Growing up, I loved to write and draw. During those early years, my dad would look at my art and say, “This is very good.” Then he’d frame it and spend time with it. My mom, she loved my art too. But in a different way. The way that you love something and at the same time know both the joy and the risk it can bring. She’d look at my art and she’d say, “You should learn to type. Everybody needs a secretary.” So I learned to type 200 wpm and I became a court reporter. As much as I tried to be grateful for that job, for years I felt deeply lost and miserable.
A decade or so later, I was volunteering at my son’s elementary school. I was in the reading lab and, as I looked around the room, I noticed no one was celebrating Dr. Seuss’ birthday. Without much thought or planning, I walked over to the giant dry erase board. I picked up a pen and I began to draw. Before that day, if anyone would have asked if I were an artist, I would have said no. I had no formal training, no art studio, and little to no confidence. But on that day, as I was drawing a life-sized Cat in The Hat, a young boy walked over. He watched quietly for a long while as I drew. I felt like he was waiting for the courage to ask me something, and he finally did. His words were soft and important. “Are you an artist?”
I knew my answer mattered. To him and to me. I stood tall. I looked him in the eye. Then I told him something I’d never told anyone before. “Yes,” I said. “I am an artist.” He looked relieved. Then I asked him, “Are you an artist too?” He nodded. I leaned in and I said, “I thought so.”
Something happens when we own that part of ourselves that feels important and true. That was the day I decided I was going to illustrate an early reader series I’d written called “Pig and Chick.”
With no formal training or experience, I Googled, “How to Watercolor.” I made several trips to the art supply store. Our cupboards began filling with paper, paints, and other things the store clerk thought I might need. Every day when my husband and son would leave for work and school, I’d cover the kitchen table with my brushes and paints. I’d set a TV tray on top of an old wicker clothes hamper and I’d paint. I painted my first three books on top of that old clothes hamper. In those early days, I learned I didn’t need a professional studio to create. I also learned I needed to take myself seriously if I want anyone else to, and that, as an artist, having a sacred space is an essential luxury.
Then one day, when I was clearing the kitchen table before my husband and son returned home, I started thinking about the art studios I’d seen on Pinterest. I thought about their charm and character and the way a piece of the artist’s soul seemed to hang on their walls. It was then that I remembered the art studio I’d set up in my closet years ago as a kid. My heart started beating faster. I thought to myself, If I don’t do this now, I NEVER will! So I went to my closet and I began bagging my clothes to donate. Once my closet was empty, I started moving in bookshelves and crates. I dragged my desk halfway down the hall when my husband and son walked in. With a little cajoling, they picked up the desk and carried it the rest of the way. I started decorating. I filled metal buckets with book binding tools and paints. I filled old milk bottles and a Rae Dunn mug that had the word “Dreamer” emblazoned on it with my paint brushes and pens. I couldn’t part with my boots, so I lined them up on the top shelf in front of an old wooden cut-out of a rabbit I’d found at a yard sale. I saved one dress and one pink tie for Christmas parties and places where jeans aren’t appropriate. Then I taped and tacked the walls with art I’d drawn and magazine scraps I’d torn out because something about them made me dream bigger. Before long, I was sitting in my chair under the white twinkly lights that felt like magic. As I picked up my pen, I started thinking about that young girl who sat in her closet so many years ago. Not much has changed. I was an artist then and I am an artist now. Only this time, I know how lucky I am to have made my way back here.
It takes courage to grow up and become who we really are. – E.E. Cummings
I’ve recently published the fourth book in my “Pig and Chick” series. I’m currently working on my first Halloween book and another illustrated book for women and for those who want to dream bigger. I’m a founding member of Women Who Undervalue Their Talents No More, an organization that supports women to value themselves and others and empowers us to use our daily choices to change the world. You can find my books and other feel-good merchandise at PrintsMarin.com.
We only get one shot at life. I figure we owe it to the world to live it well. If you ever wonder whether you have what it takes to do the thing you love, remember this: You can. You always could.
I believe in you,