Meet the artist: Interview with Ted Pigott

Photos from Ted’s current exhibition at the Red Room
Visual Dialogue 2

I burst through the doors of The Toasteria, out of breath and late. As I approached the stairs a man in black appeared. “Are you looking for Ted? He’s upstairs,” he said gesturing past staggered rows of drawings. Ted Pigott had been drawing over his lunchbreak at the Toasteria for a year when the owner of the restaurant asked him to display his drawings of the scenery and the food. The drawings in question featured a variety of styles from point work, to watercolor, black and white ink sketches, to colored pencil. Each drawing was encompassed by a simple, matte black frame. Though the frame stands out from the white walls of the Toasteria, it doesn’t dominate the space nor does it obscure the art. Like the artist, it eschews ostentation and exhibits a genuine, relaxed feel.

toasteriaWhile some artists may define their main inspiration as another artist or as a lofty philosophy about what art should be, Ted’s philosophy is often delivered through a series of simple mantras: Draw what you see. Share what you draw. Every day is better when you draw. As long as he has his pen and pad of paper, he’s happy. In fact, his Facebook, which is covered with portraits of strangers, flowers, scenery, food, is a testament to his philosophy.

As I opened up the menu, Ted leaned over to recommend the three cheese omelet. “It’s my favorite. That’s why I drew it twice.” He chuckled. Sure enough, the wall behind us featured two omelets: one in color, the other in black and white. I looked back at the drawings for a moment. “Did you ever envision, when you were young, that this would be your life?” I asked him. He confessed he hadn’t. In fact, he hadn’t drawn for over two decades when he picked up his pen again in 2014.
It all started with a single line drawn over his lunchbreak. He had a sketchbook and, as the server placed a coffee mug in front of him, he decided to pick up his pen and try to draw it. “It probably wasn’t that good,” he told me. “But at least I did something that day for myself.” What began as a hobby soon became his full time job when he began sharing his work on Facebook. He speaks highly of the internet which has allowed him to share his art and aided his getting noticed by the Toasteria and the Red Room.

He has since largely overcome the fear and excuses he made for himself before that year. When I asked how an artist might overcome such a fear he replied “It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just get it on paper. Draw that first line.” After that, it’s just honing your craft. Throughout the video he maintained that anyone could become an artist if they wanted it enough. The way to do so is simple: Do what you love, love what you do, the rest comes from diligent practice of your craft.
Perhaps most important to Ted is his passion and his independence. He espouses the importance of following your own perspective and maintaining your own artistic integrity. He claims the internet is a large part of what has allowed him to sustain that independence. “The world is my studio, the internet my gallery,” he told me toward the end of the interview. With a sketchbook and a pen he’s happy wherever he goes, as long as he can draw what he’s passionate about.
If you’re looking to speak with Ted about his art, you might find him at a Red Room event, with his notebook and pens out. His drawings of the Red Room community, as well as other things he likes, are currently featured at the Red Room for the month of November. If you’d like to view Ted Pigott’s art, you can visit the Red Room where his art will be displayed next to JJ Chen’s for Red Room’s second installment in the Visual Dialogues series. You can also hear more about their art and their involvement with the Red Room at their Visual Dialogue Vernissage on November 18th.
You can read the full interview below or visit Ted’s Facebook page to see more of his art.

Did you ever envision, when you were young, that this would be your life?

No, I never did. That’s why I stopped drawing for twenty some years. I was working full time as a consultant nearby here, so I was traveling around and very busy, but then one day I thought “Hey I need to do something for me.” Before I’d work at my desk; I’d have meetings; I’d read Bloomberg business week. I thought I needed a bit of a change. So, number one, I thought I had to get out of the office. I thought I’m going to walk around and see the neighborhoods. Number two, I wanted to find good food and a good place to sit for the full hour—not like a dumpling place, not a noodle shop, not like a café. And the third thing was I wanted to do something I wanted to do. [I didn’t want to] read work e-mails, or do copy writing.
So I had a sketchbook and I decided that “hey, maybe I should try to draw this coffee cup”. So I just tried to draw it, and it probably wasn’t that good. Then my food came so I closed the book and I ate. It probably wasn’t that good but at least I did something that day for myself. You spend so much time doing things for somebody else that it’s rare you find time to do something for yourself. Anyone can do it. You can work on a play. You can draw. You can do whatever, but you can take that one hour and give it to yourself. [You should] not just sit and watch the news, or trying to get ahead of work. It’s up to each person.

