Michael Hepher

Creating is a human practice that exercises all kinds of muscles in our brains and hearts and helps us find balance in our lives. Making bad art is how we learn and grow. If you hear one thing in this column, I hope it’s that everyone should make something, good or bad doesn’t matter, just make it—make it for yourself, but also take every chance you get to learn to make better art. That’s what the “Principles of Art” are all about: understanding how to grow. 

French poet Paul Valéry once quipped, “a work is never truly completed—merely abandoned.” I’m sure his words were intended to be at least slightly hyperbolic, but nevertheless for the artist they carry with them the ring of truth. 

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked me how I price my paintings. His question helped me realize that not many people know what goes into making a piece. I thought this month I would pull back the curtain a bit and share with you my process and some of the hidden costs to help build understanding about why buying art is valuable for the price. 

One of the characteristics of a small town art practice is that it’s most often made up of several pillars. Some artists will paint and run a small gallery. Others will throw pots and work as a studio tech. Still others will work a part-time job while growing their illustration practice. It often feels like there isn’t quite enough work to JUST paint, or JUST make pots. Perhaps that’s just the reality of being an artist anywhere. 

There are times when artists’ roles in our community, and in our society, feels a bit insignificant. The curse of our sensitive personalities is that we tend to see things that need changing—coupled with the curse of the desire to want to improve, grow and share what we learn—means there is a constant tension in our lives between what is, and what we think could be. As I stand at the easel, I’m often thinking about why I’m painting. What good is another mountain scene when there is war in Ukraine? How can I make things that help shift ideas and perspectives? How can I make my art relevant to the climate crisis?

It’s become our habit to use the turning of the year as a time to reflect, to appraise the past trip around the sun, and attempt to implement changes we feel need to happen in our lives. I often find myself ready for a new outlook, and—even though we are typically heading into the coldest part of winter—something to look forward to in my life. 

As an artist I’ve attempted to make a career out of trying to make the world a more beautiful place. I understand that beauty is quite subjective, but my overarching goal is to treat the planet, and humanity, like I’m on a multi-decade hike—to leave the place better than I found it. It turns out that that is a more complicated task than I ever thought it would be.

My parents owned a string of Westfalia campers throughout my childhood, so when it came time to buy my first vehicle there was no question what it would be. Barely out of my teens I laid down cash for a 1975 VW and sputtered off on my first adventure. The classic VW van has a lot of heartwarming symbology in our culture. 

As long as Michael can remember he’s been drawing. The tools are simple, inexpensive and portable which made it easy to practice through a variety of life’s stages. Drawing is an additive process, meaning you continue to add lines to something until it is a recognizable form. It’s like taking bits of clay and sticking them together lump by lump until your sculpture is finished. Drawing is a very handy, quick way of getting an idea down on paper. It’s familiar and predictable. It allows him to build worlds and ideas in a linear fashion. 

This year we will celebrate the holidays as we creep up on the one-year anniversary of the first time we heard the words novel corona virus and our world still feels strange and unfamiliar. Some of 
the differences are very subtle, but most of us feel ‘off ’ in this new space. We are surviving, but not many of us are thriving.