If you are an artist, you might see yourself in my piece about an artist finding her way. However you choose to express yourself in this world, I hope my post inspires you to listen to your inner guidance and to walk your own path. If you have the most important charge of parenting or teaching a young child, I hope my walk, alongside my artist daughter, offers insight.
A Different World Through my Daughter’s Eyes
I am not certain if one’s ability to notice life’s details makes one a visual artist, or if wanting to create art causes one to focus more carefully on the details. Maybe the former is inherent, and the latter is developed over time. Or, maybe there is no separating of the two activities; maybe they exist alongside each other. I do not know what it is like to see the world and its many details through artist’s eyes and then interpret that seeing visually, in whatever way those details arrange, or sometimes, rearrange themselves. However, I did learn to see the world differently, while raising an artist.
My first glimpse of my daughter’s unique visual perspective appeared when she was barely three-years old. She was sitting on the floor in the kitchen, quietly drawing while I made dinner. When she finished her doodling, she handed me her sketch and I took it, expecting to see a page of scribbles. What I saw instead was an intricate drawing of our kitchen cabinets. She had drawn the squares inside the squares, inside the squares, with an amazing attention to detail, straight lines, and proportion. I looked at her sketch, then back at the cabinets, and I did this a few more times. She had captured details with her observant eyes and tiny hands that I had failed to notice. This trend of capturing details and drawing them would continue to develop over the next several years whenever she and I would draw or create art in the dining room. I may have had more years on my daughter, but I did not have more awareness of detail and the ability to recreate what I saw or envisioned, with the artistic skill that my daughter had.
My daughter’s artistic gifts showed up in ways that went beyond sketching and drawing. She tended to notice things – things that other people, regardless of their age, either failed to notice or didn’t make the time for. This noticing required tremendous patience from me, because she would stop often as a young child to gaze at a flower, really look at it, or a rock, or caterpillar creeping along, or anything else that captured her attention. I began to see the world through her eyes, which meant slowing down, crouching down, and letting go of the need to put my to-do list before her mindful observations. Coaching her on the soccer field also took patience from her father, the coach, who had to accept that his daughter was more interested in stopping and plopping midfield to look at the clovers, than she was in chasing a soccer ball.
Long car rides meant that our daughter had time to quietly create. She created intricately woven bracelets out of twine, duct tape wallets and purses, and beaded jewelry, delicate butterflies, ladybugs, and other tiny creatures out of wire and beads. Creating was an extension of her being and never required prodding by us, or her teachers. Her first-grade painting of a tree and mountains received the first-place blue ribbon and is proudly displayed on the top shelf in my office. Her paintings, prints, and glass-blown creations have turned our walls and shelves into a gallery devoted to her beautiful and creative work.
Her self-expression was not limited to objects she created with her hands; she also loved to dance and play musical instruments. She surprised us by singing solo during her third-grade play; we found out after the performance that our daughter had asked to sing solo. Such a beautiful gift to be given both talent and courage! She would surprise us once more and sing solo as a high school sophomore, during a holiday band performance held at the University of Arizona. We knew she would be playing her bass guitar, alongside her guitar playing teacher, but we did not know she would be singing. I also did not know that hearing a rendition of Red Hot Chilli Peppers’, “Breaking the Girl,” could make me cry.
She joined other musicians, both in school bands and over the course of two summers, when she participated in Powerchord Academy; a band camp hosted by San Diego State University. We heard a few highlights about her camp classes and escapades, but mostly, those experiences were hers to have. After creating and practicing during the week, family and friends were entertained by original songs delivered through lively group performances. The result was quite impressive, considering that the young musicians had only met seven days prior. My favorite performance was from her band, ‘Cosmic Brownies.’ Of course, I brought several boxes of brownies topped with colorful sprinkles to performance night. She played the clarinet, the drums, and piano, but her instruments of choice were the bass guitar and guitar; she even taught guitar to first graders as a high school student.
