It appears that I have a little part of me that hasn't really shown its face here on my Hick Chic blog. Before I made the decision to let myself be a writer, before I realized that I must do something with horses, before I became a mother, I took a crack at being an artist.
It's common knowledge around here (folklore? legend?) that I was the kid with the hair in two braids, wearing my ratty old jeans, hanging around with my ponies, and dedicating myself to writing only about ponies in my Grade 4 english class.
What I haven't made a big deal about is my little side career illustrating my stories.
Looking back it amazes me that I had enough attention span to actually finish those little books I made, all stapled together at the fold and with a dedication page and everything. And yes, the dedication was always, "To my beloved ponies, Beauty and Chocolate." Always.
I loved drawing all the way through school. I have boxes and boxes of scribbles and masterpieces. Even through all of my sickly phases and then my rebellious phases, I dabbled with drawing. I wasn't always good at it. I failed grade 9 art because I didn't finish stuff and came to class drunk a couple of times. I wish I was kidding.
I took art all the way through high school. Sometimes I finished my work on time. Sometimes I hated what I finished. Sometimes I created something that I loved and have carted around with me ever since.
This was one of them.
To get a sense of scale, it's about three feet high and hangs on the wall that faces the front door. Up close it's incredibly detailed.
I still love it. If people ask me what it is, I say, "It's a representation of what's behind my eyelids."
My art teacher in 1988-89 was a towering mountain of a man who referred to himself as Doc. Most kids either disliked him or were afraid of him. I had a fascination/ fear of the lumbering grumpy art teacher. By the time I got to Grade 12, I was going out with a certain long haired guitar freak who happened to be family friends with Doc- they were members of the same Anglican church and had British ancestry in common. This never came up in class. He was just my art teacher. He was a total curmudgeon, sharing his sarcastic opinions and never hesitating to criticize. I snickered at his blistering tirades. I silently agreed with his scathing criticisms- even of my own work. Sometimes, if I had access to a car for the day, I'd bag off the entire day...except for Doc's art class.
He's mellowed a bit in his later years. That abstract painting was a restoration project of his about ten years ago. It had been in storage after one of our many moves and I was devastated that the canvas had been stretched out. Doc was out of teaching and into art restoration. He first inspired that painting and then repaired it.
In my last year of high school, I turned back into a 9 year old girl, because our final year assignment was an independent study of art history and my chosen topic was...The Horse. My art teacher didn't get it. She thought I was nuts. My argument was that without the horse, human history could not have progressed as it did and that there is evidence of their importance in art. I had all the representations to prove it.
This painting was one of my projects this year but damn if I can remember what I was trying to prove with it. Cubism? It's not very Picasso. Art Deco? Who cares anymore? I just like it. I'm not a perfeshnul artist, so I can say things now such as "I like it" as opposed to expounding on its artistic merits.
And yes, it's my horse, the King. It's Champ.
I thought about going into art as a career. I still don't know how I thought that would be a good way to make a living. At the time I was very busily subconsciously talking myself out of being a writer. I believed that people like me didn't get to be published authors. I have no idea now what that means. People like me? Girls? Country kids? Fragile people? I never let myself believe that I could do it. And there's never really been any role model for me that a living could be made with horses. I didn't know anybody who made a sole career in the horse business. I didn't really know if there was a horse business, just a bunch of people who had horses in their backyards and went for rides when they were done with their other work.
Only art was left as a career choice. To my credit, I did know that it wasn't a good one, that I'd have to work way too hard for not enough money. At that time in my life, I figured that was what had to be done. It's all I'd known.
Two months after the wedding, I went to college for a course called Craft and Design. I majored in Ceramics and minored in Textiles. I spent many days hunched over a potter's wheel, covered in sticky wet clay. It was awesome. I really loved that tactile/ visual experience.
The program included Photography, Drawing, and an elective, which for me (duh) was Creative Writing.
In my drawing class I did this, my self portrait, which I am so proud of.
It's based on a black and white photo that one of my friends took of me. That photo session was fun. We messed with the lighting and wore black lipstick. I sketched out the photo and reduced it to lines and shapes, then into hot and cold, light and dark. I scared the crap out of most of the guys in my class. I think they were worried about the safety and sanity of my young husband, who in turn figured they were just jealous.
I loved being surrounded by art. It pleased my eyes and expanded my brain.
But there was one huge problem.
I didn't love it enough.
I found it hard to be creative on command. This was not uncommon, and it's one of the hardest thing for any artist to develop. Even now I have days when I have to force myself to write, but I know now what I didn't know 17 years ago- if you practice, it gets easier. If I write even when I don't feel like it, the next day the words come more freely.
One turning point for me in 1992 happened in my Creative Writing class. My pal Dstewart ("what the F*** is a silent P???? Why can't I have a silent D in my name?"), who was a frightening intellect and had Axl Rose's hair, was the only other Craftie in my class. I wrote an intense story about a girl who is stalked down into a corner while working in the barn, and threatens to bash the hell out of the guy's face with her spurs if he comes any closer. My friend was shocked by the violence in the story. He was impressed with my vivid imagination. After I read it out loud in class and silenced the room for a few minutes, we walked back to the Craftie corridor together. He shook his head. "I don't know why you're doing this, Heidi. You should drop this and write. That's what you're meant to do."
Some day I need to track him down and thank him.
I started probably two or three books in that time. They'll never see daylight. Ever. They were practice.
Meanwhile, every sunny day had me itching to get on the highway back to the farm and ride my horse. A few of my friends commented that I should do something with horses too, out there in the sticks, with a potter's wheel in the barn and a wood fired kiln out back. Sounded great to me. But how to do that when my husband worked in Mississauga, snuggled up in the armpit of Toronto, cleaning up Axl's spit on the studio floor?
College got cut off when Jethro got a job offer in Memphis, Tennessee, and we attempted our move to the US of A , which is another story I haven't gotten into. Maybe someday. Once the dust settled with the immigration lawyer, I no longer had the heart to go back to school. We'd moved back to the farm, where Jethro agonized over which direction his career would take, and I spent all my time with my horse. I felt a black cloud over me and all of our uncertainties with our careers and our homelessness and our young marriage. I took Champ for a ride twice a day, in the pasture, in the plowed field, down the dirt road. That horse got me through a very tough time.
But something else nagged at me.
I was not supposed to be an artist.
My art would come out in a different way. In a couple of years I had a baby and poured all my creativity into her. One of the last self portraits I did was my own pregnant body, about two weeks before my son was born. Between the births, I started writing another book. And stopped. And started again, and finally seven years later I could say that I'd finished writing a book.
Five years after that my husband bought me a computer. The rest is all here in this blog.
I hung onto a few brushes and charcoals. I have sketch books on my shelf. Sometimes I get an urge to draw something and I bust it out. I take pictures with my little Cybershot that I'm reasonably proud of. My pictures and paintings are all in my head now, in that beautiful place where imaginary people have lives and worlds, and all I have to do is observe carefully and choose the right words for them. I don't feel deprived.