I took my first formal art class when I was eight years old. The old community center was crumbling at its foundation and stank of mildew, but I marched in the door proudly with my new graphite pencils, a slew of erasers and pads of “real artist paper” my parents had bought me.
My teacher was a boyish gray-headed woman who regaled us with tales of her five dogs and fourteen cats. Our first project was a live drawing of an old barn lantern that took weeks to complete—mostly because of the tricky way the light hit the glass.
I would have preferred to draw people, of course. But I put my head down to work and never looked back.
Prior to that first class, I had gone through stacks of Dad’s leftover computer paper doodling everything from portraits to pets to scenes from fairy tales. (I wrote and illustrated my own version of Cinderella at four years old.) And I can say with certainty that a key factor in my parents’ decision to pull me out of a private school, in favor of homeschooling, was to save all the money they were spending just for me to doodle in boredom at my desk.
I continued taking art into my high school years. Oils, acrylics, watercolor: you name it, I probably experimented with it. But I always came back to graphite pencil—both for its limited color range and overall level of control.
But then young adulthood happened. For some harebrained reason, I decided all the things I’d been interested in as a child were “over” and it was time for me to move on to bigger things. I went to college. I traveled in Asia. Then I went to graduate school.
It wasn’t until I got married that the inner artist began to tug at me again.
By then, I had a long, circuitous journey ahead of me to find my was back to the little girl who had marched between the crumbling bricks, and breathed in the mildew, as she entered a brave new world. Indeed, it’s taken me over six years to return to actual visual art again—by way of a heck of a lot writing and experimentation in graphic design.
This Friday marks the next step as I launch a weekly serial graphic novel, The (Re)Invention of Alethia Grey. This project marks my first attempt as an adult to bring my art and my words together. Probably the first really serious one, really, since that four-year-old rendition of Cinderella.
I certainly hope it won’t be my last . . . or my best.
On the lead-up to this next step, a few things happened that really pushed me forward. First, I discovered the Arts & Crafts Movement last year. (“Discovered” being relative, of course; it was there all along.) Suddenly I understood what and who had inspired the picture book artists I had admired growing up. Resisting the manufactured industrialism of their day (equivalent to today’s digital technology), Arts & Crafts artists returned to romantic, even medieval, artistic styles and subjects. And many of them did it in my beloved black and white.
The other major push along this path was my friend and City Beast Studio partner, Terry Reed. While describing to him one day my frustration with trying to make words show pictures, he wisely asked the obvious question: “Why not just draw the pictures instead?” I went right home and storyboarded the first few episodes of what became The (Re)Invention of Alethia Grey. Suddenly, the story structure in my head was free to become what I actually saw.
I fell in love with art all over again.
I do not know where this adventure will lead. Except that right now, it’s leading to a lot of early morning drawing sessions, getting reacquainted with those beloved pencils, and will soon lead to the pile of nib pen supplies I just bought to embark on Arts & Crafts-style inking explorations. That, and another graphic novel that’s been charted on my wall—which I’m planning to do in some sort of ink style reminiscent of medieval illustrations.
I’m grateful to be once again on an adventure with art. And it just goes to show: nothing is ever really “lost.” The things we loved as children can come back again into the story of our lives.
When we are willing to embrace them again, even rediscover them, we recover a piece of the joy that may have been missing in their absence.
What is life, after all, if not an adventure we have been given to undertake?
I look forward to sharing this adventure with you!
* * *What about you? What childhood joys did you rediscover as an adult?
Which ones would you like to take up again?