Wayne R. Flower is a visual artist, musician and writer who lives in Portland, Oregon. He has been creating things since he was a child, found his way into punk rock as a teenager, playing in bands of various genres over the years (State Of Confusion, Treepeople, The Halo Benders, among others). In the late 90’s he found himself in the tech business, a career swallowed him for 10 years and whisked him from Seattle to Boston, where he languished for 5 years. Upon finding his life unfulfilling, he moved to Portland, Oregon (a locale he had desired to live in for years). After attending open mics around town and befriending many talented local writers, he began to write again. Through these open mics, Wayne met and began playing music with a talented songwriter who is a regular at the 3 Friends open mic, Tobias Ryan, and soon they were a unit, playing their respective, dissimilar but somehow complementing songs. This was the beginning of Outside Voices, which soon came to include another talented, bluesy songwriter, also a 3 Friends open mic regular, Erik Mutzke.

Making Art

S&TG: Do you use the word artist, poet, etc. to describe yourself? Do you feel like you don’t “deserve” to call yourself that because you’re not paid, published, etc. or famous? Have you always thought of yourself as an artist?

I am most comfortable calling myself a musician, since I was a semi-professional musician for almost 20 years. This is a title I feel that I deserve and that I own. A good friend once told me I have ‘indie credibility’. Though I write, I am hesitant to call myself ‘poet’, as, through the open mic scene in Portland I have met real poets, people who live poetry and do it all the time, people like Mike G, Tommy Gaffney or Chris & Amber Ridenour. That all said, the title ‘artist’ fits, as I also do visual art as well as music and writing, which are all arts, yes?

S&TG: And what does it mean to you to be an artist, poet, etc? And have you always thought of yourself as one? If not, when did you?

On my poetry blog I explain it as: ‘I am an artist in the sense that I play music, write and do visual art, that I have had the impulse to create something from nothing as long as I have been conscious and that I can’t live without doing so.’ I think that about sums it up. I have been creating things as long as I remember, felt the impulse to do so and never questioned it. It seems to be like your sexual orientation; you know what you are early on!

S&TG: How long have you been making art?

As long as I can remember, as long as I could manipulate a crayon or manipulate something and change it.

S&TG: Why is your art important to you? Why do you spend time creating when you could be doing something completely different and no one else would stop you?

As I mentioned above, it keeps me sane, keeps me alive. I mean this in the sense that there have been times in my life where I was unable to create much and I felt trapped, as if I were not getting enough air, in a metaphorical sense, of course, but it is that crucial to my well-being. As for the second question, the only answer I can think of is in the form of a question; ‘Why not?’

S&TG: What does it feel like to create? No, seriously, what does it feel like?

Liberating. You have complete control, or at least you think you do. But the things you don’t have control over, the chaos and disorder, are your friends. And if something doesn’t work out, you always have a new blank canvas (or blank page, unwritten song, etc.) waiting. It feels like the very definition of being alive to me. It is the justification for having these big brains that humans have. It is the ability to express ourselves through manipulating our environment.

S&TG: What kind of art do you make? What excites you as an artist?

I do visual art in the form of large, detailed oil pastel drawings, pen and ink drawings and what I call digital etchings. I also write poetry, short stories, creative non-fiction and recently completed the third draft of a novel (don’t hold your breath on it hitting the shelves soon!). And of course, I play music, all kinds, on bass and drums mostly, and sometimes I pretend to be a guitarist. I have appeared on around 15 albums.

S&TG: What’s your creative process? Do you follow a routine?

Depends on the medium. With visual art, most definitely. I have to have the right environment, good music, and at least the beginnings of an idea. With writing, also absolutely. I often like to write in public places like cafe’s, somehow I get in my own bubble better there. For music, I am pretty much a musician who has to have a task in front of me. Though I really dig free jamming, where many great song ideas come from, mostly I need to be working on songs, by myself or in a group. I am not a guy who sits at home ‘noodling’ or learning covers. I leave that to guitarists! In all of the above, I must be feeling it or I don’t bother.

S&TG: Are there habits or places that help you create or get you inspired?

As I mentioned above, cafe’s are good. I like to drink a bit of wine when I write, just enough to feel fuzzy! To play music I just need a few other folks with a common goal and it’s off to the races. Travel helps all of these arts I love. I like to absorb new ideas and surroundings and take mental notes for use later.