Creating music was her dominant form of expression in high school and I heard more of her art than I saw traces of it laying around the house, like I did when she was a young child. Her art focus began to change after she took one semester of art in high school; she had not taken an art class in a few years, due to limited or nonexistent availability. She might see it differently, but that high school class pushed open the door to her artistic trajectory. Devoting time to creating in that class, reconnected her with the young artist who loved to draw and paint. Artistic gifts poured out of her imagination, her mind, and her fingertips. She created a painting in that class for Día De Muertos that was selected for public display and now hangs in our guest bathroom. That was the first of many paintings that would follow.
While attending Pima Community College, she was inspired by several teachers who guided her artistic gifts and helped her to find her artistic voice. A life size self-portrait she created featuring personal symbolism was selected, professionally mounted, and displayed in the student art gallery. She also made beautiful creations in a yearlong class at a glassblowing studio that worked in partnership with the college. She was learning, creating, growing, and connecting with other artists and art happenings in Tucson, Arizona, but she had not yet declared to us, the world, and most importantly, to herself, that she was going to walk the artist path as her calling. She was finding her way.
While pursuing a different major at the University of Arizona, she realized that creating art was going to be more than a hobby, it was going to be her vocation. She wrestled with the decision of changing majors and she toiled over telling me. When she did announce her plans to pursue a fine arts degree, my first reaction was like that of most parents. I wanted to know that she could support herself, regardless of her degree choice. I also told her that I believed in her and that a degree is a useless piece of paper, if it does not reflect what she wants to do with her life. Decided and empowered, she finished the semester and changed course. She is now on the right path – her artistic path. A few classes shy of finishing a degree in art and technology, a recent art scholarship award affirmed her choice. She continues to learn and create beautiful art and she is learning to listen to her inner guidance that is showing her she can merge her gifts with a professional path.
The miracle of life displays itself in countless ways. One inspired way wonder reveals itself is in the unique gifts we are each given when we show up in the physical form. Some people, like my daughter, discover their gifts at a young age. Sometimes abilities arrive early, and in ideal situations, those abilities are encouraged, and celebrated. I am thankful that she and her gifts were nurtured in a home that supported exploration and discovery, and through that support, her gifts were freely allowed to emerge and evolve. I did not know when she was a child the journey those gifts would take her on. I did not know that her toddler sketches would someday be replaced with professionally mounted paintings and creations that embellish the walls of homes and galleries. Nor did I hand her a piece of paper and tell her to draw our kitchen cabinets when she was three – she simply noticed something, and she was compelled to recreate it. She has been noticing and creating ever since.
We share similar features, my daughter and I, but our minds our vastly different and for that, I am grateful. I have seen her glimmer of a gift evolve into a body of work that is breathtaking and inspiring, and she is still early on her artistic journey. I do not have her artistic eyes, but through her, I have learned to see my surroundings differently. As an avid reader, my learning (and joy) was found in books. My daughter taught me to look up from the pages and notice the world around me. My daughter is no longer a toddler doodling in the kitchen or making unique creations in the back seat of the car, but I hope she never abandons her inner artist child. I hope she never allows life to get so busy that she rushes past a creeping caterpillar, or a fluttering butterfly, or a bed of delicate clovers. I hope she always allows that inner artist child to pause, observe, and then interpret her observations in a manner that is uniquely hers.
“You can’t sit around and wait for somebody to say who you are. You need to write it and paint it and do it.”~Faith Ringgold, American painter, writer, mixed media sculptor, and performance artist
Thanks so much for stopping by and reading. Writing about the journey that raising an artist has taken me on has been reflective and rewarding. 💕 If you’ve been following my blog for a bit, you know Sammi and I have collaborated on two poetry books this year and are working on a third and final Being a Woman book (my poems and her illustrations). Book previews and purchase can be found through my “About” page. For a sampling of Sammi’s talent, including a clothing line, enjoy a visit to her website~ https://www.mintakacollection.com/
Photo 1: Willamette River Photo 2: Me and Sammi (circa. 1997) Photo 3: Sammi creating on campus Photo 4: Me and Sammi catching up 🌞
© 2020-2021 Michele Lee Sefton.