We had the good fortune of connecting with Steve Atkinson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Steve, how do you think about risk?
If you are self-employed, you have to be comfortable in taking risks. That’s just how it is. This is even more true if you go into a field in the Arts. Whether you’re a visual artist (as I am), musician, actor, or dancer, you’re going to have to become friends with the unknown. In my third year of college I was hired at an ad agency and chose to take the job before I graduated. I had to leave what I know, move to the big city, and take the chance of falling on my face. I was extremely nervous about the change since the stakes seemed to be so high for me. But I figured, if I failed, which I didn’t believe I would, I could always return to school. After that, I never looked back. Within 4 years I had transitioned over to freelance illustration. Again, it was a big step with no regular paycheck or benefits. But I knew one thing about myself that gave me the confidence to make that move. I am a self-starter. I don’t need to be told when to work or what needs to be done. So, if the phone stopped ringing and I started getting light on work, I picked up the phone and brought the work in. After a 20 year career in illustration (and a recent marriage), I was ready to start working to make my dream of being a western fine artist a reality. Every day for 5 years, I’d get up in the morning and learn how to paint in oil paint, before I started my workday. I knew if I waited till the end of the day I’d be too tired. On the weekend I’d go outside and paint the landscape on location because it’s tough and the best way to get better as an artist. After those 5 years, I achieved the goals I set for myself to feel ready to change careers and to leave illustration behind me. I’d taken some high-level workshops, gotten some buzz from winning some awards, and gotten representation in some well-respected galleries. So in 2008 I took the plunge and became a full-time fine artist. Was it risky? Sure. But I had done everything I could to mitigate the risk and feel comfortable making the change. Looking back, I realize that it’s the risk that makes what I do so exciting. It makes me prepare more and become as good as I can be and continue to get better. One more thing I’d like to mention about risk and your career. If you’re going to do something like this, it’s not all about you. Make sure your spouse understands what you want and is 100% on board with where you want to go. It’s hard enough to go for your dreams day in and day out. It’s a whole lot harder without the support of the most important person in your life. Luckily, my wife has always been super supportive and my biggest cheerleader. Today, she’s my studio manager and does everything for the studio except sling paint.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Storytelling is what inspires me to create every day. It doesn’t matter if I’m coming up with the image in my head and then bringing it to life on the canvas, or if I’m commissioned to create an image for a collector that they have in their mind’s eye. It’s the thing that keeps me painting and gives me the butterflies I’ve had since I started painting in the first place, Painting a convincing light effect is a close second for me. Whether it’s a nocturne, rainstorm, or sunset. Nature is an endless source of inspiration and challenge. To get better at painting these I take my studio outside and paint on location. When painting directly from the source, I can see and distill what I need to do to paint a believable light effect, there just is no better way and no shortcut.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I live in Prescott for many reasons. The scenery, the western lifestyle, the rodeo, the Phippen Museum, the art community. What nailed it for my wife Ann and me was that we’re centrally located to everything Arizona has to offer. It’s a short day trip to our favorite places. Favorites like the Grand Canyon and Sedona of course, offer plein air painting opportunities for a lifetime. My favorite place on earth, not just Arizona is Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Chinle, Arizona. I would hire a Navajo guide to ride into the park via horseback or take a jeep tour and camp under the stars near Spider Rock, which is a spiritual landmark for the Navajo people. I’ve painted in the park before and soaked in all of the atmosphere. If you want to go into the Canyon you’ll need to hire a Navajo guide. However, no guide is needed to take in the canyon from the many overlooks. If my visitors like architecture, I’d take them to San Xavier del Bac, a church also known as the “White Dove of the Desert.” It is Arizona’s secret jewel, a historic Spanish Catholic church located about 10 miles south of downtown Tucson on the Tohono O’odham San Xavier Indian Reservation. It truly is a jewel of the desert, both outside and inside. Not to mention some of the best fry bread I’ve ever had was here. If we stayed here in Prescott, I’d take them to the Lone Spur for breakfast, then hiking around Watson Lake and the Granite Dells. Pizza lunch at Aroma Pizza in Chino Valley. Walk around the Courthouse Square and the downtown area for some shopping. We’d stop into the Palace Saloon for a drink along the way. And if the rodeo was in town, off we’d go to an evening show.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There are so many people that deserve a shoutout for how they’ve helped in my journey to be able to live my dream. Of course, my wife Ann who’s been the love of my life and my partner every step along the way. My parents have always supported me and never questioned my chosen direction in life. It was always about what I wanted to do with my life and what excited me to work at every day. Beyond that, shoutout to every teacher I’ve had that shared their hard earned knowledge with me, especially my art teachers. I’m paying it forward now through the workshops I teach, and my YouTube art tutorial channel “Steve Atkinson Fine Art”.
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/DrawPaintRepeat (Steve Atkinson Fine Art channel)