I have wandered through my life without ever really having a plan, going down major career paths based on an off-hand comment from my first husband and later a nudge towards something I would never have done on my own from my second husband. And while wandering through those careers, I almost completely veered away from making pictures, which, I realize now, I should have made a priority in my life all along.
Major non-plan #1: In my late 20s, having completed college, I was working a job as the assistant to the Registrar at a college. When the Registrar told me I was a shoo-in to be her replacement when she retired – in about 20 years – that grim prospect got me to take my ex’s casually proffered advice to, “Go into computers – there’s money in it”, resulting in a Master of Science in Computer Science from Virginia Tech and 17 years working in the software engineering business. This non-plan was nowhere near a disaster. I loved learning about and programming computers. I had the dream technical job of writing a version of the UNIX operating system for a symmetric multiprocessor system in 1984, when that had not been done before, crazy hard and fun. And I asked for, and was given, the virtual memory portion to design and write, even crazier hard and fun than other pieces of the pie. The group I was working with was amazing, smart, a little geeky (surprise), but wonderful people. However, I came to hate working for large companies with their management’s greedy, uncaring attitudes towards their workers.
Right about the time I met my second husband, Jim, in 1990, he had some cloth-covered electrical wire made to be historically accurate for sets he was working on for a movie that took place in the ’20s. (Jim was a lead man in the film business then, a set decorator now.) After a few years, Jim kept telling me I should take over the teeny-tiny cloth-covered wire business, but I kept saying “No, it’s boring, it will never go anywhere.” In 2003, Jim bought Quickbooks (bookkeeping software) and an ecommerce package for the teeny-tiny business and left to do a movie. I have been running Sundial Wire
ever since, moonlighting for three years while I continued in software, and full time since 2006. We started in the garage, sunroom, and basement of our Dutch Colonial, and now have thousands of square feet of office and factory with braiding machines, twinners, and spoolers.
This was not even so much as a fuzzy idea in the non-plan I had for my life. But this non-plan, although quite challenging, got me away from working for a large company and has allowed me to employ people and feel pretty damned good about building a business and doing manufacturing in the USA.
All along the way, I had wanted, but not allowed myself, to be an artist. I have a few very early art-related memories. During Christmastime when I was six, I made a clay angel in art class, which I still have. I remember being so pleased with it. I still cherish it, mostly because it tells me I had a successful creative effort at least once in my young life.
When I was about 12 or 13, I made a painting that I was thrilled by. It was a room with black walls, and I had put a sheet of paper with swirled colors under it and cut vertical, sinuous shapes in the walls to show the swirled colors underneath. It gave me that thrill of having created something mysterious and wonderful, that came from my own imagination, and I loved the picture and the feeling that having created it gave me. Then, like so many people starting out on becoming creative, the art teacher at my grade school dismissed it. I was devastated, and allowed her dismissal of the picture to put me, in my own mind as well as hers, into the non-artist category from which I thought there was no escape. I just wasn’t and never would be, in that club.
Soon after that experience, when I had myself firmly in that non-artist category and was so envious of those who weren’t, my sister-in-law, Carol Zaloom, a wonderful artist working mostly in linocuts, sat down with me and one or two of my siblings to make Father’s Day cards for my dad. I remember making a snake in watercolor with “Happy Father’s Day” in a banner above it, and just loving the process, and loving Carol for having us make cards. (And I love her more as I look back on it for her seeing what a lovely man my dad was and organizing the card-making for him.) Most of all I remember wishing I could be an artist like she was. To me she was (and still is) a goddess. She made, and still makes, art, persevering even when her children were small and when she worked two or three jobs at a time.
I went to Simon’s Rock when I was 16. It was The Early College, four years of college two years early. I loved the place. But I completely stayed away from the arts building. It was like it had a negative energy for me, completely coming from me, not the school or staff or kids. “You’re not good enough to deserve to be here” is what that building said to me. I hardly went in it. Simon’s Rock would have been the perfect place for me to explore my creativity, but I didn’t do it. I wasn’t in the club. I did learn about art history there, from a most wonderful woman, Doreen Young. She fed my love of art despite my not making it myself.
I did finally take one beginning art class at Sarah Lawrence when I was in my early 20s. I did decently, improving a great deal through the work in the class and seeing some glimmers of “I could do this”, but I still felt a complete interloper in the class and among the people who, to me, deserved to be in it, the people who had enough talent to become real artists. I was still not in the club. But I was brave enough to be an interloper at least.
After that, I married my ex, an artist. I did one pastel of a tomato and one painting of a teapot, using his artist’s materials. I didn’t draw or paint anything else until over 20 years later. But even in this one drawing of the tomato, I knew I loved pastels. My ex didn’t work in pastels, he never used them, but happily for me I found them and did the drawing.
I remember mixing the colors on the top of the tomato and just loving what that did. Jane (see below) hadn’t taught me about contact shadows yet, clearly, and I do wonder at my choice of brown as the tabletop color, but I’m always surprised, whenever I come across this picture, at how good it is, if I do say so myself, given that I had never done a pastel before.
This is the oil painting of a teapot I did with my ex’s paints around the same time. The composition definitely leaves something to be desired, but I really wonder why I didn’t keep at any drawing or painting when I got results that weren’t too shabby given my lack of experience.
Skipping ahead 20 years, towards the end of the six years I took off from my sofware work to raise my daughter, I started taking drawing classes through our local art store. I drew all the time, sticking my drawings up all over the walls of our apartment. I went to weekly figure-drawing sessions and finally started producing drawings of people that looked like people. When my daughter turned six and I was going back to work, I knew I was going to hate my new job. So I comforted myself in advance by buying myself $200 worth of Sennelier pastels and taking my first class with the wonderful Jane Lund.
Jane took one look at my two boxes of clearly never-used Senneliers and gave me a look that said, “Oh boy!” She assumed I had bought them naively, but I had tried all the brands our art store had and loved the Senneliers even before I knew how to use them.
Jane was the perfect teacher, never telling anyone how to work but encouraging, inspiring, entertaining, insisting on perfect ellipses ;-), and building friendships among the mainly women in her classes. I did my so-far favorite piece in one of her workshops.
In the years since I took that first class with Jane, I have struggled to find the time, confidence, and energy to make drawing a daily practice so that I can make the joy that practice gives me a constant part of my life. I am finally doing that. And my daily work is finally, in my own mind, putting me into that club I have wanted to be in all my life.