When did you start deciding you wanted to exhibit your work? It seems like something that started to decompress, something to do for you. When did it become something more than that?

ted portraitsWell, I started sharing my work on Facebook. Share your work. That’s another philosophy of mine. Social media is the best way to do that. Before all my stuff would just be in my sketchbook and you would never see it. You might see it and think “Oh, he’s got a sketchbook.” But you would never see it unless I showed it to you. Now if you like my page, if you are my friend on Facebook you know I draw a lot. It’s a great way to share. Also, if I show you my sketchbook now you might feel, out of politeness, “Oh, that’s good” or they don’t know what to say but they see it on Facebook by themselves, they might think “Hey I’ll give it a like”. I think the internet to day is very visual. If you write a story, a fictional story, not a lot of people are going to read it. They might think: I’m not going to read this, it’s too long, but a picture of flowers? ‘Like’. I like that. So it might make someone’s day a little better.

It connects with people a little quicker than written word? It’s more accessible?

I think so. I think because it’s so visual and it’s a picture. It’s not a photograph, it’s different. You’ve taken some time to draw something so it has a more personal feel to it. You draw something and people like to look at it. [Photographs are still useful though—especially with camera phones.] Before I had to scan it, but phones are so good I can just take pictures of my drawing and upload them. That’s how you share you work and [phones] are a very valuable tool to help you share.

Another mantra is “Draw what you see”. Do you mean that literally? Do you feel there’s so much to see that it’s better to render ‘real life’?

That can be taken quite a few ways. That could be taken literally, or it could be like what you draw what you imagine. Draw what you see. The first part of the mantra is just draw. Every day you gotta draw –draw, draw, draw. Then what you see is the things that you, as an individual, see. I see these flowers, probably in a different way than you see these flowers. I gotta draw what I see. It can be imaginary, I’m not saying everything’s gotta be realistic but it has to be from your perspective. My perspective is probably different than yours.

[Your perspective is different] in more ways than one.

Yeah, exactly, the things I see are different. You live in Zhongli and I live in Taipei. I’m a man and you’re a woman. I see things differently than you. I’m interested in these flowers, MRT, beer, what I see what I ride around in Taipei.
I don’t draw a lot of temples. I don’t go to a lot of temples [because] that’s not what I see. You have to draw your passion. That’s another one of my mantras: Draw what you love, love what you draw. You gotta love what you draw. You have to draw what makes you excited. This [three cheese omelet] I like a lot. Beer, I like a lot. Pizza. These are things I like. These are things that make me excited, make me want to share. I’m not forced to draw something.

You don’t force yourself to draw things you aren’t inspired by.

Yeah. I think it’s possible to draw things you aren’t inspired by but I don’t think it has that same feel or magic. That’s what an illustrator has to do. They have to draw pieces they don’t want to draw. I’m not interested in technically possible. I think something that really moves people has to come from a place of passion.

When you first started you said your drawings probably weren’t that good. I feel a lot of people, especially beginners, they tend not to get past that stage, the ‘It’s not good stage’. How were you able to push past that? Were you able to do it because you told yourself it should be about you, about relaxing and de-stressing? How did you get yourself in the mindset to continue drawing? Then, when you decided to pursue it in a more serious way, that is, in a way that would allow for exhibitions, how did you transition from it being more personal, and private to public? Did you change your mindset at all?

