The challenge of life in the Wild West
Finding a steady and successful income, even during the boom years of the Californian gold rush, was not an easy undertaking for those who made the long journey out west to start a new life and hopefully find their fortune. At the time America was suffering from a significant economic recession, which considerably contributed to the number of people desiring a move to find new employment and financial reward.
Unfortunately, many of those who endured and ultimately survived the arduous trek across the dangerous overland trails, found only limited work opportunities, poor living conditions, overwhelmingly addictive and debilitating drugs and vices, and severe competition for work due to the massive migration influx into the region. The city of San Francisco itself rose from a population of only a few hundred during the 1840’s, to over 20,000 by the start of the 1850’s.
Many lost their entire savings simply making the journey westward, were robbed or swindled in the often lawless towns and cities, or were then financially ruined by the high cost of equipment and supplies from unscrupulous merchants who quickly took advantage of the numbers requiring their goods and services. Without striking it rich on the goldfields and possessing very little or no money, many people could not find any available housing or employment, and soon found themselves as homeless and itinerant paupers, forced to panhandle on the street to get through another day. This situation could befall both the relatively rich and the poor, as there was no discrimination regarding bad luck, injustice, crime and corruption. Life in the new frontier proved to be extremely risky and uncertain, and a very tough challenge to survive.
My illustration shows a homeless man, formerly gainfully employed, who still attempts to retain a little self-respect by presenting himself with some decency. He has been inspired by various real and fictional western characters, and was an idea I had struggled with for some time, as I sought to find the correct technique and final composition for such a period portrait. Completed in Photoshop CS5 using a few of my custom brushes.