Tuesday, November 20, 2012

5. 8th Grade Science Project

DID I mention that I was a dog freak from an early age? Here I am in eighth grade with my science project. I'm in white (I especially like the bow at my neck – I think that was the first of many fashion accessories that I dropped when I started buying my own clothes at 18) and, as you can see, I loved bold colors. What a nerd.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Robin Eggs

ROBIN EGGS are warm and comforting. It might be their color, or tiny size, or maybe what they represent – new beginnings. For me, they are a means of time travel, an instant journey back to a 10-year old me.

I GREW UP on a vineyard. Each spring, my brothers and I would grab our little notepads and, in my organized manner even back then, traverse the rows, searching for birds' nests. We very carefully peeked into each vine, documenting each find, and then following the progress of each nest until, at last, all the baby birds flew away.

SOME EGGS didn't hatch, while others were eaten by small mammals or other birds. And it always broke my heart to scribble, "Dead hatchling– not strong enough." Occasionally we got to see the parents feed worms or bugs to the babies. It was so exciting I couldn't sleep some nights.

SOON the nests were empty, and we moved on to new adventures. We ditched our notepads and found other ways to amuse ourselves, not giving nests another thought – until the next year, when it would seem like just the best idea all over again.

I painted Robin Eggs on 16 x20 hardboard panel, which I cut with a jigsaw.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

4. Making the Grade

THE BEST lesson I learned in Catholic school was this: I am the best judge of my own progress.

I'M NOT against letter grades, but, when it comes to art, I'm the only one who knows if I'm happy with my improvement. Thank you Sister Rose Anita for teaching me that.

JUNIOR HIGH. I wasn't beautiful. I wasn't popular. I wasn't even funny. But I knew who I was and I liked myself. That did not endear me to the Immaculate Heart sisters, and it didn't take me long to be labeled.  I clung fiercely to my identity (rebel) and refused to give in (disobedient). I continued to laugh (stubborn). And, most of all, I loved to paint and I knew I had talent (proud).

ONE ART lesson stands out. It's Christmas time – the assignment is to paint a stained-glass window design. I'm in my happy place, quietly working, when Sister stops at my desk and asks if she can show my piece to the class. She takes it to her desk, folds my art into a tiny square, then proceeds to cut it up with scissors. She unfolds it, it falls in tiny pieces onto her desk, and she says, with a smile, "Oops, I did that wrong. I was trying to make a snowflake. But Nadi won't mind. She'll make another one."

I REFUSED (obstinate) and, as a result, received an F on the assignment. It was my first F. I should have been upset. I should have argued my case, told my parents, even cried. Nope. Not me. I smiled. I think I actually enjoyed it. I know I enjoyed the look on Sister's face.

I CONTINUED to paint at school, but only when assigned, and I never cared about my grade. But I loved working at home on my own. Only one painting remains from those days – Siamese Cat – and only because my parents framed it and hung it in the living room, where it remained for 40 years.

AND I ESCAPED those corridors. Not with humility and grace, maybe, but with anticipation of new adventures (hopeful), and with my confidence intact and tucked safely away in my back pocket (happy).

Sunday, August 19, 2012

3. Draw Me

I GREW UP in an orchard out in the country. Boredom was a constant issue, usually relieved by building forts and playing war with my brothers. I also read a lot, and drew pictures. The highlight of summer days was to run down to the mailbox at 11:00 am to get the mail (I was always sending away for free dog stuff from Purina coupons).

ONE DAY, when I was around 10, I found a matchbook with a picture of a pirate on it and the words "Draw Me". Inside the cover it said "Take your time and do a good job – this could be your 1st step to a scholarship AND a lifetime of creating art." My parents agreed to enrolling me and magic appeared in my life, about every 6 weeks, in a large envelope.

ART INSTRUCTION, INC. began in 1914, and is still going today. Tippy the Turtle, Cowboy, Boxer and Pirate adorned matchbooks and magazine ads to entice would-be-famous artists to learn at home. Their list of instructors was impressive. Famed alumni include John Clymer, Morrie Turner, and Steve Benson, just to name a few. Charles Schultz (of Peanuts comic strip) took the course while in high school, and then later became an instructor with the school. In fact, several of his  comic characters, including Charlie Brown and Linus, were based on people that he worked with.

I DIDN'T know any of this at the time. I did know that anyone who would pay the tuition could take the course. But I felt special anyway. And, oh, it felt like Christmas morning when that package arrived.

AND it did lead to a lifetime of creating art as advertised.

Monday, July 30, 2012

2. Crazy About Dogs

SIXTH GRADE was coming up, and my parents decided to send my 2 older siblings to Catholic school. I cried and begged to go as well, and they relented. The phrase 'be careful what you wish for' comes to mind.

I ARRIVED at my new school equipped with a solid understanding of what learning was all about: questions, curiosity, exploring and laughter. I was shocked when I learned I had been led astray and, for the next 3 years, I struggled against being stuffed into a box way too small. Everything was upside down.

I WAS TOLD to repent and ask forgiveness for my bad thoughts and actions. What bad thoughts and actions? All I wanted to do was hold puppies, read stories about them, and draw them.

I WAS CRAZY about dogs, something I've never outgrown. By 10, I had owned 2 of my own and been to my 1st dog show. But the nuns were worried. If my love were for horses, that would be normal for a girl my age, but because my obsession was for 4-legged animals of the canine variety, it was cause for concern. They considered it unhealthy and advised my parents to seek help for me, which they ignored.

A FEW YEARS ago, I painted this picture. I included it in shows with every intention of selling it. One day I looked at all the books and realized they were the best part of those school days, and so I decided not to sell it. It's hanging in my bedroom.

Monday, June 25, 2012

1. Kaweah School

SOMETIMES I think I became an artist because of all the people throughout my life who either told me I would be an artist, or told me I would never be an artist. This woman, Mrs. Chappell, was of the former group.

I SOLD my first painting to her in 1959. I was 7 years old and she was my 2nd grade teacher. I attended Kaweah School, which sat alongside a ditch lined with Eucalyptus trees, and included 3 classrooms and a tool shed converted into a cafeteria. It was here that I fell in love with blue-bellied lizards, snakes and birds with broken wings; the smell of new books; and finger-paints and scissors.

I PAINTED a stuffed donkey one day, which she deemed good enough to enter into the county fair. When told I was too young to enter, Mrs. Chappell was furious, and bought it from me.

I IGNORED most of the lessons Mrs. Chappell tried to teach me in those days, but praise sticks like bubble gum, and, 50 years later, I am still grateful.