From some of my earliest career ideas to a Moore College of Art and Design’s student’s senior year critique; this is my long and strange road to reaching a goal (and it’s just the beginning).
There are only three things as a child that I can remember wanting (truly wanting; with heart, soul, and clear intention) to become once I hit adulthood.
The very first future I saw for myself was that of an artist (surprised?). There is not a time in my life I can remember not having a desire to be a creator. Ever. I have saved portraits I made from when I was two years old. I won an art competition in the second grade. Being a creator was stapled into my psyche before I could even imagine doing something logical.
The second career path I thought I could happily dive into was zoology. I was desperate to take care of, love, hug, feed, and understand large cats.
The third avenue I imagined venturing down was teaching. My first memory of this career dream has been with me since the sixth grade. I am not sure if it was the teacher, the classroom, or my obsession with Lisa Frank and all fun stationary, but I loved the thought of encouraging students with motivational phrases and fun stickers for a job well done. Above all, I remember that excited notion of wanting to inspire others to continue improving.
As life moved on, I got a cat named Tiger; a cat who lightly curbed my deep desire to hug huge ones (maybe it was in the name). Later, as I grew my little rock n’ roll rebel wings, venturing into my own creativity became more and more appealing. I decided to major in fine arts in undergrad. During this time, I completely left my dream of teaching to the wind. Instead, I explored who I was, where I was going, studied abroad, interned at IPCNY, majored in printmaking and painting, made friends, left friends, and did what most art school kids in a liberal arts college do. I knew nothing about the art world or what to do with a BFA when I got out. I had a desire to make work, and that’s all I knew.
So, of course, I moved to, and waited tables in, the nearest city.
I remember a career-focused paradigm-shift that grew inside my belly as I reached my mid-twenties. I was serving 4-5 days a week, painting till the sun rose, and repeating. I started a blog to describe what I was doing. Not many people read it, but it felt good to write down what I was learning. I sat with friends at bars and remember apologizing, so many times, for talking about painting too much. It grew to be an obsession. The more I painted, the more I achieved, and the more I wanted to talk about it. If I could do it… so could everyone else. I wanted to encourage people to be creative as well. – Side note: I am so glad I did. I convinced my best friend, a bartender in that same restaurant, to play more with her natural talent in photography during those years. She’s now my second photographer and partner over at EverydayEros Studio. – I continued serving while painting, and looking for jobs around Philadelphia.
The teaching bug had begun to grow again. It was a career I started day-dreaming about realistically. It was a life I knew I could feel fulfilled in, however, it required an MFA. So, I worked another year on my portfolio, found the schools I wanted to apply to, and started that journey. The end goal – which involved uprooting my life, leaving my (now) husband in Philly, and taking on an absurd amount of debt – was to attain an MFA so I could come back home and be a professor. I knew my work would get better but being a successful artist was a pipe dream. I felt that to be so true. Teaching actually felt attainable.
I graduated two years later, in 2013. Things have not gone quite how I planned.
My career as an exhibiting artist has been blossoming since I left grad school. This wasn’t something I ever expected. Getting a teaching job has been nearly impossible. That wasn’t something I expected either.
I decided to continue what I had done during my serving days. I started using my blog regularly, began teaching via my social media accounts, and opened my process up to anyone asking about it. I taught anything that I felt interested by: social media practices, techniques, color palettes, etc. I even made a downloadable PDF of my flesh palette for friends I had made via Instagram. I connected with people from all over the world. Artists Rachelle Dusting and Cara Mason have blown me away by the things they’ve learned from my words and little PDF. I did a drawing and photography workshop in association with Dr. Sketchys Philly. I taught private classes. The summation of all this extra work was rewarding.
This was what I wanted to do. I was (am) still in my 9-5, but my soul was slowing being fulfilled. It wasn’t my perfect dream but I was moving forward with what I wanted to do. I wasn’t sure it’d ever go further than that… then I met Kim.
I met young Philly artist Kimberley Torres at one of my openings at Arch Enemy Arts. She was introduced to me by a fellow Moore College of Art student. Kim was a portrait-loving artist living in a fully conceptually-driven art school world. We connected immediately. After conversation back and forth for multiple months, Kim asked me if she could spend a summer interning in my studio. This was my chance to put all of my online and workshop teachings into practice and into one person.
