We had the good fortune of connecting with Duncan Sherwood-Forbes and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Duncan, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Risk taking has been a major consideration throughout my career. As an artist, I seek to speak my truth no matter what – but which truth do I want to speak? I can seek to capture something beautiful and find the inner truth of a subject through a portrait, to tell a universal truth through poetry and conversation with others, to speak truth to power and tell them what I think of them, or to tell the truth of my struggles.
Each of these actions come with different measures of risk. Making something beautiful doesn’t involve much risk to me, however telling a personal truth leaves me open to criticism in places I’m already vulnerable. When doing design work, I balance the needs of my clients against my own sensibilities to create my living line drawings. But if I only make pretty things, I run the risk of turning into one of those commercial artists who live off of vapid soulless pop-art with no emotional content.
But risk is necessary when selling my work. Every time I put a piece up for sale I’m taking a risk, I worry my work won’t sell, or that a new direction won’t be successful. But I have to take risks, or I’ll die stuck in the doldrums.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I work primarily in the non-traditional medium of wire, where I use sinuous curving line to animate my abstract portraits and figurative work. I pull inspiration from modern and contemporary art as well as cartoons, manga, and street art. I work almost exclusively from a single piece of wire, which is both a technical and design challenge – every subject is a maze to be navigated with care and intention. Wire is a line that cannot be erased, only bent and rearranged – these technical restrictions have allowed me to innovate within a structure, helping me produce my signature style of gestural line work.
What sets me apart is the sheer amount of time I’ve poured into my craft. I’ve been studying art since I was 9 and developing my wire work since I was 16, and I delved into the professional side in 2007 at age 18 during summers. I kept my business up during college, and some of my art professors didn’t like that but I persevered through sheer willpower and the positive reinforcement of people buying my work.
Being a professional isn’t easy. I struggled during college and ended up taking a leave of absence half way through my junior year, but my art-making didn’t stop. After leaving college I fell deep into alcoholism, and I underwent treatment in 2014 for alcoholism and PTSD. This was a huge challenge, but my life is so much better for it. After creating the foundation of my sobriety, I moved to Los Angeles and began working in the professional side of the recovery industry to help other addicts and alcoholics while maintaining my art and design practice.
In 2019 I left the field to pursue art and design full-time while going back to school to finish my degree, and it’s been a struggle but by tenaciously pursuing opportunities and clients, I’ve had the good fortune to land some major commissions that have really gotten my name out there.
Returning to school was a challenge too, I ran into problems with teachers who didn’t like that I was maintaining my art and design practice, it was embarrassing really. Sadly some teachers really embody the “those who can’t do, teach” mentality and try to bring everyone down to their level and encourage their students to pursue art as hobby rather than art as career.
Luckily the main thing I learned during my first go at college is that tenacity is the most important factor of being successful artist (with the second most important quality being the quality of one’s art). Without the drive to keep making and doing, it’s so easy to give up, and I’ve seen so many peers choose a 9-5 job.
For me it has to be art. I’ve got no choice. No matter what challenges come my way, I will overcome them and keep making!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
LACMA! I live right next to the museum, and they always have something beautiful. In my early 20s between college and Los Angeles I worked at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, so museums fill me with calm. They have a great collection, and the Friday night jazz during the summers is always fun ^_^
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My romantic partner Laetitia for encouraging me to take the leap to art full time, and my early art instructors who taught me to love being creative and to find my own path