Journal

Teachers’ Words Matter

by | Oct 26, 2016 | Editorial

In September of this year I began a series of stories to express my gratitude to a few people whom I knew only briefly but who had a tremendous impact on my work and my life.
Though I thanked them at the time, it’s only in retrospect that I know just how momentous their words turned out to be for me. And so I’d like to express my gratitude now on a much deeper level.

My first story was about a career counselor I met with in the late ’70s. For this one, I’d like to take you to the early 2000s. I was in the middle of writing one of my verse fairy tales. I write with my right hand, but for years my left hand had been intuitively drawing medieval scenes. I had started with doodles of grass and trees, and somehow my doodles had evolved into cows in pastures, knights on horseback and slightly crooked castles. People had begun to ask me if I was going to illustrate my books, but I knew I had a long way to go.

So in an attempt to gain some artistic expertise, I took a pen and ink drawing class at what was then Learning Tree University in the San Fernando Valley, which offered adult education in the arts, among other interesting courses. My first instructor, a very talented self-taught pen and ink artist, insisted we use a ruler to create precision work. I was not very good at this, needless to say, and somehow using a ruler to craft perfectly straight lines seemed to take the joy out of drawing for me. I left that class feeling that my work could never measure up to professional standards. So I kept on doing my intuitive drawings, and then found another class at the same school.

I wish I remembered the name of the teacher, but alas, I do not. This was a class in Celtic Art, the art of early medieval Britain and Ireland. I knew that Celtic Art is very geometric (translation: it involves rulers), but the course description included work in decorative letters such as are found in medieval manuscripts, and this, I thought, was right up my alley.

The teacher had us do one major project of a lavishly illustrated set of initials. It was to be done in full color in whatever medium we chose. Most students decided to work with watercolors or pastels. As my preferred medium is pen and black ink, I decided to work with colored ink for the project. As per the assignment, I created intertwining geometric initials embellished with swirls and abstract elements within the principles of Celtic design and balance. The colors were vibrant and I thought the overall effect rather pleasing, though I certainly didn’t think that it qualified as art. Certainly it had nothing to do with the drawings that kept coming from my pen.

But the teacher and I got to talking about my verse fairy tales and the somewhat amateurish, sketchy and wholly unexpected illustrations that were emerging from my left hand. In one of our last sessions she asked to see some of my work. With trepidation I showed her my untutored doodles. What she said in response truly surprised me. I repeat her words not, I assure you, dear Reader, to pat myself on the back, but because words matter and hers very possibly changed the course of my life.

“You have your own unique style. Yes, you need practice and discipline, but you don’t necessarily need instruction. Your work is whimsical and has a certain pleasing delight to it. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t let anyone talk you out of it. One day your work will be of publishable quality.”

I was absolutely stunned. I never expected her—or anyone—to say such a thing to me. I considered myself a writer and poet, not an artist. How could my left-handed doodles have any value?

The creative soul at whatever age can be very fragile (and I was already a grandmother!) It is very easy to dismiss what we produce as having little or no worth. Her kind words gave me confidence, made me think for the very first time that there was a reason my left hand, almost of it’s own volition, was drawing increasingly recognizable medieval scenes. In that brief conversation she also gave me courage, patience and faith in my own process. So I kept drawing, giving my left hand free reign, and eventually letting my right hand take over when I needed precision work, such as for piles of castle stone or tiny dragon scales. I’ve often said that my left hand taught my right hand how to draw. But that very possibly never would have happened had this teacher not given me the encouragement, in a certain way the permission, to keep going.

It would be almost seven years later in 2010 that I would meet my calligraphy teacher, DeAnn Singh of Designing Letters in Los Angeles. I have been studying with her ever since and she has taught me not only calligraphy but vital elements of pen and ink illustration that I could not acquire on my own. I am forever grateful to DeAnn and treasure my time with her. But I think it is safe to say that I might never have felt myself ready to begin studying with her, certainly would not have had the confidence in my own progress to initiate contact with her, had it not been for the words of that long-ago Celtic Art teacher.

And it would be more than eleven years after I took her class that I published my first illustrated medieval verse fairytale, Mindel and the Misfit Dragons. Yet I know that she was a vital link in the chain that brought my work to fruition.

I did thank her at the time, but as with the career counselor I wrote about previously, I did not realize then how significant her words would be for my life. I no longer know her name, nor where she is, but I would like her to know now that she has my eternal gratitude. Words matter, and hers made all the difference.


