I’ve always been service-oriented. Since I was young, I liked the feeling of doing volunteer work, such as trick-or-treating for UNICEF, instead of going door to door just for the candy. I liked to make things and sell them, especially if it was something that would help others. One summer, when I was about 9, I made handwoven potholders with one of those little square looms. I placed them, neatly arranged, in one of my dad’s shirt boxes, and went door to door selling them for a quarter. I obviously didn’t do it for the money, because what I did make, I spent on more loopers to make more potholders, and then I gave them away as gifts. I just liked making them, and the fact that others not only liked them, but would also use them. My mom still has some of the potholders to this day.
I recently attended a wonderful meeting here in Florida for the “Friends of the Florida Panther” group. This organization is dedicated to saving the panthers here, for they’re on the endangered species list. Going to one of these meetings is so uplifting, due to the passion the people have for these beautiful animals, as well as the entire ecosystem of Florida. When I first moved here a few years ago, I decided to become a member of this organization. Since my art is my passion, I blended the two, and I now create artwork for them that they can use and sell for fundraising. It’s the perfect outlet for two things I truly love.
Having a calling as an artist is a true gift. Your inner drive to create beautiful things is such an awesome feeling. But the ability to do good things in this world with your art is even better. Looking back over my career, I can honestly say that I’ve lived a full life, creating “art with a purpose.”
I’m often asked if I sell my work in galleries or art shows. While I have in the past, it’s something that I’m not currently doing. I have nothing against it, and I love to see many of my students proudly display and sell their art. It’s a thrill to see them sell a piece or win ￼a ribbon. For me, I gain more pleasure from seeing their artwork in shows and galleries than I would ever feel for myself doing the same.
My career has taken a different turn, and my art is on display for different reasons. Being a teacher, I show my art to my students as an inspiration and example of technique. I create it for books, so fellow artists can gain knowledge. I display it here, as a way of illustrating a story. That’s the type of “show” I like to produce.
I also use my art as a way of supporting causes; causes that mean something to me, such as for the Florida panthers. By making my art into something usable, such as framed prints and cards, I can feel a part of something much larger than myself.
I can use my art as a way of touching people’s hearts. For example, through a charity organization in Kansas City called the Dream Factory, I create drawings for sick children, and portraits for families who have lost a child. The art then becomes a memory and an heirloom.
Another way I use my art is through forensic work with the police departments. I create composites through descriptions to help capture criminals, and do recreations of unidentified bodies, to aid in their recognition. Some of my best personal stories come from my work as a police artist. I took some time off from this job when my children were young, finding it too difficult to be “on call,” since crime doesn’t happen between 9-5. Since there are so few police artists (it requires a unique combination of skills), a colleague of mine called me to see where I had been. After giving her what I thought was a good reason of child raising and teaching, she quickly offered her opinion. She said, “The next time a child is raped or murdered, and they need help, just go on drawing pretty flowers! Don’t worry about it!” Holy cow! (She has never been known to sugarcoat things…) The guilt trip, while indeed a bit harsh, did knock me into my senses. I had a gift I wasn’t using, and it was greatly needed. I returned to police work, and have remained there ever since.
My whole career has been based on “purpose.” Every time I’ve followed it with an unselfish motive; one that would help others, I’ve been successful. The one time I did it for fun, money, and fame, I wasn’t. I was an illustrator for NASCAR® for many years. While everything worked fine, and I was very successful in what I did, I lost a ton of money chasing that dream. (In fact, I’m still paying off that grand adventure, and it’s 10 years later. When creating artwork that’s licensed, you have to pay fees, royalty advances, and more, which can add up to thousands of dollars.) My business partner and I couldn’t figure it out. We did everything right, yet it all seemed to fall apart at the last minute; because NASCAR is a fast-paced sport, projects would fall though when a driver got hurt, for example, after I had spent significant time and money on a promotion. In hindsight, I can see where I went wrong. It wasn’t in the business end, for we were good at it. The fact is, I wasn’t trying to help anyone, other than myself. I wasn’t doing it with a purpose, other than trying to become wealthy and famous. That’s contrary to “who I really am,” so naturally, I failed. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything though. It was fun and exciting. And I met lifelong friends. That’s what success is, even if you fail financially. But what I really learned was what my life is like without selfless purpose as the goal. It’s not anything I want to return to.
Today, I continue the mission. My artwork has improved, and so have my motives. I have clarity. There’s nothing wrong with making a good living, but how you do it is how you will end up. Chasing money can take you down a very unhappy and expensive road.
Each artist has a personal mission, and you should share your work with the world accordingly. We all love different things, so follow your own calling, don’t try to imitate the career of someone else. It won’t work! I get repeated emails from people asking how they can become “just like me.” Well, you can’t! And more importantly, you shouldn’t! Listen to what your inner self is asking you to do. There are as many outlets for art as there are artists. You are unique, and the possibilities are endless. During your quest in discovering yourself, always remember: your most important piece of art will be that of creating yourself!
Until next time!
Lee Hammond has been called the Queen of Drawing. That may not be fair these days, since in addition to providing the best drawing lessons, she has also created fantastic books and videos filled with the same easy to follow acrylic painting techniques, colored pencil techniques and more. Click here to see all of the instructional books and DVDs that Lee Hammond has to offer!
• Free download! Easy Acrylic Painting Techniques by Lee Hammond