If I look at my past, the signs were there.
My grandma and uncle were artists and my mom had artistic leanings. I used to spend my childhood painting and drawing and baking, but most of all, I was a voracious reader. Ironically, doing well in school actually pulled me away from the land of art. I was on the college-prep path without any spare time to think about creative endeavors. However, I remember peering into the high school art room as I walked to my classes, wishing I had time to take a class--it seemed like magic was happening inside there.
I started college at the University of Illinois as a Russian major and finished as an English major (with a brief sojourn to San Francisco during my sophomore year in hopes of becoming a chef.) After graduating, I worked as a technical editor at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) writing computer manuals and interviewing scientists for articles. I had a great job that allowed me to travel, but I just “didn’t fit.” I was unhappy, and didn’t know how to find what would make me happy. My roommate was an engineering major and another friend was a speech pathologist. I used to “interview” them, trying to figure out how they KNEW what it was they wanted to be without ever waivering from that path. I always felt something was wrong with me that I didn’t have this knowledge—that I still felt like I was floundering. I knew I was smart, but I couldn’t find my “place.”
Many of my best friends were artists, and I remember thinking, I wished that I could start over and be an artist. Once, I sent a bunch of pages I had copied from a novel about artists in the 1920’s to a graphic designer friend, and she said, “you sent me all these pages, and you would have one word highlighted on a page—artist.” I would buy tons of magazines and books, but later would realize it was because I loved the illustrations and wanted to just study them. You see, my heart was trying to send me a message, but I still couldn’t—or wouldn’t hear it. I wrote constantly, so I thought perhaps that was the pathway I was supposed to take to the land of creativity. I had come across Natalie Goldberg in the 1980’s with her book, “Writing Down the Bones.” Later, when I found out that she also was a painter, and created crazy, off-kilter paintings, I thought to myself, that’s how I draw--I can do that! I always appreciated “fine art,” but nothing pulled at me like Outsider art or children’s art.
Still, I plodded in a different direction--graduate school in Library and Information Science at University of Texas in Austin and Indiana University. Marriage happened and another corporate job in an accounting dept. I felt like my soul was being sucked out of me. I had that “empty” feeling inside again. I never could figure out why other people seemed fulfilled with their jobs, but I didn’t. I was always searching for the answer. I read all of SARK’s books and Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way,” and I started going to more and more art fairs. I wanted to be one of those artists! That overwhelming feeling led me to finally, at 32, begin to draw and paint again. I painted murals on our patio, on our living room wall and our kitchen cabinets (for which I appeared in the paper). After people saw that, they started seeing me as an artist. I was asked to paint chairs for an annual charity auction.
Things moved on at this pace for years. I continued to paint. I joined an art group; I was part of some gallery shows; I even painted some large “Abraham Lincoln” hats in 2008 for a public celebration (similar to Chicago’s “Cows on Parade” in 1999). Again I was in the paper, and two of the hats were on display for 3 years. However, several times, I would be in shows, and my art would be passed over. I would be crushed. I felt that no one saw me as a “true” artist, because I didn’t have the degree or didn’t paint landscapes or a stereotypical portrait. Little did I know that those times or rejection would actually help me later.
Over the years, but especially beginning in 2010, I started finding evidence that my “style” of art was indeed art! I came across a famous children’s book author and illustrator known for her wacky style. I saw someone who had published a book of drawings on post-it notes. I had been doing that for that last 9 years at work! I stumbled upon graphic novels and illustrators’ websites. Here were people that drew like me who were making a living at it!!! Perhaps more than anything else, these discoveries finally helped ME to see that I was an artist. I finally understood that perhaps I just lived in an area that didn’t appreciate my style—it didn’t mean that I wasn’t an artist, because here was tons of evidence of people being successful in the same wacky manner of art! Also at this time, my journals were filled with pages of me writing “all I want to do is draw, paint, and write.” It was as if God finally said, “Stop messing around. I’ve given you your answer. You’re an artist.”
Remember when I said, the art rejections by others actually were a blessing in disguise? Well, I was so used to people not liking my stuff that I didn’t care anymore (well, at least not as much) if they didn’t like it—it no longer mattered. I knew my style of drawing and mixed-media paintings had its place in the world so I just made it. I didn’t worry if people liked it or not. I just put it out there more and more. In a sense, my life was changing as well--some friends were heading in a different direction than me and health issues forced me to scale back on tutoring Spanish and French. As a result, I found myself with more time to make art. I committed myself to buying a tent, being in shows, and painting and drawing as much as possible. I still remember one day when I was walking my dog, I stepped over a mud puddle, and the thought came to me: I never was successful or happy at all those other jobs, because that wasn’t who I was or the path I was meant to be on. I am an artist. I finally know my place in the world.
My website and Etsy store will be coming by the end of 2012.