A playhouse, pattern books, and the forming of a little artist
So I'm in my little studio and starting my new art journey, but in reality, the journey doesn't just go back to 2002, it goes back to those days of the 1970's. The true beginning started with a little freckle-faced, red-headed girl and that girl was me.
I drew all the time when I was little and it was my favorite thing to do. My 2nd favorite thing to do was playing dolls in the playhouse my dad built me. I'll never forget the day my dad finished this "House of Dreams". It was built inside our converted garage-turned playroom—the playroom was pure 1970's with golden shag carpet and a pool table and then a train track on top of the pool table. And my two story playhouse was built in the corner. Yes, the house had two stories (it was more like a loft in a room) but my dad made it look like a tiny house with cut out windows in the top and bottom rooms and my mom painted flowers around the house to make it look like a garden surrounded it.
To me it was everything a little girl could imagine. It was my very own playhouse and I was so excited about it that it may as well have been the Ritz Carlton! I couldn't wait to create my own little "worlds" inside. And my dad placed new light blue carpet (a piece that was leftover in carpeting the living room) and I was ready! I moved my barbies and dolls and doll furniture in with delight. Cardboard boxes made little living areas for the dolls and I spent hours upon hours imagining and playing.
For the art side of life, I drew many hours too. My parents recycled in the 70's (which was unheard of back then) and my dad gave me all these big leftover desk calendars from work. I used the back of the big white pages to draw. Many, many pages were filled with girls and flowers and houses and more girls. My art and playhouse life was magical. Plus my parents and my brother put up with my often stubborn and red-headed spirit. But my parents always encouraged me and gave me space and freedom to pursue things that I was passionate about like drawing and playing in my playhouse.
I had one "official" painting class that I took from a neighbor down the street but I never felt like I understood painting as an 8 year old. What I did love was going to the fabric store and sitting at the wooden tables with all the big heavy pattern books. I would open those big books and slowly turn each page and study the sketched girls with their fun outfits and poses. I just loved those books! Then one day, my mom saw that the old ones were on sale and cost next to nothing so she bought some. And my mom was frugal so this was a big deal! When she brought them home, it was like Christmas!
I would study the pattern girls and then pick out my favorite and sketch, and I kind of created my own "homemade drawing class." Pattern books taught me about form and style of fashion too!
Which takes me to the teen years! My dream in high school was to be fashion designer and live in NYC, and my other two friends planned to also go! Tiffani was going to be a police woman on a horse in Central Park. And Denise was going to be a ballerina for the New York Ballet. Oh, and my other dream in high school was to have a white convertible cabriolet. (Do you remember those?) Well, none of those things panned out, but my mom reminded me the other day that I did became a "fashion designer". I just use paper and paint instead of fabric and thread.
Being the practical woman that my mom was, she suggested I take a home economics class in high school and learn how to sew if I wanted to be a fashion designer. So I said, "Sure, why not?" I thought sewing would be super easy, but I didn't like following the directions well and realized very early that I was not a seamstress. My zippers didn't zip and my dresses hung sideways. So the glittery world of fashion design started to fade away.
Despite my failure as a "home ec girl", I entered a 4-H competition in "Fashion". Yes, I was in 4-H club! And I loved this club! But I didn't work much with chickens or pigs or goats or cows. Instead of going the "farm way", I went another route and entered the "fashion" category. And it involved spending hours making a big record book (that's a big book about stuff you do in your category). And then I gave a speech in Atlanta. I hated speeches but had to give it in order to compete.
Low and behold, I won state in Georgia in my category! And so that meant I could fly to Chicago and stay in a fancy hotel for an entire week and skip school! And the best part, I went with my best friend, Laurie, ( who also won in her category). The week was filled up with bliss! The kind of bliss that would be in a rated-G teen movie! Laurie and I danced with cute boys from Tennessee. We made our hair big and wore our super hip 80's sequin dresses. We rode in limos, ate at Ed Debevic's, (the 50's diner with waiters that were real live actors.) We ordered coffee on silver platters. We bought overpriced candy apples from Chicago's famous and beloved store, Marshall Field's. We skipped the 4-H tours to museums so we could ride in limos and go shopping in downtown Chicago. (The hotel limos were cheaper than taxis so we always went the hotel limo route or maybe our personal limo driver was just being nice.) The week was a dream for two girls from a small town.
But during that week, there was a not so dreamy part. I had to go to this fancy top floor suite of the hotel and sew a 4-H sweatshirt with all the other girls who were the "Fashion" winners of their states. I didn't want to go because I didn't like sewing. I was horrible at it actually. But since I was in the "fashion" category, I apparently was supposed to be an excellent seamstress (note the "stress" part of that word). Well, my sweatshirt was a disaster! I didn't make it well and it had tons of holes all in it because I didn't "sew" it correctly and I misunderstood directions. Hmm.. or maybe I didn't read them in detail. Anyway, I was desperate to get out the situation, so I secretly snuck out the door of the fancy suite when no one was looking and carried my hole filled sweatshirt as a memento. Needless to say, my fashion designer career had lost the glitter. I was done with sewing. So on to college in Alabama and not New York City fashion world.
College life took me to Samford University and I kind of left my art life back in Cedartown. I was now caught up in being "Suzy Spiritual" and thought being a missionary was the highest form of Christian living. How much I wish I would have had an art mentor who loved Jesus and helped me see that God uses all kinds of work for His glory. But that was a lesson I would learn later and in deeper, richer ways. I did discover Seaside, Florida in college, and the first time I visited the magical beach back in 1989, I was determined to come back. It held something very special to my soul.
After College life:
For the 20's part of my life, I took a job as Girl's youth leader at a church in Birmingham, AL. For the next 9 years of my life, I was on staff at Covenant Presbyterian. I loved my job! I actually got paid to hang with high school girls, share with them about Jesus and lead Bible studies. It was a dream! I would take the girls on camp outs to the beach at Grayton Beach in Florida. We would sing songs and jump the fence to the Seaside pool and swim in it. We had "Sparkle Night" where the girls dressed in their mom's prom gowns and we all put loads of glitter in our hair and on our face and then go to PF Changs and eat dinner. There was no impressing the boys, it was just for fun and it was hilarious and filled up with laughter. I loved those times!
Ski trips to North Carolina and Colorado (seeing Tom Hanks in Beaver Creek), scary rafting trips, backpacking, camping, lock ins, mission trips to Baltimore and lunches at Brookwood Mall were all part of the journey. I ate tubs of cookie dough and cheetos and drank lots of coke. I definitely was eating like a teen but I was a 20 something year old.
And my art life sat in a corner of my heart as I still thought that being "an artist" was a waste of time. I had more important things to do like eat cookie dough with teens!
Oh, did God ever have to change my self-righteous heart!
And you know what? He did just that. He started changing my heart. Towards the end of of my 20's, I had this desire to create and make things but God had to show me it was of Him and that I would not be "wasting my time."
I decided to read books about creating and making art, and I read through Madeline L'Engle's Walking on Water and Michael Card's, Scribbling in the Sand. With those two books, I basically learned this—that God was the great CREATOR and he loves when his children CREATE. It all made sense! God is the GREAT ARTIST. All I have to do is look outside and see the trees and sky and flowers and sea and then look at everyone around me and how we are all designed and shaped by his hand. So with studying about God.. this theology of Him was helping me understand how powerful art can be and how powerful it can be to show HIS Love and HIS Grace and His Creativity and Color and Sunshine too!