I've been drawing for a long time. The family story goes that I picked up a pencil as soon as my fingers would hold one and I never let it go. My artistic career began with drawing in the margins of church bulletins during the service.
Over that long road a lot of people have put their stamps on me and nudged me in one artistic direction or another, often without even meaning to, or knowing that they were.
One of my earliest memories is of my mom and I sitting on the steps of our home at the time. We had a magic pad, one of those children's toys with the little red stylus and the plastic sheet where you can draw and then "magically erase" the drawing and start over. I begged her to draw me a picture of Ultraman, (my geek obsessions started way back!). At the time I believe I was about 5 years old, but this memory is one the clearest that I have from this age. The picture that she drew looked absolutely nothing like my hero, I remember a big feathery plume on his helmet which was totally wrong, but somehow it didn't matter. The magic of the magic pad worked. I was enthralled by the whole process. My mom, of course, has been supportive in a million little ways, never questioning the fact that I planned to have a career in the arts even though her own background was far from that, and unflaggingly supporting everything I've ever tried, but there was something in that little drawing that I will always remember.
My grandmother, who was the other strong female influence in my life, had a different type of influence on me. When I was in kindergarten The Letter People were the current vogue in education and I remember getting work sheets that included step by step instructions for drawing them. I would lovingly follow these directions and make my mini-masterpiece portraits of the characters. I remember my grandmother seeing one of them and teaching me the "proper" way to fill in the drawing with the felt tip pen that I had used. The classic "color inside the lines" moment. I respectfully listened to her, as I always did, but in my head at the tender age of 5 or 6 I knew that she was wrong, there was just something that I preferred about my "messy" drawing. It simply looked better. My grandmother was also incredibly supportive of my career and would buy me drawing tools and sketchbooks and paper to fill my life. She also bought me a small portable typewriter when my obsession turned to creating my own version of The Marvel Handbook. Completely without knowing it however, she had taught me how to trust my own instincts and style, even when it's different from the people I love.
Once my education got underway I had a series of teachers who tugged my artistic life in one direction or another. In elementary school it was Ms. Kite, (who later became Mrs. Lake). I still remember the day that she explained high school electives to me, and made sure that I'd take art when I got there. For the first few years of high school Mrs. Blanton was my art teacher, to be succeeded later by Mrs. Cynthia Link. Mrs. Link became a huge influence on me, and is responsible for the drawing that started my life (another story for another time... but I can trace my whole life back to that event). She allowed me to sample an enormous range of styles and materials, and rarely enforced the class assignment but allowed me to do whatever I pleased as long as I was productive. She also fought with me to get an AP art class in my high school, and influenced my choices of university.
During high school I also came under the spell of another artistic influence thanks to Raymond Neal. Raymond was responsible for getting me into comic books, which have become a life-long obsession and altered not only how I look at art, but how I create it. I don't imagine that it's hard to see that influence on my style.
In college a whole succession of people helped advance me artistically. Rea Mingeva was my first college art professor and her influence is still very strong in my art. Looking back at my old sketch books the geometric quality visible in my current work started in her classes. Zdzislaw Sikora I have mentioned here before. His passion and verve was infectious and his teaching methods are something that I will certainly emulate if I ever end up teaching my own art classes. It is still one of my life goals to own one of his prints. Patrick McKay's wit and charm spilled freely into his work, and I still hear his voice whenever I pick up a paintbrush. Gil Ashby and I had enormous differences in the way we viewed art in general, but specifically my work. I always wonder what he would think of my subway sketches, as portraits were one of the places we butted heads most frequently.
These aren't even close to all of the people who have born influence on my artistic life, but they are the people I think of most often as I draw and paint. I owe all of them a debt of gratitude for the joy of art that they helped foster in me.