You're intrigued by the title. I know this because I know I would be. It's human nature, I think. You will only be slightly disappointed that I've chosen not to release this particular boyfriends name as this is not a smear campaign against this particular person. Also the title is slightly deceptive as I've had a few boyfriends in my time. Nothing crazy. But this post is about one in particular. Or, moreso about one particular interaction with this one.
I'm going to skip a lot of the details because, quite honestly, they're a little depressing. And that's not the intent of this particular post. When I thought about writing this blog post it made me smile a bit. The kind of smile that only time and perspective (and mild pettiness) can bring about.
I was 20 years old. I hadn't yet given much thought to selling my artwork. I had given a lot of thought to creating but I was still just muddling around, trying to work on techniques, figuring out what I liked and what I didn't. I was fairly directionless. This particular boyfriend was also directionless but was fantastically talented with art. I had never been around someone with his skill. Maybe to see it now I'd feel differently about his work but back then I thought his work was amazing. He was a bit older than me so his life experiences were quite different than mine. His experience with art alone made that glaringly obvious. He had stacks of books of all these artists I had never heard about before. We connected with art because we both loved the fantasy genre - just wildly different ends of it. While I was enjoying the work of Amy Brown, He was head over heels for Brom. If you've never seen Amy's work, it's all of these wonderfully fantastical fairies and mermaid beings, many with their creature familiars, some of which have found themselves in the most adorable yet precarious of situations. Whereas Brom's work was dark and moody, more demon-esque at times and sinister. It was incredible. I had never seen anything like it. At this stage in life, we did not have the internet in our hands 24/7. Searching anything on the internet at this point would age you at least 5 days because it was so slow. So you used your internet time wisely, searching things you actually were interested in, familiar with, or needed to know. I never delved into the world of Brom or anything like it before because I just never would have thought to.
Left: Amy Brown's "Attitude"
Right: Brom's "Bluff"
This boyfriend introduced me to a darker world of art that I actually also fell in love with. Quite unexpectedly, It expanded my curiosity and made me feel inspired just as Amy's work had done. He introduced me to comics like The Sandman by Neil Gaiman. We listened to Joni Mitchell and Tool interchangeably. To be around someone who loved art this way was a new experience for me. However, someone sharing a passion for art does not a healthy relationship make.
We used to spend some of our time just sitting and drawing together. Separately, working on different things, but at the same time. So, in my path of figuring out styles and techniques, I decided to draw a Superhero. A female superhero. Sort of Poison Ivy-esque. I wanted her to be strong and powerful. Unfortunately at the time, my only real references were misogynistic versions of female Superhero's. So I found myself heading down a similar avenue.
When it was finished I was actually really proud of it. I knew it wasn't perfect or anatomically correct. But it was a new style for me and as far as what I was able to achieve with the skills I had at the time, I felt it turned out pretty good. Now to show someone!
Above: The work in question that I kept all of these years as a reminder of strength and resilience. I call her "Red"
I remember feeling comfortable in showing my boyfriend at the time because I was confident he'd see my progress and potential. I mean, I did. I was a no one and I could still see I was working towards something. I was building a skillset. So when I was done I said "When you have a minute could you take a look at this please.". I left my book open and when he was done doing what he was doing he took a peek over at my work. He sat there for a few seconds going over it. All the while I was dying of curiosity to know what he was thinking....as skilled as I thought he was I felt he was someone I could rely on for constructive critique. I also, since we were dating, assumed he cared about me enough to find it necessary to lift me up in a positive way if he did, in fact, find flaws in my work. However, the only thing he did say was "It's not good."......
Just like that.
It's not good.
I didn't know what to say. I didn't cry or get mad. I didn't ask anymore questions. He didn't make anymore comments. Just.....it's not good. And then he went back to drawing as if nothing had happened. I was embarrassed. Imagine having felt like you were on some kind of trajectory to eventually making some good art and having it shot down in half a second. By someone you looked up to as an artist, no less.
I don't remember drawing another piece of art around him. If I drew anything at all it was when he wasn't around. If he was drawing I was reading The Sandman books. It might have been a different set of circumstances if he had given me pointers or said why he thought it was no good. But he said it and just let it hang there. Like a thick drippy cloud of disdain. And I absorbed all of it.
I can't exactly pinpoint the reasons I never gave up on art. I had every reason to. We lived in an entire world where we were told that being an artist wasn't a viable choice. I had an art teacher in college who seemed to dislike both me and my work. And then this interaction with my then boyfriend.....It felt like I had the whole world staring down at me telling me to quit. Expecting me to. Maybe it was because in this sea of unfeeling numbness, art was the one constant thing in my life and the one thing that made me feel the most alive. It made me feel inspired. It was there for me when it felt like nothing else was. It made me feel like I was going somewhere. I didn't know where at the time but somewhere. And somewhere was so much better than numb directionless nothing. Or maybe somewhere inside of me I knew enough about myself to know that I'm the type of person who would eventually figure it out.
Whatever it was, I kept going. I eventually broke up with this boyfriend and found other people who loved art as much as I did. I found my way out of the numb nothingness. I found a style and genre I loved and kept working at it. I didn't need school for it, I didn't need shitty boyfriends, and I didn't need anyone else's permission. I didn't even need for the art I was making to always be 'good art'. I just needed to keep doing it. I surrounded myself with artists who were leaps and bounds more skilled than I was and it made me want to work harder. They inspired me without hurting me. Most of the time they inspired me without having any idea the impact they had. I've had some of these artists friends for 18 years now. And I've just kept accumulating more as I go.
In a wildly ironic twist, I not only kept going with art I'm sure this boyfriend would, to this day, say isn't good, and found success in it, I also somehow, through mutual friends, became Facebook friends with Gerald Brom's wife, Laurie Brom. Who is, in her own right, insanely talented and successful. And while I am not a petty person on a grand scale, there is a small inconsequentially petty corner of my heart that delights in the idea of how this all came around from a point where I could have chosen a completely different and much darker path. While I enjoy Laurie's art (an incredible amount - she truly is amazing) and her as a person from the little window I get to see into her life via social media, she's also a small reminder of the path I ended up on and how life sometimes has a wickedly strange sense of humour - one I've grown to appreciate immensely.
Above: Laurie Lee Brom's work "Summer Time Blues"
Quit on your shitty boyfriend, not your art. Art will open so many more amazing doors into worlds you never dreamed of and opportunities you never expected. Shitty boyfriends just leave you feeling shitty.
--- As an end note, I feel it's also important to note that, at the time, both this boyfriend and myself were not in good places mental health wise. And because I have not kept in touch with him I have no idea how his life has turned out or who he's become. I wish the best for him, as I do anyone who's ever been in my life even temporarily. I also know we were not a good fit and that's perfectly fine. I learned a lot from being with and around him - both good and bad things. The point of this post was not to blame or shame him. Moreso to portray the resilience in a moment that had the potential to steer the course of my life in a completely different direction. One person cannot be summed up as good or bad in a singular moment.---