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My Progression As An Artist

As many of you know, I started drawing in 2010 with no intention of ever calling myself and “artist.” At the time, I was chronically ill, mostly bedridden, and in severe pain. I had a migraine that never left (for over 6 years…), sensitivity to light and sound, extreme fatigue, insomnia, hallucinations, panic attacks, depression, digestive issues, brain fog and cognitive issues, and more.

By 2010, I’d already been suffering from this unknown (at the time) illness, and I felt like such a burden on my family, like my life had no purpose, that I was becoming suicidal.

I felt like there was nothing I could do, I couldn’t even read. There was nothing to distract me from my pain and dire circumstances.

That is, until one day I randomly picked up a pencil and started to draw.

The first drawing I did, experimenting with colored pencil to see how bright I could get the colors.

This image above is the first drawing I did, from my bed, on an old piece of poster board left over from high school. It started out as just a sketch with a number two pencil, but I quickly decided I wanted COLOR. But what was I to do? I was stuck in bed so there was no way I could use paints or pastels, they would be far to messy and require too much energy to clean. So I turned to colored pencils, which I could do from my bed without the mess, and as I experimented, I realized I could get similarly bright and opaque colors!

After experimenting with the naked lady drawing, I immediately turned to drawing animals, which have always been a passion of mine. My next drawing was a parrot, using a reference photo from a San Diego Zoo magazine I had in my room.

My Parrot drawing, the second drawing I did, and my first animal, still experimenting with how bright I could get colored pencil to be. This is on a white piece of (too smooth, I just didn’t know that yet) paper.

From the same magazine, I drew another bird, a Pochard, which was sitting on smooth water, which means it was my third drawing, my second animal, and my first real drawing of trying to get realistic water. Similar to the Parrot, this was drawn on too smooth paper not really made for the amount of pressure and layers I was applying, I was just too inexperienced to know that at the time!

Pochard, my third drawing.

Each of these first three drawings was extremely experimental as I’d never used colored pencil like this before and with drawing in general, I had no idea what I was doing! All I knew was that I found it interesting and it was helping to distract me from my pain and misery.

So I kept going.

Now, this is where I started to noticeably progress. I took what I’d learned from the first three drawings and I made more calculated decisions for the next few, including better paper! I also bought an x-acto knife to help me etch away some of the pencil and get a few more tiny details, like the fur of the chipmunk.

As you can see, my first drawings, although colorful and fun, were a little bit on the dark side. Looking back now, I think some of my depression was still coming through my artwork, choosing images and drawings that had dark backgrounds.

It wasn’t until a little while later that my depression wasn’t as severe, and you can see a distinct change in some of my artwork, like these next pieces below:

Suddenly, my drawings were getting a little brighter, a little happier, and a lot more skilled very quickly.

Now, if you know me at all, you know that sometimes I do things…er…slightly backwards. For example, most people who start drawing start in black and white with graphite and then move on to the more complicated color drawings. Not me! It was around this time, two years into drawing, that I decided I wanted to try drawing in graphite. I wanted to use the graphite to try some portraits.

My first attempt was…less than great. I only used one pencil, not realizing there were different grades of graphite for different shades. But considering I hadn’t really drawn faces before, the proportions weren’t bad.

My first graphite portrait attempt on January 24th, 2012.

The next day, I discovered a second grade of pencil as well and tried again, with the result being this drawing of Halle Barry below:

My second attempt at a graphite portrait, on January 25th, 2012.

You’ll notice a significant increase in skill in what was only a single day, mostly because of the discovery of multiple shades of pencil. You may also notice that my papers were very dirty! colored pencil doesn’t smudge very much, so I wasn’t used to having to be careful about getting graphite on my hand and then smudging it on the paper. That was, and continues to be, a struggle! Especially when I was still drawing on my lap while lying in bed.

From here, things progressed very quickly as you can see by these next few drawings.

All of the graphite drawings shown in this post so far were done within 2 months of each other, from January 24th, to the last one on March 26th.

It’s amazing how quickly you can learn something when you are focused and don’t have anything else to help distract you from your predicament.

Wanting to keep challenging myself, I went back to my colored pencil drawings and decided to attempt more water drawings. Yikes are these difficult.

I also decided to try to work a little bigger, like with my Lemurs drawing below at 16×20 inches big.

Lemurs, in colored pencil.

With my confidence growing and finally starting to think of myself as an “artist,” I decided to open myself up to some pet portrait commissioned drawings for clients, which is something I’d been asked to do a few times but had turned down out of fear.