That’s a tough question because I think it’s a real paradox. You care about what people think, but you also have to not care what people think. You know, you put stuff on the internet; you put it out there; you share your work. You have to just be strong enough to put it out there. People are going to criticize it. They’re going to take it in ways you didn’t think [about]. They’re going to make fun of it—all that kind of stuff. But who cares? You can’t care. That’s another one of my mantras: Don’t think. Just draw. Don’t think about what they’re saying. Who cares what they’re saying? Don’t think about what they might say about it. Draw it. Make it. Get it out there and then post it. If they like it [then] they like it. If they don’t then you still drew it. You can’t take that positive or negative feedback too seriously. It’s kind of just noise. You’re going to do it anyway. If you really love it. I would draw even if I couldn’t share it. It helps to get feedback, to know people are seeing it but I’d still do it even if I couldn’t share it.

Of course it’s nice to get validation.

Of course it is, but you can’t let that control you. “I think I know what people want to see,” that’s where you get into trouble. A lot of people are suggesting I publish a book [because it’s popular to do so]. You know, maybe what’s popular is not really my passion right now. Maybe I could, but I don’t know about now. You have to do what you like.

So, maybe, in the future you might do so?

Yeah, maybe, I mean I’m open to anything.

You’re not concerned about the future. You’re just enjoying the present.

Yeah, maybe, maybe [I’m] not enjoying but just doing. [I’m] sort of, like, thinking: don’t think, just draw. You have to draw every day. That’s just me. It could be you gotta sing every day, you gotta draw every day. You gotta make something every day. You have to do it for you.
I think a lot of us just sit back and we watch five season of Breaking Bad or we gotta get caught up on Homeland. There are so many great shows but, maybe, you should do it. You have to just do it—create something.
I don’t know. There’s room for both. There’s a balance. You can get some inspiration from shows, they’re very well done, but someone else made those shows. Most of us just sit and watch them. Let’s all go and make something. I’m really passionate about that. I think you have to make it yourself.

I read the Facebook post you wrote at the end of 2014 and I think it’s really interesting to see how far you’ve come from “I’m afraid” to “I’m okay with making mistakes” to “I’m just going to do what I feel is right.” It seems like 2014 was a pivotal year of learning and discovery for you. Do you keep all of your drawings? Do you even keep those that become more a lesson than a final sketch? Is there such a thing as final sketch? (Perhaps it’s when you’ve stopped being interested in the subject matter– if that ever happens?)

I do keep all of my drawings.
I think a famous artist once said no piece of art (or novel or whatever) is ever finished–it’s just abandoned. And sometimes you may return to them later, just to look at them again or to try to learn something from them or even to add something new.
In any case, I do think 2014 was a big year in my life, when it some to learning and discovery, as you mentioned. I still feel as if I’m learning every day, though, and I still feel there’s so much left to learn.

And now you have an exhibition here. How did that happen?

Well the owner saw it on Facebook and he really liked it. He’s an artist himself, he’s a musician. He really appreciates the passion I put in. He contacted me and asked if I would like to exhibit. I selected sixteen different drawings. Over the course of a year I sat in different places and drew then I brought them all together and we picked the ones we wanted to show. He was really nice to give me free reign to decide what I wanted to show.
That’s why I like the internet. Before you had to go to gallery owners and beg them. You had to beg them “Please, please show my work.” Now, you can just post it on the internet. It doesn’t have to go viral immediately. It doesn’t have to get a million views, but you can build an audience. The world is my studio, the internet my gallery.

I’m now looking at your website and I see this picture of the Toasteria.

Yes! It’s the outside of the Toasteria. All the drawings I did for this exhibition were done here over the course of a year or so. So this is the place I would come to draw– here and a few other places—and I’d sit here and draw as much as I could. In September of last year I left my job and drew full time, freelance, and did some freelance writing and editing. Mostly my whole thing is just to draw I try to make myself my top priority. It’s easy as a freelancer to take case you don’t want to do, but if you do that a few years later you’re going to have a lot of drawings but nothing for you.
I try to limit that as much as possible so I can draw for myself.

It seems you really value your independence, and you follow through on your passion.

I’m very lucky. I feel blessed to be doing what I love. You know, other people might not be so lucky. They might need expensive equipment, a studio. All I need is a sketchbook and a pen. That’s all I need and I’m happy.

Leah List