Stubbornness and the Successful Artist 10


Three successful local artists have lived the title of Jeff Goins’ recent best seller, Real Artists Don’t Starve. Brett McDanel, JURRI and Skip Hill are not “starving artists”, but “thriving artists.” In RADS, Goins says, “All artists possess a secret weapon: stubbornness.” That tenacious stubbornness, necessary to the prolific artist, obviously rests in these three, who have developed unique styles, and yet share commonly held beliefs and processes.


What do puns, child-like shenanigans, depth of emotion, back surgery and cold metal figures have in common? Brett McDanel! The former contractor-turned-sensitive-artist welds found objects and scrap-metal pieces into personalized, surprisingly lifelike figures. Skillfully, he takes personal childhood stories and channels them into a hard, lifeless hunk of metal.

Like Geppetto, McDanel works daily in his local studio, lovingly assembling figures and bringing life to dead objects. The magic is in how easily transferrable these emotions and stories become to others.

“People see their own story, and their own emotion before they see the parts. It’s not about how well it’s put together because I’m not the world’s greatest welder. But people emotionally engage with the piece, and sometimes it [the interpretation] is completely different than what I had in my mind.”

Recovering from back surgery a couple years ago, he was encouraged by his wife, Sara, to “go for it” and produce his art full time. Knowing a change of careers was necessary, he harnessed that secret weapon of stubbornness and did the hard work. His first piece after the surgery, titled “Broken,” tells the story of his recovery. When asked if specific stories go with certain pieces, he said, “You can see all the peaks and valleys of where I was [in these figures] because they are all me.”

McDanel’s pieces pull you into a space of introspection, sympathy and joy. His work can be found at Kasam Contemporary Fine Art in Oklahoma City and InArt Gallery in Santa Fe as well as his website 
If you see a piece that speaks to you, don’t wait too long; he’s been known to sell a piece within an hour of its debut.


JUURI, local muralist and painter, also possesses that same stubborn mentality, but her version takes on a different feel that’s more about courage and beauty.

“The lens” with which she views the world was shaped by her upbringing. “I think being Japanese has a lot to do with both beauty and courage, but it’s a more subtle kind. We aren’t loud, we aren’t showy. But, we are determined to be excellent, and will not be beaten by anything.”

Imagine the Japanese version of Gustav Klimpt, and you’ll capture the symbolism, attention to detail and ethereal quality of her work. While Klimpt expresses women erotically, JUURI communicates a rich depth of psychological understanding.

“I hope my girls look both alluring but confident, almost defiant. I am captivated by the psyches, inner turmoil and ludicrous bravery in the hearts of warriors.”

JUURI brings an unexpected beauty to the concepts of persistence and inner strength. Plumbing the human soul, she gives the viewer an out-of-body, out-of-time experience that makes you feel as if you’ve actually visited Japan.

Her work spans both place and time. A lover of Japanese history, JUURI restores stories from the past and visually brings them to life. The ancient lives of warriors, paired with her personal experiences growing up, meld together in her paintings. As a child, she was served “o-nabe” (a bland soup containing cabbage and mushrooms) that made her cry. As an adult, facing more significant trials, she finds herself enjoying the mushroom/cabbage soup and having built a death-defying confidence. Her work reflects this inner transformation, paired with an intense understanding of the warrior mentality.

A piece titled “Strong or Weak?” perfectly depicts this enigmatic spectrum of “extreme inhuman courage tempered by the universal human ‘weakness’. It’s the ultimate juxtaposition; the ultimate paradox.” The woman, eyes crying tears, knuckles crying blood, has risen again, facing her opponent and ready for the next round. Her soul cannot be defeated and her body chooses to face the enemy once more. In the midst of the fight, JUURI begs the question: How do you overcome this fear of death?

Everyone faces death if they live long enough. As JUURI’s perspective shifted, so did her artwork. Now, when encountering fear of death, she finds it doesn’t stick to her as it once did. Her work embodies the tricky balance of defiant determination to live life and a respect for the frailty of existence.

“I think that type of confidence, mixed with a knowledge of one’s own vulnerability, is strangely beautiful. That mind-boggling strange/beautiful mixture empowers me.”

Look for her work as you drive around town and at


Skip Hill has become a local, household name. His tenacity has earned him an international audience and, despite commonly held beliefs about artists, his connections in the art world did not fall into his lap. The brand of stubbornness to which he ascribes moves him to make intentional choices, creating what he calls “oceans of time” to produce his artwork.

Hill’s work channels William Faulkner, as he intuitively uses what he calls “a hand,” a sort of muscle memory and flow that can only be compared to the author’s stream-of-consciousness method. A synthesis of his living in The Netherlands; Thailand; the American South with his dad in Birmingham, Alabama; and New Orleans, he mixes all that travel together with a pinch of “wildness.” He exudes a confidant and old-soul persona that’s universally likable.

Motivated by a smooth, fluid, “no regrets” kind of philosophy, Hill has traveled the globe and “co-signs” with Jeff Goins’ assessment that it’s the places he’s been that possesses the genius. “I do recognize that I’m the vehicle for transferring [that genius].”

Hill’s life didn’t always revolve around the artistic process and travel. During his “white picket fence” years, Hill cared for others during the day, and took advantage of a small window of time each night to create. Sleeping less than six hours, he was unusually prolific. By day an ordained minister, he moonlighted his artistic talents in the back room of his home. Now, on Sundays, he has the “whole day to make art. It’s my worship right now.”

Recognizing the work/rest balance, Hill says, “There’s the wave. The wave comes back and you want to be with people. When I spend too much time alone in the studio or just living life, it can get depressive.” Through organic mentoring, Hill continually shares his experiences with other creatives.

Hill’s work can be experienced at Nedpoint Ranch studio in Pauls Valley by appointment and Skip Hill Art on Facebook and Instagram.

It’s stubbornness that propels one man to push beyond brokenness, gives a young woman the confidence to embrace courage and say goodbye to fear, and brings a formerly ordained minister to take on the world, literally, allowing for a wildness to emerge in his work. Typically seen as a negative characteristic, stubbornness has risen to become an artist’s virtue. May we all grasp it and do the hard work that propels us into the life we were meant to lead.