Creators, Makers, and Doers: Bill Carman

Posted on 11/13/15 by Arts & History

Carmen, Bill

Internationally acclaimed illustrator and Boise local, Bill Carman, is constantly at work honing his craft. Spending up to 80 hours a week in his studio, Bill is industrious to say the least. It is hard to believe he has that much time available while balancing teaching as a professor at Boise State University, publishing a book, and spending time with his family. Ultimately for Bill, it comes down to committing to what you love to do.


How do you describe your artwork?

It’s called “Bill Carman.” This is one of the harder questions I get, where do you fit in, what is your work? The real problem is, I don’t. There are pieces that fit into certain things like the Pop Surrealist thing, and I was on the very edge of that.  Some sort of Surrealist quality is always attached to my work. I will fit in, in a way, but it’s not like I’m really embraced. I play in a lot of different areas and I can’t put a label on it, it’s hard.


How much time do you spend in your studio per week?

You’re going to think I’m lying if I tell you. I’d say I spend between 60 and 80 hours a week in my studio. That sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s not. On weekends, which include Fridays, I’m in there from 7am till 8 at night. That’s 11 hours right? That’s 33 hours right there. On week days, depending on my class load and schedule, I’ll be in there from noon or 2 or 3 till 8 at night. There’s no place I’d rather be. My studio is at home, so I’m with my family if they need me. I get to spend time with them, but I’m in my studio mostly. It gets distracting, but I’ve learned to overcome that, you have to if you want a studio at home. The computer is the biggest distraction, so I have to limit that time. Social media has become a big thing with me, it’s really helped my business take off, I have to limit the time I put into that. I’m not a very good time organizer, for me it’s about planning and I’ve found a rhythm.

Do you have gallery representation? How else do you sell your work?

I’m really only showing with one now (AFA Gallery) in New York, they have galleries in Las Vegas, New Orleans and one in France.  Most of my time is taken up with private commissions and a book I’m putting together of my work.


Do you feel like there’s a resource missing in Boise that would help further art careers?

The galleries can’t survive here because if you’re not a vanity gallery or a gallery that’s really focused on the commercial side, then you can’t survive. It takes a critical mass of people who are really committed to the arts and collectors with a certain level of income to be able to give out money for that art. We’ve just never had that here.

The arts community here is well supported intellectually but financially I can’t survive by selling my work here.  I did it for years with the Basement Gallery but I couldn’t have made a living off of that, it was just more to be a presence. As time went on and my work started to be recognized I would show outside in New York, San Francisco, LA, and etc. Then the demands became different and you start to make a little money and you rely on that. Then you try to come back and show here but my prices have gone up and the work just doesn’t sell. There just isn’t the audience here that can spend that kind of money, not that they don’t want to, but they just can’t and I understand that. So it’s been really hard to say I just can’t show here anymore, at least not regularly. I used to show here two times a year and now that’s pretty much gone. We just don’t have that critical mass of people with money that like the kind of art that I sell, here. The people with money who buy art here buy landscape stuff or western art and that’s fine but I just don’t fit that. So I have to go to bigger cities to show.

We have a really nice theatre community, a really good music presents in our community, visual arts is one of the things that is always lagging behind, it’s the last to come along. For a community this size we’re doing a lot of things right, but there are a lot of things we just can’t do. We can’t breed the right kind of patron, they have to come and it’s going to be a slow process. I have no doubt that it’s going to happen but it’s going to be a slow process.


Do you have any advice or encouraging words for artists?

This is going to sound harsh. First of all you have to decide if you really want to do this. It’s going to take a lot of sacrifice, time, really, really hard work and thick skin. If you compare it to other disciplines, for example a concert pianist or a world class athlete, how much time do they spend every day honing their craft? I know a concert pianist in Seattle, as he was coming up he would practice at least eight hours a day six to seven days a week. Athletes’ lives are consumed by their practice and they have to be. You can’t just be talented or gifted, you have to work really hard.

Then you ask yourself how much time do you spend on making your artwork better per day? And most don’t even do artwork every day. If they do it’s a sketch, then they’re off doing other things. I don’t blame them, but it’s a discipline, it takes time. It’s hard work… If you’re going to commit then commit and do it. If you do want to do this then at some point, this is where the harsh part comes in, you need to move away from Boise.

What advantages do those students in New York have over my students here in Boise? They can take an afternoon and go to the MET or MOMA and go see the best works in history, anytime they want. It’s so easy to see artwork in New York City. There are so many places to go to see culture and different cultures and different kinds of people.  The education is sped up there because we just don’t have the resources to match that.

The biggest advice always is, decide that you want to do it and then put in the hours to do that discipline.

Creators, Makers, & Doers highlights the lives and work of Boise artists and creative individuals. Selected profiles focus on individuals whose work has been supported by the Boise City Dept. of Arts & History.




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