department that needed someone that could draw the figure in that long, elegant style as well as render accessories. The idea that I could actually get a job drawing the figure sounded great to me. As newspapers started closing down (for various reasons) fashion illustration kind of died as a possible career path, except for in some very large cities. There are still some great fashion illustrators out there, but they are much fewer. The other option for someone who could draw the figure well, at least locally that I knew of, was the greeting card company, American Greetings. At that time they were always interested in someone who could perform this skill. Growing up we also had a family friend who worked there and who became a kind of art mentor/big sister/angel to me. She always encouraged and supported me to pursue my artistic abilities and actually even offered to pay for me to take my first series of Saturday morning life drawing classes for kids at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Her job always seemed like a dream job to me so right after graduating I applied there and was hired in 1977 at 20 years of age.

What is your Parenting/work/art situation?

My wife and I met and both worked at American Greetings and maintained our careers (more on that later) while raising our boys. It wasn’t always easy and I’m sure we made lots of parenting mistakes, but they survived (and we did as well---barely, lol). And they actually still kind of like us and don’t mind doing things with us so I guess we weren’t so awfully terrible.

Do you now or have you ever worked other jobs while pursuing your art. How do you preserve time and energy for your art. Are there ways that your art benefits from your other job?

At this stage of my career I find the pull to fine art to be very strong. So strong in fact that I’ve decided to take an early retirement from my job as a commercial illustrator so I can pursue my fine art objectives with more consistency. The fact that I’ve been an illustrator in a creative company, surrounded by lots of creative people and inspiration certainly hasn’t hurt. It’s meant that as someone thinking about painting seriously, I haven’t had to start from zero in terms of experience with things like color, composition and certain aesthetic sensibilities the way perhaps a hobbyist might. During the time that I have worked and tried to improve as a painter I’ve had to force myself to go down to my basement studio even when tired. It’s not always been easy, but I’ve found that even when I’ve practically had to drag myself off the sofa after work and dinner, usually around 9pm or so, I would get a second wind and am able to paint until around midnight, meaning around 3 hrs per night, usually around 3-4 times per week.

I would also add that although I didn’t attempt this when my kids were in their very needy years, I did during those times have other interests that helped me retain my sanity. I’ve also been blessed with a very supportive wife, who is very talented herself, and without whom I don’t know if I would have been able to commit myself to my art the way I have.

Do your children get involved with your art?

My boys have only gotten involved in my art by way of modeling for me on occasion. We did try over the years to expose them to art as much as possible and our oldest son has some talent. Our youngest son never really showed much interest or aptitude for the visual arts, but does have musical ability.

Do they inspire aspects of your art?

I would say they inspire my art indirectly rather than directly. I can’t say that I consciously pull from my experiences and memories of them growing up and try to infuse it into my art in some way. But I am conscious of being dedicated and persevering as an example to them that you can accomplish dreams you may have if you’re willing to do the work. And I have to admit that it doesn’t feel terrible when they express their pride in my work or accomplishments to their friends when they come around.

How has having children changed your artwork?

I can’t say that having children has changed my artwork, because I’m really very young, in a fine art sense, and started painting seriously again after they were done with high school and needed me a lot less. Even though they are basically adults now I am conscious of how my kids perceive my art. I don’t ever want to create anything that will embarrass either them or myself. Although I strive to be an all-around painter, my favorite subject matter is mostly figurative. And even though I’m not opposed to nudity when done in good taste or in a proper context, I’m essentially a fairly modest person and would like my paintings to reflect an uplifting ethos that would speak to their sense of the more positive virtues. I guess what I might be trying to say is that I don’t want to reflect in my art anything which is contrary to who they know me as, if that makes sense.

How does making time for artwork influence other household tasks?

At the present time household tasks actually take priority over my personal artwork. It varies some, but usually when I come home from work it’s do some chores until dinner, a short breather, maybe some more chores, then hopefully painting in the evenings with whatever time remains.  I always try for at least 2 hours straight painting time. Three is good. More than three means I’m up too late and will be tired at work and not functioning well the next day. If I find that I can’t get in 2 hours of painting then I often like to go down to my studio and just putz around, clean, straighten up, organize, and maybe just think about what I want to paint next.

