Art

Pet portraitist Scott Groome on weathering the coronavirus

Scott Groome is a local Rhode Island artist. Originally from Woonsocket, Groome got his start at The Stadium Theatre as a set painter and scenic artist. After two years of gaining experience there, Groome applied for a position as a scenic artist in television and film. After working on a 20th Century Fox movie and a TV show for AMC TV, Groome decided that his passion lay with experimenting with color inside his studio and connecting through art with the people around him. He currently owns his own business and makes his living by painting pet portraits. Unfortunately, the recent coronavirus scare has impacted Groome, like many artists, in a very negative way.

Groome, who depends on income from his business to support his family, is suffering the repercussions of the current social and economic climate. He has graciously agreed to speak with Motif about his art and how it has been recently impacted.

Amanda Grafe (Motif): Before I address how the coronavirus has affected you and your family, I would like to get to know a little bit more about you as an artist. When did you first discover you had a passion for art?

Scott Groome: Art has always been my way of expressing myself since I was young. I started with drawing characters at my grandparent’s to drawing graffiti in my sketchbook in my room. I was also raised in a musically talented family, which led to me playing music and studying what made the legends so great. I was inspired by landscape design and architecture as a teenager and had a knack for design from my parents, as they are very creative. I was accepted to some very good art colleges in
California but wasn’t able to get the financial aid to go to school, so instead I left home at 18 and moved to Florida. I started bartending, which led to my passion for food and serving people. I lived there for three years, then moved back to RI. I decided what I wanted to do in life was to be with people and share my skills. I bought an RV and sat in there drawing portraits for people. It wasn’t until my boss at The Burrito Company restaurant in Woonsocket, RI, commissioned me to paint a fine art nude for the restaurant, that I was challenged for the first time to pick up a paint brush. The rest is history. That painting revealed to me my purpose, and I knew that I could make a living if I treated it like a business and “went to work painting.”

AG: Do you have any formal training in art or is it just something that comes naturally?

SG: While I did take a very short class in LA for oil painting techniques, I am 100% self-taught in what I do. I learned by doing and experimenting with the mediums.

AG: You mentioned you spent time in Los Angeles. What was that like and how did it help define what you do now?

SG: I decided to move to LA when I was 26 to chase my west coast dreams. At the time, I was focused on studying wine and viniculture because I’ve always wanted to open a restaurant or wine bar. I managed a wine bar for the majority of my time there and rented a studio in Inglewood for some time, offering commissions over Facebook. My involvement with art was modeling for a portrait class and learning oil techniques. I tried to stay involved with art as much as possible. Of course, the real involvement was just living there and meeting all the unique people. You learn so much about yourself when you experience all walks of life. The last few months I was there, I was homeless, living out of my car. It was a very introspective and cathartic experience for me, and led to deepening my understanding of how I wanted to not limit myself to one area of art. Even though I ended up working on sets for the next three years, which was a great experience, it reminded me about what I had learned while homeless: there’s nothing better than to be in a studio, creating works of art that stem from developing deep connections with other people one on one.

AG: Why pets? Are there other subjects you paint or like to
paint: people, landscapes?

SG: The joy that comes from experiencing people’s connection with their pets, and welcoming me to pay tribute to both their living and passed on animals, is what motivates me to do this. The relationship we have with our pets is unlike any other. I’ve had many dogs and cats — even birds, fish and guinea pigs growing up. It’s true that they are your best friends. To be honest, it wasn’t hard to see how fast the industry for dog lovers has grown in the past decade.

More and more products for dogs are popping up, and social media has made the relationships with our animals even more fun. I had to find a niche for what was going to keep me painting in my studio. I knew people would never stop loving their pets and this would be an immortal venture. It started with one gift, and word of mouth took over. But I don’t limit myself to only painting people’s pets. In fact, before I started with the pet portraits, I was mainly painting figures and portraits of people. I had done a few landscapes but I found that I best express myself through the energy of people. With nature being my number one inspiration, I do have a long overdue desire to paint landscapes and nature-focused paintings very soon. So we will see if I can work that in there.

