Who inspired me to be an artist?

The answer to this question is a tricky one as my path to becoming a professional artist was far from direct.  But then, the odd courses are the ones that are the most interesting aren’t they?

In the beginning…

I’ve been an artist since I can remember.  Actually, I’ve been an artist since before I can remember.  There are two great stories told about me when I was very young, one’s that I can’t remember.  The first goes like this:

I had gotten a pad of green paper.  Just like a little note pad with the glue binding at the top, larger than post-it note size but smaller than 8.5×11 sheets.  I had been in my room for quite a while and when I emerged I had built a typewriter (remember those?) completely out of paper.  The frame, the roller, each individual key with letters on them, all of the little parts, I had created with paper from this green note pad.  Once I had shown it to my mom, I tried to use it to type a letter and became very frustrated because it didn’t actually work.  So I immediately destroyed it, to my mother’s dismay.

The second story occurred when I was even younger.  It was also far worse for my parents.  It goes like this:

I guess I was an early riser when I was young as I had gotten up very early in the morning and had somehow made my way to the kitchen.  In the fridge I found a brand new block of cheddar cheese.  Somehow, and I must have been around two years old so… yikes… I opened up the plastic package around this new block of cheese and then proceeded to use it to “paint” every surface in the kitchen.  By the time my parents woke up there was only a tiny little nub of the cheese left and the whole kitchen was a new, yellowy orangish color.  I can’t even imagine what that must have been like to try to clean up.

As I grew up I was able to take advantage of a few artistic opportunities.  I had paper, sketch pads, and various art supplies that I could use most of the time, but my mom also was able to sign me up for a couple of art programs when I was younger.

High School

By the time I started high school I could do some pretty nice pencil sketches.  Mostly I drew comic stuff, or characters from books or games.  I remember that doing highly detailed shadows and shading on various surfaces was my favorite aspect at the time.  But at this point, things took a turn.  I remember pretty vividly one evening my father came to me and we had a talk.  I don’t remember everything we talked about but there were two things I never forgot.  I remember that he complemented me on my artistic talent, saying that I was pretty good, and then I remember him telling me that I could never support a family doing art.  Art wasn’t a career and trying to make art a career would not work.  The only artists were starving artists apparently.

I should mention that his attitude has changed over the years, but that was a pretty formative time for me and I believed him.  I didn’t have anyone in my life that was a professional artist to look to as an example or things might have gone differently.  As it was, I decided to basically drop artwork and it was reduced to a back burner hobby.  After this, I think I drew only about one picture a year.

Still, artwork snuck in to whatever I was doing.  I was one of those kids that had massive doodles on his papers.  I drew people sitting around me in class, things outside the window,  had massive battle scenes spanning the page with people using algebra equations for cover, and all sorts of random things that popped into my mind.  I worked with computers a lot and one of the things I played around with was doing computer animation, mind you that this was 1994 and this stuff was pretty new.  I played computer games with my friends but spent just as much time digging into and changing all of the game’s art as I spent playing them.  There were a lot games that I completely re-skinned.  But, despite this, I never took any art classes in school because I was convinced that it was ultimately a waste of time.


I entered college as a computer science major with a minor in music.  I did pretty well for a while but eventually I got a good look at what my life and career would look like if I worked in that field and I was horrified.  It wasn’t at all what I had imagined.  So, three years into college I changed my major.  I actually just dropped my major and went undeclared for a semester, taking a number of classes in a wide number of fields.  I wasn’t too worried about it at the time because they worked as elective credits.  I don’t remember every field that I looked into but I finished college as a psychology major working at a psychiatric hospital and teaching martial arts at Boise State University.

Everything changed

So, you may perhaps be wondering how a person headed to a doctor of psychology program (I had even been accepted at this point), working at a hospital and as a martial arts instructor ends up as a professional artist.  Well keep reading on blog reader because this is where it gets interesting.

One day, a day pretty much like any other, I was leaving my apartment heading to work.  Somehow, in the process of closing and locking my door, I dropped my keys.  As I bent over to pick them up, I heard a loud pop, felt a huge rush of pain, and fell over.  Something had happened to my back and I found that I was unable to move.  I was stuck curled up on the floor there for just over thirty minutes, in pretty intense pain, until I was finally able to crawl back into my apartment.  I don’t really remember very many details after this point for a while.  My back was totally shot.  I could manage to walk maybe ten steps in intense pain before it would completely give out, spasm, and I would fall.  I spent a lot of time crawling around for the next few months just managing to eat and go to the bathroom.  Things didn’t improve and everything I had been trying to accomplish just stopped.  I ended up having to move home so I could heal and recover.


