Gary Smith, Painter
This month, I had the great pleasure of interviewing Gary Smith in Toronto, Canada. Gary is currently the Vice-Chairman of the Artists’ Network and a Member of the Portrait Society of America. Gary is a 12th generation Canadian. His family went to Canada 240 years ago from the US as United Empire Loyalists.
Gary is talented and prolific. He has done well over 2000 energetic, expressive portraits that are of interest even to viewers who do not know the person in them. Teaching drawing and painting in Toronto and around the world is a great pleasure for Gary and his students. Several galleries in Toronto and the surrounding area represent him.
Commissions include current and genealogical portraits, and not all of them small. In the summer of 2007, Gary painted a 100-foot mural above the ocean in St. john’s, Newfoundland. A physically challenging feat that got lots of coverage by TV, radio and the newspapers.
One of Gary’s proudest accomplishments is “The Light of the Rebbe," the largest painting in any synagogue, completed in Toronto in 2001, honoring the world famous religious leader Rebbe Menachem Schneerson. And, by the way, Gary is not Jewish so that adds to the honor.
For a Riverdale Art Walk, Gary painted a portrait of Riverdale’s oldest living citizen, Mary Dobell, who was 102 when he painted her. Again, the newspaper coverage was excellent and the City of Toronto borrowed the portrait for an historical exhibition at the St. Lawrence Gallery.
Despite all of these honors, Gary is a humble about his accomplishments and generous with his time and energy when it comes to art.
A.C.T.: What prompted you to start your professional art career?
Had a couple of starts. Always knew I liked art and that many artists of my ancestors were artistic. The first time I went 100% was at 19 when I was experiencing a dramatic time in my life. But after 4 years I went back to school and became a teacher. Received a scholarship to be trained as an Art Supervisor and once I was trained I dove back in at 100%. After 5 years, our daughter was to start school and I felt I should ‘take a job to give her a more financially stable and less nomadic life. For many years I continued to sell paintings but that was not my main means of support.
Eventually I realized there are only so many years one has which translates to ‘only so many paintings one can do’ and I just had to dive back into the deep end. I think it is a matter of life style for me. It just feels right for me and makes me happy.
A.C.T.: What is your “life’s work” as an artist, i.e. what legacy do you want to leave?
Fame and fortune are not my driving motives but I am happy to know that through my making portraits and my teaching of drawing and painting I have given many people a lasting source of joy.
A.C.T.: What is your artistic direction?
Good question. As a Pisces is am split between making art and coaching artists to make their own marks. I love learning and exploring. I believe that creating a fantastic life helps make interesting art.
I have always been blessed with a ton of energy and use it to develop my skills at the Academy of Art Canada, to paint and to teach. I will always continue to paint and exhibit.
On the teaching side I am more and more giving Artist workshops here and around the world.
As for painting, I choose to ‘’Paint what I like and die happy’.
I am in the process of building a peer group to paint our reactions to our urban environment. Ask me about that again in 6 months or so.
I am also working on directly selling over the Internet to specific target markets. I have a video project in the works now.
A.C.T.: What advice would you pass on to other artists at all levels?
Always think of yourself as a beginner and draw and paint as much as you possibly can. Find ways to steal time for that. Decide how much time you want to paint and then figure out how to do that rather than looking for what spare time might be available. Paint from real life and do it where people will notice you and your work. That ALWAYS leads to commissions.
Don’t give away your work unless you get something in return.
Artists are supposed to be creative – so apply this to the business side as well. CREATE NEW WAYS OF SELLING AND NETWORKING. The world is in such a huge pivotal time of change that ALL markets are brand new. You are not limited to or by the old ways.
The accessible knowledge in the program materials and teleclasses helped me transfer my business knowledge to the world of marketing art. Most especially, Aletta has helped me in a few ways. Every once in a while I stupidly complicate things. For example I developed a real hang-up about my signature. She straightened me out fast on such self-made hurdles. She has helped me with my portfolio// with discovering the best way for ME to work. I am thinking about a special self-assessment she arranged, called “Focus Your Business Instincts to Suit the Rhythms of Your Art” which was a very meaningful breakthrough for me to help me build my art business in a way that suited me, rather than frustrate me. Aletta’s down to earth coaching helped me leverage my output and she has even directed business to me.