Formation of an Artist

Thesis Render

So lighting critique is over, and the beat goes on.

I’m a notoriously light sleeper (thanks to an incident at my first college). Thus, just a tiny bit of sound at 3:30 in the morning has me awake and unable to fall back asleep.

I’m taking a Creative Writing class this semester, in which we’re reading Stephen King’s On Writing. He starts the book in an unconventional way; not with his thoughts on how to become a writer, but with a short memoir of the events that led to him being a writer. At 3:30 in the morning, I found myself thinking about some of the moments I remember when I think about my path to art.

The first didn’t even have anything to do with art. I was in first grade. My teacher was Mrs. Brown, who was a most awesome woman; she left the school shortly after I left first grade, and I never saw her again. I remember, to my utter mortification, learning about Harriet Tubman, and I proudly boasted during class that I liked being a slave, because I thought it just meant doing things for other people. I don’t remember her response exactly, but I remember it was one of utter patience and pity for arguably the stupidest seven-year-old in America.

Err, that’s not the memory. It was later in the year, and in the writing portion of our class–I believe this was taught by someone else, actually–we were asked to write a short, one-page story. Another thing I don’t really remember: I think I wrote a story about animals, because back then nothing interested me unless an animal was involved. When our papers were graded and handed back, the writing teacher made a special fuss over mine. I received my paper, which had a big “WOW!” and a smiley face at the top. I hold that as the single catalyst for my interest in writing.

I hated school; nearly every aspect of it. I was teased constantly by students, though admittedly, there were some who had it worse. I tried to be good, but inevitably would do something wrong and get yelled at by a teacher; and sensitive child that I was, I would either cry or just quietly fill up with bitter immortal hatred. More than the teachers or the students, I think I just hated how sensitive I was.

But these moments of sensitivity seemed to come most frequently in art class, for whatever reason. Thus, I disliked a number of my early art teachers, and often dreaded art class. In eighth grade we had a guy I didn’t much like. He was new to my mental roster of available faculty. None of us knew much about him, except he seemed to wear the same pair of black pants every single class; we all got a kick out of that.

We learned about perspective. I was absolutely awful at perspective. I was so bad, and frustrated my teacher so much with my inability to absorb any of his instruction, that he once took my drawing from me and drew the perspective lines himself. I was mortified and pretty certain that he hated me.

But I was not nearly so mortified by that as what happened later. I had done a watercolor painting of a skeleton bird flying over a landscape–why had I drawn a skeleton bird? That seems like an odd choice for me. In any case, I finished up this painting, and my teacher walked behind my table to look at it. He then picked it up, and said, “Come with me.” He led me next door to another art class, where one of my past teachers (there was a rumor going around that she had had a nervous breakdown and admitted herself to a mental institution; I later based a character on her) was in the middle of a class. He walked over to her, held up the painting, and said, “Take a look at this.”

Her reaction was something along the lines of, “Oh my God.”

I honestly can’t remember what else was said, only that none of it was said to me. In retrospect, they very well could have been saying, “What the hell is this demonic image? Do you think she’s suicidal?” But I was never sent to a counselor or the school psychiatrist, so I’m pretty sure it was all good stuff. Mostly, I remember being filled with sheer horror. I just stood there while two teachers–who I had always been very sure disliked me–exclaimed over a watercolor drawing, and the rest of the class stared at me. I was so embarrassed I didn’t even have the mental capacity to feel flattered.

In high school, art class became optional. So I left art completely and threw myself into music. I thought one day I would play in an orchestra. But let’s face it, as much as I loved the flute, I was never a notable talent. I did try art club my first semester, but just like class, I ended up disliking it. The one thing that sustained my art through this time was anime (sad, perhaps, but true). I didn’t take a high school art class until my senior year–when I realized I wanted to go to art school, and simultaneously realized I didn’t have a portfolio. I became well acquainted with all the art teachers that year, who learned of my dilemma and were eager to help. Whenever I think about senior year, it seems that the majority of my time was spent in the art wing.

Yet, it was to no avail. I went to National Portfolio Day, and the only line I was able to get into was University of Hartford’s art program. The recruiter there was underwhelmed by my meager three submissions, but helpfully advised me to come up with ten good portfolio pieces and apply. I thought it was encouraging, but my mother was unimpressed, especially compared to all the other hardcore art students we were surrounded by, who had portfolios bursting with work.

So, I finished high school with two acceptance letters in hand: Philadelphia University for their Accounting program, and Hood College for Computer Science. I was perhaps The Saddest Senior of 2000. Everyone was talking about what they would be doing after high school, what programs they had gotten into, where they would be going. They all seemed really excited by it all.

Inevitably the subject of what I was going to do would come up, and I’d inform them of my plans. They’d all look at me like I was crazy. “Are you kidding? Aren’t you going to art school?” I wanted to, certainly, but it just wasn’t practical.

One girl, while we were standing in the lunch line, said something along these lines: “If you don’t go to art school, I’ll be really upset.”

