Artists have special access to their third eye. There is this intuitive union of looking beyond the immediate, and yet remaining fully absorbed in the present. Inspiration is in even the most mundane of endeavors—nature boasts a plentiful palette, and a muse can be an ephemeral thing. It is about looking beyond what you think you know, and possessing the inquisitive nature to understand something other than what it may appear to be. Art is about pushing yourself through the struggles, searching for the answers to questions you haven’t even asked.
Andrew Billion knows how to look, how to push himself in the search. It appears he is not afraid of the unknown, or the daunting task of conquering new endeavors. He just takes it in stride with a big warm smile. Andrew is a painter, and as of late, a potter. He is prolific in production, and modest in promotion. His study methods may be unconventional, but to say they are effective would be an understatement. Speaking with Andrew reminded me that I can do anything, if I only put in the time. How will you use your time this year? Please read on, reflect, and enjoy! ~Amy
What is the path that has led you to where you are today?
Ultimately, I’m self-taught. I went to Benedictine College, right outside of Kansas City. I got a degree in business entrepreneurship. I took a couple of drawing classes, and a painting class on the side. That’s about it. I was an art major for a semester, and the head of the art department and I butt heads right away, so I dropped out [of the program]. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to change schools or just change my major, because I really liked the school and the people, so I stuck around.
Last ceramics class I took was in high school. I took every art class O’Gorman had to offer.
The last three months I have done quite a bit of pottery while working on paintings. For every one of these I finished, there’s two or three that I threw away to mix back down before I got the hang of it again.
So high school was really the last time you worked with ceramics?
Yes, other than at the [Washington] Pavillion. I volunteered there for Empty Bowls.That was my last interaction, but I have this online guru who I study. I watch his videos and read about it. After I put my son to bed, I just watch pottery youtube videos. It’s awesome.
When did you decide to purchase a wheel?
Two months ago. I worked at my family’s car dealership for a year-and-a-half. I sold Toyotas. I had a hard time not being able work on my art, but I learned a lot about business and about people. You see people at a pretty interesting level when they’re about to spend $30,000 – $80,000. You get to talk to hundreds of people and give advice about a pretty substantial life decision.
What did you do after the car dealership?
I just straight up quit. I decided that was not going to be my career. But, I needed to make some money quick because I also have a son. I worked at the Pavillion for a while in the Science Center. Then I worked in the Pavillion’s ceramics department for about a month after. Then I came here. I used to come here every night after work at the car dealership. It was hard to adjust to painting during the day.
How long were you painting before you decided to add ceramics?
I got this space as soon as I moved back from Kansas. I’ve had it a little more than two years. I started full-time as soon as I felt I had made enough money. I had a rough time at first, didn’t know what I was doing. I had a hard time with self-motivation, coming here at 8 a.m. Trying to do 8-5 at the studio was hard at first. I ended up taking another job after about two months of struggling. I painted houses. I was a site manager for Select Painting. I had a crew that I managed, a bunch of college kids. It was really nice. It got me really motivated.
Do you have anyone whom you seek out as a mentor, for guidance?
No, not really. I just read and watch how-to videos.
What keeps you painting?
The process thrills me. I guess just the love of creating things. That’s always where I’ve found gratification and self-worth. With music, you’re making songs out of vibrations that would normally go unnoticed. With ceramics, pottery out of clay. You’re making something out of nothing, and I’ve always grasped onto that and have not let go. It’s really all I’ve ever seen myself doing since I was six-or-seven years old. I was set in my mind that this is what I wanted to do. It’s always going to be here and it’s always going to be a part of what I’m doing.
What is the basis for most of your paintings?
Some of this stuff is from photos that I take. Others I paint from my imagination.
The Atlas Moth and that Lionfish were all photos I took at the butterfly house.
When I studied in Italy, as a foreign exchange student, I took a bunch of photos that I am studying, drawing, and painting. Hope to do more traveling.
Do you do commission work?
I’ve done some commission work. It has been met with good reactions.
How can people find your work? Have you been in any shows?
