My sweet angels! I hope you’ve been well. This beautiful beginning of Fall has me feeling motivated & ready to share more of my life with you, including my paint journey thus far! I hear so many artists retell their histories on podcasts, and it’s inspired me to tell mine! The story isn’t incredibly long (yet), but it’s definitely one worth telling. It’s so important to share both the ups AND downs of your career- not only does it show you’re human, but it also gives artists in earlier stages of their careers permission to fail.
See that? Permission to fail. These three words are SO important. Please- if you take anything from this blog post, give yourself permission to fail. Permission to fail = growth, sustainability in your practice, a clear headspace to start again, and (most importantly) it helps to remove that fear of failure. Falling on your face is not a bad thing, so long as you get back up.
So, let’s get into this herstory1
Make up ya’ damn mind
I was so, so lucky to grow up in a family of creative people. My dad can draw the most wonderful (and hilarious) cartoons, my mom is a drafting engineer with an eye for precision and detail, and my aunt, a graphic designer and Jane of MANY artistic trades went to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh when it was cool (and still existed). Almost all of my cousins loved to create (one is now a professional blogger, and another is a professional painter), and my little sister is also a talented watercolorist and ceramicist (when she wants to be). I’m blessed, to say the VERY least. I didn’t even MENTION all of the creativity that flows through my blood- I just cut it down for length! (In short, I have an uncle that painted Bob Ross-style landscapes when he was younger, multiple uncles that work in metal after their father (YEAH GRANDPA!), a grandmother that choreographed dances for Reba McIntyre and MANY other country artists, another painter aunt.. It goes on and doesn’t stop. It’s truly ridiculous.) Being an artist isn’t just in my blood- it IS my blood, soul, and heart.
When I was in high school, I thrived on being known as “the artistic one”. I loved spending hours on projects, and the ego boost that came along with finishing projects well. Like many teenagers, I was also a bit of a shit- my ego made it difficult for me to appreciate work made by anyone else around me. I was jealous of the other students in my art class, and hated when they received praise. Man. Ouch. That was rough to type- but guess what? I’m leaving it there, because it was true at that time. I was the worst person to have an art class with, even if I said nice things about the artwork around me. I meant it, sure, but I always had this underlying feeling that I was somehow better than them, when I most definitely wasn’t. I mean, I was actually competitive with receiving “Most Artistic” in my senior yearbook. Who does that?
Oh wait, I did.
My high school experience ended on a much stranger note than what the above paragraph would lead you to believe- I purposely chose to go to school for English, Though I loved art, my higher self was clearly teaching me a lesson by dragging me away from art for a semester.
During my first semester at Penn State, I took a drawing class with a wonderful woman named Mary Vollero- she saw my talent immediately and convinced me that I was on the wrong path, even going so far as to physically create my online portfolio to get me into the PSU art department, and helping me fill out the forms to change my major. I’m unsure if she remembers me ( this was 2007 and I’m sure she’s taught hundreds of students since then), but I give her all the credit in the world for putting me back on the path I was meant to be on, and am forever grateful for her. Once I was accepted into the Art Department, I transferred to PSU’s main campus and started my sophomore year with a renewed sense of excitement and confidence. I still had a bit of that “I’m the best artist ever” attitude, but that faded when I met an AMAZING group of friends that showed me many ways of seeing art and thinking about how people make things in different styles. Finally, I was thriving!
Well… Sort of.
My artwork, though constantly changing, wasn’t getting any better. I was miserable, because I was 90 minutes from home and not ready to be that far away. Also, I was already in a mountain of debt, and just 2 years into college. It was painful, but I left my friends and transferred to a school closer to home- Indiana University of Pennsylvania, or IUP.
My first semester at IUP REALLY opened my eyes to my ego and how it wasn’t serving me at all. I did well, but learned through critiques that I wasn’t as great as I thought I was, and that it was okay that other people were better than me. It was then that I realized just how much harder I needed to work to become a better artist. Within my first year, I dropped my Art Education major and focused on my portfolio- I wanted to get into the BFA program and make my way up in the art world.
During the time I was there, IUP provided several mentors that I looked up to, friends that I still have to this day, and the first of my two degrees. I graduated in 2012 with my BFA in Studio Art with a focus in 2D. I was privileged to work under amazing professors such as Susan Palmisano, Ben Oddi, Martyna Matusiak, and Nick Conbere. These people transformed me from an ego-fueled shit head into a humble, hard-working artist. Also- they’re all amazing artists and you should probably Google them.
The following Fall, I started my journey into earning my MFA. Though my undergrad experience had really helped in knocking down my ego, it was still VERY present.
What am I talking about?
… I went to graduate school before I was ready. My first semester was ROUGH. I had no idea what I wanted to say, and didn’t make enough work to hide behind. I had a tough transition, for sure. After a particularly harsh committee meeting at the end of my first semester (harsh, yet VERY uplifting and motivational- I had the world’s best committee and love them dearly to this day. Love you Rachael, Suzanne and John!), the weight of my ego finally crushed me. I experienced the beauty of ego death by fire, and came back the following semester with a renewed sense of who I was, and what I needed to paint about. I needed to paint about the annihilation of ego via the impermanence of life. I needed to paint about death.
Using teabags in place of people, I ROCKED the rest of my grad school experience, hitting 4.0’s every semester and picking up EVERY bit of information I could, like a lil’ paint-covered sponge. (I also gained 25 pounds because I rarely left the studio and lived on snacks, but that’s not a dig at myself. I love myself, damnit.)
After graduating with the coveted MFA (with high honors), I finally felt ready to consider myself an artist. I was awarded two residencies (Vermont Studio Center and Sparkbox Studio) where I made some incredible friends and discoveries about myself. Shortly after, I got my first “Big-Girl” job at the Brockway Center for Arts and Technology, and the rest is history…
Thanks to the education I received, I was able to kick my ego in the face, submit work to several opportunities, give myself permission to fail with grace, and so much more. I’ve been published, awarded, and now I’m able to share my knowledge with high-schoolers every single day, under a beautiful mission. The best part of all this success, failure and fire?
I’m just getting started.
That’s right. I’m only 31 years old, and am ready to keep climbing the professional ladder. I’m open and ready to receive abundance, and ready to take my career to the next steps. I’m working on a new body of work that’s WAY out of my comfort zone (recycled materials, painting on textiles rather than canvas/panel, and using… ACRYLIC? WATERCOLOR? WAT?), and finding new experiences to enjoy (I’m seeing Lisa Congdon tomorrow in Pittsburgh and I am LIVING!). 2020 is going to be a big year for me- and it can be a big year for you, too- just hang your ego on the shelf, get to work, and let yourself FAIL.