AG: What’s your favorite medium or one that you use most often?

SG: My favorite medium to see in other works of art may be oil paint and chalk pastel. The medium that I have been working with for 8 years is acrylic paint, though.

AG: You mentioned that your business in pet portraiture is not just a hobby for you, but how you make your living. How has the coronavirus impacted your business and what have the consequences been for you and your family?

SG: Yes, so the business end of this involves going out and sharing my business cards in local pet shops, vets, groomers, training schools, and even coffee shops. The best approach to a business like this is to basically go door to door and introduce yourself. Not all people are connected via social media and I don’t want to limit myself. The recent pandemic has prevented me from being able to come in contact with people for one, and the other, those businesses cannot open, which becomes a double-edged sword. Art is a luxury for most people and will not be their priority when they are hungry or scared. We are quarantined at our studio, where my girlfriend is pregnant, and we are doing our part to limit the exposure to people, as to not be a carrier if ever unknowingly coming into contact with the virus in any way.

AG: If things continue as is, what do you think might happen to not only small businesses, but the artistic community? Will there be changes you will have to make, or is it too early to speculate?

SG: It’s scary for anyone who owns a small business. As of now, a lot of us are suffering and some are even closing down — mainly because they survive on walk-in customers. Artists rely on selling their art or having design jobs or murals. A lot of artists show their work in galleries and those are shutting down, too. The internet is about to be our greatest tool if it wasn’t already.

Although many businesses have a great online presence — like our neighbors Ape N’ Bird, who make hats from home and sell online — there is still a huge decrease in sales. We can only hope that we are forgiven for what we cannot rush to pay, including rent and bills. It isn’t clear on how this will play out, but history is a great teacher for preparing presently for the future. It is our only hope that we stay connected and keep our hearts open and take care of our neighbors and community however possible. I have other skills that I could employ if it came down to it. I personally think that if things got a lot worse and people were fending for themselves and bartering for rations, that I would not accept a painting of my dog for a few meals. Art is powerful, don’t get me wrong, but it will not feed my family. So I have to keep an open mind and a logical sense.

AG: How have friends, family, and even members of the public
reacted to your situation? What does their support mean to you?

SG: I can’t point to this situation to be my own as it affects EVERYONE. I am among many of the affected. People have expressed nothing but comforting tones and are helping when possible, as are we. Our neighbors have included us in their thoughts when they run out to the market, etc. But they too are affected by the crisis. It doesn’t help that I sprained my ankle very badly this week and am using crutches to get around. My family has dropped off certain items that we need for the house when possible, and we are very grateful for that. My income is sure to come to a halt if this continues.  My girlfriend is a remote article editor and is able to still work. With a baby on the way, we take this very seriously and are doing our best
to stay positive. Any and all the support we receive is appreciated so much.

AG: Artist (musicians, actors, visual artists) who also make a living through their art may also be feeling similar effects to what you are experiencing. What would be your message to them?

SG: I don’t know if I’m qualified to be giving advice, especially financially. For sure inspiration is always needed.  The best thing for us all to do, is to not give up and to seek alternate ways to reach people. Strategize on what you can offer your clients. Go live on facebook and do a tutorial if you are an artist.  Maybe do a little skit to bring awareness, or to make people laugh if you are an actor. Go live and play music online for donation.. I’ve always
been a firm believer in not focusing on the problem, but focusing on the solution. Remember the renaissance period and how that came out of a devastation such as the Black Plague. It reminds me of the Phoenix, there will be rebirth out of this. Destruction brings construction.

In response to the coronavirus and in an attempt to support and unite our artistic community, Motif is hosting a virtual gallery on its Facebook page. Here artist and the general public can support one another. Scott Groome will be one of the many participants. To support Groome directly please visit fb.com/sgroomeart or donate directly to:
https://paypal.me/sgroomeart?locale.x=en_US.

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