My celtic art project.

Though I thanked them at the time, it’s only in retrospect that I know just how momentous their words turned out to be for me. And so I’d like to express my gratitude now on a much deeper level.

My first story was about a career counselor I met with in the late ’70s. For this one, I’d like to take you to the early 2000s. I was in the middle of writing one of my verse fairy tales. I write with my right hand, but for years my left hand had been intuitively drawing medieval scenes. I had started with doodles of grass and trees, and somehow my doodles had evolved into cows in pastures, knights on horseback and slightly crooked castles. People had begun to ask me if I was going to illustrate my books, but I knew I had a long way to go.

So in an attempt to gain some artistic expertise, I took a pen and ink drawing class at what was then Learning Tree University in the San Fernando Valley, which offered adult education in the arts, among other interesting courses. My first instructor, a very talented self-taught pen and ink artist, insisted we use a ruler to create precision work. I was not very good at this, needless to say, and somehow using a ruler to craft perfectly straight lines seemed to take the joy out of drawing for me. I left that class feeling that my work could never measure up to professional standards. So I kept on doing my intuitive drawings, and then found another class at the same school.

I wish I remembered the name of the teacher, but alas, I do not. This was a class in Celtic Art, the art of early medieval Britain and Ireland. I knew that Celtic Art is very geometric (translation: it involves rulers), but the course description included work in decorative letters such as are found in medieval manuscripts, and this, I thought, was right up my alley.

The teacher had us do one major project of a lavishly illustrated set of initials. It was to be done in full color in whatever medium we chose. Most students decided to work with watercolors or pastels. As my preferred medium is pen and black ink, I decided to work with colored ink for the project. As per the assignment, I created intertwining geometric initials embellished with swirls and abstract elements within the principles of Celtic design and balance. The colors were vibrant and I thought the overall effect rather pleasing, though I certainly didn’t think that it qualified as art. Certainly it had nothing to do with the drawings that kept coming from my pen.

But the teacher and I got to talking about my verse fairy tales and the somewhat amateurish, sketchy and wholly unexpected illustrations that were emerging from my left hand. In one of our last sessions she asked to see some of my work. With trepidation I showed her my untutored doodles. What she said in response truly surprised me. I repeat her words not, I assure you, dear Reader, to pat myself on the back, but because words matter and hers very possibly changed the course of my life.

“You have your own unique style. Yes, you need practice and discipline, but you don’t necessarily need instruction. Your work is whimsical and has a certain pleasing delight to it. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t let anyone talk you out of it. One day your work will be of publishable quality.”

I was absolutely stunned. I never expected her—or anyone—to say such a thing to me. I considered myself a writer and poet, not an artist. How could my left-handed doodles have any value?

The creative soul at whatever age can be very fragile (and I was already a grandmother!) It is very easy to dismiss what we produce as having little or no worth. Her kind words gave me confidence, made me think for the very first time that there was a reason my left hand, almost of it’s own volition, was drawing increasingly recognizable medieval scenes. In that brief conversation she also gave me courage, patience and faith in my own process. So I kept drawing, giving my left hand free reign, and eventually letting my right hand take over when I needed precision work, such as for piles of castle stone or tiny dragon scales. I’ve often said that my left hand taught my right hand how to draw. But that very possibly never would have happened had this teacher not given me the encouragement, in a certain way the permission, to keep going.

It would be almost seven years later in 2010 that I would meet my calligraphy teacher, DeAnn Singh of Designing Letters in Los Angeles. I have been studying with her ever since and she has taught me not only calligraphy but vital elements of pen and ink illustration that I could not acquire on my own. I am forever grateful to DeAnn and treasure my time with her. But I think it is safe to say that I might never have felt myself ready to begin studying with her, certainly would not have had the confidence in my own progress to initiate contact with her, had it not been for the words of that long-ago Celtic Art teacher.

And it would be more than eleven years after I took her class that I published my first illustrated medieval verse fairytale, Mindel and the Misfit Dragons. Yet I know that she was a vital link in the chain that brought my work to fruition.

I did thank her at the time, but as with the career counselor I wrote about previously, I did not realize then how significant her words would be for my life. I no longer know her name, nor where she is, but I would like her to know now that she has my eternal gratitude. Words matter, and hers made all the difference.


My celtic art project.

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