Brent’s Early Years
Of equal importance in many ways was the realization I could make money in the art business. A constant yearning I had for the west coast finally won out, and in 1976, I moved back to Vancouver. Selling men’s wear brought in some money, but to top up my financial reserves, I fell back on my skill of creating caricatures and set up shop in Stanley Park along with the other artists at the entrance to the zoo. I added a twist to my new circumstance by also selling my paintings – some oils, mostly watercolours.
The more I painted, the more I wanted to learn about painting. I visited Douglas College, where I stirred up a bit of a commotion with the bureaucrats in admissions. I was again interested in graphic arts, because I believed it would help me to develop my technical abilities, but I also wanted to study more life drawing, which was offered by the fine arts department. The advisor was set on having me understand that I couldn’t be in both programs at the same time. The more she persisted, the more I kept requesting even more courses that crossed departmental boundaries. Completely exasperated, she finally told me that I could not expect to get credit for any courses if I chose to hopscotch between the two programs. A deal was immediately struck.
For the next two years, I audited courses at all levels of both programs part-time, while drawing and painting, often in Stanley Park, for several hours a day – practicing, practicing, practicing. I also used the knowledge gained in some of my commercial art courses to make additional money doing animation projects and illustrations. I had succeeded in designing an educational experience to meet my own needs, sacrificing the piece of paper that would say I was a graduate.
When I was twenty-four, I met the love of my life, my wife, Bettie. The commitment resulted in an instant family in that I acquired a wonderful six-year old daughter. Terri is Bettie’s child from a previous marriage, and I luckily gained the love of two exceptional females at the same time. In another nine years, our family would grow by one more when Julie, our second beautiful daughter, would be born. Bettie worked part-time for the first few years of our marriage, and by combining our incomes, we happily survived. Bettie’s support has always been there.
I had taken everything I could at Douglas College, so I began to explore art workshops. The first was with Rex Brandt of the National Academy of American Watercolorists Society, whose work I had seen and admired in numerous art magazines. His wife, Joan Irving, was also a celebrated artist, and together they came to Vancouver to give a workshop.
A significant insight I gained from interacting with many older artists and instructors at workshops was that they all wished they could have committed to the goal of art when they were much younger. They felt they had wasted too much time travelling other paths. Their honesty made me determined not to make the same mistake.
Under the umbrella of the Federation of Canadian Artists, and the co-sponsorship of the Federation Gallery in Gastown, Allen Edwards, a Vancouver artist, encouraged a number of younger painters to plan and participate in The Saltspring Seminar. The camaraderie of sharing several days under the tutelage of established artists, such as Edwards, Harry Heine and Bill Reese from the States, was a hallmark experience. We enjoyed an inspirational day with each artist/instructor, always at a different location, and then would continue in the evening, staying up until all hours to discuss the art. The Federation flourished, offering an ongoing network for artists to gather and share, and staging art exhibitions, such as the Under 30 show where I would display my work. It was an exciting and stimulating environment, with sincere involvement and fantastic optimism.
Workshops have been a way for me to rejuvenate, to explore new options, and to learn. The positive sum of all those experiences is the reason that I have been offering workshops for over a decade where I am committed to helping people develop their creativity – especially through practice, practice, practice. Initially, I was not happy with my art unless I could differentiate between each blade of grass in a field I had painted. Realism was my touchstone. It seemed that as I became competent with a specific technique, I became tired of it. I took risks to attempt different kinds of artistic styles. I found I liked to work in abstract.
It has been a bumpy ride over a long period of time to arrive at this point. I liken it to the uncertainty of Charles Lindberg’s quest to be the first flyer to wing his way across the Atlantic. You get the plan off the ground – somewhat of an accomplishment in itself – and reach an altitude where you feel everything’s under control. But then there are a series of mechanical concerns or foul weather systems that constantly test your mettle and cause you to question the wisdom of your choice to set such a lofty goal. And wherein I haven’t landed my plane successfully yet, at least I’m still aloft, and the propeller keeps on churning! While there has been – and I suspect will continue to be – constant hurdles to overcome, I have been extremely fortunate. It has not been all that difficult to keep a positive outlook towards my work. When a new blanket of snow smothers the countryside, I am inspired. When the azaleas and rhododendrons burst into bloom in my garden and my Koi fish reappear, I’m keen to paint. The angles of branches in a forest or the way the light streams through them can cause me to rush to my studio. A weathered fence, a golf green, fish boats in a harbour, intriguing architecture, waterfowl on a pond: all or any can move me to paint. And when I am painting, I am happiest.