On Becoming An Artist - John Stermer understood the value of business skills. The artist working on the typewriter.

On Becoming An Artist

Greetings!  I would like to share with you some insight on what I learned about becoming an artist from my dad, John Stermer.

Yes, You Need An Education.

Years ago, when I was young, I wanted to be an artist like my Dad, John H. Stermer.  From my point of view, it seemed like the perfect life.  That is to say, all you had to do was draw and paint.  Yes, in my day dreaming world, the artist’s life I envisioned was naive and simple.  Oh, and blissful.

I remember when I was in high school having a discussion with my Dad.  At one point, I revealed that higher education was not important because I was going to be an artist.  Math was not needed either.

John Stermer Drawing
Example of portrait drawing

Well, Dad quickly brought me down to reality.  He pointed out that mathematics was important to artists.  Not only is the knowledge of math necessary for the business side, it is needed for creating art.  For example, think of angles and proportions in drawing.  Or, all the calculations required in framing.  And, then there is geometry and perspective to consider in creating designs.  For Dad, the point for continuing on with my education, and paying attention in class, was easy to drive home.  So, go do your homework; stay in school; learn as much as you can.

How Dad Educated Himself

Now, so many years later, I think about how Dad educated himself in preparation for his artist career. And, though he would eventually go to The Art Students League of New York for a formal education, Dad learned through local artists and craftsman.

To explain, as a young man, he understood that he needed to have a broad range of skills in order to earn a living.  For example, consider creating and painting signs.  I remember Dad telling me that potential clients assumed that if you are an artist, then you know how to paint signs and create murals.  That is not the case; sign painting and mural creation require different and specific skills.  So, Dad sought out the people who could teach him these skills.  

Art Education: Learning how to do illustration and commercial art
An example of illustration and commercial work.

As part of Dad’s art education, he also learned how to create cartoons, do illustrations, and build frames.  Come to think of it, let us not forget portraiture as a specific drawing and painting skill.  

Even though Dad was not college educated, he understood the necessity of business skills, including writing and speaking.  Such abilities are key to art business and teaching.

The point is, there is a tremendous amount of learning if one wishes to become an artist.  A good foundation in reading, writing, mathematics, history, science, etc. is a big help.

So, now those many years later, as I pursue my own art, I appreciate the lessons my dad shared with me.  

On Becoming An Artist.

Now, Dad would probably say at this point that I missed the entire point.  All this about becoming an artist is really how one person prepared himself for a life as a painter.  That is to say, Dad was more concerned about being a painter of pictures.  “Artist” was an honorific that someone else bestowed on you.  

However, it seems to me in our day and age, using the term “artist” best describes the life of someone who is committed and passionate about drawing and painting.  

Maybe, then, after a lifetime of drawing and painting, somewhere along the way, Dad became an artist.


PS.  Here is an excellent article with tips on becoming an artist titled: The Painters Primer: A Survival Kit.  The article is written by the late Irwin Greenberg and is published in Linea by The Art Students League of New York.

Example of a John Stermer Cartoon from his days as a US Navy Seabee
An example of John Stermer’s cartoon work done while serving in the US Navy.

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