Nobody looks forward to adversity and difficult circumstances, but sometimes the trials and tribulations of life can result in positive change.
Such was the case many years ago in my law enforcement career. I was moonlighting with two newspapers as an editorial cartoonist. Unfortunately, as my cartooning notoriety grew, so did my name recognition.
While on patrol as a police sergeant, more and more people read the name tag on my uniform and said, “Hey, aren’t you the guy who draws those cartoons in the newspaper?”
It was fun to be recognized for my cartoons, but then, not everyone agreed with them. It didn’t take long before newspaper readers started calling the police department, demanding to talk to that “damn” cartoonist.
Trouble with the Chief
The job of an editorial cartoonist is not necessarily to draw funny cartoons. Sometimes, the best editorial cartoons are controversial, biting and hard hitting.
For many newspaper cartoonists, receiving angry letters to the editor and hate mail is celebrated. It means that the cartoons are striking a nerve and creating engagement.
I tended to rely on humor in my political cartoons, but I also did my fair share of blunt and controversial cartoons.
One in particular involved an upcoming district attorney race, and all the related infighting and backstabbing at the DA’s office.
The cartoon was a hit, and a lot of people thought it was hysterical. Except for my police chief. The day the cartoon was published, he called me into his office and slammed the door.
The police chief was a smart man, and he asked me to consider the stupidity of making fun of an organization that investigates police departments.
“Tell me, Weiss, if you or one of our officers gets involved in a shooting, who do you think investigates it? Take a wild guess,” the Chief asked me.
“Uh, the DA’s office.” I answered.
“You’re @!*#*&!!! right it’s the DA’s office! Look, you can’t be a political cartoonist and a cop. It’s too small a county. You’re bringing too much attention on our department. So either be a cop or a cartoonist, but not both!” the Chief yelled.
As much as I loved editorial cartooning, I knew he was right. Begrudgingly, at the height of my cartooning fame, I walked away from it. The newspaper editors tried to get me to stay, but I had no choice.
From India ink to easel
I was depressed for awhile after I quit the editorial cartooning. I continued to draw cartoons at the police department, for promotional announcements, retirements and such.
The problem was that I missed the reader response and engagement I used to have with my editorial cartoons. I published cartoons in law enforcement related magazines and online, but it just wasn’t as much fun anymore.
During this time, I started looking at fine art more and more. My father was an accomplished, weekend oil painter, and I always wanted to try my hand at it.
Before long, I decided to dive in. I bought a french easel, brushes, paints and everything I needed. I bought instructional videos and books. I took a local workshop and found out how little I knew about values, color, edges, and more.
My old garage studio
Back then my wife, son and I lived in a townhouse and there was little room for a painting studio. So, I ended up carving out some space in the corner of our garage.
I spent many evenings in that garage, painting and practicing. A few years later we moved to a house, and I finally had a room that became my studio.
Around this time I discovered the work of Scott L. Christense, and my wife talked me into taking a workshop with Scott in Idaho. I packed up my gear and flew to Idaho.
Scott is a top landscape painter and his workshop turned out to be a life changing experience for me. I was less accomplished than many of the students in the workshop, but I found outdoor landscape painting to be deeply fulfilling and immersive.
Much to my surprise, landscape painting opened creative doors, new friendships and artistic joy. What I lost in giving up my editorial cartooning I gained in my new love for painting.
Me (l) with Scott L. Christensen (r)
The significance of living
Theologian and author Howard Thurman once wrote: “Keep alive the dream; for as long as a man has a dream in his heart, he cannot lose the significance of living.”
Ever since I was a boy I loved to draw. I dreamed of becoming some kind of artist when I grew up. But my Dad urged me to find a career that assured a reliable income, benefits, etc. So, I took the conservative route and pursued law enforcement.
But I never gave up on the dream. Even when the editorial cartooning didn’t work out, I found another way to satisfy my creative passions. I found the answer in landscape painting.
Over the years, as blogging and the expansion of the Internet grew, I found ways to incorporate cartooning back into my creative life. In the end, I was able to embrace both painting and cartooning.
How about you? Are you chasing your dreams? Have you kept an eye on the “significance of living?”
Yes, I know that life gets in the way. There are mortgages, kids to raise, bills to pay. But it’s important to keep the dream alive. It’s vital to make some time for the passions that quicken your heart.
Maybe it’s putting together a little art studio in the corner of your garage. Or a recording studio in the basement. Perhaps a writing desk in some garden shack.
The point is, keep chasing your dreams. Don’t ever give up on them. Even if you have to chase them part time or piecemeal.
There’s a quote in our home that hangs on the wall. It says: “Having it all doesn’t necessarily mean having it all at once.” There ‘s a lot of truth in that.
Keep chasing your dreams, and you’ll never lose the significance of living.
Be the sound craftsmen, and keep chipping away!
Before you go
I’m John P. Weiss, fine artist and writer. Get on my free email list here to receive the latest artwork and writing.
A version of this post was previously published on artplusmarketing.com and is republished here with permission from the author.
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Photo credit: John P. Weiss