I was born a sickly child with a laundry list of allergies. For years I had to see my pediatrician, Dr. Emmanuel Chusid, a kind and insightful man who gradually built up my immune system with regular shots and treatments. He often encouraged his little patients to draw something for him while in the waiting room and we were rewarded with a lollipop. He apparently saw something in my sketches that stood out from the rest and encouraged my Mom to encourage me to keep it up! Art was in my blood from early on. Having to be isolated a lot like the bubble kid, crayons and coloring books were my friends… and I shamelessly admit to being one of those who did my best to color neatly INSIDE the lines lol! Attention to detail became an asset as I moved into the professional arena later in life. As I progressed through grade school, I was often the designated ‘class artist’ doing the bulletin boards, seasonal murals, event posters, etc.
I remember my first sale was in the 6th grade. Mom put me in a neighborhood summer program with a focus on arts and crafts. For one of my projects while there, I painted a woman wearing a pink dress in tempera wearing an afro hair style with a widow’s peak. A man came into the workshop and was very impressed with my painting saying it looked just like his mother! I offered to give it to him but he insisted on giving me five dollars for it predicting that I’d be a serious artist one day. Definitely a boost to my morale. In the 7th grade I sold my next painting of a horse’s head to my step father’s coworker for fifteen dollars. In high school I painted and sold black light posters for classmates, very popular back then, and was the team leader for prom decorating committees for two years. When it came time to decide about college, not being led to believe one could make a living from their art, I chose to go to FIT – Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC. I did have an interest in fashion design and thought it might be somewhat practical in terms of being creative and ultimately earning an income. Well FIT was not a good fit for me. While it would have bee better had I majored in fashion illustration, the energy and requirements were not suitable to my free spirited nature. In the meantime, I was always drawing and painting as it was my passion. My path took a turn when I received a wrong number. He apologized for disturbing me.. I said it was no bother, I was just drawing. He told me he was the chairman of the film department at the School of Visual Arts and we ended up talking for over an hour. I was unemployed at the time so he suggested I come to the school to be an artists’ model. I was a little reticent to pose nude but quickly got over it knowing it was for art’s sake and ended up working enough to pay my bills. Being in this environment everyday, often working from 9 am to 11 pm, I absorbed a lot of what the instructors were teaching while posing. I asked questions of those who inspired me and received positive critiques when I was brave enough to bring my art in for opinions. I also made some amazing friends who’ve lasted to this day. All of this contributed to my creative growth. I met an illustration instructor who asked if I’d be interested in being his assistant. I felt it was a good opportunity so I curtailed modeling to focus on that and my art. I learned a lot about business as well as technique through this experience and stayed about 2 years til I felt it was time to go out on my own. I built up my portfolio with an emphasis on fantasy art while still doing small personal commissions along the way. It was during this time that I met well known artist Boris Vallejo whose work I admired a long time. We lived near each other in NY. He gave me some valuable pointers and I had occasion to model for some of his calendar work as well.
I must say I’ve been blessed to meet some wonderful people on my creative journey. It was around this time that I learned about sci fi/fantasy conventions and started attending a few. In time I began to exhibit my art in these cons from Boston to New Orleans. It was during one of my first visits to a comic con in NY when I met Michael Whelan. I brought a few of my originals to enter into a contest and was able to show them to him. He was very gracious and offered me a lot of encouragement, felt I had enough going for me to make it in the industry. This happened on my birthday.. I’ll never forget that. It meant a lot to receive such positive input from someone of his stature in the industry. I ended up winning the competition at that event too (yay Happy Birthday to me)! Fast forward about a year, my first professional illustration gig was a dream come true! I was an avid collector of Heavy Metal Magazine, loved the artwork so I set up an interview and was given my 1st cover in 1985! To me, that marked the beginning of my pro career. I was commissioned for some book and album cover work which was great along with another Heavy Metal cover in ’91. I’ve exhibited my art in galleries and such over time and have received favorable responses.
In ’04 I moved from NY to Orlando, FL where I was introduced to scenic work for amusement parks. I often wondered who was responsible for creating the colorful and creative environments and how certain effects were achieved. I was looking for a change of pace so I began working in the industry and continued to do so for the better part of 12 years mostly at Universal Studios and Disney. I learned a lot and it was exciting yet challenging at the same time. I sometimes found myself in environments where toxic elements were present and over time it became a problem to my respiratory system. In early ’16 I had an asthma attack that literally killed me, flat-lined. After recovering, it was clear I couldn’t work in those environments anymore though I remain grateful for gaining much experience. I moved to GA to be closer to family and have been reconnecting with my fine art since, back to what has always been my first passion. It’s been a long road from crayons til now with many more journeys to follow!
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