From the time I was a child, I wanted to be an artist. My earliest memories include watching my mother draw. She was phenomenal, whether my opinion is biased or not. Her specialties were pen and ink and pastels. I wanted to be. Just. Like. Her.
So I drew. I colored. I drew some more. As I watched her taken on freelance commercial art projects, or create amazing Native American portraits in pen and ink, I sat near her, drawing, doing my childish best to emulate her.
Fast forward to high school, I was a drawing fiend. Pen and ink, pencil, charcoal, pastel, it didn’t matter. I loved all media. My high school art teacher, whom we’ll call Mr. Rochester for the sake of privacy, was my mentor. There was a small group of super talented artists during my high school years, and it was my one solace as a loner that I was included in that group. I took art all four years, and spent many class periods hanging out in Mr. Rochester’s room when I’d completed work in my other classes, creating something new. I was also on the newspaper and yearbook staffs, and learned film photography, developing, printing, and manual layout methods.
Up until my junior year, I was going to be a commercial artist, just like my mom in my early childhood years. By the time my junior year rolled around, I was disillusioned and disheartened, as are many teens at that age. I began to believe that few people really appreciated what energy and skill it took to make a piece of art, and in my immature search for validation thought I was a failure. I’d also been picked on severely, and resented, no, loathed my social situation. All I wanted was to escape. I’d lost my passion for the idea of being a commercial artist. I didn’t want someone telling what to draw, how to draw it, and giving me creative and time limitations. I didn’t want someone else controlling my ONE FREEDOM from teenage hell.
I had pretty good grades, but not scholarship good. My parents were blue collar workers, and there was no college fund. What’s a skinny, pimply-faced, angry teenager to do?
I joined the Army my senior year, a month after I turned 17. I signed up Delayed Entry Program (DEP) in September of ‘87. I drank a crap ton of water to pass the minimum weight requirement, went to the MEP station, took my physical, signed the contract, and set a departure date for two days after high school graduation. Yeah, I wanted out badly.
I hardly missed a day school. I was THAT geek you hated. I missed one day of school at the very beginning of my freshman year because of mono, and I missed one day my senior year because of going to the MEP station. Mr. Rochester knew something was up when I was absent. I came in the next day, and he asked where I was. Nervously, but excited, I told him what I did.
He was crestfallen.
“What a goddamned waste,” he said, staring me in the eyes. I felt like he sucker-punched me.
“I was going to help you do your portfolio to get into art school. What a waste.”
The rest of the year, Mr. Rochester was harsh in his grading of my projects, and was no longer the friendly, caring mentor I’d looked up to. I felt like I’d lost one of my few friends. But my path was chosen, and I was determined to go.
And go I did.
The Army was nothing like art class. I had one final last experience in the Army relating to my drawing that soured me, and from there my artistic endeavors were on delay for many years. I became what the Army molded me to be. I did what I was told, I was where I was told to be, and when to be there. I learned a lot, traveled a lot, met a lot of people from all walks of life, and I had a career that few can understand.
However, the seed of the artist was still there, and it came out in little ways. I dabbled in various crafts: cross-stitch, needlepoint, crocheting, and eventually jewelry. Jewelry became more than just a bit of dabbling, and I eventually started a jewelry business that lasted five years. Jewelry was also the catalyst that brought me full circle to photography. Because I couldn’t afford a professional photographer every time I created something new, I learned to shoot my jewelry myself for my website, MySpace, and Facebook. The high school seeds of photography were reborn.
During the time of my jewelry business, I went back home, taking my very young daughter with me. We went to my high school so I could show her where I went to school. We stopped by to see Mr. Rochester. He was stiff and cordial, and didn’t seem to care about how my life turned out. Perhaps that’s how some teachers are and it wasn’t anything personal at all. Perhaps he was still carrying the grudge that one of his star pupils didn’t fulfill his intended destiny. I was somewhat saddened, but realized I couldn’t fix it.
Fast forward to today. I’ve had my photography business six years. It’s evolved. I spent much time competing as a commercial photographer, having both good and bad projects. I enjoyed many of my experiences, but just like the teenage me, I resented being told how to shoot a project. I needed to make a change for the satisfaction of my artistic soul; otherwise, I was going to quit shooting altogether.
Today I shoot for me. I shoot what excites me, what fulfills me. It may never make me artistically famous or a millionaire. What I do know is that my journey to this point has had many twists and turns, but ultimately, here I am, doing it MY way.
I think about Mr. Rochester. I’m sorry I disappointed him then, but I still hope if he saw me now, he’d be proud. I would also hope that he’d realize that no two artistic journeys are the same, and sometimes the longer, more wayward path has the biggest impact.
Your artistic path won’t be like mine. Your choices won’t be like mine. No matter how you get THERE, just realize that eventually you will get THERE, wherever THERE is. It may sound like mumbo jumbo, kumbaya, touchy feely crap, but every step of your journey will lead you to where you need to be. And no one has that map for THERE but you.