Everett Scholastic Art Awards Keynote

The photo I've started this post with is from my high school senior yearbook. I chose it because last night I had the amazing honor of delivering the keynote to the Scholastic Art Awards for high school students in grades 7-12 of Snohomish County at the Historic Everett Theater.

I was so happy to be in that beautiful 1901 building with hundreds of teenage artists and their parents. Now that I know even more about the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards I want everyone to know what a wonderful organization this is that champions and aids budding artists and writers. I wish there was something like that when I was in high school.

Now without further ado I want to share my keynote.

Good evening. First of all, I want to congratulate all of you for being here. You are part of the great tribe of ARTISTS and it is truly a wonderful tribe to belong to.

Secondly, I want to thank Nancy Bell for asking me to speak to you. Most artists are introverts and I am no exception. I love to be alone. I love to be alone so much that I moved to Lummi Island up near Bellingham. Just about the only thing that will get me off Lummi Island is a good sale on art supplies or a chance to be around other artists. As artists we can inspire and energize each other. I hope that I will be able to do that for you.

I'll start with who I am today, and then I'll go back to how I got here. Right now I identify as a children's book author and illustrator. My books have been in print starting twenty-four years ago with "THE NIGHT I FOLLOWED THE DOG."
At this point I've got more than twenty books in print. One of them is a board book I created called "PEEK-A WHO?"that has sold well over one million copies. Lately, I've been writing poetry and collaborating with other illustrators. I'm also starting to work on graphic novels. I've been making a living as an artist for my entire career, which includes the time before my books were published.

How did I get here?

We are all on our own journeys. Mine wasn't easy. It started with two parents who were both artists, which helped because they knew I was an artist from when I was only a few years old. But my
parents were both mentally ill, and my father ran off with my brother's first grade teacher when I was eleven.

I've worked since I was eleven. I started babysitting. Then in high school I worked in clothing stores. I drew all the time, too. I started seriously keeping a journal in high school. I drew, I wrote, I made cartoons. I got in trouble for doodling during most of my classes. I'll never forget when my eleventh grade English teacher, Mrs. Sherman (I'm still friends with her, by the way.) came over to my desk and saw I was drawing her, and she said, "you could have made me look younger."

My art teachers in high school- mostly Mr. Gangemi- were my heroes, and my refuge. I never fit into any groups in high school. I was "that weird artist girl." I had two other girlfriends who were artistic. One of them, my long-time best friend, Judy, became a documentary filmmaker and a writer/director/producer in Los Angeles. My other friend gave up on art. Her parents pushed her away.

Don't let that happen to you! Follow your dreams. As hard as it was, I followed mine. My mom was my biggest champion. We could not afford college. At the very last minute my father was forced to pay. I was accepted into Syracuse University's College of Visual and Performing Arts, and I became an illustration major. I worked all through college as a waitress, and I did caricatures in the mall to make money, too.

When I was in art school, in freshman year they made you take all of the basic core classes like General Drawing, Figure Drawing, Art History and Design. I was in a hurry to get into the real world, but all of this was so important. The only thing that troubled me was what my Design instructor said. He was a sculptor named Stephen Carlson. My class had a lot of women students and he told us that "it will be easier for the women because they could just marry rich husbands and do their art."

That made me so angry. That is not how to be an artist. Not only did I not marry a rich man, for years I supported my husband and my three stepsons. I am proof that you can make a living as an artist.

And your art can take you places you never imagined possible. For example: in 1998 my book "WHEN PIGASSO MET MOOTISSE" came out. I told the story of the rivalry between the artists Picasso and Matisse, but I turned them into a pig and a bull. This book has been translated into the most languages of any of my books, and it is in museum gift shops around the world- and I was invited to speak in schools in Normandy, France. On my way home, I took the train to Paris and there I met a big fan of my book: Georges Matisse, who is the great-grandson of Henri Matisse. He controls the heritage of the Matisse art estate. He loves my book and has given it to all of the Matisse family members. I gave him the portrait I painted of Henri Matisse in the book. It's still on his fireplace mantel.

Georges emails me whenever there is a new Matisse or Picasso and Matisse exhibit. There is one this summer in Nice, France, and I'm hoping to go see it.

I've also had two books optioned for feature film: THE NIGHT I FOLLOWED THE DOG, and ROMEOW & DROOLIET. Additionally, I worked on a project with DreamWorks Animation for two years. None of the projects went all the way through- that happens in Hollywood- but I got to keep the option money, and I was treated to some great trips to Los Angeles where I got to see many animation studios.

Speaking of animation: back in high school and art school, all that existed was hand-drawn or painted cell animation and stop-motion animation. I started making flip movies when I was little. I made a stop-motion animation when I was eleven using a Super 8 movie camera in my elementary school. There were no computers!

Now everything has changed. Everything is digital and animation is an incredible career option for artists... but I want to tell you this:

You need to draw and paint and use pencils and brushes and paper and canvas! I don't want to be a predictor of doom, but someday the grid may go down. I'm prepared- I built the studio of my dreams on Lummi Island and we put fifteen solar panels on the roof of it... but what I'm saying is that your skills as an artist need to be there for you whether you have Procreate or Photoshop or not.

My mom used to tell me to draw every day- just a little drawing, and write every day- just a little poem. She never lived to see my books get published. She died, poverty-stricken, with no health insurance, from cancer, six days after I turned twenty-four. I call her my Avant-Guardian Angel and I believe she watches over me.
I vowed that I would not be a starving artist. I would be a successful artist- and I know she would be so proud of me now.

I hope you have someone who watches over you- in real life- be it a parent or a friend, or an art teacher- someone who tells you not to give up your dream of being an artist, because it is unbelievably rewarding to be able to support yourself by being creative, by taking nothing but the spark of an idea in your head- and bringing it to life. Not many people can do that- so consider yourselves to be magicians- and wizards- and half-dragon-half-robots- because YOU can draw that and they can't!

And practice, practice, practice.

Get off your devices.

Draw faces.

Draw hands.

Draw out of your imagination.

Go to museums and galleries and look at original art. Get outside and draw in nature- or on a bus- or in a library. Build a portfolio of work you are proud of. They say you are only as good as the worst piece in your portfolio. I don't really believe that.

As an artist, let me tell you, I'm never happy with my work. I am constantly thinking that it sucks. And I'm always trying to learn- to grow- to try new things. I get bored if I do the same style or technique over and over again. And I mess up often. My journals are full of things that didn't work- be it stories or character drawings... but I'm always excited to keep creating and being creative no matter whether no one sees it but me- or it sells a million copies.

My final piece of advice to you is something that I saw on a rug cleaning store in my old neighborhood in Seattle. The sign said: IF YOU ARE AFRAID OF MAKING A MISTAKE YOU WON'T MAKE ANYTHING.

Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Make lots of them. Keep making them as long as you are making something.

Now go out there and make some art! And keep your dreams alive.

Thank you so much.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I welcome your comments, but please play nice! If my feelings get hurt I may have to ask you to take a time out and comments will go away. Think constructive if you must criticize.