Interview for An Art Student

Posted: February 15, 2021 in Uncategorized

My friend Kerry Jackson teaches art at a Christian School. Each year he has his students approach a working artist to interview them about what an artists life is like. I am always thrilled when I get asked for one of those interviews and because I thought this one went particularly well, I thought I would share it here. It’s a little long, but it really speaks to life as a Christian creative.

Sow into the lives of the next generation of God’s creative children. You never know what God will do.

My name is Dave Weiss, I have been making a living in some form of art most of my adult life. Now that being said, it has not always been the kind of art I wanted to make. I’ve designed everything from grocery store circulars to stage sets. Today I pastor a church and I have a traveling ministry where I use art as a tool to communicate the Gospel. While my church may not pay me to do art, they benefit from the art and this is probably the most freely creative “job” I have ever had. Here are my answers to your questions.

  1. When did you first become interested in art?

I cannot remember a time when I was not interested in art. My mom has drawings I did when I was three years old. I think I was born with the “art bug” and it never really left me. When I was a little kid all I wanted to do was make art and tell stories. Looking back on that time I could not have envisioned how it would have happened, but today, at age 57, I make most of my living making art and “telling stories” albeit true stories from God’s Word.   

2. Were you self taught, or did you take classes?

As far as art goes, I am largely self taught. I wanted to go to art school straight out of high school, but my parents did not see that as a viable way to make a living. In fact they said I would starve. Truth be known I’ve spend most of my adult life struggling with my weight, so they were wrong, lol. I ended up going to school to be an electronics engineer which other than a few friends I met there was a disaster. I flunked out, came home and began to hustle to be an artist, doing mostly graphic design work and a lot of freelancing. While it is possible to do things that way, I can honestly say, I know for a fact that I lost a lot of opportunities to people with degrees. Now to some extent that is changing in our world, but I do still highly recommend that anyone interested in being a working artist get a degree. However, I will also say, get real all the real world experience you can, and do not rack up a lot of student loan debt. When I went full time in the ministry, the first thing I did was pursue a degree. I found an inexpensive school that works primarily online. I recently finished my Masters in creative arts ministry and have just started working on my doctoral dissertation in creative arts ministry. 

3. With your art, do you have a specific medium you like to use?

Much of the work I do with my ministry is acrylic painting. I have a similar ministry to Mr. Jackson in that I do very fast painting to use as the jumping off point to my speaking/preaching. Acrylic dries fairly quickly and lends itself to this kind of work. I also like to teach acrylic painting as an outreach for my church, In my personal work, I often work in pen and ink (often using Sharpies due to their convenience). Sharpies are not archival and they will not last the way other inks will, but with my work, I take my drawings and scan them, “painting” them digitally in Photoshop and marketing them online as prints, shirts and other similar things.   

4. Does your art hold a similar theme and type or do you like to play around with different subject matters. 

My ministry work is primarily Christ related, though I sometimes work in symbolic imagery because it makes people guess what I am doing during the painting process. The more people wonder about what I am doing, the more engaged they will be when I begin to speak. When it comes to my personal work, I am predominantly a cartoonist/illustrator. My earliest influences were the so-called “low-brow” artists like Ed “Big Daddy” Roth as well as other artists that worked in the “Kustom Kulture” era of the 60s and 70s. A lot of my work revolves around strange creatures. I love doing this type of work because it gives me the chance to do things that never existed. Oddly enough, part of this was also influenced by my faith. I was asked to preach at my friends church. My friend uses King James exclusively. I wanted to preach on 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation, the old has gone and the new has come. When I went to the King James, I saw that it says New Creature. I began to think of all the creatures I’ve drawn in my life and wondered if there was a way I could create creatures to the glory of God. One of the things I most feel called to is to be a kind of bridge between the church and the art world. Some of this “more secular” work is one way I can bridge the gap. You can see some of my work for this at http://daveweissamericanpop.deviantart.com. and you can see clips of my ministry work at https://amokarts.wordpress.com/online-media-kit/new-video-clips-of-my-speakingpainting/

5. When do you feel most artistic and creative?

I often get my best ideas in the early morning and the most inspired ones are when I wake up with them. I also work well when I’m alone and it’s quiet. Once I have the idea I can work with background noise, but getting the initial ideas requires quiet time. I am also a writer but when I am writing I need silence. 

