I have always loved drawing and painting – ever since my first masterpiece at four years old when I memorialized our neighbor’s old male hound dog…
My mom is so amazing – I can’t believe she kept this drawing all these years!
As a child, I was very interested in drawing cartoons and did our family Christmas cards for a few years. I continued to take every art class available in school, but then upon graduation, I went to engineering school and no longer had time to pursue drawing and painting. However, if I am not creating, I get very bored and somewhat depressed, so I picked up photography as a hobby. I grew up and went to college in a very beautiful part of the country, on the shores of Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, so inspiration was beckoning just outside my door.
I went to college on a 4-year Army ROTC scholarship, and after graduation, the Army sent me to Germany. While there, I enjoyed doing photography and took a class on how to do stained glass, which I continue to do to this day.
After the Army, motherhood and family life consumed all my creativity for a while until I decided to take a graphite drawing class at the local Parks and Recreation Department. I realized that the best way to take care of myself was to provide time for myself to create.
When our daughter was older and more self-sufficient, I decided to tackle the art of boatbuilding. I built a 16-foot sea kayak, made of African mahogany and fiberglass, from a kit by Chesapeake Light Craft. It took me a whole summer of evenings and weekends to build. I absolutely loved it – even though I ended up in the emergency room twice. No, I didn’t cut off any appendages, but I learned that I had a very severe allergy to the epoxy used in the building process. Alas, my boatbuilding days were over.
But, woodworking is in my DNA – my grandfather was a carpenter and my dad is an exceptional woodworker and artist in his own right (Mom is an artist too – her creations are the best because they are the kind you can eat!) I turned my creativity towards furniture design and with my dad’s assistance; I learned the necessary skills to make furniture.
When we moved from the Midwest to the desert Southwest, I became fascinated with all the different varieties of plants that I had never seen before. One thing led to another and soon I began making and selling Native American style flutes made from the dried blossom stalks of agave, yucca, and sotol plants.
One day, I was in Barnes and Noble looking at art books and came across the book, “Colored Pencil Painting Bible”, by Alyona Nickelsen. As I leafed through the pages, I could not believe how realistic and beautiful her work was. I bought the book and went home and consulted “Grand Master Google” and found out that Alyona offered basic colored pencil classes online. Sign me up! I took every class she offered and performed every exercise she recommended – and I saw my skills take a giant leap forward in just a few months. She is a wonderful teacher and really shows students the entire process. Some artists write instruction books, but they don’t tell the readers all the “secret ingredients”, so they can never re-create what they see on the pages and often end up getting frustrated and quit.
I spent some time honing my skills and learning everything I could about colored pencil. By 2011, I developed enough courage to show my work publicly. (If you know me well, you know that was a HUGE leap for me and I probably wouldn’t have done it without the encouragement, cajoling, and swift kick when I needed it, from my greatest fan, my daughter, Alexandra). I tend to hunker down and do my own thing because it makes me happy and I am not really that concerned if other people like it or not. But, Alex, in her infinite wisdom, said that if it makes me happy, it might make other people happy too and I was being selfish (and a big baby) by not putting myself out there and sharing. I hate to admit it, but she was right. Now, whenever I don’t know what to do, I ask Alex, my success coach.
By 2012, I was winning awards and by 2013, I had a 2-month long exhibition with two other pencil artists in Arizona. In 2014, my husband got a job doing an enormous construction project in Saudi Arabia, and since we were “empty nesters”, I agreed to go with him.
What a shake-up this adventure has been! It took me quite a while to adjust to life here. As an educated and independent Western woman, it was difficult to get used to the fact that I cannot work, I cannot drive, I cannot go to see a movie, I have to cover up when I am in public, I cannot do any of my woodworking, etc. For about year, I did no artwork at all. I could not feel the creativity flow when I felt like my world had become so small and isolated. I became very frustrated with myself – after all, I am a warrior – a former Army combat engineer officer with a lot of Sisu (if you aren’t Finnish, you can look it up). Why on earth was I letting this place get to me? One day, a profound shift occurred within me and I picked up a pencil. I realized that I have been given a unique opportunity and that I could use the “smallness” of my world as a gift. I have no outside distractions, very few responsibilities (we have a tiny one-bedroom apartment), and I have no valid excuses for not taking advantage of the time that I have here and using it to contribute to the goodness in this world.
I have an extremely wonderful and supportive husband, Dan (I know many people say that, but really, how many men do you know who say, “Wow! That will be cool” when their wife comes home and announces that she wants to spend the summer building a boat in the garage?!?) Dan helped me create a functional studio in our 7’ x 10’ enclosed patio. I have a beautiful large tree right outside the window where the bobols and mynah birds sit and sing (although mynah birds do not really sing – they mimic what they hear – so some days it sounds like a leaf blower or a chainsaw!) And now, I draw or paint for several hours everyday and continue to grow and improve. When I am not drawing or painting, I can be found doing tai chi, qigong, or fingerpicking on one of my ukuleles. I also continue to take art classes online periodically to learn new techniques that I can incorporate into my work.
While I may have made it sound like living in Saudi is the “Land of Cannot”, that is not entirely true or fair. It has been very interesting and educational to live in a culture that is so very different from our own and we have met many kind, generous and friendly people. We have also been afforded the wonderful opportunity to travel to many different places in Europe, the Middle East, and the Far East while we have been here. Those travels always refresh my spirit and so now I look upon this precious time in our lives as one filled with gratitude and possibility.