Massachusetts artist and graphic designer Alfred D'Angelo is a unique talent, a small business owner, and a very active networker.
By COSMO MACERO JR.
Artistic pursuit can be a living, a passion, and an outlet for the deepest and most impactful creative expressions from within. For Alfred D'Angelo, it's all of the above.
From his studio in Wellesley, Massachusetts D'Angelo has built a successful one-person practice in graphic art, commercial illustration, and specialized video production and animation. He has also stoked a remarkable creative flame that - over the course of more than 40 years - has produced works of art and complex imagery that can absorb even a novice observer for hours at a time.
Like so many people in so many fields, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted D'Angelo's routine. But rather than placing him in the grasp of any kind of despair, it reopened a door to his original passion - allowing him to spend more time creating memorable new pieces: even as the commercial work that supports his household declined.
D'Angelo recently shared his experiences, his history, and his thoughts on being an artist in Greater Boston for this Q&A:
American Household News: You're a graphic and commercial artist. But you really have a tremendous portfolio of creative and inspiring "fine art" pieces and other artworks. How did the past year and a half inspire, motivate, or make necessary spending more time on gallery type pieces as opposed to straight commercial client work?
Alfred D'Angelo: Because my regular graphic design work had slowed down – several large projects were cancelled due to COVID – I had more time to spend in my studio on my own personal work. So in a strange way I enjoyed the extra time available to me. After I got over the guilt of having more personal time to myself – as so many people with jobs and small children were impacted – I made the most of my opportunity and completed several large and involved paintings, and many small works.
AHN: What are your professional/career and artist goals right now as far as what you want to spend the most time doing?
AD: I do enjoy creating graphic design, illustration and some animation work, which I’ve done since the 1990s. Working on a computer is very efficient and versatile. It offers an unlimited selection of creative tools. But the graphics software: Photoshop & Illustrator, etc. are only tools. The creativity still has to come from the designer. It has always been a great way to earn a living - being able to create and design from scratch with amazing tools. But my real passion is probably the most old fashioned of visual pursuits - painting and drawing on a surface with brushes and drawing tools.
AHN: Can you talk about your artist background and all of the different experiences you have had over the years?
AD: I attended three art schools/colleges after high school. The first was Paier School of Art (now Paier College of Art) in Hamden, Connecticut. Those were my most enjoyable two years of school ever! Just drawing and painting every day, with only Art History as an academic class. I learned about composition, life drawing, and portrait painting, watercolor technique, graphic and commercial design basics ... photography and much more. I studied under some great teachers, who all had to be working artists outside the school environment.
Then I attended Mass. College of Art in Boston, continued my fine art and graphic art studies and earned my BFA degree. Living in Boston in the ‘70’s was a great experience. After taking a year off I attended RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) in Providence, Rhode Island and earned a Masters Degree in Fine Arts. I worked at a couple of frame shops in the area and finally began work at a small company in Cambridge creating the first Graphic Illustration Software packages for business applications. Computer graphics was pretty crude back then (mid 1980s). Then I worked at two video post production houses on Newbury Street and was able to learn high-end graphic and video techniques, as well as directing some video shoots and edits which featured the graphics I created.
When I purchased my own Mac computer at the end of the ‘80s, I opened my own design studio and have been creating illustrations, storyboards, graphic design and animations for clients ever since. During all these years I’ve always found time to create my own drawings and paintings.
AHN: What is your studio space like? Is it in a home studio?
AD: Yes I have a home studio. At one point my design work became so busy that I hired another designer part time who worked out of my house. I was tempted to rent an office space, but saw that it led to an upward spiral of expense, and the necessity to hire a sales person to keep the projects coming in. So I decided to keep things ‘personal and manageable’ which allowed me to really enjoy the creative part of my business without the added pressures of ‘managing’ a business.
AHN: How did the pandemic impact you as far as business/clients? Did you make any necessary shifts or adjustments? Were things challenging?
AD: There was lost business due to the upheavals of the past year and a half. My work has slowed down, sometimes too much. It would have been better if some of that hadn’t gone away, but this allows me to feel that I made the right decision to keep my business ‘personal’ and not have to worry about any employee’s incomes, or rents, etc.
AHN: What type of art projects or pieces do you most enjoy creating? What are you best at?
AD: I do love the challenge of creating graphics and illustrations from scratch: print material, materials for trade shows and websites, signage and even murals for various museums around the country. The only visual elements I don’t handle are building websites, producing and editing videos, and I’m not a professional photographer – but I have great colleagues who I partner with for those needs. I stand apart from most other graphic designers in that I can also illustrate, which gives me an additional set of skills and experience I can bring to the service of my clients’ needs. Sort of like 1 + 1 =3 !
AHN: Is the "art scene" in Greater Boston and Massachusetts vibrant and encouraging and supportive to young artists? What advice would you give someone in art school or just getting started after their formal studies?
AD: Let’s be honest, Boston is a very small town compared to New York. The opportunities for artists, either in fine arts or graphic design are very limited compared to New York City. But because Boston is an intimate community, it is a more human and friendly place. Everyone knows everyone else for the most part. We’re all supportive of each other. I’m a member of the Copley Society of Art - Boston, as well as The Wellesley Society of Art, and both the Newton and Needham Art Associations, which give me the opportunity to show my paintings during the year.
I would advise anyone seeking a visually creative lifestyle to try whatever you can get involved in until you find what you’re most passionate about spending your days doing, and then seeking the best place to do that, hopefully making enough income to live a comfortable lifestyle – at least after a while.
My daughter is an industrial designer living in New York City. She has her own challenges and opportunities unique to her location. I love visiting New York but I’ve never regretted selecting the Boston area as my home. It suits me just fine.
AHN: You are not just an artist but a top notch networker. You are president of a BNI (Business Network International) chapter and have been a member for quite a few years. How does networking with small business owners and other professionals fit with the life of being an artist?
AD: If I were not in my BNI networking group my opportunities to find graphic work would be limited. I have the other members looking for possible clients for me, and I have the added advantage of relationships with experts in many other professions that I can rely on to do work for me and can refer to others whom I know may need good professionals. Plus, since I spend most of my time in my home office and studio being involved in BNI get’s me out of the house!