Many artists take half up-front when they paint on commission. But Aaron Bivins won’t take any money until his commissions are done, because he knows people will like them.
“I’ve been doing this a long time,” Bivins said. “And there’s no question in my mind that I can do it.”
Not once has someone rejected a commission from him.
Bivins has worked as an illustrator, graphic designer, teacher and UPS driver. Along the way, he “sprinkled in” raising a family.
He is now retired and spends his days watching his grandson and granddaughter with his wife Ronnie and 11-year-old Shih-Tzu, Baxter. But he still paints — a lot.
In fact, in all his years he never stopped, which he believes is the secret to his success.
“Whenever I can squeeze it in, I paint,” Bivins said. “We all have 24 hours in a day, so it’s all how we manage that 24 hours.”
Bivins gets up at 6:00 a.m. every day. Or rather the alarm clock goes off at 6:00 a.m., and Ronnie and him get out of bed after hitting snooze a few times.
Then they walk Baxter, and Bivins does 400-500 sit-ups and gets on the elliptical while he watches SportsCenter. Then he goes to the Franklin Park Mall and runs up the steps by the movie theater 15 times (He said it’s free and good cardio) — going down on the escalators. Then, four to five times a week, he goes to the gym.
He “squeezes” in his painting time, usually while watching soaps like “The Young and Restless” with his wife.
“We’re spending all this quality time together,” Bivins said with a sarcastic chuckle. “You just figure out a way (to paint). That’s what it’s all about.”
He has never worked as a full-time artist, but Bivins still has lots of experience painting. He also regularly hosts a booth at art fairs, including Bowling Green’s Black Swamp Arts Festival.
His studio is located in the basement of his condo and is full of his paintings — some large, others small; some abstract, others impressionist. In the far-left corner of the basement is Bivins’s easel and painting supplies, but what takes up most of the room is the large brown leather sofa and flat-screen TV.
“Often times people say, ‘Well, do you have to be in a special mood? What kind of music do you listen to?’ I say, ‘I watch the news,’” Bivins said with a laugh.
His paintings are vibrant, full of color and energy. The subjects of each painting vary from images of nature to jazz performers.
“I couldn’t carry a tune if it had handles,” Bivins said. “But a lot of people like my jazz performers.” He likes to listen to old jazz from the ‘40s when he’s in the car by himself (Ronnie doesn’t care for it), because of the emotions the jazz performers give off.
Bivins has been underestimated in the art field before. Back in the ‘60s, he was told by a Time magazine submission contest that he didn’t have the aptitude to be an artist.
“But what do they know?” Bivins asked, gesturing around his studio with dozens of his paintings on the walls. “It was fun, and as a kid, too, it breaks your heart. But it didn’t stop me.”
As an art education major on a football scholarship, Bivins was part of two different worlds when he attended the University of Toledo in the ‘70s. He excelled both in academics and as a linebacker for UT football, according to the UT Athletics website. In 1976 and 1977, he was the team’s MVP and he is still UT’s all-time leader in career tackles with 508.
However, he never felt he had to choose between art and sports.
“I knew that sports was just a means to an end,” Bivins said. “You can’t play sports forever.”
Bivins would always receive comments at art shows like “so, who’s the artist?” When he would answer it was him, people would look at him as if to say, “Yeah, sure you are.”
He went more in-depth with these experiences in the podcast The Rough Draft Diaries with Haley Taylor. Perhaps people would doubt he was the artist because of his football-build, the way he towers over those of average height, or maybe even the color of his skin.
But in response to the skeptics, Bivins started painting on the spot. In his booth at art shows, he can be spotted with an easel; either watercolors, acrylics or oils; a canvas; and a paintbrush.
“It would bring people in, and they could really see my process,” Bivins said. “And at the same time, I’m getting more practice. The more you paint the better you’re gonna to get.”
One of the things Bivins recommends young artists do is donate their paintings to organizations for their fundraisers. When he does events like these himself, he sees it as a way to share the talent he has and to advertise himself.
When young artists are trying to get their name out in the world, it is important for people to “know who you are,” Bivins said.
Forever wanting a challenge, Bivins is having his second one-man show in April at the 20 North Gallery in Toledo.
“You have to take chances, and that’s how you learn,” Bivins said. “Because you’re gonna take a chance and either it’s gonna look good to you, or it’s going to be a mistake. But from the mistakes — you’ll learn.”
To add on to the challenge, Bivins’ one-man show is going to be entirely made of abstract paintings, despite his typical impressionist style. Fifteen abstracts, to be exact.
He is always pushing forward and never gets too attached to a painting. He doesn’t even have a favorite because, “well, I haven’t painted it yet.”