Being an artist
Please give us a few words of introduction about yourself
I’ve always done creative things. After graduating from art school I went into advertising and spent many years crafting campaigns for major brands in all media channels. I’ve won more than 250 awards from national and international shows over the years which I’m quite proud of but on most days advertising is not art, it has no longevity. Advertising is an all consuming profession full of frustrated artists who unfortunately often never have the time or energy to create their own art.
When did you decide to pursue art as a career?
I’ve always painted and sold my work locally but in 2000 I walked away from advertising to pursue my painting full-time. For me it was the right time and I never wanted to regret never giving it my best shot.
What training did you have?
I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the arts so I committed early and went to a specialized high school for the arts in Toronto. It was a great program combining practical applied arts as well as fine art training in painting, life drawing, sculpture and photography. When I graduated I painted in a photo realistic style but quickly grew bored of the technical discipline needed to succeed in that genre. These days I purposely avoid all granular detail in favour of simple composition, flowing lines and powerful colour packages. My years in advertising taught me how to build and launch a brand and that was critical in helping me decide what my subject matter would be. My brand is cats because they are just so interesting with their playful personalities and because I could do a great many things with them. And it doesn’t hurt to know that there are many many collectors out there who love cats too.
What has been the high point of your career so far?
When I walked away from advertising I didn’t know if I would succeed on my own in fine art. My advantage was my years of marketing knowledge – many artists I know are clueless with their marketing and have to rely on other people for exposure. I built a simple website for my paintings and began to link up with people and sites that could expose my work to the right audience. Soon I was approached by Washington Green Fine Art Publishers out of Birmingham UK. They wanted to sign me to their roster as their only Canadian artist. The next few years were a fantastic whirlwind of shows and meeting new collectors who were buying my originals and limited edition prints. Unfortunately due to some differing opinions regarding future editions we parted ways. Now I sell directly through my website bigcatheads.com.
Who is your favourite artist?
I don’t have a single favourite artist but have been influenced over the years by many – Roy Liechtenstein, Norval Morrisseau, Keith Haring, Alex Colville, Picasso.
What are you aiming for?
Self-sufficient personal happiness. And if I can leave a legacy of loved paintings hanging on my collector’s walls after I’m gone, I will consider myself a success.
How will you get there?
I don’t know if I will get there but every day I try to get a little bit better and that’s really all anyone can do. It seems like the secret to the world today is to find communities of like-minded people. That’s what I try to do.
Is anything holding you back?
The only thing holding any artist back is fear of the unknown. The older you get the more responsibilities you have – family, mortgage, etc. There are no guarantees in the art world. You put yourself and your work out there and hope people like it enough to buy it. When you have financial obligations that can be quite a risk. I think this is ultimately a good thing as it motivates you to push beyond your comfort zone..
You and art
What feelings or reactions do you hope to arouse in people who view your work? Are you ever surprised by reactions that you get?
Art is meant to be provocative but I’m not a statement artist. I stay clear of politics and expressions of negativity. I make happy art. I’ve been told that the rich saturated colours and playful cats themes in my paintings actually brighten the rooms they hang in as well as the mood of the viewer. Many of my collectors tell me that even if they are having a bad day my paintings put a smile on their face. I can’t think of a better reaction.
From start to finish, how long does it take for you to create your work?
Most of my paintings take between 2 to 3 days to complete. Some faster, a few slower; in fact I have one painting in my studio that’s still unfinished and it’s been there for 4 years. I call it Nemesis.
What music do you like to listen to when you work?
I usually listen to jazz or something smooth in the background but occasionally if an old Star Trek rerun is on I’m a happy guy.
What are you working on next? Any future plans or projects in the pipeline that we should look out for?
My current series called bigcatheads is now over 400 paintings. It will continue but my style is evolving into more of a cubistic mashup expression. I’m also experimenting with other mediums so soon there will be a new series emerging. I’ve also purchased a new painting tablet which I’m playing around with. I’d like to create some digital limited editions that anyone can afford. I find this is a good way to reach new people with my work and ultimately some of those people will purchase an original works.
Being inspired by art
Who (living or dead) inspires you? and why?
Ai Weiwei inspires me. It can’t be easy creating his challenging artworks when he’s under such close scrutiny in his government. I’m inspired by his passion to create under trying circumstances.
What feelings, subjects or concepts inspire you as an artist?
I have a pretty good sense of humour and I like paintings that are witty and fun. Colour inspires me. Flow inspires me. And when the two come together I think you’ve got something special. It may sound simplistic but the single thing that inspires me the most is a good new painting. I simply can’t wait to get back in the studio after having just created something I’m proud of.
What is your favourite work that you’ve produced so far and why?
My personal favourite is a medium sized acrylic called Freddy on the Fridge. The combination of the cat’s expression and the colour palette just clicked together perfectly. Every time I see it I smile.
an artist’s advice
For those thinking about turning a passion for art into a career, could you give any advice?
I don’t want to sound negative but be careful what you wish for. Most people start making art because it’s fun and there are no rules. Once it becomes your career it can become less fun and there are many rules. When you begin painting for a specific audience you move away from your purest vision. The trick is to find the market that appreciates what you like doing best. As soon as you compromise your work to fit a sales market the fun is gone.
Any tips on how to get your work seen and get the commissions coming in?
Today with the internet it’s easy to get your work seen. My tip would be to ask people to critique your work and really listen to their feedback. Some will be off the mark and not helpful but others will be spot on. Use that feedback to make your work better. And use your new connections to leverage even more connections. I’ve found that most artists genuinely want to help you succeed. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and introductions. Also, always stay in contact with people who have bought your art. The easiest new sale is always to an existing collector.
More of Bruce’s artwork on his website at http://bigcatheads.com
For blog – http://bigcatheads.blogspot.ca
Facebook fan page – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bruce-Andrew-Mckay/162552814694
Pinterest – https://pinterest.com/bigcatheads
Twitter – twitter.com/bigcatheads