Artist Spotlight – My Story, My Canvas

David Whiting Finds Relief From Stress in His Artwork

David Whiting

A uniting factor among incarcerated artists is the therapeutic benefit that art delivers to each practitioner. Each person connects to their art in a unique way, but the benefits are similar and equally inspiring. For David Whiting, a visual artist living at Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution, art has become more than just a hobby – it’s a way of life for him.

Whiting began his journey with art more than 20 years ago while sitting in county jail in Eugene. He began by copying cartoons out of newspapers. Navigating the constant stress and pressures of time spent in county, “sketching and tracing became an escape for me, and eventually a meditation,” he says. Once he got to prison, Whiting began experimenting with nature sketches using a wider variety of mediums.

He began collecting his art during his first prison set over 15 years ago. With the help of a friend, his projects became prints which were sold in various places up and down the West Coast. After his release he began exploring other ways in which his artwork could earn him a living. His projects on parole included canvassing neighborhoods in Eugene and painting house numbers on curbs, painting windows for various businesses, mural painting for treatment centers and the local County Sherriff’s office.

Like many AICs in Oregon’s prison system, Whiting has struggled with substance abuse and mental health issues. He credits art as his saving grace during periods of uncertainty or unrest. “My art is my safe space,” he says. “When I’m dealing with any kind of unusual life stressor, I can always rely upon my art to see me through to the other side in a healthy and productive manner,” he adds. Whiting learned about principles related to “decompression therapy” in the past. He views his use of art as a practice of these principles and says that slowing himself down in times of stress allows him “to think about stress through unique lenses.”

Now on his second prison sentence, Whiting considers himself a mixed media artist, combining pen, pencil, pastel, and colored pencil to achieve his desired result. He also uses acrylic and oil paints when he has access to them, as they are his modes of choice. Whiting uses cutouts and overlapping textures and patterns to add extra dimension to his work. He enjoys making series of 12 pieces to add to his portfolio on the street. He is currently finishing a series about Gnomes in various nature settings.

With the help of a friend on the streets, he sends his work out to be digitized which will eventually be uploaded to a social media page when he releases. He says that “uploading my art online serves as a digital portfolio for me and connects me to a wider community of artists and people interested in one day purchasing my work.” He explains that, once digitized, “art can be turned into greeting cards, posters and prints for sale” to the online community of art enthusiasts. He encourages aspiring career artists to look to social media and technology to help develop their customer base.

When Whiting releases in a few years he hopes to open a studio of his own. He would like to create a safe space that can help other artists experiencing mental health or substance abuse issues and students attending Oregon State University work on their crafts. He credits part of his own artistic evolution to friends that supported him in the darkest moments of his life.

Written by Patrick Gazeley-Romney