Becoming a Happy Painter
There was something gnawing at Bill. At first, he couldn’t put his finger on it. He had a good job, in fact, a couple of good jobs. He was traveling between two of Canada’s largest cities. His bosses liked him. He even had time to paint and make a little money on the side. Now, it was time to make the most important decision of Bill’s life. It was a decision that many people would love to make but are too afraid to make. Bill decided to become a full-time artist.
Department Stores and Shopping Malls
Bill had an agent who was selling his paintings. Bill didn’t paint a lot, but what he painted sold. Bill’s agent took a high commission, sixty to seventy percent, and that did not leave much for Bill. For that reason he didn’t have much incentive to paint a lot.
One day Bill happened to meet the owner of a hardware store and they started talking about art and artists. When Bill told him he was an artist, the owner asked him to bring some of his paintings to the store. After Bill showed his paintings, the owner invited Bill to set up his easel in front of the store and do demonstrations. This was Bill’s first introduction to painting in public. His demonstrations brought customers into the hardware store. Unfortunately, his agent happened to stop by the store one day. He saw Bill and yelled at him for showing people how he painted. They had a big fight and Bill lost his agent.
A few days later another customer came into the store and watched Bill paint. After a while she came up to him and said that he belonged in a better store. Her husband was an executive with the Hudson’s Bay Company. Hudson’s Bay was one of the biggest department stores in Canada. He allowed Bill to give demonstrations in their stores. This was a big step up for Bill. Many more people became exposed to his artwork. Hudson’s Bay would move Bill around the store depending on where they wanted customers to shop. They even began to promote him to attract more customers. Bill began doing demonstrations in other department stores and one of the first shopping malls in Canada.
Bill loved the shopping malls. He loved clowning around with the people who came to watch and they loved it too. They laughed, applauded and even clowned around with him. People began to follow Bill from mall to mall. Some would bring folding chairs and set them up as if watching a television show. He began to tell stories about himself while he was painting and his audiences ate it up. Perhaps this was where Bill developed the charm and personality that came out so well on his television show. Soon Bill was traveling across Canada and the United States.
The Alexander Method™
It was during Bill’s time in Toronto that he began developing the “Alexander Method™”. He wasn’t earning a lot of money for his art and it took too much time to create each painting. The biggest problem was getting each layer of paint to dry fast enough so he could continue. He knew he needed a way to become more efficient or get out of painting completely.
The first thing Bill did was build a large easel. He felt that everything about his paintings had to be big. So he started using a big brush, a big palette, and a big canvas. Bill also turned to a technique that had been around for over 500 years. ‘Alla prima’ or Wet-on-Wet painting allows the artist to stack layers of paint on top of each other. Bill took the technique to yet another level.
Many artists copied this technique, but only one has improved on it in the last couple of years. Bill’s innovations allowed him to paint faster, not only in his studio but also in his demonstrations. Soon he would be using the same technique to create his marvelous images on his television show. Bill could finally sell his paintings and make what he called ‘a happy buck.’
Bill’s first innovation was to cover the canvas with a thin white paint before any other colors went on. This allowed him to mix colors right on the canvas rather than on the palette. The big brush and the larger canvas made this mixing easy. He called this special paint “Magic” white.
His second innovation was to bring back thick paints. The Old Masters used thick paints with a technique called ‘Impasto’. Bill alternated his layers between thin, thick and thin again. He built three layers of paint on the canvas. Only a thick paint would allow him to do that.
His third innovation was his unique palette knife. At first, he made his palette knife for his students from an ordinary putty knife which he shaped on a bench grinder. A combination of a short and longer blade allowed a lot of flexibility in applying large and small amounts of paint to the canvas.
Bill always believed that people should see how he painted. He was painting a fiddle when a musician came up to him and asked how much Bill would charge for the painting. Bill told him one hundred and sixty dollars. The musician offered sixty. He claimed that Bill was charging too much for a painting that took so little time to create. Bill tried to explain that it took him years to develop his technique. It was no different than a doctor who takes ten minutes to remove an appendix yet charges $2,000. The musician just couldn’t accept that analogy and left without the painting. Bill refused to compromise his beliefs for the almighty dollar. Would you?
Bill’s early years as an artist took a toll on his family life. His constant traveling and demonstrations were disruptive to a normal family life. Margarete wanted him to go back to his job as a printer. Bill didn’t want to give up the opportunity to make his living as an artist. They couldn’t resolve their differences. After their daughter Heidi married, Bill and Margaret broke up. The next few years were, as Bill said, “…times filled with darkness and light — bad and good.” He found another art dealer and dove into painting. He still wasn’t getting much for his work and he began to get discouraged. Then his dealer arranged for Bill’s first exhibition at the impressive Casa Loma house in 1962.
Bill was moving up in the art world in Canada and he began teaching. One of his students was the wife of an influential industrialist. She was paralyzed on one side of her body. However, she wanted to learn to paint more than anything. Bill began working with her. It was slow going, at first, but as time progressed, Aurora began to start moving her crippled fingers. In appreciation, one day, her husband surprised Bill with a big box full of his palette knives. He had taken one of Bill’s knives to his company and had them made by his workmen. He even stamped Bill’s name on the handle. Bill was proud of those knives.
Bill’s teaching success inspired him to open a studio and start his own art school. He had all kinds of students from dentists and lawyers to doctors, housewives and factory workers. Classes were on weekends and would start early in the morning and go until early evening. Bill developed a teaching process where he would paint an entire painting in front of the class and then have them do it. He would walk around the room helping each student as a mentor or coach rather than a professor. He also singled out students who excelled and encouraged them to help others in the class. The recognition was empowering for the student and everyone benefited.
Bill was still having a problem with his “Magic” white. It was cracking and yellowing and that was unacceptable. Bill tried many different formulas and combinations of pigment, oil, turpentine, and dryer. He knew that the oil and mixing the ingredients was important. He tried name brand ingredients. He tried to get other people to mix the paint for him. Still, he was not satisfied. Finally, he met the chief chemist of a large paint company. The chemist did some research for Bill. He discovered some techniques that the Old Masters used in Germany during the Renaissance. They found an oil from Africa that didn’t yellow and dried slower than what Bill was using. Working together they created the perfect formula. Bill, finally, had his “Magic” white.
As Bill’s career blossomed, in Canada, he met a young woman who was the office manager of a private club in Toronto. She was, also, a poet and interested in painting. Her name, too, was Margarete. They hit it off right away and it wasn’t long before she and Bill got married. On their first Christmas, together, Margarete wrote a poem for Bill.
“May our destiny give you fortune,
So that the whole world knows in you
What I know today!”
Bill had found his soul mate – someone who believed in him. It was time for the next big step in Bill’s career.