A LIFE OF ART
By T.L. Petersen
Observer Staff Writer
COVE Silver and turquoise glow and reflect glints of light in Mike Taylor's hands. Paintings on the wall and on easels add more colors, from black voids slashed with colored streaks, to a beloved face. Bookshelves bulge with a mix of paperbacks and hardcovers. Taylor reaches over and pulls out a book with an 1800s-era cowboy on the cover.
Tucked away in nearly every corner and on tables in Taylor's Cove home are clues to the importance of art in the Taylor family's life.
With ease, Taylor, who has lived in Cove for five years, can move from his work as a jewelry designer, to a comic book illustrator, to canvas paintings, to thoughts about writing a book.
But while Taylor is at ease around artistic endeavors, he also knows the struggle of a reasonably successful artist forced to worry about the next paycheck.
It's why he's working nights as a security guard, squeezing his art into spaces between sleep, work and family life.
"I didn't start growing up until we started having a family," Taylor smiles wryly, turning the conversation quickly to the pride he has in his youngest son, Chris, a Cove basketball player.
With five children, Taylor has had years of making his talent stretch to meet his internal needs and the reality of surviving as a family.
"All of our kids are artists, and talented," he says. "I think they need to keep doing their art emotionally and spiritually, it's important. But it's not very lucrative," Taylor adds.
At the dining room table, Taylor surrounds himself with comic books, carefully protected in clear plastic sleeves.
While he has colored some of the comics, most he provided the lettering for. A few he illustrated. Years ago, he explains, he met Brett Blevins, an artist who drew comics for DC and Marvel.
"He told me I should try lettering," Taylor recalls. While it may not seem exciting, lettering comics did turn out to be steady work.
With a little experience, Taylor was able to get lettering jobs from a Disney company based in Prescott, Ariz., working on Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics. Those comics have their own special protectors.
Taylor calculates that he has been luckier than many young artists, but that his story isn't unusual.
Being successful financially as an artist is difficult.
"It's rare," he says. "There are maybe 500 incredibly talented artists (in comics) who make a living at it today."
And there are thousands of high school illustrators working to break into that rarified circle.
Taylor knows. He was a high school artist who started to try to make art his living in the early 1970s. He was living in Arizona.
He moved to New Mexico in the '70s, living there for 12 years, meeting his wife, and starting their family. His jewelry much of it turquoise and silver earned spots in galleries and was popular.
The young family returned to Arizona, where Taylor found work lettering for Dark Horse Comics. Star Wars comics and Edgar Rice Burroughs comic-book adaptations kept him busy, along with jewelry.
Taylor is quick to clarify that he's not a silversmith, but a silver fabricator, using stones he cuts himself, pieces of silver and silver wire in his designs. "I don't use a big anvil or stakes," he explains. "I don't make spoons or plates. I've never been set up for it."
The Taylors found their way to La Grande in 1998 after following Taylor's sister to the Coos Bay area in 1997.
"We loved it, but it was just too wet," he said of the southern Oregon coast. The Taylors started exploring Oregon, making bigger and bigger circles from Coos Bay. They liked the Bend area, but thought it was too much like Prescott, Ariz., being overrun with newcomers.
"We were looking farther and farther out (from the coast)," Taylor explained. "Then we came over the Blues. It was just beautiful. And there was hardly anybody around."
Taylor, his wife, Mara, and their son rented a home in La Grande first before moving to Cove.
Mara is a permanent makeup artist, with certification. She is also, as Taylor is quick to display, an artist in beadwork and stained glass.
"She's a jeweler, too," he adds.
While Taylor has taken from college art classes, he says he's "kind of self-taught." But the important aspect for him is to always be drawing and always be learning.
From drawing high-school campaign posters, to drawing editorial cartoons for a Phoenix underground newspaper to creating T-shirt designs for several national parks, he's always been looking for ways to earn a living through art.
He squints and frowns, admitting to a few "terrible jobs," including designing ads for telephone directory yellow pages and grocery store
It's gotten more difficult as the computer-age has spread to the art world.
Computers and his dislike of them is a major reason Taylor prefers three-dimensional art, such as jewelry.
Taylor shrugs about the problems of earning a living as an artist, especially as a newcomer to the Grande Ronde Valley.
"You know, life is short," he philosophizes. "I like learning new things. I'd like to sculpt, bronzes maybe. I'd like more tools, and I'd like to keep trying new things."
He's even thought about tattooing, he says, but Oregon is the toughest and most expensive state in which to become certified for that work.
So he'll keep working here, even knowing that to make it he probably should have gone to Los Angeles or New York. But he likes the quality of life here.
And he's thinking about possibilities.
"It would be great to take a welding class," he said, smiling.
And that book he plans to write? Maybe it will be partly a graphic biography.
"The best artists," Taylor explains, "work images into a story that aren't even really there. Readers just remember those images."