I’m an artist. I was born an artist. But I wasn’t comfortable embracing this calling until later in life. I took my first art class in 7th grade at Tuckahoe Middle School. My art teacher, Miss Towers, was perfect for me. She gave us projects with specific objectives, and I would deliver results with flying colors. I distinctly remember my first piece of work. We were supposed to create a line drawing of something, and the goal was to use our first name repeatedly as a substitute for the pencil lines of the object or scene. I drew a large snail where each line of the drawing had my name, Debbie, repeated with various shades of green using thin magic markers. It was magical. I didn’t know art could be this awesome and fun. I was hooked. By the end of the year, one of my pieces of art was displayed in a county wide art show at a local high school.
In 8th grade, I was blessed with another terrific art teacher named Miss Wolfolk. She was the cat’s meow. She was beautiful, provided stimulating projects, and treated me like a person, not a child or a student. One time, we were given an assignment to draw a household item using pen and India ink. I went home and sketched an open carton of eggs. Miss Wolfolk liked the piece so much that she offered to pay me money for it. At age 13, I sold my first piece of work and received remarkable validation from an art teacher about my skills and abilities.
In contrast, my high school art classes were “the lean years.” While I was determined to take art classes, my primary art teacher for 4 years was determined to take smoking breaks in the teacher’s lounge. My memories of these classes are of the teacher giving us an assignment, flashing us a toothy grin, and sashaying out the door with her pocketbook over her arm. Fortunately, there was a bloom in the desert: one of the first paintings I ever created was selected for display in the school library.
The painting was from a photograph of a sunset I took over the Chesapeake Bay a few years earlier during a family camping trip. It was a great honor and thrill for me to have my work displayed among my peers. One of the high school cheerleaders in my class liked the painting so much that she offered to pay me money for it. I said, “No thanks. It’s not for sale.”
While attending Mary Washington College, I double majored in American Studies and Studio Art to soften the blow of being a professional artist. I didn’t want to be a “starving artist.” That image freaked me out and kept me on the safe path. In my mind—or state of denial—I defined myself as “an artist who can think.” The truth was I was afraid to be a full-time artist based on society’s concept of an artist. During those tender years, I placed more emphasis on getting “a real job,” rather than being true to myself. The irony of my double major is that I still didn’t know where I was going or what I was going to do; however, today everything is coming into focus.
Today, in the wisdom of my years, I know that I have a choice to create my own life or believe the various concepts that exist in our culture.
I’m an artist. Hear me roar.
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