I have done a bunch of random shows. I’m working on a website and my social media. That’s my bane: self promotion. I don’t know. I’m just averse to it. I don’t know if it’s as much that, as it is that I don’t think about it. I just don’t. You have to though. You have to be really good at promotion to make it work.
How have you sold pieces in the past?
Where do you fire your pieces?
I have a kiln at my house. I use this box full of packing peanuts to transport a day’s worth of pottery. I let them dry, trim them, let them dry completely, and then I load them into this box. Then I throw this box in my car, take it home and fire it. Next morning, bring it back, glaze it, let it dry, put it back in the box, back in my car, and home to do a glaze fire. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past three months.
It looks like you’re making sets with some of these.
I’ve been trying to. Getting things the same size has probably been the most difficult part, but it has been getting better every day. I’ve gradually been growing in size as well. I switched to porcelain, which was pretty fun. I made these trimming tools out of hacksaw blades. This is how I sculpt the foot and get all the texture [on my pieces].
Do you like porcelain better than stoneware?
There are a lot of different kinds of clay. Porcelain’s been nice, but I don’t feel that I’ve quite used it to its full potential yet. It’s supposed to be way stronger when it’s thin, and you can make china out of it. It’s meant to be functionally the lightest weight. I’m still kind of working on the technique. Because I have an electric kiln which is rather small, I take great time in sculpting the porcelain and applying. When you have a bigger, more interesting kiln, I think stoneware can be fun as well.
Do you like ceramics or painting better?
Right now, ceramics has got me wild. I really like it. It’s brought a lot of inspiration and creativity that seems to get stale when I work on my paintings for so long. When I get frustrated or stuck I can break the deadlock with some time on the wheel.
Your production is rather prolific.
It has been with pottery. It’s surprised me, because it all happened in the last three months, and I was like, woah, I can actually do this. With painting, I take my time. The three of them–music, ceramics, and painting–work well in harmony. But painting is where I find the most satisfaction with a finished product. Performing live music is the most fun though.
Do you listen to music while you are painting? What kinds of things do you listen to?
Yes. My musical taste is very broad. I really love Classical music before noon. In the afternoon, I like anything and everything Jazz, blues, folk, rock, hip-hop, electronic. I like hillbilly country, like bluegrass.
With your paintings, everything seems thought-out and really tight. Is that something you want to stick with?
I love realism. With my landscapes, if I’m on site I’m going to paint something quick; I’m a little more expressive. My still life pieces are almost photorealistic. I stretch myself. For painting, I desire to be more expressive, and there’s certain mental blocks that make it hard for me. I often try to pick more expressive subject matter and then paint it realistically. Like a fish or some of the landscapes. I do find I can be more expressive in other mediums, like in my ceramics, or my music. I’ll have some of that freedom that I just couldn’t quite grasp when I was painting. Music is the most free and expressive of all for me. That’s where I can find the most freedom, probably because I understand it the most.
You have a son. Do you ever create with him?
We draw a lot. He likes to draw. He’s throwing pottery now too.
What do you want your next step to be with ceramics?
I would be nice to work on some commissions and sets. It’s easy to do mugs and I love doing bowls. Ultimately, I’d like to be able to have ceramic as well as painting commissions. I want to find some new places to show my work as well. I am very excited for the website.
What is your favorite art show you’ve been to this year?
I went to the National Gallery in D.C.. That was amazing. I toured the whole place. Doing shows is not the most important thing to me right now. The most important is making stuff and really mastering my craft.
When you moved from Kansas City to Sioux Falls, would you say getting to know the new arts scene was a bit of a challenge?
It’s not just the challenge of getting to know it, but a lot of it is seeing where it can go. I’ve met a lot of key players, people who are working here and that care about local artists, and it’s really nice to see. That’s been really encouraging to me. I’m a bit of an introvert, so networking can be tough for me. Not because I’m shy, but more because I get in the zone.
Do you feel connected with any of the artists that have studios up here? Do you interact with them a lot?
I’m the only one that works during the day here really. I keep to myself during the work hours but at shows and events we all hang out.