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Painting a Career

About 10 years ago, Washburn native Tim Gagnon quit his day job with about $1,000 in his pocket to become a full-time artist. While shacked up in an apartment with his girlfriend, he produced a painting almost every day for three years. He started out selling his pieces on Ebay and worked his way up to galleries and art shows. Eventually, he landed an art representative out of New York.

Today, Gagnon’s a professional artist and instructor based in Castle Hill, near Presque Isle. While he still sells pieces in New York galleries, he says his mission is to create a community of Maine creatives to inspire others and demonstrate that art can be a career.

Way off the beaten path and deep in the woods, Gagnon’s studio overlooks a breathtaking view of northern Maine. On clear days you can see Mt. Katahdin.

His days begin by feeding his chickens, saying “Hi” to his rabbits, shaking a few flakes into the fish tank, and giving his dogs Tucker and Mason their breakfast. Slipping downstairs to his home studio after his fiancé leaves for work, he turns up some tunes and enters a trance as he hyper-focuses on the day’s piece, typically an impromptu landscape that captures his mood.

“I create art because it’s a way for me to express myself visually,” he said. “I put it on canvas and try to make you feel the same way [I feel], because it’s a way for me to communicate. I’m a shy introverted type of person, which I’m trying to break out of.”

Reaching over his shoulder, he flips on his trusty camera and records the week’s lesson for his online classes. He’s gone from doing a painting a day to recording a lesson a week.

He spends his evenings in his sketchbook. His work ethic has helped him reach a point where he can take time off. Over the past year he’s focused on figure drawing, which he’ll develop into a lesson series in the coming months.

“I’ve spent a year in my sketchbook drawing faces and figures and all that,” he said. “This year I plan on expanding my lessons into figurative and portrait…I’m just trying to expand into teaching everything.”

Looking back over the past 10 years, he credits his success to the struggle of trying to make it as a professional painter while tucked away in The County.

“I wasn’t successful right away,” he said. “There were points in this career I’ve created that I couldn’t pay bills. I was going nowhere, things weren’t selling really well. It would be really up and down, but I guess I always wanted to make sure I succeeded somehow so I stuck with it.

“I liked that there was a lot of struggle, it’s inspiring to me,” he continued. “It’s good to look back at all the times it looked like it was not going to work and say, ‘Yeah, I got through that.’”

His paintings transcend your typical landscape and manage to bend reality so you’re made to feel what’s on the canvas.

“I really like surreal feeling. I like it to look real, but beyond it a little bit,” he said.

He’ll be hitting the road soon, traveling the country and providing workshops for creatives.

“It’s a cooler connection,” he said about his face time with artists. “You create friendships and put a face to the name.”

He has big plans for his online lessons. Soon he’ll have a network of artists from around the state—possibly the globe—showing budding artists how to pick up a brush and take the plunge into the art world like he did.

“I’m going out there and I’m teaching, but I’m also trying to inspire people,” he said. “Art can be a career.”

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