Nearly six months ago, I mentioned in a blog post that my family and I decided to throw a party for the arrival of Tex and Sugar. Lord knows my family deserved it . They managed to overlook my 12 hour days painting away in my studio for 10 months, while the laundry piled up and the house went to pot. They ate a lot of take-out food. They didn't make me feel guilty--well, not too much, anyway. To tell the truth, the usual chores of domesticity bore me silly anyway, and I am no Suzy Homemaker when it comes to that stuff. So it was great to have a genuine excuse for slipping into even deeper waters of house neglect, with no fear of drowning. But if you read this blog, you already know that.....
Anyway, as we picked a date and made plans to celebrate, it became apparent that this party was not really just a book party. The book was the "excuse," but in reality, and quite by accident, several anniversaries seemed to coincide with it's arrival. If I were at all into numerology, I might think there is some cosmic significance to these figures. But I don't know squat about that stuff, so feel free to enlighten me, if you do.
Here is what we realized I was really celebrating:
35 years of seriously making art in one form or another: painting, puppets, dolls, fiber art, illustration.
25 years of being a published illustrator
10 years of choosing to follow my first love: books for kids
...oh, and Tex and Sugar, my first book as both illustrator AND author. That, too.
Besides the fact that seeing all those big numbers makes me feel a little old, looking at them and writing them down makes me appreciate that life is a journey after all. And art especially is a journey. I initially set out to do exactly what I am doing now, but I got sidetracked. Very sidetracked. I went to one college instead of another, I studied painting instead of illustration, and I got so fed up with art professors that I took to puppetry and dolls with a vengeance. It took some time and distance before I went back to my love of drawing and painting again to become an illustrator.
But life always offers distractions. Especially if you begin to raise a family. So it took even more time for me to finally focus ONLY on what I initially wanted to do 35 years ago: work on children's books.
Go over to Hip Writer Mama and read this post. Sometimes you have to take control of things and make plans to follow the dream. She is doing just that. At some point in the middle of also raising three kids I had to make that choice, too.
So here is a brief recap of my journey to becoming an author. I hope it gives everyone some hope to see that many of us do travel a ways to get where we are. Hey! It just happens to be twelve steps:
1. I decided to stop working with puppets and dolls and pursue my wish to illustrate. In 1982 I got my first paid illustration assignment.
2. In 1983 I wrote a collection of poems: "Seven Working Kitty City Ditties." I continued to work on my portfolio.
3. In the summer of 1984 I went to NYC with my portfolio (with the ms tucked in) and one editor came to meet me and pointed to the one poem and said, "Turn this into its own story."
4. Instead, I got very busy with tons of editorial illustration and raising three children.
5. After my third son was born, I was inspired again!
6. I started getting more and more illustration book work.
7. Around 2000, I pulled that dusty ms out of a drawer (literally) and began to work on it, in between a lot of book illustration work.
8. I sent it out for the first time. I could have sold it, but let someone else do the art. I said NO.
9. In between work, I tried to work on it. I had a couple of near sales, but no cigar.
10. I decided to focus almost all my time on writing and illustrating, but take no educational work
11. It became a better story.
12. In the spring of 2005 it sold 22 years after I first wrote it, and it came out two years after that.
So, for all of you out there who have been juggling families, and careers, but still long to write or illustrate, listen to me: you should never give up on your dreams. And, for what it is worth, my first book as author and illustrator is about that: following dreams.
To everyone who is already planning to come on Saturday to the "HOE-DOWN AT THE JOHANSEN NEWMAN RANCH" to help me celebrate following my dream, I can't wait to see you. Lots of food, drink, and music!
And think of it as this: as celebration of your own dreams, too.
And this, too: maybe a little kick in the ass to follow Hip Writer Mama's 7 or 30 Day Challenge.
Although, it doesn't mean you have to be like me and take 30 years. So get crackin!
Edited to add: AND I just turned 55 a few months ago, just to add to the strange case of the "multiples of five" party...
EDITED AGAIN TO ADD: My youngest son graduates from 5th grade tomorrow! Plus, so far the party head count is at 150. More 5's.