My parents met each other when they were students at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1948. My father, James Edwin Seward, was raised in the Deep South and had recently finished his service in the Navy. Up till then, he was a totally self-taught artist who had never met a professional artist in his life.
With an accent sounding like Gomer Pyle, gales of laughter would erupt when he opened his mouth in art school. Being a very serious student however, he was greatly annoyed when he first heard my mother giggling and talking with her friends in the back of the classroom while he was trying to study.
Undeterred by this encounter, they married, moved to Cleveland, Ohio, and raised five children, four of whom became professional artists.
I pretty much learned all my painting skills from my father.
Recently deceased, he was a free-lance illustrator and portrait painter who worked at home in his studio, so my siblings and I were immersed in the art business whether we liked it or not. I had a sort of old fashioned master/apprentice relationship with my father, where I eventually got good enough that I helped work on some of his paintings. This intense training, plus a particularly fervent high school art teacher (Anthony Eterovich), helped me to win the highest number of gold medal awards of any student in the National Scholastic Art Competition.
In that particular year, the showing of the students’ works happened to be in Chicago, unbeknownst to my grandparents who resided there. One day my grandfather bolted frantically out of the bathroom upon hearing screams from my grandmother. Fearing that some calamity had befallen her, he instead found her clutching a Chicago Tribune Newspaper. She had unexpectedly stumbled upon a large color picture of one of my paintings in an article about the show.
After graduating High School, three of my siblings and I went to different art schools.
My own experience (at a very prestigious art school that I shall not name) was almost a complete waste of time. I had teachers who never picked up a pencil or paintbrush, and pretty much just left us students to learn on our own. And all this after paying big bucks!
Nevertheless, I continued training under my father (and mother) on the side, and I quit art school after a year and a half.
A job immediately fell into my lap that entailed painting portraits of the past mayors of Parma, Ohio, and teaching community art classes.
Teaching proved to be a valuable experience for me. I had students that ranged in age from kindergarteners all the way through seasoned citizens. The act of teaching what I had learned, to people of widely varying skill levels, helped to crystallize my own concepts on art.
I still enjoy teaching, but nowadays I only have an occasional private student.
I grew restless after a couple of years of teaching and I ventured into the world of greeting card illustration, going to work for American Greetings Corporation where I was abruptly fired after only three months. At the end of the workday one Friday afternoon I was summoned into the office by two of my superiors. Quite oblivious of the situation, I wisecracked “So, what did you call me in for? To fire me?” Nobody laughed. I began to get worried. They actually did me a favor by forcing me to get my priorities straight and to pursue what I really liked best: painting people.
I started by drawing sketches of people at local art shows. I showed samples of my oil paintings along with the drawings, and gradually I picked up commissions to do oil portraits.
A key person who helped me get going is a woman named Mary Reynolds who sat for one of my pencil sketches, and later asked if she could become a part-time agent for me despite having no previous experience. This worked out very well.
Eventually I accumulated enough work that I abandoned the pencil sketching.
At various times I’ve had a large enough backlog of work that I’ve enlisted the services of my father and my two brothers, Peter and Tom. Some of the paintings you see on my web site contain brushstrokes from these family members.
In fact, within my family circle there has been quite a bit of sharing of skills where every member has worked on somebody else’s pictures at one time or another. Once, for fun, we did a pastel of my cousin Wendy where literally everybody drew on a part of the picture.