A Personal Reflection: My Artist Allies and Process of Empowerment

A Personal Reflection: My Artist Allies and Process of Empowerment


   First, I would like to thank the folks of Creative Pinellas for making this opportunity possible. I’ve aspired to be a grantee of such a prestigious arts organization since the Emerging Artist Grant came to fruition last year.  It’s truly an honor to be one of ten awardees for the 2018 cycle and I look forward to bringing my ideas to life through the upcoming months.

   There is a widely accepted perception of artists as being very introverted and solitary individuals. When many of us think of “The Artist” we often visualize the Lucian Freud type. You know, the type that is locked away in a dusky studio with piles of paints and rags towering around them as they work through the late hours of the night with little to no human contact. Albeit this is very accurate depiction of many us, especially as we work through deadlines, but this narrative omits the essential roles that mentors, peers, and teachers play throughout our creative endeavors. These particular relationships are not only essential towards helping us pave a way through a very non-rudimentary career, but they are also incredibly beneficial to the process of empowerment.

A corner of my studio

   Lately, I have been reminded of how crucial these creative relationships have been, especially in the past ten years of my life. For as long as I remember I wanted to be an artist. Although, this was a path I always felt deeply passionate about pursuing, I did not have the fortitude or confidence to pursue such an ambiguous endeavor when the time came to choose. Instead, I chose to wait.

   I was 17 years old when I graduated high school a year early and I had a full scholarship to attend a New Mexico State University of my choosing. Instead, I joined the United States Coast Guard for four years. At that time I felt incredibly lost and insecure about my capabilities as an artist. Much of what I was feeling was a result of an ongoing conflict I had with the high school art teacher. To this day I am still unsure as to why she decided to target me the way she did. What I do recall are a series of remarks inciting her distaste with my family and lineage. There was also a time I had visited the High School art exhibit at the local Chamber of Commerce and noticed my pieces were the only works without name tags. Long story short, I was in her class for just a year and a half and I decided to walk out. At the same time, she also made the decision to refuse my presence in her class. Until this point, the art room was a safe space. It was a place I knew I could seek refuge as well as excel in my creative abilities. I’ve attended fourteen different schools K-12 and it was during high school that my refuge in the art room was completely overturned.

   Shortly after I was expelled from the art room, the school reluctantly sought out an independent art teacher to help facilitate my artistic endeavors for the remaining part of the school year. After a series of rejections from local art teachers who were disinterested in working with me, my mother finally made a connection.

    Her name was Liz, she was a adjunct art professor for the local engineering college, as well as a talented oil painter. She became a catalyst for my ambition to continue creating art. It wasn’t until years later would I come to appreciate the empathy and understanding she unselfishly afforded me. Not only did she accept me into her home as a welcomed guest, but she helped me believe again, for a tiny moment, that I was a artist. A title I only recently started owning. I remember feeling my inner conflict come to rest when I traveled to her home once a week for my independent study in art. She had the patience of a saint—listening carefully as I would ramble on about my aversion towards our small town and the inclusive community as a whole. I was very negative and angry but she taught me the various ways I could use my art making as an outlet for those emotions.

   Both of those experiences resulted in my later ambition to pursue a degree in art education. Because, without those two people, I wouldn’t have come to appreciate the role art education plays not only in creativity within our lives, but more importantly in empowerment.

Drawing from 2010

   During my four year enlistment with the Coast Guard I barely produced any art. I can count on both hands how many drawings and paintings I completed during that period of time. This fact is still a huge failure on my part. If I said I was lost before, I became even more disillusioned then. Despite everything, I was still trying to convince myself I wasn’t worthy of a life creating art. I did everything I could to try and repress that inner voice telling me otherwise. Thankfully, that wasn’t possible and soon found purpose behind the lens.

   It was during my last two years of enlistment that I heavily pursued photography as an outlet and shared that passion with one of my closest friends, Trish. Both uninspired by our “9-5” admin day jobs, we would devote many of our weekends to setting up various photo shoots and alternate roles as the subject and art director. It was also during this time I met my husband, who’s had unwavering support for my art from day one. When we sought out our first house, he diligently looked for a two-three bedroom house, one in which I could have my own studio space. We’ve been together eight years now, moving four times and my studio space still takes precedence—something he’s never compromised.