6. Have you ever had an artists block and how did you help get over it?

I have had artists block, but when you are trying to be a professional artist, blocked artists starve. I also sort of laugh at artists who wait for inspiration to strike, because again we can’t afford to sit around and wait very long. Inspiration, for the most part, is not something to be waited for, it’s something to be hunted down. My first source of inspiration is prayer, especially for the work I do for my ministry and most of my best ideas come from prayer. Other than that, I usually just start. I’ll start doodling in my sketch book and see what materializes. That way even if it doesn’t fit the project, I will have at least created something I can use later. I can also hit a block in the midst of a project. For this reason I will often have two projects going at once. That way I can break off the blocked project and do a little on the other project which is often enough to break the block. I also sometimes use prompts, to the point where I have written several books of prompts and I now have a Facebook page called The Daily Creative, where I post a daily creative challenge. I’m embarrassed to say that I just restarted that page, because for a little while I got too busy to maintain it.

7. What is your favorite type of art?

I love cartoon style art, low brow art, and pop art. Of course I also can get lost in an art museum for hours and I value the work of the great masters greatly, but it’s the bright colorful graphic work of the pop art and low brow artists that I really connect with. There is one caveat though. I really do not like work that is shocking on purpose, especially work that is offensive. I tend to keep it clean. 

8. Do you have a role model in the art world and why?

That is a difficult question. I have a lot of artists whose work I really admire, but when it comes to role models, I tend to follow people who do what I do. I love to follow Mr. Jackson, because his work is so cool and we do similar things. I originally connected with him because of our similar interest in creative arts ministry. We physically met because we were both doing work with a pastor here in PA and we’ve since worked together many times. I also love to follow an artist named David Garibaldi who does the most amazing speed painted portraits. He was the warm up act for the most recent Kiss tour and I have had the opportunity to meet him and he was gracious and helpful. I really admire a lot of the comic artists because they have to be prolific. Basically I like artists who do the work. 

9. Do you have any advice for younger artists?

Zechariah 4:10 says “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin…” In the world of art, I think this says, do the work. It’s okay to start small, but start. As a matter of fact, expect to start small. Education is important, especially with regard to getting a job, but there is no substitute for doing the work. Look for inspiration and do the work. You don’t have to Christian work to be a Christian artist, but you do have to seek the Lord and do work that honors Him. If you feel led to do work in the church, offer your services to your pastor and see where it leads. I am doing what I do today because my pastor asked me to paint a backdrop for Vacation Bible School. That one project changed the course of my entire life. There’s those small beginnings again. If you feel called to commercial work, find someone who needs what you do and offer your services. Redesign and sign or a logo. 

Put your work out there for the world to see. Not everyone will like it and you need to be okay with that. Workthat everyone likes is usually not that great. Instead find what you do, do it to the best of your ability and find the people who genuinely love it. Then create for them. They are your audience. Take advantage of digital opportunities to get your work out there. You can have a gallery at deviantart.com. You can have a t-shirt/merch  shop at zazzle.com and cafepress.com. You can find freelance jobs on indeed. You won’t see everything you create and you won’t get every job you go after, but it all builds experience. When I started in this, I had to get past the gatekeepers to get my work out. Now all you need to do is put your work out there. One last thing, there is a big difference between a caring critic and a troll. Trolls will just want to tell, you your work is garbage, a caring critic will give you ideas on how to fix what’s broken in your work. Ignore the trolls and hold on tight to the caring critic. They will help you become all that you can be.   

Be open to different opportunities. My job title today is not artist, it’s pastor, but I am here to tell you, this is the most creative thing I have ever done in my life and I do just about as much art as a pastor as I ever did as an artist. I am not saying you should be a pastor unless that is what God calls you to do. What I am saying is you can be an artist in just about any field. If God put artistic ability in you, He has a purpose for it and if you ask Him, He will show you what that purpose is. Be faithful and do the work. 

Build a strong portfolio. If you feel called to fine art, find a working artist who will work with you and take their advice. Know yourself and know your boundaries. Don’t do something today that you’ll be ashamed of tomorrow. (I’ve had several of these experiences where the money was good and the job was bad. I could have used the money, but today there would be work in the world I would be ashamed of. I praise God I turned them down, but the temptation was real.) Lastly there is no substitute for doing the work. Finish what you start and know that if you do the work, you will continue to improve. Work like you’re working for God, because in a very real way you are. May God bless you. Just make art.     

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