Growing Art

by Craig Felix

Craig Felix was born on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. He lived there with his family until age 19 when he started studying at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI, USA. He completed a BA in economics, and a year later married his wife Michelle. They have two children, Olivia and Nicholas. Craig’s love of photography motivated him to turn his hobby into a career. Now, Craig works full-time as a photographer for Kohl’s Department Stores Inc.

Growing up on the island of St. Lucia, I was not exposed to much art as a young child. When you had very limited opportunities even for a high school education, the last thing your parents wanted you to do was to spend time drawing. Reading, yes, writing poetry, sure, but just plain doodling was a sure waste of time. Every ounce of your being in school had to be focused on reading, writing and mathematics. And so that is what I did. I spent most of my time getting ready to sit a major exam at the age of eleven that would literally determine my future; if I passed the exam, I could go to high school.

With instruction from a very determined and passionate teacher named Mrs. Regis, I did extremely well on the national exam and was able to move into the island’s top high school for boys. It was only at that level that students were encouraged to explore their artistic abilities, mostly through drawing and painting. We had instruction from Luigi St. Omer, son of the island’s most celebrated painter, Dunstan St. Omer. Art materials such as drawing pads, paint, etc. were expensive (still are) but were required materials. Art was not considered an extra-curricular activity but an integral part of getting a comprehensive education at St. Mary’s. If you wanted to have overall good grades, you had to take art seriously and at least attain a B grade.

I think a lot of us would have completely regarded art class as a waste of time, if it were not a required class to be taken seriously. As with everything in life, some of us were more talented than others. Some boys had no interest in drawing or painting or they simply lacked the skill. There were others who had some skill level, but they had other interests. That was me. Then, you had the students who were really talented drawers and painters and just excelled at it.

I liked drawing and looked forward to being in art class, but I recognized that there were others who were so much better than I was. I just supposed that as long as I could get a B grade that would suffice. One memorable, exciting moment came when I drew and painted what I thought was my greatest artistic accomplishment at the time. It was a painting of Columbus’s Santa Maria ship with St. Lucia’s famous twin peaks called the Pitons. I know it was my best because it was chosen to be displayed at the national town hall building in the city of Castries. What an honor it was to see your art on display for everyone. I would like to say that motivated me to work harder at drawing and painting, but I thought that I may have reached my peak. Even trying to replicate that piece of art was impossible for me.

As I look back on my early art instruction, I realize that art is in all of us. It is just a matter of what direction you want to go or are encouraged to explore. For some of us, drawing can be a soothing, wonderful experience such as painting or writing poetry is for others. There are many talented kids out there who, if given the opportunity to explore art in all of its forms, may find their muse which takes their artistic abilities to the next level.

For a long time, I thought, “I do like drawing. Maybe I could become an architect.” This was not to be, however, because I never had the opportunity to explore that medium. I just thought it would be fun to design houses like Frank Lloyd Wright did. I still think it would be amazing to be a modern day Santiago Calatrava, but in life a lot of things are sometimes chosen for you, and so my path was directed into studying economics like a very famous relative of mine, Sir Arthur Lewis, Nobel Laureate of economics. I never really had the passion to become an economist, but I certainly had the aptitude. It seemed easy to understand and I was good at it without working terribly hard. It was while I was studying at Marquette University in the USA that I met my wife Michelle, who gave me the opportunity to meet my photography muse.

I bought my very first single lens reflex camera, the Canon Rebel G, which helped make photography the most exciting, passionate and fun hobby I have ever encountered. That camera became my companion. Michelle and I traveled to Iowa, Minnesota, and Canada to see family and friends. This gave me the opportunity to take a lot of pictures which I shared with friends and family. It was then that I heard friends and family say to me, “You know, Craig, you really are good at this.” Well, I was certainly flattered by those comments and they inspired me to continue taking pictures. I saw the beauty in people and in nature, and capturing the fleeting moment was incredible. As much as I enjoyed photography, I had no idea what my next step would be until one day while I was at Mitchell International airport in Milwaukee. I noticed an exhibition by members of Milwaukee’s chapter of Advertising Photographers of America. These were mostly photographs of people, products and buildings, and they were absolutely beautiful. This was the first time I recognized how photography was a craft. Through various lighting techniques, a photographer can make ordinary things into extraordinary looking things. Who knew a rusted old key can be lit and styled into something beautiful. I recognized that there was more to photography than recording what you see. Photographers are artists just as are painters, sculptors, and writers. We are not only editing what people see, but we can empower the viewer to see life in certain ways. I recognized the power of the photographic medium through the works of these photographers and knew right then and there that I wanted to become a professional photographer. How to get to that level was the big question.

The Power of the Camera

Once I realized that I could make a career out of taking pictures, my task was to gain the knowledge and insight into the photography world that I knew I was missing. As artists, whether we are self-taught or formally schooled, we recognize that in order to expand our horizons, we first need to know the basic rules. Creativity requires a sense of what is expected and then to move beyond those expectations. To do that, I took photography classes at MATC to establish a foundation to build upon. I spent two years taking photography classes to acquire the technical knowledge. This was a very useful and interesting experience because of the expansive insight I gained about my interest into the photographic medium and where I wanted to contribute.

The birth of my daughter, Olivia, certainly influenced me to consider being a portrait photographer. I loved taking pictures of Olivia. Photographing smiling babies and toddlers brings such a joy. It is incredible. Capturing beautiful family moments to last a lifetime can really be such a rewarding experience. I look back on some of my earlier family photos and it is like being transformed back in time to that very moment. So, for a time, I thought only this type of photography would bring me joy. But that is where going to MATC came into play. I also realized that beauty is everywhere; you just have to look for it or create it, then capture it. So just as capturing the beautiful smile of children is inspirational, so making an ordinary shoe into a work of art photographically brought great satisfaction, as well.

Through hard work and some luck, I was able to learn the craft of product photography and make a decent living out of it. As a photographer, I am able to “see” through the lens. I have just as much joy taking pictures during my travels, as well as creating unique portfolio images of products. I find such joy in the expression on kids’ faces, beautiful light falling on a leaf or a scarf, as well as snow covered Washington Park. Art is in me. Art is in you. Art is in us all. We just have to discover it.

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Last edited by patricia obletz. Based on work by tyler schuster and Tyler Schuster.  Page last modified on March 19, 2013

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