From Mundane to More Meaningful

The summer after my freshman year, I got a job through RISD working for a faux finish, mural and fine art company called Imago Dei in Houston, TX. The company is founded and run by Jamie Wells 99 IL and her husband Jeremy, who hired me to work with them for three months – eight hours a day, five days a week. I lived in a city I had never been to before, and earning $6 an hour, I was able to be 100% financially independent (which was important to me because I want to be prepared for life after college).

My responsibilities varied from day to day; initially, it was mostly work that had to do with the business side of a fine art company: updating the website, putting together booklets for interior designers, assembling new computers and monitors. I also ran errands and did a lot of cleaning and organizing. After several weeks of this, I realized I was getting discouraged because it didn’t seem to have much to do with painting.

During the last few weeks of the internship, however, we started a new mural project with Chevron (the oil company) and the experience took a dramatic turn for the better. The project involved creating 18 large abstract paintings in acrylic to hang in the Houston headquarters of the company. Each one displayed various aspects of the natural beauty of Texas. The entire process of making the 10 x 14' paintings, from framing to the painting itself, was done by hand right in the studio. Mostly, my job was to help do the gesso work, sketching and under-painting of each mural before Jamie and another painter got to the details. We worked long hours and didn’t get many breaks. But I learned how rewarding and important it is to stick with it, and there were many days when I felt very fortunate to be paid to do what I love.

After coming back to RISD in the fall, I realized that in ‘real life’ it will be rare to be able to paint whatever pleases me. My summer-long glimpse into the world of an artist who combines commercial commissions with more personal work taught me to treasure my time in college more than ever. In many ways life at RISD is a utopian ideal, separated from the financial realities of bills, marketing, courting clients and managing stress levels, time pressures and the bottom line. This is the time to experiment, grow and be passionate about the ideas floating inside without any real worries about surviving as a painter. Although there were certainly many moments of frustration during my internship, the valuable things I learned about art as a business will stick with me as I attempt to make my own way as an artist. –Yao Cheng 09 PT

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