Over the course of a number of doctors, medications, a book, and a surgery I was finally able to live a more normal life.  During this time of healing, I got married amazingly enough.  I got work trading from home as an emerging markets stock trader for a financial company.  And amazingly, my wife and I were able to go on a trip to Disney World and on a Disney cruise, even though I was using a wheel chair and a cane to get around.  I learned some interesting life lessons being in that wheel chair though.

Eventually, a couple of years after being married, I was finally able to make a full recovery.  Now however, I found myself in a completely different situation then when my back had first gone ka-boom.  I was now free again to choose to do whatever I wanted, but I didn’t know what that was anymore.

Enter Scott Johnson

Scott Johnson is an artist, a podcaster, and a dork (his words).  He is the owner of Frogpants Studios and the creator of the My Extra Life webcomic.  So what does he have to do with my story?  Well, while I was injured and confined to various chairs, I played a number of games and also listened to a number of podcasts.  One of those games was World of Warcraft and one of those podcasts was “The Instance” which happens to be about World of Warcraft and is by Scott Johnson and friends.  I really liked “The Instance” postcast and so I eventually poked around the web to see if this Scott Johnson guy did any other stuff.  It turned out that he did a lot of other stuff.

Over the next few months I got acquainted with a lot of the work that Mr. Johnson is involved with, including his web comic, which I really, really liked.  He happens to be pretty open about his life on his podcasts and soon I learned a lot about this guy.  Including that he has a really great family, a pretty nice place, and a pretty good life all around in fact.  But that couldn’t be could it?  He was an artist and I was very well aware that an artist could not be successful, couldn’t have a family, or a nice house.  Something was fishy.  Obviously I’m being silly here because, “OF COURSE an artist can be successful and have a family and have a nice home etc. etc.”  and this was exactly what he said in one of his podcasts which kicked something loose in my brain and made me realize how much of an idiot I was.  Why it took me so long to realize that an artist could be just as successful as anyone else I don’t really know.  Cultural propaganda, stereotypes, my dad, point is that it’s all ridiculous.  With this revelation I knew I had to give it a shot.

Proverbial kick in the pants

So, while working as a stock market trader, I began to use my free time to work on my art skills.  I was so happy to be doing artwork again as my wife could attest to.  It was definitely slow going for a while but things kept chugging along.  Then the 2008 market crash finally took its toll and I was laid off.  This was doubly bad because I had been making enough money that my wife had just fairly recently quit her job as well.  “Boom, job gone, income gone, and oh, there’s a baby on the way.  Oh, and the house you’ve been renting, well it’s getting foreclosed.  Have fun with that.”   That was just Life speaking there by the way.  It’s kind of a jerk sometimes.

So I started work at an office to, you know, have money.  I was mostly doing excel programming but I was also involved in other random office grunt work.  This was going so well that my wife all but begged me to stop because it was apparently having a very detrimental effect of my affect.  Yay, a grammar and psychology joke!  Anyway, I wasn’t too happy.  Over the course of a few conversations I finally decided to throw all caution to the wind and start working as a freelance artist.

The aftermath

Years later, here I am working as a professional artist with my own company.  I’ve got an awesome happy little boy, a great family, and a good outlook.

So, who was it that inspired me to be an artist?  That’s a tough one.  I could say I was just born that way, having a desire to make and create from the start.  I could say that it was my mother by encouraging my abilities at a young age.  I could say it was Scott Johnson for making me see that an artist can, in fact, be successful and happy.  I could say that it was my loving wife who encouraged me to finally pursue art professionally and has supported my passion.  I think the real answer is all of the above.  I think the really real answer would be all of the above plus everyone in my life who has ever supported, encouraged, inspired, loved, cared, and befriended me in any way.  Thanks go out to all of you!

So, long story short, who inspired me to be an artist?  It was every positive influence in my life.  That’s who.


Well I hope you liked my tale.  Be sure to follow me on facebook, google+, and/or twitter (links on the right) and sign up for the newsletter (also on the right) for up-to-date news, interesting links, articles, and contests as well.

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Below I have included my influence map.  This was started on deviant art I believe.  It basically is a visual representation of things that have influenced or inspired me.  The larger the section, the greater the influence.

Michael Simpson