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Absolute Rookie

FYI (For Your Inspiration)

Well over a decade ago I ran across a website called… a lot of film and game industry folks hanging out and chatting on a forum, with a lot of pictures.

One discussion thread caught my attention: Journey of an Absolute Rookie. See, I had joined this online forum in December of 2003, and the fellow who authored the first post in that particular thread, Jonathan Hardesty [Facebook Profile], started his thread about a year prior to my reading it.

Jonathan, who uses the handle “MindCandyMan” on that site, decided he “wanted to be an artist.” He told me later, in an e-mail, that he had a boring job and he didn’t want to do it for the rest of his life just to make money and so he thought about what would be a cool job? He liked playing computer games and admired the guys who created the creatures and environments, so, as simple as that, he decided he was going to learn to draw. Then maybe someday he could work for a computer game company.

He discovered the forum, finding artists whose work he admired, and on September 15th, 2002 he crossed over… he posted his first drawings in his journey to learn to be an artist.

Now, to be honest, I would not have ever called this kid “gifted” — maybe “eager” but I probably would have encouraged him to keep his day job, perhaps forever. Okay, I will come out and say that he didn’t draw very well at all. At first…

There is a lesson to be learned about that kind of thinking.

By June of the next year, barely 9 months into his journey to becoming an artist, Jonathan had enrolled himself in some art courses, and was studying Life Drawing. (There is no substitute for Life Drawing when it comes to developing the eye for drawing and/or painting).

He posted his current work, above right, 9 months into his quest. A remarkable improvement.

By 2004, just 2 years into this crazy idea that he could be an artist and not have to do a desk job, he had found a top-notch Atelier (Fr. – uh-TEL-yay – “an artist’s studio or workshop”) and was getting individual training and assignments to refine his skills. He was not allowed to paint until he could master values:

The mask drawing is what he had accomplished freehand, from life, less than 2 years from Day 1 of his quest.

By April 2005 he had mastered values and was ready to begin painting. Here is his charcoal drawing from a “bust” sitting on a table in front of him.

You can see where this journey has taken Jonathan in these slightly-more-than 13 years [at the time of this post, October 2015]: Not at all remarkably, Jonathan now runs his own atelier, teaching other students to become quite good at drawing and painting. His school is an online venue, Classical Art Online, and the school has a Classical Art Online Facebook business page.

You don't necessarily have to be gifted at #art to become a fantastic #painter. #oilpainting Click To Tweet

What I learned from this is that you don’t necessarily have to be gifted artistically to become a fantastic painter. It seems that what you need is, in this order:

  1. A strong desire and motivation
  2. Hard work
  3. Knowledgable critics
  4. Honest self-criticism
  5. Training from teachers who get results from their students that represent what you desire from their instruction, which is far more important than learning from a teacher who is good at the craft — not every craftsman is a good teacher.

A Dream. A Decision. Hard Work.


  1. Wow!! That is a truly remarkable story. What a trip to see that whole journey played out over a few years. Thanks for sharing it, I’m stunned.

    It also kind of “convicted” me. You hinted at it in your message when you wrote: “Now, to be honest, I would not have ever called this kid ‘gifted’– maybe ‘eager’ but I probably would have encouraged him to keep his day job, perhaps forever. There is a lesson to be learned here about that kind of thinking… but let me move on.”

    I regularly visit photography sites that encourage readers to post pictures of their latest work. Trolling through those photos I often come across horrendous shots, just awful, and I think to myself, “what in the world is this guy thinking posting that shot??!!” Many times I comment; most times those comments are critical.

    But your message here has turned me around, convicted me. Who the hell am I to judge, especially of someone’s future talent?

    Point is, even on the slim chance that there’s a photographic equivalent of Jonathan out there, I’ve decided to stop replying with those critical comments. If I can’t find anything truly encouraging to say, I’ll just say nothing.

  2. David,

    Thanks so much for your kind words man. It’s definitely been a long journey. My wife actually deserves the majority of the credit for keeping me going. I remember screaming out of frustration while first learning to draw. My wife was actually the first and only person that believed in me from the beginning. I showed her that first self portrait I did…the terrible bloated looking one. I looked like I had been stung 100 times hehe. I told her I wanted to be an artist and she said, “Go for it…you can do it”. Then when I found the atelier she was willing to move…she’s awesome. She has supported me every step of the way…so much I can’t even put in words.

    The thing I was actually confronted with the most was skepticism at the beginning. Everyone, who knew nothing about art, was telling me I could never make money. Virtually everyone asked what my back up plan was…well of course I didn’t have one. They were even more skeptical when they saw my original work heheh. Everyone acted like they were the authority on art. Virtually everyone I met said I shouldn’t do it. Then when I would ask them, “Oh that’s interesting…who do you know that has tried to make money as an artist…Do you know any gallery owners…have you ever been in a gallery?”. Everyone had to answer no to all those questions. They were told by their high school that art isn’t a “real” career and they believed it.

    You know I’m not the only one that deserves a pat on the back. …a painting a day…yikes…that is a daunting task. It’s a HUGE accomplishment. Just doing one each day is one thing…making them good enough to win awards…well that’s another thing altogether. You deserve applause more than anyone.

    Harold Speed said something in his book on oil painting about putting every obstacle you can in front of an artist because only the true ones will keep going. I think that’s true…my best students are the ones who can’t afford the training and don’t have the time. But they do amazing work anyways.

  3. I am taking art lessons from Jonathan Hardesty… I can’t say enough about Jon. At my age, he could be my son, yet he is willing to teach an old lady how to draw! Just completed my first Bargue and have a long way to go. If you know any success stories about people who started art late in life, I would love to hear them. It seems pretty lonely to be 50+ and know so little about art, but I am so excited to learn and Jon is a great teacher.

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