Outside of death and taxes, the only other thing that scares most people is ‘change”. I believe in change. Change can come in two ways: sought out and happenstance. Like most people, I’ve experienced both, but it’s the latter that is sometimes the hardest to adjust to.
For twenty-some-odd years I was a successful children’s book author and illustrator, mostly doing funny, cartoon-style books. Fourteen years ago when my wife and I moved to northern New England, I decided to join our town’s volunteer fire department. Working from home, I had the flexibility to respond anytime, particularly during the daylight hours which is a rare thing in rural areas when most people have jobs that either take them out of town or limit their ability to respond. A few years into my avocation I chose to write and illustrate a serious book depicting the realistic challenges firefighters face. Two more “fire” books led to using “water” as the theme. In 2001 I started working with the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod to research a book about search and rescue at sea. Several flights and multiple photographs later, the book began to take form.
While I was in the midst of this project, I found out about the Coast Guard art program. I had loved working with the Air Station and wanted to continue exploring this military branch. After being accepted, I immediately began painting everything from search and rescue missions to the mundane duties of preparing meals in the ships’ galleys. This stylistic change from cartoon to realism was tapping into something deep within me. It was also a return to a style I’d done as a kid: drawing pictures of my heroes.
Meanwhile, change in the publishing front, threw me a curve. My adventure books were not meeting the publisher’s expectations and with the completion of a book on the Hurricane Hunters, I was out. As this reality hit and lack of work followed, I struggled with this change thrust upon me. And then last year, one cold February day, I was invited by the Coast Guard Public Affairs office to spend two weeks aboard patrol boats in the Persian Gulf documenting their work guarding the oil platforms off the coast of Iraq. Manna from heaven. I was thrilled.
Throughout the year, I worked on several paintings depicting the action in the Gulf, recently receiving a public service award from the Commandant. But I didn’t do the paintings for that reason. The door that opened many years ago as a volunteer firefighter, began a new chapter in my life that was totally unexpected. I’m not a thrill junkie. What makes me happy is getting to glimpse the lives of the people I chronicle: people willing to put themselves in harm’s way in order to save others. Change, in this sense, turned out to be a good thing.
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