Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Greatest of Fears---Or 5 Minutes With Legends

Powwow Singer by James Bama

 Sixteen years ago on a trip to Wyoming and Montana, I met two very influential people in the Western Art world. I had just closed my eyes and jumped off the “I’ve got a real job” security cliff, and was still careening in a “free fall” towards becoming a full-time artist.
Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy
     A well-meaning friend had set me up for a few minutes of art mentoring while on a fishing trip to Montana.  He arranged for me to meet with an old buddy of his in Wapiti, Wyoming, who turned out to be none other than the noted artist, James Bama.  You may know his work more than his name.  James Bama began his art career in the field of illustration, and is responsible for the iconic images of Star Trek and Butch Cassidy.
     But let me tell you that nothing, I mean nothing, is more intimidating than taking your first real artistic efforts to a famous figure like Bama and getting critiqued.
     He was kind enough to receive Pam and I into his modest home and show us his extensive collection of Life and Look magazine covers that he had illustrated.  Everywhere I looked were images that I recognized:  Doc Savage, James Bond, movie posters and book covers.  He was the real deal and an interesting character to boot.
     Push-ups in the morning, pull-ups in the afternoon.  Did you know he hits the heavy bag every day?  Pam knows, because he offered his flexed bicep for her to test. We conversed for about half an hour; he obviously welcomed the company and was a generous host.  Then it was time for the reason we were there.
     Lucky for me, Bama is a pro and a gentle mentor.  I poured about ten 4 x 5 transparencies of my best efforts on the table and waited in a mortified stupor.
     I sat thinking, “What kind of idiot drives from Texas to Wyoming and throws this level of work into the hands of one of the greatest illustrators and painters to walk the earth, and expects a good outcome?”
     C’mon shoe….DROP ALREADY!
     You know what he said…. “Wow, you really draw well.”  I can still hear those words bouncing around in my head to this day. He instantly gave me enough confidence to keep moving and to take the next step. 
Reach Around
     He validated my calling, and told me to keep pursuing my art; that if I continued to draw with an eye towards improving my craft, that I would go places. Let me tell you, I would need that dose of confidence, because 3 days later Pam and I would travel 6 hours north of Bozeman, Montana to beautiful Flathead Lake for visit number 2.  There I would take the next step and ask for an honest critique.  How did it turn out?  Stay tuned and I’ll tell you tomorrow.

Images of Butch Cassidy, Star Trek and Powwow Singer © James Bama.  Image of Reach Around and content of post © Mark Kohler Studio. 

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