I think it was at that moment I decided, one way or another, I have to go to art school. Strangely, not even because I really wanted it: but because it hurt to think how many people I would let down if I didn’t. Not just her, but all the art teachers who had helped me throughout the year.

The saddest thing is there are so many names here I don’t remember. And even if I did, I wouldn’t begin to know how to find any of them. But sometimes I think on these people, and I want to reach them somehow, just to let them know how I’m doing. To say, “You probably don’t remember me, but thank you. You made a difference in my life right when I needed it.”

This blog post into Internet space will have to do.

What are some memorable moments that led you to art, or whatever path you now travel?

3 thoughts on “Formation of an Artist

  1. Wow!! I was really surprised to learn that you weren’t that enthusiastic about art through high school. I would have never guessed that! You are so effortlessly skilled it looks as though you’ve been breathing art since you were a toddler. I mean it. Yeah, reading that from a creepy anonymous stranger on the internet is probably pretty weird I know.

    I aaww’ed at the parts where you talked about being easily offended! It sucks how a few unempathetic teachers can just totally ruin you for life.

    Anyway, I think the first memory I have of wanting to get into art is when I was six-ish. I was at this daycare and I would always want to draw eagle’s heads, in the same exact way… in a landscape orientation it would just be on the page facing left with a blank eagle stare. I drew 20+ of these silly things and since my mom and my friends loved them so much I put them on the daycare’s counter in a tray made out of paper that said “Free Drawings”. I don’t think any adults ever really noticed, or took one for that matter, and I’m pretty sure I saw them all in a trash can later.

    I think I just liked the attention I got from my friends when they saw I could draw! I ended up pursuing it and later found out my dad worked for Marvel for a time (I’ve only met him maybe 4 times) so I guess it was something I inherited.

    -Creepy Anonymous Stranger Who Hopes Nilah Never Stops Drawing


  2. Hi! Wow your post is really an eye opener. I’m awake at 2am in the morning worrying about whether I will get accepted into Ringling when I stumbled upon your site. I am so inspired by your passion! And the progress you’ve made from your first year in Ringling and what you do now is incredible! I hope you never stop loving art!

    If you’re interested, here’s my story. I’ve never really liked art in elementary school, I remember getting Cs for almost every assignment lol. But one day I stumbled upon Manga (oh no you exclaim! teh horrors) and I never looked back. I was drawing and drawing everyday but I must admit looking back, I never made much progress since I copied almost everything lol. My mom hated me drawing, she thought it was a waste of time. She wanted me to focus on maths and science. But I loved drawing. I had this burning feeling inside me. I wasn’t very good though, and people criticized my drawings to the point where I swore to quit drawing. But the burning inside of me wouldn’t allow it. I wanted to draw so badly it was an addiction.

    Then I went into a school that taught animation when I was 17. 3 years there changed my perception of art. It made me grow out of manga yay! And I’ve learned to appreciate all kinds of art, and I fell in love with illustrations and animation concept art. I love cartoons and I want to work with cartoons.

    Currently I’m 21, working in a tiny animation studio while applying for Ringling. I really hope I get in =) Results will be announced soon and I’m all jittery and panicky.

    And that’s the end of my story. It’s been a pleasure reading your blog and looking at your artwork. I really love your figure and animal drawings. Good luck for your final thesis and all the best.

  3. Hiya! I actually typed a really long response here but for some reason it didn’t appear so I’m retyping. You must think I’m crazy or something lol. But I guess deep down artists are really pretty insane huh.

    Your story is really inspiring and I’m greatly moved by your passion. The improvement you’ve made from when you applied to Ringling and to now is vast and has filled me with great respect for your efforts.

    I understand all too well the motivation behind the need to draw and draw! When I was a kid I didn’t really like art. Everyone had parents who did their art pieces for them for art class assignment and my parents were often too busy to help me so I had to do my own, which sucks compared to an adult’s drawing. That made me dislike art class a lot.

    Then I stumbled upon the world of manga (oh noes u say) and from then on all I did was draw draw draw. Looking back I didn’t improve a lot because I only copied people’s stuff, but it did give me a burning resolute that art is what I want to do. My mom hated me drawing because she wanted me to excel in maths and science. Almost everybody around me criticized my drawings and once I had had enough and swore to give up drawing, but I found out that I couldn’t. I was addicted to drawing!

    Then I went to take a diploma in digital media design for 3 years and boy did I learn there. I grew out of manga (yay), discovered various art forms, understood art better, fell in love with cartoons and loved every second of school, agonizing as it may be sometimes.

    So here I am, applying for Ringling this fall, waiting for my results. I’m all nervous and jittery and really not too confident about my portfolio haha and wow I tip my (imaginary) hat off to you if you read all this ramble!

    Even if you’re still unsure of what exactly do you want to do after you graduate, I’m sure you’ll lead a happy and fulfilling life doing what you love for a living. Good luck and all the best to your final thesis, I hope to see it soon =)


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