I still continue to do commissioned drawings of animals, pets, and people, both in graphite and in colored pencil, but I only take a limited amount each year.

Recently, as many of you may know, I’ve started a new series of drawings called Threatened & Endangered. I’ve completed 3 (and a half) drawings so far in this series.

This series is in black and white with a mixture of graphite and colored pencil. They’re bigger than my usual drawings, getting up to 22×30 inches big, and feature animals from around the world that are considered threatened, endangered, or vulnerable. This series is meant to bring awareness to these species, and some of the profits from each piece sold and prints sold will be donated to an organization that helps that particular species. For example, some of the proceeds from the African Elephant drawing and prints sold of it are being donated to the 96 Elephants campaign by the Wildlife Conservation Society.

So there you have it, my progression as an artist from 2010 until when this is being written in 2019.

From these early experimentations:

To some of these:

Do you have a favorite drawing of mine? Let me know! Or do you have a favorite animal I haven’t drawn yet? Let me know that too!

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The Moment I Knew I Was An Artist

 

“When you get healthier, where are you going to go to college? Are you going back to St. Lawrence University?”

“I don’t know. I might not go back to college.”

“What do you mean? You have to.”

“Well…I haven’t decided what I’m going to do, and that’s all IF I get healthy again…”

“But science and Biology was always what you loved. You’re so good at it.”

“I still love it, I’m just not sure that’s what I’m going to do.”

“You can’t think you’re going to try artwork as a career! You love science! You HAVE to go back to it. Just keep art as a hobby. It’s not a career.”

 

Striking A Nerve

That conversation above occurred sometime in early 2014. One of my good friends was visiting me and knew I’d just been FINALLY diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease, which meant I was also finally put on proper treatment after over six years of being chronically, debilitatingly sick. We didn’t know how treatment would go, but I was already starting to feel a little better, so we were hopeful.

And although my friend had good intentions at heart, the conversation struck a nerve and his own biases were showing.

I’ve never been one to follow what others had done, despite my anxiety and fear to do otherwise. So when someone told me I couldn’t do something, or doubted me, or tried to pressure me in one direction over another, it usually had the opposite effect.

It still does.

That’s why peer pressure never worked on me, and too-salesy salespeople hate me as a customer.

It’s also why when my friend said, “You can’t,” and “You have to,” it didn’t matter how sick I felt at the moment and how overwhelming I knew it was, I slowly raised my eyebrow and tilted my head to the side and said…

“Says who?”

Me working on one of the most difficult parts of my African Elephant drawing.

The Realization

Holy mackerel did I feel offended. And then I felt a growing, bubbling determination in my chest as I talked with him about my potential future, which at that point could have been anything.

I was not yet running an art business.

I was not yet focusing on my artwork as anything more than a hobby and a therapy, something to keep me distracted and productive during my illness.

I was not sure what I wanted to do with my life, if I were to get healthier, because I’d been sick so long I stopped thinking about that possibility. During the previous years of darkness it had only brought me sorrow knowing whatever future I envisioned likely wouldn’t happen.

So why was I so offended? Why did I suddenly feel the need to defend my right to become an artist if I wished to do so?

Holy mackerel…did I want to be a professional artist?

 

Epiphany

After my friend left, I took a tour of my artwork I’d done up to that date. My Hermit Crab colored pencil drawing, one of my favorites still to this day, was staring back at me from my bedroom wall, and I couldn’t get over the detail in it.

I DREW that.

My Dolphin colored pencil drawing caught my eye next. His playful expression and his eagerness had me put my hands on my hips and sigh almost in resignation. “I know,” I said out loud.

Then it was my Snow Leopard, which was the biggest colored pencil drawing I’d done at that point. She was gazing at me with those eyes, almost pleading with me.

“I know, I know!” 

My Snow Leopard, Dolphin, and Hermit Crab colored pencil drawings.

Inside I had a swelling in my chest.

This wasn’t going to be easy.

This wasn’t something I had ever planned to do.

This wasn’t necessarily a logical choice… but it was a choice that had just been made.

“I. Am. An. Artist.”

 

Decision Has Been Made

It turns out that what started out as an experimental therapy for me with my illness was now much more than that. Now it was a part of me. It was a part of me that had a growing importance in my life. 

This distraction, this therapy, had unknowingly grown to be a defining factor of who I was, not just something I did, and as I suddenly recognized that, my outlook on it began to change. 

Suddenly, I was an artist. When people asked me what I did for work, I would say I’m an artist. And for the first time, I could say it with confidence. 

