Tuesday, November 21, 2006


How do you become an artist? Is it something you just *are*? Part of your soul, your make-up, your being? Or is it chosen, learned, practiced, skilled? How do you come to the point where when someone asks what you do, you answer them straight-forwardly and confidently, "I am an artist."

It was never so easy for me, that answer. To this day I'll qualify it, state my title in hopes it sounds legitimate enough, quickly pass over the phrase "I'm a painter." To me, to the girl who looks back in the mirror every day, I am an artist. I want to answer proudly, solidly. Yet, to the outside world, I fumble in my response.

I have friends who are professionals. Who make their livings from their drawings and paintings. Who have galleries that show their work, who teach others how to master such skills.

I, 40-60 hours a week, design. Is that artistry? I waiver on my definition. I do not waiver, however, on my ability. There are few things about myself I am certain of, one of which is that I am a brilliant designer. (Was that too much? Hm. "Brilliant." Nope. Just right.) But Design, to me, is about solving business problems visually. Meeting objectives, planning use, leading the consumer. While I am invested, while I give nothing but my utmost to every project . . . it is not my passion. It is not what I would do given hours of free time to create anyhting I want. But I am paid for it, I am rewarded and recognized for it - and that often leads me to answer "designer" when everything in my mind is yelling "artist."

I enjoy designing, of course, but not as I enjoy painting. Holding the brush, mixing the colors, smelling the turpentine. So much of our world, my world, is digital. Holding something in my hands, envisioning it for days at a time - and then somehow getting it onto a canvas (never board or paper, I love the give of the material too much) is a rush I can compare to little else. I remember wanting nothing more than to create worlds, draw pictures, when I was child. Sitting on the floor of our tiny kitchen - my looming football player of a father helping me construct giant drawing pads from old football schedule posters; flipping them over, giving them cardboard covers, tying them together with string . . . it was wondrous to me to have a book of empty pages awaiting me and my stories.

It still is.

I remember running home after school to visit Mrs. Beth Quigel. She and George lived directly across the street from me when I was in grade school and often looked after me when my parents were still at work so I wouldn't have to be home alone. I thought Mrs. Quigel was magic, looking back now I realize Mrs. Quigel was really just the first artist I had ever known. She painted dolls and Russian eggs, she painted flowers and landscapes. Their house always had that tinged smell of chemicals, of paints and porceline, mediums and turpenoid. I loved how her brushes were so soft, how the paints on her palette so weirdly sculpturesque.

When I was in third grade she let me paint, on a small round board, a small pink rose. All by myself with oil paints.

And my life changed.

I spent the next decades learning, practicing, reliving over and over again that small, pink rose. That feeling of the plainess of the board, the mess of the paint somehow - under my own magic becoming a rose in bloom. I do it to this day, stand back from my canvas, lean away from my easel and marvel . . .


I'm not myself when I'm not painting; thinking of painting, planning my next painting. I'm not as happy, as at peace, as balanced. I am an artist. Not because I'm a greatly skilled or outrageously talented, but because I can do nothing else that feels as wonderful, as spendid, as natural.

When I'm painting, when I hold that brush in my hand, the whole world drops away: and my world, my thoughts and dreams and stories rise up. To this day I'm unable to understand or describe it. Other than to say, that it's my best magic. And it's what I offer up to the world.

It's all I have. I'm an artist, after all.


Anonymous said...

Oh EM this is lovely! It is, in fact, exactly what I wanted to know. It's hard to pin down the When and How and Why of being an artist because it seems to me being an artist just IS and it's more about 'discovering' that you're an artist. Lucky you, to have found it as young as you did. Though it makes me laugh a bit that YOU, with all your experience and schooling, should hesitate to call yourself an artist when I myself have this reticence!

I know just what you mean, too, about having something you do that's good and all but it's just NOT the same as your bliss. But it just brings up all sorts of questions about you being a designer: what makes you so good? Is it something in your personality that makes you better? Did school help? Are you getting better with experience?

The more you write the more I want to know! ^_^


~m said...

Thanks, Skye.

Now I ask YOU - what led you to the same place, so many years later?

And I promise to talk about my career eventually. But it's just every day boring stuff, you know?