Self portrait from the “Long black coat” photography series, 2011

   After I was honorably discharged from the U.S.C.G I became a full-time student- a path I was determined to take regardless of the bleak state of our economy. It took a year to finally ‘dive in the deep end’ and commit to Art Education. This was a decision I made in retrospect to what happened in high school also due in part to the professor of my first college art class. June, an intuitive abstract painter, warmly welcomed into her highly acclaimed landscape painting class. There, she offered incredible insight and encouragement. She quickly recognized my talent as well as my ‘eye’ to assist others in the class who had never taken art before. She has an incredible ability to tap into people’s true and unseen potential. Maybe this was due in part to her personal journey to becoming an artist, a path also not clear cut. Originally a microbiologist,  she had switched careers (shortly after a trip to Paris) and became an artist and art educator. It was during that year and being June’s student that I finally harnessed the confidence I needed to pursue my art wholeheartedly again.

One of my paintings made during the Landscape painting class, 2012

   I transferred campus’s and began the University of Maine’s Art Education program in the Fall of 2013. This was also the same year I met my best friend Hattie. The friend that I would soon be able to share my insecurities about art with. The friend who would tirelessly support me. The friend who has believed in me even when I couldn’t. Also a printmaker ( a gifted intaglio artist), she is someone I can still call up at any moment and bounce ideas off. She has the innate ability to keep me grounded and call me out on my bullshit when necessary. She showed me the power in vulnerability.

   Semester after semester I became more confident in my abilities. My vision as an artist flourished and my fears became subdued. I have a long list of professors from those four years that I am indebted to, especially my academic advisor, Connie, who is the most fearless woman I know. She not only was my mentor for four years, but also a confidant who nurtured my desire to explore and resolve personal trauma in my art. I truly relish my time spent with her and fondly look back at all the epiphanies resulting from our deep and meaningful conversations about grief, process over product, and the importance of creative play.

“Rage”, 2013

   Primarily a printmaker, I relish the intensive commitment the printmaking processes require of me from start to finish. It was during my sophomore year of college that I took my first printmaking class and I remember feeling a true sense of purpose as an artist. Susan, the universities printmaking professor, and person responsible for the largest and most environmentally friendly printmaking studio in the state of Maine, was someone I quickly grew to respect. She taught me the importance of dedication and details—two essential values that new printmakers absolutely need to incorporate in to their repertoire as early on as possible. It was then I knew I had found a medium that would exploit my OCD tendencies and keep me focused and driven.

One of my first large scale woodblock prints, “Welcome my son, welcome to the machine”, 2016

   My husband and I relocated to Clearwater in the summer of 2016. Eager to to become acquainted with the local arts community after a long year of teaching art at a private school, via “art on the cart”, I visited The Dunedin Fine Art Center during its yearly ‘Open Studio’s’ day in late 2017. I made a bee line for the printmaking studio where the incredible printmaking connoisseur, Holly Bird. She was enthusiastically in the process of pulling a print from one of her magical copper plate etchings and I quickly knew “I was home again”.

   Holly has since been a huge support and infinite source of information and advise—i’m thrilled to find out she will be my official mentor for this grant process. A month after I stumbled into the printmaking studio, I was hired on to the DFAC team as the education assistant, a place I never thought i’d be in a million years—and boy am I glad I am. Not only does DFAC offer an abundance of opportunities and support to the community and local artists, but it’s operated by some of the most passionate and committed people I have the privilege of working alongside—all with a shared love for the arts.

A recent intaglio print I made in the DFAC printmaking facility, 2018

   None of my recent achievements would have been possible without the long process of rebuilding my confidence as an artist–which certainly wouldn’t have been possible without my army of artist allies. My art is a product of my experiences and the artist I am today is partly credited to the talented and incredibly divergent artists I have encountered thus far. Life is challenging, and my spirit has been tested time and time again, but i’d be remiss if I didn’t regularly count my blessings. My blessings primarily being the people who have helped carry me through. Thank you.

P.S. I promise the rest of my blog post won’t be this long.

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