Disneyland may be considered the happiest place on earth, but I found mine nestled among the gardens in my own backyard. This is where so many of my dreams came true; not all at once, but each in their own time. Dreams do still come true, Dear Reader, just like the Cinderella story.
I never dreamt of being anything but an artist. My mom claims I was drawing in my high chair, and I believe her. Born with crossed eyes, I had many surgeries but still had a few visual challenges. Instead of playing games with my siblings, I was usually off somewhere alone dreaming, drawing or searching for fairies in the garden. My mom made every day a holiday at our house, and my dad always had a song in his heart. Dad even taught us all to harmonize, and we still spontaneously sing when we’re together … in perfect harmony, of course. Ours was a charmed childhood, raised on faith, love and Disney.
Not surprisingly, my great passions were art, music and gardening. I first attended a small Christian liberal arts school, where I studied vocal music and visual art. I loved growing in my faith with a wide variety of people. It was there I took a class that began my admiration for the art and culture of Japan, which many years later I was fortunate enough to visit. Eventually, I transferred to an art college to acquire skills and techniques I still use today. During this time, my parents helped set up a basement studio. It was dark but organized and got me through those all-nighters.
And then I met my very own Prince Charming: a cute rock ’n’ roll musician named John (not Elton). He quickly became my best friend, soulmate and personal piano man (it was the ’80s, after all). A few years later, we married, found a humble home on a few acres, and began surrounding it with cats, trees and flowers.
We wanted to start a family but decided to first fulfill a lifelong dream for both of us: a trip to Europe. It was a jam-packed, back-packed whirlwind tour of six countries within a couple of weeks. We loved it. The highlight for me was the centennial exhibit at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. We dream now of a kinder and gentler return to Italy and France.
It wasn’t long before God answered our prayers and gave us two precious children. We named our gorgeous ginger girl Holly, after my treasured Madame Alexander doll. She is our songbird and is musically gifted, poetic, kind and courageous. We never imagined this tiny girl would someday bravely fly off on her own two wings to faraway places. We named our son Vincent, after my favorite artist. Amazingly, he has lived up to his famous namesake as a red-haired, blue-eyed, passionate artist and writer. He is also a gifted cartoonist and animator and keeps everyone laughing.
By the time I was 30, many of my dreams had already come true. My husband and I tried to give our children the gifts our parents gave us: unconditional love, a firm faith in God and a home filled with laughter and friendship. We both made career changes and sacrifices in order to home educate them. Before we knew it, we had taught them both to graduation, and they were off to college. Our little ones magically grew up before our eyes.
Still, it was often challenging to (quite literally) squeeze my art in between meals on the kitchen table. I stored my supplies in our basement but found it too dark, cold and remote to work in. It’s hard to believe how much I accomplished, with so little time and space, in order to help support my family all those years. I also made edible works of art and specialty cakes for almost 10 years. It was hard to be patient and wait for my season to come, but that’s what I did. Until I couldn’t anymore.
In 2013, we lost my beloved brother at age 58 to an aggressive brain tumor in eight short but merciless months. Since then, we have lost other loved ones, and each loss leaves a gaping hole that can’t be filled. Every day is a gift from God. I decided it was time to finally become the artist I wanted to be and to use the gifts He gave me. I needed to be brave and bold. I needed my own studio.
Once I announced that, I could not be dissuaded. We considered many options but finally decided to have a customized shed built and delivered to our backyard. She finally arrived one cold January day in 2016. I named her Sunshine, and my mom made her a birthday cake to celebrate.
She was perfect.
I cannot express the joy she brings me. It took months of hard work from friends and family before I made my first painting within her magical walls: daffodils, from the garden. Since then, I steal away to her every chance I get. On dark winter mornings, the freezing path leads me into her cozy warmth, and I can watch the snow fall through every window. I open wide her doors to welcome spring (and the frequent butterfly and bird visitors). In summer, she and I stay up late, along with the frogs and fireflies, and listen to the rain falling on the roof. In autumn, she waits and watches while I tuck the garden beds in for the winter, and she keeps the light on for me. Every time I enter, I breathe her in and give thanks.
Art is my therapy, and when my son had to go through surgery and radiation treatment last year, I taught myself to needle-felt to keep my hands and mind occupied. Later, I created and donated a wool butterfly shawl in honor of a friend and cancer survivor through Brushes with Cancer.
In the evenings, I often sit in my rocking chair with my baskets of wool and create tapestries and toys. I make aromatherapy flower fairies with wool and herbs. One of my dreams is to give them to children of all ages who are fighting cancer, to cheer them and make them smile. They are a labor of love for a cause near and dear to my heart.
I have taken so many photos of Sunshine that she has her own social media following. People are drawn to her, and I’m afraid she has become rather vain. The word “shed” is NEVER spoken in her presence, and she insisted recently on a complete makeover. We found beautiful Asian dressers and a desk with multiple drawers. It is perfect for lettering, watercolor and scratch art.
My large and lovely wooden desk is where I draw with pencils and pastels. My easel stand is by my painting armoire, and there is a low table for mixed media. I have a comfy chair in the corner by the windows, where I can read, listen to records, and even doze off. My two ginger cats, Sammy and Knabe, take turns visiting me and frequently join me in these little catnaps. My Sunshine was recently gifted a flagstone path to replace the straw one she so loathed. And now that she is being featured in this gorgeous magazine, her vanity has no bounds.
With so many dreams come true, can I still have more? Indeed, I can. I would love to spend my days singing and dancing in my Sunshine studio, creating whatever is in my heart and supporting my family with my work. It is a BIG dream. But I have a BIG God, with BIG plans for me. I am in constant awe of His artistry. Jesus told us to “consider the lilies,” and I do. I marvel at the amazing creativity, detail, beauty and generosity he bestows on us in even just one flower. I try to express that fascination and joy in my art as I recreate it in my own way. He is the master, and I am His apprentice. There is no end to the inspiration.
And so, Dear Reader, if you are still longing for your own space or studio, take heart. Savor each season as it comes, and go ahead and wish upon that star. But I’ll add a prayer for you, Dear Reader, that you find your happily ever after right here and now. May God bless you richly.