St. Louis. Home of the Arch. Toasted Ravioli. The Cardinals. And art. So much art.
We sat down with local artist, Steven Walden, to pick his brain on his work, how St. Louis plays a role in his success, and how he morphed into a full-time artist in less than three years. We’ll dissect what makes St. Louis a place artists gravitate.
You started painting in 2014. How did you morph it into a full-time career in such a short amount of time?
Social media has knocked down barriers. I will never, never forget the fact that social made my career. It allows you direct access. Social media is the thing that knocks down doors. I have the chance to get in front of the directors at community funds and show what I can do for you at no cost. I worship at the altar of social media.
What motivates you to do what you do?
Fear. I have a fear of failure. I know what it’s like going back to having nothing. That’s the thing that sparks it. Fear is the thing that inspires me-to know that I have to get up and work but where does the love come in? That’s the enjoyment of what I’m doing. The love shows up when I work with charities with Cardinals Care, Ranken Jordan, Make-a-Wish Foundation, Cardinal Glennon, Big League Impact. The part that is most fulfilling is doing work that helps alleviate suffering in the world; that is where Ranken Jordan shows up, even Big League Impact (Adam Wainwright’s charity). You’re not just out there buying baseballs for kids to play baseball; there is a greater importance to bring drinking water to third world countries, and help kids walk again. What can I do to give emerging artists exposure?
Why do you think artists choose St. Louis as their home to create?
St. Louis is my home base, but the goal is to go national. It’s a big city with a small-town feel. You talk about the idea of six degrees of separation? In St. Louis, it’s more like two to three here. St. Louis has such accessibility. It has allowed me to succeed.
Do you think people are surprised to hear that artists can make their living in St. Louis?
When I first gave this a try because I have tenacity and knew it was going to do it. I knew it was going to happen. I was surprised with how quickly everything has happened. That is unique to St. Louis. It’s like this; Earth is in the “Goldilocks Zone, not too cold, not too hot, it’s just right. St. Louis isn’t Little Rock, it’s not too small. It’s not Chicago, it’s not too big; it’s just right. That has allowed me to flourish. That is what allows me to take it to bigger places. To take the success and clout to other places. I can say I’ve painted for the Blues, for the Cardinals, this is how I can help YOU.
How do your emotions come into play?
When I’m feeling low, you can do things in service of other people, something bigger than themselves. That’s a lot of times when (art) pulls me out of a nosedive. I go back to what can I do for other people? What can I do that’s bigger than me?
How is does work/life balance work for you?
Work/life balance is a real struggle. Right now, it’s a one-man operation, so I handle everything: designing the site, marketing, promotion, customer service, ordering and keeping stock of inventory, mailing out orders, and social media interactions. If I’m not working, I’m not getting paid. I’m getting paid for how much work I’m putting in to making sure this machine is running. If I let up on that, the machine stops running. I don’t hit exhibits hard. My stuff is carried in a couple galleries. You usually get yourself in the gallery and use that to build your career. I kind of reverse engineered it; I get my work out there and then the gallery thing is optional.
Let’s look into the future. Where do you see yourself in five years?
Hopefully nationally known, and hopefully teaching other artists how to take their career to the next level. Hopefully teaching artists to do what I’ve done. I feel like right now is the grand experiment. It’s like I’m doing all the taste tests and I like the experiment of the unknown. My dream is to have my work on Trapper Keepers, on school kids’ notebooks, in lockers, on posters.
Featured image by Brendan Joyce Photography