List five things you are not allowed to do: kill your boss, scream in church, go outside naked, make a scene, quit your job. Now do that thing on paper. Write it, draw it, paint it, act it out, collage it. – Task 4, week 8 of The Artist’s Way
Those things are not in the realm of possibility for me or for most people for that matter. But what about for an artist?
I considered the assignment. The first thing that came to mind was taking a bath in chocolate. I’m not quite sure which appealed to me most, a chocolate bath or drawing the image. I quickly dismissed the idea for two reasons. First of all, I don’t do naked much in life and never in my art, so the picture of me in a bathtub looking down at my knees poking out of a tub of thick creamy chocolate was hilarious and out of character. Secondly, we had men in our class and feeling the weight of responsibility to make sure I didn’t cause my brothers to stumble, I put that subject right out of my mind. Just so you know, I am rethinking the naked thing, at least in my art, but I’ll save that for another post.
I wandered onto other images of childhood fancies and young daydreams and finally landed on me riding my bright red Schwinn Pixie bicycle with the white basket through the Winn Dixie. I loved the idea of dodging people and maneuvering through the tight turns.
And then it hit me, the insecurity, a familiar roadblock in the creative process. What if I couldn’t create this piece in a way fitting for a want-to-be illustrator? You see, the first day of class we were asked to go around the room, introduce ourselves, and share a creative dream we have had. I remember half choking out, “I have always wanted to be an illustrator/writer of children’s books.” As soon as those words left my mouth, I felt like I had revealed a secret that would have been better off left in the closet of my mind. That way, no one would get hurt, especially me. Once a dream is spoken out, it somehow feels like it can’t be shoved back in, like a baby making it’s screaming entrance into the world, never to return to the safety of the womb. I reassured myself that many weeks had passed since my pronouncement, so surely by now it would be forgotten.
I ignored the fear and sat down to paint the image in my mind. My imagination began taking over, and soon I was in the Winn Dixie making serpentine movements around the fresh vegetable and fruit displays. I envisioned myself soaring down each aisle, weaving around the shoppers moving at a glacial pace with their carts. With every aisle that I went down, my speed picked up and my confidence soared. I could see box after box of cereal and imagined grabbing some Count Chocula and placing it in my basket. A girl can work up a thirst after all that activity, off to the Coke aisle for a little refreshment. Every southerner knows, Coke is not a brand but a category of beverage. The grand adventure ended with me sailing through the checkout and exiting out through the automatic doors.
With each stroke of my color laden brush and every carefully placed ebony line, I found myself experiencing a childhood impulse I only imagined. Creativity had given me opportunity to do the unthinkable, to act uncharacteristically, to be bold, to be impetuous, to dwell in possibility.
Thursday came around and I arrived with my watercolor in tow – Whimsy in the Winn Dixie. Though I had contemplated
accidentally leaving it at home, I sheepishly shared my offering with my fellow Wayers. To my surprise they received it with open arms – no judgment, no critiques, only encouragement. I blushed with gratitude. Every forbidden expression shared that night was received the same way. Such a beautiful moment.
At the close of class, the Silver Desiderata asked if she could read a children’s book she purchased on one of her Artist’s Dates. This woman had such an innocent wonder about life. She read to us like we were children sitting cross legged in a magic circle of story time. She turned the illustrations towards us and read expressively, making eye contact from time to time. We were captivated. We were children again. The book had no hidden adult message and the reader had no special interpretation or secret agenda. She simply wanted to share the delight she had found in the words and art in this children’s book.
As she closed the book, she looked into my eyes and handed it to me. She said she remembered my dream of wanting to be an illustrator, so she decided the best place for this book would be with me. My eyes puddled as her words watered my dreams. For that moment and many moments since, I dwell in the possibility that not just one day in the future, but today, I am an illustrator.