Monday, September 8, 2014

Interview with Portrait Artist Elliot Silberman (Part II)

THIS IS PART TWO of yesterday's interview with art fair portrait illustrator Elliot Silberman. 

EN: How have art shows changed?

ES: The first 20 years were great, the next 20 we could see the handwriting on the wall. As with most things, they went more commercial, little by little.

Too many shows too close together, all the time. Malls saw this first. Art fairs brought people into the mall, people slowly got numb to the deal. I had very little overhead, no rent, no health coverage, no retirement, no car insurance too. That made it much easier for me to survive. Otherwise the only other way was to get a job and work your craft on the side.

Early on, when in malls, I saw many mothers ‘n babies ‘n kids there, so I made a sign, "Children, My Specialty" or "All Moving Targets Welcome." Now if I was cheap, $3.00 each, it was my way out if I didn’t nail the sketch, or the kid threw a fit. I just took the hit and said, "That’s all right ma’am, NO CHARGE." Two or three tries? It was just my time I lost.

EN: This was the part of your story I wanted to share, how you consciously worked to influence kids.

ES: Time was on my side. Now after 30 plus years, 37 to be closer, I realized I had fifty years hindsight, and could see how I got where I was in art and music. So I realized I had things to share, like, “How does one find their Passion?” Even with little ones, here is what I say while making eye contact... "This is going to be fun but hard. I need you to stare at me for 5 minutes. With eye contact, I ask them, “Want to know what I know about you already? You’re listening to me, that’s GREAT.” I’m now centering the portrait on my paper, while I’m being stared at. “Wanna know what else I know about you? You’re paying attention, that is sooo cool? Because when you’re paying attention, every day, that’s how you find out about things, things you might really like to make a part of your life. When some things get your attention, that means, check it out. You can build your life around things that make YOUR life Rich. Fun. Interesting. Is that cool or what? Of course I adapt to their age, but I believe in planting seeds.

Parents know that their kid won't always listen to them like they do to me. They're not dumb. I get each kid for 5 minutes. Might as well make use of that time, besides sketching. Plant some seeds.

EN: The art fair scene changed. Has your approach changed?

ES: For all these years I have asked people the same questions. I'm curious, too. So, what do you do for a living, sir? How did that happen? Or, what do you want to do with your life? "Horses, anything to do with horses would please me." Oh, how did you find out that? What light bulb went off, what flicked your bic? Pay attention to hunches. Hunches, nudges, curiosity.

EN: How did you get into playing guitar and making music?

ES: Second year in art school, dad asked me, "What did you learn at school son?"  

"Well dad, I learned 5 chords on Bob's guitar."

Elliot with his jug band at Amazing Grace.
Dad took the bait. Next birthday he got me a used $10 Stella guitar, handed it to me, and walked away. Well, let me tell ya, I started learning Johnny Cash songs right NOW. Then Hank Williams, the Carter family. I was so thrilled I couldn't tell ya. I was learning by ear, feel, by jingle. I didn't know I had a gift. Boy oh boy, was I having fun. I started jabberin' around school, asking for anyone to jam with. Didn't matter if the kid needed music, I had the knack to follow by sight. So almost 50 years later, I produced 4 CDs having written numerous progressions 'n songs. Putting chords together was so fun.

Thanks for letting me share. Hope I made my message clear.

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Learn more about Elliot and his passions at

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