Portrait of an Artist at Age Five

Portrait of an Artist at Age Five

In kindergarten, most little girls want to play “house.”

With pigtails and rosy cheeks, they bake imaginary cakes,

nurse baby dolls back to health, and carefully place

empty milk cartons and egg crates into miniature toy

fridges. But not all little girls are like this. Or, at least, I

wasn’t like this.

In 1970, teaching practices were different than they are

today. And my well-intentioned kindergarten teacher, Mrs.

Wiley, made mistakes. Despite my resistance, the

otherwise lovely Mrs. Wiley would drag me into the

makeshift, miniature “house” and insist I play with my

classmates. I was encouraged to bake the imaginary

cakes, nurse the baby dolls back to health, and carefully

place empty milk cartons and egg crates into the

miniature toy fridge. Without having the capacity to argue

with a grown-up, I followed her suggestions to the best of

my abilities. I picked up the empty milk carton, I stared at

the baby doll, and I feigned washing a plastic tea party

set. But, what was the point? I was a fish out of water

and the other girls knew it. They shunned me, wouldn’t

let me touch the baby doll, and otherwise confirmed that I

was an outsider.

Poor Mrs. Wiley. I’m sure she didn’t know what to do with

me. But, one day she had the notion to just ask: what do

you want to do? From that point forward, the rest of the

school term was easily laid out … I wanted to finger paint!

I wanted to mix and mash the soft, pliable paint into swirls

of cloud-like images.

I wanted to take hold of the long, flat bristle brushes and

fill them with tempera paint. I wanted to make squares and

more squares in all different colors all over the poster paper. And then, I wanted to

tear off another piece of poster paper and start again! It

was that easy.

Once alone in my private little corner of the classroom, I

knew I was in a “safe” place to be alone with my thoughts

and my paints. I knew I could avoid the discomfort of

judgment. And, even though I didn’t fully understand

what it meant to “keep house,” I knew that I didn’t want

any part of it.

Essentially what I am saying is that I had an urge to paint

then ... and I still have that urge. Wanting to paint,

wanting to create, is an itch that needs to be scratched.

So, what does that mean - having an itch that needs to be


As an adult, I find that an idea surfaces

from somewhere inside and I need to put it down on

paper, cardboard, wood, or whatever substrate I’m drawn

to. It’s more than a bit OCD (obsessive compulsive

disorder). I also find that the very best pieces tend to

paint themselves.

On occasion, I look back at older

pieces and I can’t even remember how I made them -

and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to make them

again. The idea, the creativity, and the ability all seem to

come from somewhere else.

In an online artist’s group I recently joined, a fellow artist

suggested that making art is like being bi-polar. And, I

agree. When a work is going particularly well, it’s like

dancing with the gods and there is no better feeling on

the planet. Every once in awhile, it even feels like

someone else is guiding your hands and you, yourself,

really don’t have anything to do with it.  The

promise of the high is so alluring, it’s worth picking up the

paintbrush again and again in hope that that feeling will


Well, that’s the upside of the bi-polar coin. The downside

is when things are NOT going well ... when I butcher a

piece or I just think it’s sub-par - that’s when the self-loathing

kicks in. I’ll tell myself all sorts of negative things and even question my

whole existence/purpose in life. So, yeah, I definitely

consider it being a bi-polar condition.

And, there’s another angle: sometimes I see starting a

new piece as creating a puzzle - a puzzle that ultimately I

will have to solve. And, when I have a hard time figuring

out the puzzle, I want to slam myself in the head - Three

Stooges style - for having gotten myself into this mess to

begin with!

So, in conclusion, I think being an artist is equal parts:

- having OCD

- being bi-polar

- and being a puzzle maker/solver

- all at the same time!

But now I would like to say a little something about

freedom. (I don’t know where I’m going with this, so bear

with me). At some point in my twenties, it occurred to me

that it was more important for me to be free than to have

a steady paycheck, a normal life, and a roof over my

head. I took the plunge and gave up all typical worldly

ambitions to paint full time. When I look back, it seems

insane. I didn’t even know another single living artist!

I also look back and think it was the greatest/bravest

move I have ever made. But, damn,

it was taking a chance! And I got lucky. But it easily

could have gone the other way and I don’t know what

would have become of me.

So, I’d like to add one more thing to my list:

- being an artist is also an act of bravery!

Majorette No. 3, 2019


On that note, I pay homage to all you crazy, OCD, Bi-polar, puzzle-makers who are brave enough to call yourselves, "Artist!"