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Meet Ford Smith, Artist and Optimist

A Q&A with the local landscape painter

We sat down with Ford Smith, landscape painter and eternal optimist, to learn about his creative process and how he stays inspired. This is one artist who refuses to give in to stereotypes and always thinks (and paints) outside the box! 

East Cobb Lifestyle: What is your creative process? 

Ford Smith: Getting into the studio and painting. The act of painting inspires me. I use paint, water, gravity and texture, moving it around the canvas until I start to "see" something I want to bring forth. I also adopt what Picasso used to say: "Inspiration is for amateurs.” I'm a professional painter, so I don’t wait for inspiration; I get up in the morning, and I paint. The inspiration follows. Music helps! I listen to a wide variety of music, but I am a dedicated Beatles fan, so that is a frequent sound coming from my studio. I also listen to classical music, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s rock ‘n’ roll, soft rock and even some pop and rap. I’m all over the place musically. For other energy, I’m both coffee and tea – coffee in the morning and tea most afternoons by the fire in my studio with my dogs.  

ECL: You describe yourself as an optimist. Do you eschew the idea that artists are brooding and melancholy? Have you come up against and had to refute this stereotype? 

Smith: I'm not a tortured soul — quite the opposite — and I think that’s reflected in my work. When I started painting again after 25 years, I thought I had to create disturbing, complicated or controversial work to get the attention of the museum boards, but it didn't feel natural. What I loved to paint was color and abstracting elements of nature. I am a huge fan of the great Impressionists and Expressionists, who chose not to paint photo-realistically but instead used their imaginations, skills and talents to expand a concept and interpret their subject matter creatively. Bottom line ... I get to paint for a living, and that makes me feel like one of the luckiest people on earth.  

ECL: What contemporary artists do you admire or keep in touch with? What cultural fodder — film, books, podcasts — do you value? 

Smith: I've read or watched about every biography on Van Gogh, Seraut, Klimt, Monet, Cezanne and DaVinci. I've been to Europe and visited the Louvre, Musee d' Orsay, Uffizi and all the great museums of Florence. I like visiting the High Museum here in Atlanta every year. I also have my ear to the ground on who's currently making waves in the great art cities. I often watch YouTube to see what's happening in the broader art community, as well.  It's a fun industry to be a part of, and I believe it's a good practice to immerse yourself in its past and present. Not to mention that doing so is inspirational.  

ECL: What would you tell a young artist starting out?

Smith: Spend time developing an identifiable style and/or subject matter that you enjoy, then seek an audience who responds favorably.  If I were starting out again, I'd begin with social media because it's like conducting a free and easy focus group. Build a website to showcase your work. Then you're ready to approach local gallery directors or owners. There's no shame in getting a job while you're making your way in the art industry, gaining life experience and maturity along the way. If you can find a steady job somewhere in the art industry, even better.  I'd probably not recommend waiting until half your life is over, although it seemed to work out OK for me. I guess the upside for me is that at the age of 72, I still feel like a young painter!    
 

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