Curious people often ask me when I knew I was an artist. The answer is not a simple one and so the story goes:
When I was in my late 20’s, I had no idea that my life would eventually take a huge creative turn in my 30s. I was busy learning about life, relationships, and how to find my place in an ever-changing world. Throughout my hippie years–from ‘68 to around ‘75–peace, love, and freedom were at the forefront of my heart and mind.
I am very grateful I lived during this innovative time. The hippie uprising embedded the value of kindness and a deep belief that we are all inner connected at the soul level. It was obviously a time of vast artistic expansion in all corners of our culture. Music, art, media, clothing, haircuts, architecture, home decor…all these influences and more were creatively revolutionized.
During the early ’70s, I dabbled in creativity but it was just an afterthought. Remember those embroidered hippy jeans? Or the halter tops made out of doilies? Yep, that was me. I’d sit at my sewing machine, smoke a doobie, and “just make up” clothing designs. Money was always tight and I really didn’t know what a “maker” was but I was already demonstrating an interest in creating something from nothing.
The Nuts and Bolts of the Early 80s
Then in the late ’70s, my life took a turn. I had tried out marriage for a brief time but it didn’t take me long to learn I married for the wrong reasons. Jumping forward a few years to 1979, circumstances lead me to a major pivot point.
I was working in a job where I was required to lift and bend all day. You have to understand I am only 5’1” and weighed about 110 pounds at the time. I was fit, but the repetition my work required lead me to experience a long-lasting back injury. I could no longer work a regular job and I spent a year visiting the doctors and practicing physical therapy.
Because I acquired an on-the-job injury, vocational rehabilitation programs were available. I was accepted into a program that allowed me to go back to school. I had to choose an interest where I could sit rather than stand. One choice was a course on isometric and technical illustration that included basic 2-dimensional graphic design. The idea was to get me career-qualified for a job at Boeing where I could make a decent income.
Choices, and More Choices
I did remarkably well during that year and a half in school, which was a nice surprise. I had no idea I had talent in that area. Down the hall from our classroom was a Washington State Department of Vocational Rehabilitation office. This is where I would check in weekly and hand in my progress reports.
The people in the office were very kind and supportive. They truly took an interest in my hard work and accomplishments. At the end of the course, they could see I had excelled. One day at the end of the course before graduation, they called me into their office for a serious conversation.
Before telling you what was discussed, I need to include that both my instructors were graduates of the Burnley School of Professional Art on Capitol Hill in Seattle. This school was a Seattle landmark and had a reputation as one of the best schools on the west coast for learning art and design.
It was now 1982 and one of my instructors was actually teaching at Burnley at the same time. Both my teachers would share stories about Burnley, the eccentric instructors, and the Burnley ghost who was reported to haunt the halls. They also discussed how hard students worked and how a career in commercial art could open so many doors. I began to dream of attending. Working at Boeing just didn’t sound very exciting to me. But financially, there was no way I could afford five semesters of books, supplies, and the course fees.
OK, getting back to the day I was called in for that serious conversation. I had no idea what they wanted to discuss other than my graduation and grades. I sat down in the chair across from my vocational counselor. He smiled and congratulated me for doing so well! Then he asked me what I wanted to do now that I could apply at Boeing. I hemmed and hawed and said how grateful I was for everything I learned. Then he interrupted me.
So, I see here how well you did and we want you to know how happy we are about that. Have you ever thought about continuing your education?”
Hmm, I was a little confused. This isn’t the conversation I thought we were going to have.
Gary and Tom (my instructors) tell me you would like to go to Burnley. What are your feelings about that?”
I explained to them it sounded like a life-changing direction but I had no way to pay for it. And then came the what-ifs.
What if we could help you?”
OMG, I thought and I responded with a big, “What?”
My counselor went on to explain that if I paid for my supplies one semester they would pick up the cost of the course, then the next semester they would pick up my supplies and I could pick up the course fees.
I felt like I was on a cloud. It had been a challenging few years and this was certainly the silver lining. I stated I had no idea how I would manage it but absolutely I would figure it out!
An Artist Was Born
So this is my story on how I became an artist! I completed the full course studies at Burnley and graduated in ‘86. I can still say that hurting my back was a blessing. It brought me to make choices that lead to some of the best years of my life.
After all this, I still had a bit of that hippy spirit. I didn’t decide to apply for a job in the commercial art field. Rather, my bohemian spirit led me to start a line of hand-painted silk scarves and blouses. I’ll save that story for another time.