What’s Next

It wasn’t long after that that I signed up for an art business workshop. If I was an artist, I needed to figure out what that meant and how to make it work. 

Then I saw a lawyer and an accountant and registered as a business.

Within a year I went to a bigger conference in Washington, DC about art business. I applied for and received a grant to help me completely redesign this lovely website and make it have e-commerce and a blog. 

Then I was featured in newspapers and was on the Vermont news WCAX, published in magazines, was guest-blogging, and continuing to make new work. 

Now that I recognized the connection I had with my artwork, I’ve become more and more connected with it. Now my work is driven by more passion than ever before and I’m putting more emotion into each piece. I’m thinking about the bigger picture of my career as an artist and I’m branching out to help other artists do the same. 

 

And now, as my health is slowly continuing to improve, I have fully committed to this work I’m doing. 

I am an artist. I am an entrepreneur. I am a speaker, consultant, and author. 

And I can’t wait to see what comes next. 

 

But of course I need YOUR help to make it all happen. YOU are what keeps this journey going and part of why I wake up to do the work I do. So what do you think? Are you strapped in and ready to come along for the rest of the ride and the next part of this journey? 

 

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The Emotional Story Behind The Blue-Eyed Kitten Drawing

 


As many of you know, I’ve been chronically ill since 2008, not long after I turned 18.

For six of those years, I went undiagnosed and I was mostly bedridden, in excruciating pain with a 24/7 migraine, extreme fatigue, severe insomnia, shaking, anxiety, hallucinations, and so much more. The medicines they were putting me on were making me suicidal, and my hopeless situation, with no knowing what was wrong or if it would ever end, wasn’t helping my depression.

My insomnia and anxiety were so bad that I was having panic attacks just getting out of bed to make tea, and my chronic migraine was so severe that just walking out of my darkened room hurt my eyes and trying to hold a conversation with my parents, who thankfully were taking care of me, made my ears and head pound to the point of crying.

Keep in mind, this and much more was happening daily for six years.

You may also know I began drawing two years into this illness, a talent I never knew I had, and the silver lining to the years of hell. It was a talent that erupted out of the darkness like a volcano, and I’ve been drawing ever since, focusing that newfound talent on animals, which have always been a passion of mine.

Some of my colored pencil drawings of animals.

What you might not know, however, is that in 2014, when I was finally diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease, Bartonella, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, malfunctioning adrenal glands, and more… it was the first time in over six years that I’d felt hope. That it was the first time I allowed myself to think of a future again, which had been off limits to me since falling chronically ill.

If you think your future is going to be the same excruciating misery you’re in now, you tend not to think about it. Being undiagnosed and having medicines make me worse instead of better, I thought I might be doomed to a life barely surviving.

What you also might not know is that when I started my long-term treatment in 2014 and started to see some improvement in my health for the first time, this drawing of the Blue-Eyed Kitten was the first piece I created.

Work in progress of my Blue-Eyed Kitten drawing. You can see in the background the blanket that was on my lap. Yes, I really did draw from bed in those days!

All that loss, all that misery that I suffered for the years leading up to that moment of finally getting diagnosed and then feeling hope and improvement, even if it was slow, for the first time in years… I threw all of that into this drawing of this fragile but hopeful kitten, staring off in the distance toward a future I had given up on until that moment…

Cats are my favorite animals, and without really knowing it, I put all of my hope and emotion into this piece.

You’ll notice the kitten isn’t bounding about, she isn’t playing or having fun. She’s still tired and forced to rest, but that LOOK. Those bright eyes full of hope, daydreaming for the first time in years…that was me.

In a weird way, this is probably the most accurate self-portrait I’ve ever created.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this drawing has become one of my all time favorites that I’ve done to date. Because of all the sentimental value, I’ve chosen to keep the original drawing to myself for now, although she occasionally goes on display with my other drawings during exhibits.

However, prints and products of this drawing are always available! Check out some of the cool options below, where you can get to experience this piece for yourself and have that daily reminder of your own hope, your own future, and your own aspirations.

Photographic prints of the Blue-Eyed Kitten drawing, starting at only $20. Purchase one here.

 

 

Archival prints of the Blue-Eyed Kitten, metal prints, and canvas prints can be purchased here.

 

Mousepads of the Blue-Eyed Kitten are available here, to look back at you on your desk every day and make your work day a little better.

 

Necklaces of the Blue-Eyed Kitten are always available here.

 

What do you think of this piece? Can you feel the emotion behind it now that you know the story?