THREE: The Art Of “What The Lions Saw”: Justine lands in Gainesville
To read in order:
Part ONE: https://barefootjustine.com/2017/08/14/one-the-art-of-what-the-lions-saw-introduction-1-of-2/
Part TWO: https://barefootjustine.com/2017/08/14/two-the-art-of-what-the-lions-saw-introduction-part-2-of-2/
Mike Lenz, a Blues musician and formidable guitarist from Akron dumped some truth on a mother who wanted advice for her son. She asked him, “What advice do you have for a young guitar player and musician?” Mike said, “Work hard, learn all he can, sacrifice, and spend all your time playing and practicing… and if he does all this and he’s good, really good… there’s hundreds of dollars to be made every year… hundreds!”
Yep, that’s about the size of it, whether you are a guitar player or an artist. You know what my gross income was last year? Less than $7,000, and you know what’s of no help at all?
Words.I don’t know how many times I’ve stood and listened to people tell me how amazing my art is, how good I am, how stunned they are by my art… but they can’t even afford to spend $2 on a crummy postcard at my table! They have no idea I’m starving. I even had a woman say to me “Well, artists are supposed to starve.” To say the least, I was furious, I mean that’s the very rubbish that keeps us down. Worse by far than that, once I even had a woman come to my booth and take a photo of the image she liked when she could have bought a big postcard print of it for $3! She snapped the photo, shot me a shit-eating grin and scurried off quite proud of herself. I chased her down! Yeah, damn straight, that’s pure Justine, chased her down, and right in front of her friends I said, “Do you know what you just did? You just took food out of my mouth. Instead of paying $3 for the postcard, you took a photo and ran off feeling all proud of yourself… and now I don’t get to eat lunch today!” and I walked away.
She came back a few minutes later in tears, apologizing.
And you know what… she still wasn’t willing to cough up three lousy bucks for the postcard! I mean, thanks for crying and apologizing and all, but tears don’t pay the rent, not unless your landlord’s a sucker.
Yeah, all that, all the years of rejection slips, of cheap words, of shallow praise, all of that played out in my mind as I showed Tom Hart my portfolio, my creative life and life of dreams was flashing before my eyes. I needed work, I needed a job, hell, what I needed was salvation! As he poured over my portfolio I could feel my guts clench as I waited on the inevitable cheap words, the enthusiastic praise and the pat on the back as he politely, but determinedly, guided me out the door. I knew all the steps to that dance. I was halfway out the door in my mind before I’d even walked all the way in through the door.
But that didn’t happen. Tom is a different sorta person, and thank God for it, too. He listened to my story about how before leaving Ohio I had sold off guitars, art, whatever I could, then laid out twelve envelopes and placed what I figured was a week’s worth of money in each envelope so that once I got to Florida I would have three months of survival money before I was in trouble. You see, I had no safety net, no home in Akron to return to, no one in Florida to catch me if I fell, and now, here I was in Gainesville, down to my last 4 envelopes, and that was it! What then. What if all I got was more lousy praise? Like I said, Tom isn’t like that. He saw in my portfolio that I was not only good, but real good, that I was obviously self-disciplined, that I knew how to work for things that were out of reach of most people, and though I had no way of knowing this, Tom Hart knew what it was like to be a starving artist, having just fled New York City for that very reason himself. I was on tenterhooks as I waited for him to finish looking at my work.
Inside… I was crying.Tom listened to my story, looked up from my portfolio and said, “We need to get some more money in your envelopes.” Wait… what? It was like in a cartoon when the character’s head starts rotating side to side, tongue out, that “ie e-ee ie e-ee ie e-ee” noise coming out. He didn’t show me to the door with a golden shower of cheap words? Almost immediately we got down to throwing together an evening class for me to teach. Tom knew I could draw, but that was about it. Lots of people can draw, lots of people can teach, but few can do both. Tom Hart became my personal savior! He attended my first class, wondering if I could teach, but what he had no way of knowing was just how much teaching I had done. As I was still commuting from Ocala to Gainesville when I taught that class for Tom, by the time I got home there was a lengthy email from him. I doubt he remembers it this way, but I have the email to prove it. In the email he effused over how good a class I ran, how good my teaching was, and he literally said, “I am begging you, begging you, to become my year-long drawing teacher.”
Wow! What I hadn’t known was that Tom needed me, too. It was no less a miracle to him that his drawing teacher had simply walked in off the streets unannounced than it was for me to have walked in off the streets into the warm arms of Tom, SAW and Gainesville. Through Tom I was able to find an affordable apartment as Joe Courter, who was a neighbor to SAW, needed a housemate, and whether he knows it or not, Joe Courter is a major patron of the Arts. Without him and this absurdly cheap rent in this spectacular house on this stunning piece of property, I don’t know where I’d be now. More than friends, Tom and Joe were instrumental in helping me make my life work, and I was teetering on the edge of a major disaster. I’ve been at SAW and in the Lakehouse with Joe ever since July 4th five years ago, and I’m family in both places. I even take care of Tom and Leela’s magical daughter Molly Rose. I think I was the first person Tom gave a key to his school to, and the first person to babysit his daughter. Yeah, sometimes there are people out there who will give an artist more than a pat on the back, they’ll give us work, trust, and something far more important… a sense of family.
Tom’s my brother.
Most people don’t trust artists at all, primarily because they don’t understand them. I used to joke that I’d go into a meeting with a potential client with a portfolio full of drawings of pumpkins, squash and eggplants, and the client would smile, then shake their heads as they slid my portfolio to me, saying, “You draw pumpkins, squash and eggplant really well… but we need someone who draws watermelons.” Then I met an agent who I told this joke to, he shook his head and said, “That’s not really funny. I represented this artist who had a lot of drawings of horses in his portfolio, I showed it to a client who refused to work with him because they needed an artist who drew cats.”
You know what being an artist really teaches you? It teaches you that people really are that stupid.I wasn’t fully prepared for where the SAW journey was going to take me. Soon after Tom took me under his wing I began working for DARPA on a comics project meant to help veterans with their PTSD, and soon job after job came through SAW, mostly jobs local to Gainesville, the very jobs that paved the way for me getting the job of illustrating “What The Lions Saw” for the Matheson. And, man, I’ve done it all, from designing murals to animation for UF, from comics and T-shirt designs to set design for the ballet! Soon I am going to share some of the images I’ve done since I’ve lived in Gainesville, and what I am sharing is by no means complete. I still don’t make enough money to live, not by most people’s standards, but I’ve done a ton of work here.
I’m gonna share some of that work with you next time, and then we’re gonna dig in and see how the process of making this new book for the Matheson is like.
NEXT: What I just said above…
For more about Justine: barefootjustine.com