I must have been, maybe, seven years old. I was visiting the school library during the free reading time they allowed in primary school. I always loved the scent of old books and wooden shelves that was so characteristic of libraries back then. That, and the aged wisdom that came with those books. Perhaps I am an old soul, at least I always felt like one.
The book was a collection of paintings by various artists. The bright Picasso on the front cover drew my attention right away. I don’t recall the name of that book, just the impact the visuals made on me. It took my young breath away. I knew it caused a stir inside me. I felt that I was looking at something more meaningful to me than anyone else in the room and that this was somehow going to be my special thing. I was meant to be a part of this brotherhood of artists. That day gave birth to a lifelong passion that would impact my life in ways both large and small.
The pages in the book were lined with colorful works by Miro, Renoir and even Dali. They turned my world upside down. I mean they literally depicted it in a new light, a new perspective; their figures morphing abstractly into one another. Their bold ideas of love and beauty were reinterpretations for me, setting forth inspiring and transformational ways I would see life. My universe shifted. Those concepts would continue to invoke passionate dialogue and thought throughout my adulthood when I later made numerous excursions to galleries and museums.
Truth be known, it didn’t take long for people to share their hesitations about my new-found vocation, even though I was only seven years old. I recall my baby sitter’s response when I said I wanted to become an artist when I grew up. She looked at me like I was crazy and said as much. Mind you, her ideals were not much different from those of my own immigrant parents. They meant well, of course. They worked hard so they could see their own children live better, richer lives than they had.
So, my dreams of becoming an artist were met with the typical “It’s not practical” and “How are you going to earn money with that?” For me, like for many other young South Asian Canadians new to the country, only science, medicine or law were acceptable career options. And, although I did excel at all of these at school, it was never with the same zeal that I would approach a charcoal pencil and a sketch pad.
Somewhere along the way, in my teens, I decided they were all right, and following secondary school, I went on to pursue business. I hated every second of it. First-year economics class felt like a prison to me, and that wasn’t far from the truth as I sat there, another unidentifiable number in a class of over 200. So, it was no surprise when I left after my second year to open my own business. A love of fashion helped me create a high-end men’s clothing store which I ran for the next 12 years with my best friend and business partner. Yet, that too was never quite satisfying, and the recession of the 90’s helped seal its fate. I never gave up my love for art; it just sat dormant and waiting for the right time to rear its head.
After I closed the business, at 30, I found myself at a crossroad. I now had a wife, two children, a mortgage and all the anxiety that came along with them. Then, a new career in printing showed up. I was hired to oversee print shops for a family friend and, low and behold, that introduced me to the world of graphic design. It was like another revelation.
I became very interested in the idea of sitting on a computer and creating inside this new medium of art. I really liked the discipline it allowed, along with the unmistakably forgiving nature of the correction tools found in the software. I could now create whatever was in front of me, on screen as opposed to doing work in a studio. I picked up a mouse and never looked back. What I couldn’t teach myself at home, I discovered in the classroom of well-known local colleges where I began decade-long studies in the disciplines of digital media, classic art, urban design and web production. The world had now come full circle.
I’ll confess, however, in the beginning, I was nervous and, at 32, I was easily the oldest in any of my classes. The whole thing was daunting, but I knew I wanted to know everything I could about this new medium. That, coupled with my love for the art and the promise I quickly showed in the field, was enough to fuel this new venture. It also helped to lessen the self-judgment.
Once started, you get into the Zen of it. You block out all the noise and create a brand or identity. It’s similar to the acrylics I used to paint early on in art classes. It is creation, like any other, perhaps just a different type of inspiration. It’s also a wonderful thing to do when feeling anxious – to sit down with a stylus and tablet and draw whatever comes to you. It’s such a joyful feeling.
There is something amazing about the experience of having a client love the new identity you created for them. And, then, seeing that identify explode onto marketing campaigns, print ads, and commercial videos. That wonderful and satisfying feeling comes from knowing I had something to do with conveying the message my clients wanted to share.
Graphic design helped take me into a whole new stage of my life. It allowed me to meet incredible people and great talent. It also helped to grow my own design firm and gifted me with some of the most rewarding highlights of my career, not only personally and professionally, but financially as well. Art opened the doorway to the world of marketing and advertising. Then, what followed were executive positions in businesses I couldn’t believe I was helping to run.
Not only was there definitely money in art but, if looked for and created correctly, a life of joy and satisfaction. When as a child your instinct tells you what you are destined to do, follow it. The right dream will take you places you couldn’t imagine. Consequently, I have reignited my love affair with brush and canvas as I approach mid-life. The awaiting doors to a new art studio call out to me as new clients now request commissions of my fine art. This classic medium, with its unforgiving one-take brush stroke and hours of reflection on your last choice of colour, has crept its way back into my psyche and so therein lies a whole new journey for me.