Artist Spotlight features the best and brightest artists in their respective fields. PortPrep interviews each of them as they discuss their experiences on how they got into the arts, what it was like studying and getting a degree in arts and design, and the important traits necessary in becoming a successful artist. Click here to check out other interviews.
Dave Rheaume is a testament to the fact that it’s never too late to practice the arts. After spending most of his adult life in the television industry, Dave turned back to creating artworks, which was one of his passions when he was a child. With practice and determination, Dave has refined his skills, enabling him to participate in art exhibitions and win awards.
Read this compelling interview to see Dave’s journey away and back to the arts.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Dave Rheaume. For 29 years I’ve worked in television, but for the last 7 or 8 I have also been a selling artist. I paint mostly archival city scenes set in wintertime. I exhibit frequently and have won awards. My website is www.daverheaume.com
How did you know that you wanted to study the arts?
I’ve always been drawn to art, for as long as I can remember. As a child, my brothers and I drew our own comics with a great deal of passion. In high school I took art/art history for my entire 5 years.
Describe the kind of education you received prior to becoming the artist you are today. How did it affect you to want to become an artist?
My only formal art training was 5 years of high school art, where, in addition to exposure to many different mediums, we also learned about the history of art. But the greater influence on my art was my career in television, where I learned a lot about imagery: composition, lighting, and the importance of narrative. I had the opportunity to work with some of the best cinematographers in the country, and learned all about the nature of light: primary sources, colour temperatures, fill, rim lighting, ambient light, etc.
As a graduate of Radio and Television Broadcasting, did your college education made it much more difficult for you to become a professional artist? Why or why not?
It made it more difficult only in the sense that my career in television took me away from doing art for many years…years that could have been spent building a painting career. So in a sense, I’m a late starter in terms of art. In another way, though, I feel the television background that has crossed over into my art career has given me a distinct style as an artist. I often get comments about the ‘film noir’ or cinematic nature of my paintings, and that I attribute completely to my television background.
Did you have to create an art portfolio as part of the requirements before studying arts? How was that like for you?
No, that didn’t apply to my case. I have created a portfolio though, mostly because I use it as a sales tool at exhibitions. I’ve actually sold pieces that I didn’t have on hand, but clients saw it in my book.
What were the most important lessons you learned while studying how to practice art?
Attention to subject matter, to me, was key. Creating works that are evocative…that remind people of a certain type of evening, or bring back memories of a past time. I’m very big on the narrative element…that my paintings have a story…and I find that draws the viewers in as well.
What should students consider before studying art?
Be self-aware. Have a realistic sense of what your talents are. Don’t be afraid to experiment and pursue all ideas. Don’t be afraid of failing. Study past greats for clues to what made their art so great.
What is being an artist like as an occupation? Does it have a competitive market with lots of demand or is it a relatively small industry with select workers and clients?
It’s an incredibly difficult field to make a living in. I would say there are a lot of incredibly talented artists already out there, all chasing a relatively small market of people who have the disposable income to spend a thousand dollars on a painting. It’s not uncommon to see even veteran artists shut out of sales at large exhibitions.
What are some of the obstacles that a painter has to overcome to succeed?
Standing out in a crowded field that already has a lot of talent. All you need to do is go on the art websites and look at the literally tens of thousands of artists with jaw-dropping talent to realize how tough the competition is. And without name recognition, it’s incredibly difficult to sell your art. It simply is not enough to paint great pictures and expect people will just come to you and give you money for it. It’s a constant game of promoting yourself and trying to get attention.
What are the keys to success in becoming a great artist?
I think it comes down to branding. You simply have to have something about your art that separates it from everybody else. You don’t have to have the most talent, but people need to see your art and be able to recognize it as yours. I’ve had people say to me: “I was out for a walk in the snow last night and it looked just like a Dave Rheaume painting”. Comments like that make me realize that I’m on to something. Be distinctive. It’s not enough to paint a hyper-realistic lake-and-tree scene or horse galloping if it’s the type of image that a thousand other artists are already painting. Potential buyers must be able to recognize the painting as ‘one of yours’. And lastly, you have to connect with the viewer. It isn’t enough just to execute art in a technically competent way. Something about your art needs to resonate with the people who look at it.