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When I was a kid, I spent many hours drawing all kinds of things. At the age of five or six I was befriended by an older boy down the street who showed me several small paintings that he'd done in an after school class at a community center. I was really excited by the color and texture of the oil paints. I'd never seen anything like that before.
I tried to talk to my dad about me going to the classes too, but he thought I was too young. Besides, art wasn't a serious venture. My dad had been trained as an electrician and a pilot, and he was very practical.
Still, I continued to draw and played sometimes with paint by number sets. These, though, never quite turned out like the pictures on the boxes. My colors had a way of mixing themselves on the canvas board in interesting ways.
For many years, Saturday mornings were spent in the public library among the art books. I found the most amazing pictures of all sorts of things. A painting didn't have to be just a picture of a horse or a dog or a pot of flowers.
In middle school I answered an ad for a correspondence art school. They responded by sending someone to our house. He looked at other things I had done. Then he showed me pictures by students that had actually scored lower than me on the drawing test. Maybe he was just trying to fill his quota, but he seemed genuinely encouraging and told me that whether I joined their school or not I should definitely continue drawing and painting.
My dad thought it was a scam and discouraged me. Besides, art isn't very practical.
That was the line I often heard.
Since I was also good at math and science, I later applied to and was accepted to engineering school. I even spent several summers working for local engineers as part of a survey team. I also continued to draw and paint.
As it drew closer to time to leave for college, I felt increasingly uneasy about my career choice. I didn't go to the state university; instead I enrolled at the local community college. Wonderful teachers in art and literature opened my eyes to new possibilities. I breezed through the math and science requirements (I'd done most of that in high school) and poured my energy into the world of the arts.
I met my first real working artist, Claude Howell, and learned about discipline and consistency in developing one's creative abilities. I was one of very few students that helped him on a mural project for the Brunswick County Historical Museum. I saw first hand the massive amount of study in the form of writing and drawing that were preparations for this and other projects large and small.
A passion for writing grew alongside my passion for painting. Writing became a tool for learning and a way to deepen my thoughts and understanding. Unfortunately, that internalized parental voice kept nagging about practicality. It was a distraction but not a deterrent.
I've seen though the results of those negative thoughts that might denigrate accomplishments or second guess an opportunity. While I might have been discouraged, I didn't give up. The work was its own reward, and I'd also been building my support group of creative thinkers.
I quickly realized that a path is a journey filled with experiences and opportunities for learning and growth. Whatever unexpected twists or turns my path might take, I always managed to learn some creative lesson that could be channeled back into my work. And, so what if my path was not the same as that of others? Even the most casual look at the lives of the great painters and other artists will reveal amazing diversity, not only in their output but also in how they lived and conducted their lives.
Ultimately, and I was told this by one of my professors in graduate school though it took me a while to make it my own, it doesn't matter what others think. You become your own best critic; you have to in order to improve and grow. As for that internalized voice that most of us carry around, just say, "Thanks, but no thanks. I've got work to do."