Throughout the summer, every Friday evening and all day Saturday, Kim and I painted. I taught her as much as I could in the short two and a half months. We went over concepts, social media practice and professionalism, reference photography, underpainting, glazing, skin tones, color theory, etc. She improved in ways that blew everyone away. Luckily, our working relationship didn’t end there. Kim asked me to be her senior thesis advisor for her final year at Moore College of Art and Design. I was elated to continue helping her in her journey, and overjoyed to be stepping into a roll I’d always dreamt of.
With as much as I may have helped Kim, she had helped me just as much. I was fulfilling a piece of my dream and putting myself to the ultimate test. Could my knowledge transfer over to a student? Could my words convey that which I do with my hands? Working with Kim was a way to actualize this goal; to see if it was something I could TRULY be good at. I handed over knowledge, it was absorbed, and put into practice. It worked.
Throughout her last year at Moore, Kim progressed in every way she possibly could. Her technical skills continued to blossom, her confidence improved, and her conceptual voice developed. To watch someone improve under your wing is magical. To help aid someone to grow with so much vigor is surreal. She faced the same amount of adversity to figurative art as exists in the art world. She fought her way to continue what she loved to do. I felt a strong camaraderie with her. I was dubbed “art mama” and she was my first art kid.
Kim invited me to Moore’s senior thesis show. I was beyond proud of her final piece. It was an incredible summary of everything she had learned in her four years. Next to her piece hung an award; the Susan Sommer ’72 Senior Award For 2D Fine Arts. My first student had come full circle, proved all of her nay-sayers wrong, and won the highest award you can for 2D fine arts. She was complimented throughout the night and I walked out of there thinking that this was the end of our journey together. My chest was filled with pride and I looked forward to seeing what lay in front of her.
But that wasn’t it.
I was invited to Kim’s senior critique. Her professors, overall, had the most lovely things to say about her work. She had used her stubbornness to stick to her convictions (something I knew all too well) and it paid off. I couldn’t believe I had helped her get to where she was as an artist; no matter how large or small of a role I did indeed play. Her professors said things like, “I haven’t seen work like this coming out of thesis in over 10 years from Moore,” and “You’ve got skills…” I wasn’t her professor but her mentor. So I stayed quiet and stood in the corner. She called and pointed me out to her teachers mid crit. I blushed with total pride and smiled. I watched the positive words go back and forth and began to lose it. There, in that room, watching someone I helped improve so greatly, I couldn’t contain myself. My eyes welled up, I breathed deep, and allowed myself to live in that moment alongside Kim. I was greeted by her professors afterwards. We chatted about art history, skill, techniques, and where figurative fine art is headed to in the art world. They saw me as a peer. I had never been in that position before. It was beautiful. We ended our conversation with lovely things being said about me taking Kim on as a student. I couldn’t have been more sincere when I told her art history professor that Kimberly taught me just as much as I taught her. It was a journey, I feel, we really took together.
If my voyage as a teacher ends there, in that room, I think it could be enough to feed my soul for many many years. I know I have completed a goal I desperately wanted to achieve. My path to this objective was sideways and strange, but I had taught, inspired another, and watched her improve.
I got a letter in the mail from Kim a few days later. I opened it, read it, and instantaneously cried… trying to pretend I wasn’t, fanning myself with her letter, in front of my husband. She had made me a pendant that said “Art Mama” on it. It is one of the best and most meaningful gifts I’ve ever been given. I hadn’t encouraged Kim with Lisa Frank stickers or motivational phrases, but I did, in a way I could’ve never planned, fulfill my once-upon-a-time sixth grade goal. Funny that it was HER stationary (“You’ll make a wonderful teacher and you’re a hell of a mentor!”) and her sticker (pendant) that has now encouraged me to push forward on this path. I know now that I can’t give this up. It’s far too important to me and to those who care to learn as much as Kim did.
I went upstairs, wiping my tears, hugged my two mini panthers, and went into my studio. Life, at least mine, NEVER gives you exactly what you want. Your path isn’t as clear as you think it might be but it is certainly worth keeping your eye on your goals. They’re achievable. You just might have to take a unique route to get there.