January 25, 2017
'It's all about hard work and passion'
By Karen Sandstrom
Eddie Mitchell knows how to explain the fundamentals of art. The landscape painter knows light, line, shape, perspective – everything an artist needs in his tool kit.
If you ask him what he knows about how to make a living as a fine artist, he’ll say he’s not sure. But in the next breath he’ll add, “I’ve been profitable for 27 years in a row.
CIA alumnus Mitchell (’87) — who teaches two courses for high school artists through Continuing Education at the Cleveland Institute of Art — has found the key to a successful life in art. He paints what he loves, succeeds because others love it too, and practices habits that allow him to live as he likes.
Mitchell teaches portfolio preparation for high school students. He also spends two weeks each summer teaching in CIA’s Pre-College program, where he helps high school students nail down the fundamentals in Foundation in Art + Design.
He lives and paints in a quaint Kirtland house he bought at a sheriff’s sale and renovated himself. In a modest spare bedroom, light from a west-facing window illuminates an oil painting he’s been working on: sunlight glazing Lake Erie. A nearby bookshelf brims with cassette tapes. “I just listen to books on tape every day — motivational, inspirational, self-help tapes, relationships, finances,” Mitchell says. “I force myself to do it everyday to set the tone in my mind.”
Discipline and passion form the cornerstone of Mitchell’s career. They’re how he honed his art chops and how he keeps business going. And, says colleague Richard Fiorelli, Mitchell is a great teacher, too.
“Eddie leads by example, and is unrivaled at encouraging young artists to continually develop and refine their portfolios,” says Fiorelli, a CIA professor who recruited Mitchell years ago to team-teach the summer Pre-College Foundation course with him. (Mitchell teaches it solo now.)
“I can easily rank [Mitchell] among the three finest classically trained figurative artists that I have known throughout my lifetime,” Fiorelli says. “He walks the talk and does so with an unbridled enthusiasm for learning and personal growth development.”
But it’s easy to imagine that Mitchell’s career might never have taken flight. He grew up in Willoughby Hills, Ohio, and was that kid in high school who could do a few things really well. One of them was drawing pictures of his classmates for fun and compliments.
“When I went to high school, everyone said, ‘You’re a good artist, you should go to art school,’ ” Mitchell said. But his mother died when he was 17, so instead of art school, he took a full-time job after graduation.
He earned good money at a factory, but hated the work. For two years, he saved what he earned, then decided to try art school after all. He didn’t expect to make art a career — “there was that starving-artist scenario” going through his head, he says — but he figured it would be fun. And he could go back to the factory.
With a slim portfolio, he was accepted at the Cleveland Institute of Art and immediately discovered that he was no longer the only kid in class who could draw. “Everyone was good,” he said. “There were people from all over the country. I was so intimidated that first year.”
Mitchell made it a point to simply make lots of work. By the time he graduated, he had hundreds of paintings from which to start selling, and he quickly found gallery representation.
Mitchell credits longtime CIA faculty member Julian Stanczak for helping him develop his style. His inclination was to make photorealistic paintings that he is tempted, if briefly, to compare to “painter of light” artist Thomas Kinkade. But Stanczak pushed him in a more sophisticated direction.
“Julian got me to try the dot style and use more color, and try van Gogh techniques,” Mitchell says. “I idolized van Gogh, Cezanne, Monet. Those were my favorites.”
Mitchell was never interested in becoming an abstract painter.
“When I was in school, it was all about Abstract Expressionism. But in the real world – and that was 99 percent of the people — they had no idea what that was all about. You had to explain it to them,” he said. “So I thought, I’ll put the abstract elements in there, but they can really just enjoy it without feeling like they’re dummies. It’s part of my commitment to my family and friends.”
Students who sign up for the Foundation class in the Pre-College program will get the best of the basics, Mitchell says. “I assume you don’t know anything about art, and the first classes are line, shape, color, texture. It’s really structured. The more I break it down, the more they get into it.”
Although students come in with varying degrees of experience, this back-to-basics approach never fails, he says. Better students like the opportunity to reinforce basics, and the inexperienced ones need them.
Along the way, it’s a program of rigorous fun and hard work.
“I tell them . . . this is what it’s like to be an artist,” Mitchell says. “If you can maintain your intensity and passion for this, you got it going on.”
To register for CIA’s Pre-College program, visit cia.edu/precollege.
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