The face of excitement and disbelief. It looks something like this:
On Wednesday, April 20th, I got to showcase my art amongst a host of other talented artists at the House of Blues downtown San Diego.
There was so much color and life beaming from my booth and so many people drawn to it that even I couldn’t believe it. Every time someone wanted to buy a print or a postcard I felt like a giddy school girl, “thank you, God, thank you!” I’d say under my breath as I gave them their change.
While I’ve painted, colored and created my whole life, it wasn’t until January of this year that I actually decided to do something about it. I was scrolling through Instagram one morning (guilty) and I came across a picture of Micah Bournes, a talented spoken word artist. I don’t remember the picture, but I will never forget the caption: “today marks four years of being a professional artist.” Upon reading it I said out loud “how come I can’t do that?” There was no audible response, but I felt like God responded “who says you can’t?”
It caught me off guard, while also invoking some sort of hope, a spark so to speak. “Well, I don’t know,” I responded, and as I thought about it I realized the only person that had the power to keep me from being a professional artist was me. “You already are an artist, but if you’re going to do art, do it with all that you have,” God said… or something like that.
I put my phone down and for the first time in my life I claimed it out loud… “I’m going to be a professional artist.” I sat in the truth of that before speaking up again, “wait, can I start over?” I said to my audience of one, “I AM a professional artist!” It was silent. I felt strong, capable, excited. “Now what?” I asked. I realized I didn’t know where to start. “Start with what you know,” God said, “worry about the big stuff later. If you want to paint, then paint.”
And that was the beginning of pursuing this art journey. Baby step after baby step, getting back in the habit of creating and painting after a long hiatus due to life’s ups and downs. Being in the act of painting reminded me of my love for it, and in my love for it I talked about it, and in talking about it word spread and as word spread opportunities opened. I went from painting paper in my room to whatever I could get my hands on and whatever anyone would offer, including this:
And much like us as people, this is still very much under construction. See video interview about painting an RV here:
I was a part of my first art show in January, followed by a live art show where I painted to music. Painting live on the spot became an art form I didn’t know I loved until I tried it!
In February I hosted a free art event in my community with other local artists where we provided art materials to make Valentines cards and a photo booth with hand painted props for people to take pictures:
In March I took part in a benefit concert in Malibu, California where I got to paint live to music in support of MADE IN THE STREETS, an organization dedicated to helping kids on the streets of Nairobi, Kenya.
See video here:
As I created more and shared more, eventually I got the chance to do my first mural and it took place in an art store in the community where I live. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect opportunity! Go visit the ArtBox in Ocean Beach, California (I’ll have art hanging there this month!)
And then there was April, taking part in creating art all over San Diego, from Heartsleeves Coffee in Little Italy to Culture Brewing Company in Solana beach, providing materials and space for other people to let their art out!
I found out in February that I was selected to be a part of RAW SAN DIEGO and it was the push I needed to take myself seriously and believe that I was capable of creating as way to live life, to be more me and more alive (and to pay the bills). I spent two months in preparation for RAW SAN DIEGO, to get to showcase my art at the House of Blues… I honestly couldn’t believe it was going to happen.
Weeks before the show I found out I was picked as one of the San Diego artists to go on the news and talk about the upcoming art show with RAW SAN DIEGO. I found live TV to be a bit different than me editing in my room, but after my nerves wore off and I popped out from behind my painted surfboard, I was able to keep it together enough to express how I find the process of painting to be a lot like life.
(You can see clip here: RAW SAN DIEGO CHANNEL 6 NEWS )
And before I knew it… there it was, April 20th, and all I had worked so hard for came out in the form of color and life and happy dances and… well, this…
As people stopped by my booth they couldn’t help but smile and take pictures. “The color, the life that is coming from this booth,” people would say, “it makes me so happy!” People used words like “vibrant” and “alive” to describe the corner where I was set up and I couldn’t have asked for better descriptions. That’s what I want my art to do for people… I want it to inspire them, not just to do art, but to do whatever it is that makes them feel alive. I want people to feel something when they see the colors of life caked on a canvas over a secret message that says they are loved. (Yes, I write on all my canvases before painting over them to give them an even deeper meaning than what is seen on the surface).
I want people to know they matter, as does every little detail of their life… the little things, they all add up and matter. I don’t know how else to express that other than through art, be it in words or color. I think we all have a lot to offer this world, and it looks different for each person. I may not have a lot to give financially, I may not be able to build a new building or teach a foreign language, I may not be able to do what a lot of other people can do, but I’m learning that instead of comparing myself to the giftedness of others, I’m just going to work on my gifts and offer my gifts to the world. There may be a lot I can’t do, but I can share my heART and hope it encourages someone else to share theirs.
So was the show a success? Well, it depends on your definition of success. I only sold prints and postcards. I didn’t sell any big pieces or walk away feeling financially successful. I get it, we’re all struggling artists to a certain degree. I admit, I wanted to be able to say I sold everything so I could prove to myself and everyone else that I am an artist. But I didn’t, I didn’t sell everything. In fact, aside from the prints and postcards, I only sold one little original piece. But, instead of being bummed about the size of the piece that sold, I’m going to walk the talk and be grateful for the little things.
That little piece matters because each little piece over time adds up, be it with art or choices we make. The little things matter, and I can’t preach it if I don’t believe it, which is why I am so beyond grateful that little piece sold. The piece was called “little waves” and much like that painting, I am making little waves in this world, hoping to color it with hope and life… little by little, piece by piece.
From that little piece I learned that it’s not about how much I sell that determines my worth or defines me as an artist, it’s not even the amount of money made that determines success. Being true to myself and refusing to give up on who God made me to be… that is success. The smiles that evening, the hope in the conversations I had… that is what I wanted to happen in sharing my heART with people, my excitement alone had me dancing all night… and I would say it was above and beyond a success.
See video featuring “little waves” (before I knew how much it would impact me) here:
And as with any successful event, they are never done alone. I could not have done any of it without the help and support (physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally) without my friend and roommate, Jena. She showed me grace and patience and even loved me through my first diva moment (and hopefully my last). She brought me iced coffee while I was setting up, and seeing as I tasted something sweet after asking for it black, I jerked the straw from my mouth and yelled “WHAT IS THIS!?”
I know, I was embarrassed the second it came out of my mouth, realizing that even in our best efforts to love people, sometimes we still fall short. I apologized and walked back to Starbucks with her, telling the barista about the monster boss lady who didn’t want sweetener in her coffee. Jena and I laughed, took a deep breath and enjoyed the rest of the night together.
All of this to say, do what you love, be true to yourself, find your people who will encourage you along the way and don’t let them go. It’s hard letting people get to know the sides of you that aren’t as pretty, but those who will love you through your ugly moments (we all have them) are crucial to you knowing you are loved, not based on what you do, but simply because you are you. Being the individual you were created to be is important, and being that individual in the context of community is vital.
This is life, it’s hard sometimes, but it’s beautiful… and we’re all in this together!
Thank you to everyone who helped make this happen, your support in buying tickets, showing up, buying art, engaging in conversation, spreading the word… every person that played a part MATTERS and it all contributed to this night being a huge success.
From the bottom of my heART, thank you, thank you, thank you.
Video updates available here: www.youtube.com/jjbarrows
Prints and products available at www.society6.com/jjbarrows
Photography by www.jenawillard.com
Instagram: @jjbarrows, @jjbarrowsart
Website coming soon.