Have different ages of your children been more difficult to make time for artwork and in which ways?

Like I said, I wasn’t really thinking about doing my own personal art as they were growing up. It was fulfilling and satisfying enough then for me to do the artwork I was doing at my day job as an illustrator.

How do you encourage your children to be artistic?

When they were little, mostly by doing and letting them watch. My wife would sometimes do freelance or some other project when they were very small and she might have one of them in a high chair with some paper and crayons and just let them go at it. If one of them showed an interest we might let them go to a summer art camp for a week just for fun.

Do you feel extra pressure as an artist to raise your children to be artistic?

I never felt pressure to make them into artists. We always just wanted them to find their own way. If they ever showed an interest or aptitude in an artistic direction we would encourage them and help them. But we tried to round them out as people and so they also did things like play sports and learn musical instruments, basically in order to experience different things that might possibly click for them. I feel like the life of an artist, whether commercial or fine art is not really an easy one. People don’t think of art as competitive but in many ways it is. There are lots of very talented people out there and if you are not driven and dedicated to whatever craft you choose, then you’d better find something else to make a living at, because there is surely someone else out there that is managing to do so and putting in the time, and that person will either take the job you were hoping for or the gallery space that you wanted to get into. I hope this isn’t discouraging to anyone that might read this, but I don’t believe we do people a kindness when we give them false hope. That said, each person has to decide for themselves how far they hope to go and what they are willing to sacrifice to get there.

In what ways does being an artist make being a parent harder or easier?

I think being an artist can make life fun for kids. The projects, the imagination, and just seeing the world in interesting and unique ways. Kids love those things. But it can also make it harder because as artists we’re not typically gifted with left-brain strengths. So for example, we stopped being useful in helping our kids with things like math assignments somewhere around the third grade.

Do you think it effects men and women differently, being an artist and a parent?

In our case, I think our male and female differences are pretty common to most people. But it’s hard to say if it affects us differently as parents because my wife and I are both artists. Also our situation was probably a little unique to many marriages in that my wife was the major breadwinner in our family and was more career-oriented.

 Do you think being a parent affects the way you are perceived as an artist?

I can’t say I’m even sure how I may be perceived as an artist.

Are there any other things about Balancing Painting and Parenting that you would like to share?

In my opinion you may never perfectly balance parenting and your personal artwork/career. In my way of thinking our children had to come first. I made a choice to make art my career. They didn’t choose to be born. They never had a say in my career choice. If art is your chosen career path then you may have to suffer the same things that non-artists do. Things like pangs of regret or guilt over the time your kids get from you. I think if the route you’d like to pursue is that of full-time artist and parent you will need to be extremely disciplined and allot your time carefully. One thing I didn’t mention before that I’ll share is that when our kids were very small we were never completely sold on the day care route, even though we did it for a while. It came to a point that we decided that we wanted to have greater influence over our kids lives than a stranger and so we both inquired about part-time options at work. As it turned out, that option was not open to my wife, but it was open to me and so I took it so that as parents we could be more available to our kids. It doesn’t sound like a huge sacrifice, but that choice kept me from advancing in my career the way other full-time co-workers did. Not to mention that the expectation was practically the same as that of a full-time employee, so it wasn’t easy. But I felt like the sacrifice was worth it. It was never an issue for me because they mattered much more and I would do it all again. But every situation is different and each person must make their own choices as to what is best for their family. I understand that times can be tough economically for many of us and dual income families seem to be pretty much the norm. But if you can at all swing it, I would encourage parents to make sacrifices that matter for their kids. Painting will still be there when they are moved out and that time comes very quickly. I’m proof that pursuing your personal art goals later in life is still meaningful and fulfilling. Heck, I recently turned 60 (did I just say that?) and pursuing my personal art goals now gets me to feel very engaged, enthused, and energized.

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