J. Kirk Richards spoke at the forum at BYU-Idaho Thursday, Feb. 21. The forum was titled “Entrepreneurship in the Arts: How Covenants Brought Me a Career of Creativity and Service.”
Richards explained that he was invited because he is doing some non-profit and entrepreneurial work.
“We have an organization that provides scholarships and grants to LDS artists. It’s called the Vision of the Arts Fund,” Richards explained.
To learn more about the scholarships and grants visit the website visionofthearts.org.
“One of the main reasons I’m doing those things is because of a promise that I made to my Heavenly Father that if He would help me figure out how to have a career in the arts then I would help others to do the same when the time came,” Richards said.
He does paintings and increasingly started to do sculptures. He is mostly known for his oil paintings that have spiritual meanings. He likes to create and visualize scripture passages.
“I really love the poetry of the scriptures,” Richards said.
His best-known painting is called “Every Knee Shall Bow,” which shows people bowing at the feet of the Savior. Most people think the bowing figures are sheep, but once they look closely, they can see the figures are actually people.
Richards graduated college and started out illustrating a book, called the “Carpenter of Galilee and the Welcoming Door.”
Even while he was working on the illustrations for this book, he made sure to take time to do his own paintings rather than to just focus on commissioned work.
“It didn’t take me long to figure out that I would probably do better financially but also I was much happier doing the things that I wanted to do, kind of my own work,” Richards said.
By the end of that first year out of college he had enough of his own paintings to have an exhibit. He decided to begin selling his own work.
The road wasn’t easy. He and his wife had to live very frugally in order to make ends meet. Before he graduated he worked in a cabinet shop but that didn’t last long. After he graduated he never got another job to support his family, he simply spent his time building up his portfolio so he could have a career in the arts.
“A percentage of what I have done ever since then has been commissioned work or freelance work, but most of what I do just I try to do my own imagery and put it out there whether it be on social media or through galleries or shows that I set up on my own,” Richards explained.
When it comes to young artists who are aspiring to make their passion their career, Richards has plenty of advice for them as well as experience to back him up.
“Just make decisions that allow you to spend as much time as possible making artwork,” Richards said, “and live, you know, a modest lifestyle especially at the beginning keep those expenses low so you can spend as painting as possible or sculpting or whatever it is you do. Additionally don’t be afraid to share.”
He encouraged artists to keep trying to raise the quality of their work and the quality of their sharing. People can share their art through blogs, websites, social media or art shows, the possibilities are almost endless.
“Sometimes they’re not glamorous,” Richards said speaking of the different ways you can share your art and get it out there.
“When you think about an art career you think about selling paintings for lots of money in a gallery someplace but there are a lot of steps to get to that point, including even doing a show at your parents’ house,” Richards said.