The Back Back Story

I knew I wanted to be an artist way before I went to The University of Oklahoma. Well, it went even further back than high school for me...okay so I didn't know I was an artist at that --> age BUT the Lord did. When He made me, He put that gift inside of me and it was my job to discover it. So it was more like elementary school when I began to discover my gifts. How did I know this at a young age? I'm not the only creative person who knew their talents this young.

But here is the part of the story where there is a fork in the road. It’s one thing to know our gifts and talents. But whether the young creative is supported or suppressed determines if they use their gifts.

I went to a small school in Southern Oklahoma called Oak Hall. What a great education. Like all elementary age experiences, I believe it laid the foundation for the rest of my life. I'm not saying if you had a bad childhood that your life cannot turn around, but I don't believe we give childhood the humongous credit it deserves for the impact it makes. I had incredible teachers who fostered a love for learning in all of us. We had art twice a week, learned Spanish, even had computer class back when the Apple computer was a tan box with a square screen about 8" wide (those are probably worth a fortune now!). The teachers were dedicated and before it was required, they were giving special instruction to kids who needed it. I still remember teachers reading out loud to us and recess felt like an hour.

I was always drawing and coloring but I'll argue all kids do that. <There is a great TEDTalk by Ken Robinson regarding the idea of all kids are artists that is worth your time!> My parents knew I was creative and had a talent in art so they did a great job of finding opportunities for me and encouraging me in it. I remember having the large newsprint pages and charcoal AND making a mess with it. I set up our basement as an art studio! Science fair wasn't just about science. I had a large blank canvas and drew an underwater scene with chalk pastels! But my parents acted like this was normal. It was for me.

It was also normal that I was in dance starting at 6 years old. I loved it! One of my dearest friends and I danced together our entire lives until college. I even dance now and am so glad I learned the skill so early...My parents are so cool.

Somehow my art teacher saw an art talent in me at that young age, too. Ms Chappell had us enter contests and I started placing in the top then winning and we'd enter more and I'd get a ribbon or win a prize. I could do something really cool with art! Then in 5th Grade, I entered the city-wide t-shirt contest for "Art in the Park" and won.

Whoa.

My drawing was printed on hundreds of shirts, banners, and posters along downtown. There was an article about me in the local paper. How cool for a 10 year old!? I was in a parade and rode in a red Mazda Miata convertible! (Dad, you can blame that cool experience for all the times I asked for a red Mazda Miata for my 16th birthday. I promise that was the reason!) 

I continued to enter contests and Art in the Park (well, until they changed the age so I couldn't any longer). I would get more shirts printed or win a cool prize. It's so special that our little city and school was very focused on facilitating ways for creative people to be valued. It's possible that was just my version of it all because my family and teachers created that for me. Even my middle school science teacher, Mrs McAnnally, had us enter the Earth Day button contest. I won! And they sold the buttons! It's so fun! I have people tell me they still have that button!! Crazy.

In high school I designed some shirts back when it was all by hand. One of the local printing companies even let me learn how it all worked and I learned how to create the screens for a shirt I designed for my dance studio. My mom's bowling team from work asked me to design them a custom shirt. The Latin Club, Homecoming, Prom, you name it. They wanted shirts and of course I loved it. I'm not sure how many shirts I created by the time I graduated high school but I realize now how very unique it was that I had so much support. My sweet mom would buy at least 2 shirts of each design that was printed: 1 to wear and 1 to keep. She kept almost every single shirt and had them sewn into a t-shirt quilt! My mom is awesome!

It's pretty cool when you are just being yourself and others value that.

I feel so thankful that so many people in my life not only saw a gift in me, but gave me opportunities to do something great with it. My childhood bestie's mom hired me to paint a mural on some furniture. My youth pastor had me hand paint banners for camp. My high school art teacher let me work on special projects and teach me how to paint with oils when I that's not what the curriculum outlined. I want to give kids like me similar opportunities so I created a program to do that. But I don't want to stop there. I want teachers to have the freedom to change the curriculum or encourage kids to enter contests...education needs to change. This story might be very different if all I heard in school was to stop being myself and stop using my gifts. Kids keep hearing: "stop drawing. stop singing. stop dancing" yet that's who they are! They are artists and creative but being told to stop. But don't get me started! I have plenty to say on that subject...

More on that soon!

I'm thankful. Thank you to family, friends and teachers who paved a way for me. I was supported not suppressed and it changed the course of my life. Because of you, I'm a creative kid advocate. Thank you that my story is one of encouragement and fond memories creating art.