S&TG: What have you learned about your art that’s surprised you?

To be honest, nothing, really.

S&TG: Who are your creative heroes?

Wayyy too many to list here. Charles Mingus is a creative hero. Faulkner. Tarkovsky. Louis Armstrong. Duke Ellington. Curtis Mayfield. Edward Hopper. Edvard Munch. Joseph Conrad. Philip K. Dick. Robert Schumann. Mike Watt, D. Boone and George Hurley. Bob Dylan. John Cassevettes. Coltrane. Elvin Jones. John Kennedy Toole. Joe Strummer. Robinson Jeffers. Oh this is silly, I will be here all night.

S&TG: What are your dreams?

To do what I love for the rest of my life. That has come to mean helping people however I can. And I am on that path now.

S&TG: What kind of support system do you have?

Show & Tell Gallery! Friends in Portland, Seattle, Philly, New York City, Boise and Boston and my family and my awesome girlfriend.

S&TG: What’s the most important lesson that you want to share with a beginning artist about how to be creative?

To be honest, the question is odd. It’s like asking a lesson you want to share with someone about how to be gay or straight. I eluded to this metaphor above, so let me explain, I am not trying to be rude, I know you mean well in asking; if you are an artist, you already are creative. The trick is honing your craft so that you feel you are properly representing your voice, your view of the world, as honestly as possible. Try not to think too much about who will like it or won’t like it. It is impossible to not think of that at all, but don’t let that feeling, that fear, get in the driver’s seat. Art is about letting go, about getting it out, and then sorting out what comes out of you later.

Making a living

S&TG: How do you pay your bills? Etc.

I get some music royalties, I have a computer skills tutoring business for which I tutor people one on one, I work with a lot of seniors and other folks who are new to computers or just want to be more efficient with what they know. I am a full time student, so part of how I pay bills is with loans and grants. I also work as a Peer Advisor where I go to school (Portland Community College) where I help people navigate through the sometimes confusing world of higher education and I have a one night a week teaching gig for SUN Community Schools teaching computer literacy to adults. I love what I do…I am hoping to teach at a college when I am done with school and maybe start a non-profit. Oh and I also sell shit on Craigslist and eBay.

S&TG: How does the way you make a living right now either support or complicate making art?

Right now the biggest issue is that I have no time, or almost no time, to do art, as my schedule is nuts (see last answer!). But I still make sure I can because, as I said, it keeps me sane.

S&TG: What’s the most important lesson you want to share with an artist about how to make a living?

I don’t really have one, as I have never made a living on my art! I have made part of my living. I guess that you may have to compromise your ideal of totally making a living on art. Not that it is impossible, it is just very hard to do, as, unfortunately, this society that consumes and exports so much art somehow doesn’t see it is being worth as much as other professions monetarily, which is a huge fucking shame. It really is.

But, if you want to go for it, find your voice, who you are, and how to express it, first, before doing anything. When it feels right, work your ass off. Do as much as humanly possible; do cafe art shows, open studio shows, play open mics, free gigs, give away your stuff to get known, and, find people who know about the business side of professional art and present them with something that will perk their interest, along with already having got your name out there. If you are in a band, play LOTS of shows, when you see a band who you think you would go well with, ask if you can open for them (for free if need be) so that you will play in front of a receptive crowd. The more you play, the more your name is out there and then when you approach a booking agent, they will have already heard of you and maybe even seen you.

And whether visual art, writing or music, it’s all about product, Baby! Make lots of it, make it well, give it away. Don’t expect to make a living overnight. The people you see who have ‘made it’ have been at it way longer than you know and they work very hard. And, the most important advice is…love what you do enough to do it whether or not you make a living or get signed to the hip label or get in the best gallery. Never forget, the work comes first. Everything else is frosting.

S&TG: Do you hope to make a living doing your art one day?

I have come as close as I ever will. I now want to be living because of my art. For my art.

S&TG: Do you feel having to make money limits your creative life?

I have many friends who are successful at making a living at their art. I do feel in some cases that it can effect what you do in a negative way if you let what other people think rule what you do, be they the audience, viewers, readers or the corporate folks funding you. Don’t sign contracts without lawyers! Make sure you get something that will not put you in a position to compromise your art. That all said, there is some level of compromise you will have to give in to. When people invest in you, there are certain demands to be met, but never compromise your ideals or your soul. And money that is fronted has to be paid back, so choose wisely!

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