He had a good life.
A predictable life.
A safe life.
But at 53 when most people are checking their 401(k) balance, Rock Newcomb quit his job and became an artist.
This was the second brave leap into the unknown of his secure life. Years earlier, he had left a long-term marriage that didn’t work.
Years later, he found his soulmate in his second wife, Cody, who gave Newcomb the courage to gamble on his lifelong yearning to become an artist.
But love and life all come with risks.
He knows that now. And wouldn’t change a thing.
Newcomb spent the first 53 years of his life as a teacher and a farmer.
Now, he’s a Payson wildlife and Southwest artifact painter, with his work in galleries, museums and clients’ collections around the world. In the course of 20-plus years as an artist, Newcomb has filled his Payson house with painting supplies, frames and packaging material as his life morphed into his work and his work into his life.
But he’s also alone. Eighteen months ago, he lost Cody, who nurtured his dreams and kept him organized.
He could hold on to that grief — like others tally up their retirement savings.
But he mostly dwells on the great luck of having found her.
“We had 38 years together. I just got lucky,” he said, and he still has his art. “I love what I do.”
In September, Newcomb will take part in the invitation-only, Eiteljorg Museum Quest for the West Art Show and Sale for the 16th year.
Newcomb and Cody created a life he didn’t know possible. They spent years traveling to shows, museums and Southwest ruins so Newcomb could find inspiration. Cody gave Newcomb the freedom to spend 12 hours a day, every day exploring his gift.
Newcomb has a philosophical attitude about it all.
“When preparation meets opportunity, that is lucky,” he said of the business.
Art — a lifetime passion
Newcomb found his passion for art early.
“I started drawing at 6 years old,” he said.
He loved sketching the art out of the books his librarian grandmother gave him to keep him busy while she worked.
When he turned 9, his parents divorced and his father moved Newcomb from his small-town life in Nebraska to a homestead along the Snake River in Idaho, where he learned about hard work, Western culture and wildlife.
“I really thought I’d died,” he said. “All of a sudden I’m hauling water down to the calves.”
But he also spent a lot of time finding arrowheads and Ice Age stone tools. He would set traps for local wildlife just to observe them before releasing them.
After high school, Newcomb realized an education could deliver him from farm work. So, he worked as a shoe salesperson to put himself through community college and then got a master’s degree in art in California. Once he had the degrees, he taught high school art classes during the week and community college classes in between painting on the weekends.
“That was easier than shoveling manure and hauling hay and milking cows,” he said.
He taught until that fateful day when he turned 53 and decided it was time to work at what he loved full time, painting.
He told his wife, “It’s time to give it a shot. Paint in a closet, die in a closet.”
She took the leap with him and, after two years of marketing, attending art shows and watching the savings dwindle, luck struck. The galleries started calling and the art shows knocked on Newcomb’s door.
Each piece of art Newcomb sells, he jokes, “I worked on (it) a hell of a lot harder than I worked on my children.”
He expresses the love he has for each piece.
“I thank them for adopting one of my children,” he said.
It’s a long process to raise a painting to send out into the world. On the desk in his studio lies a sketch in progress. It’s shaped like a reptile, but the details have not emerged. Nor has the background.
On shelves, Newcomb has shoeboxes filled with prints of animals, ruins and Native American pottery collected on the trips he and Cody took.
In his living room, he’s shoved aside furniture to fit in Cody’s computers, printers, filing cabinets and other office needs.
His garage has no room for cars. Instead, expensive and specially designed boxes packing boxes for paintings fill the space Cody used to manage.
Now he wants to build a new, larger house that “would benefit the kids down the road” as well as provide him a larger studio and more storage space.
It’s a leap of faith his kids are “a little reluctant for him to take.”
But he has these shows to do — and he loves to paint.
“People think I’m lucky,” he said. “To me luck is preparation.”
His life also proves that sometimes you must just take the leap.
And when the bill comes due, you pay the price — with a crooked grin and a full heart.
Whether it’s quitting your day job.
Or falling in love.