I was horrified when my teacher placed a bust on the table. It had elaborate hair on its head and intricate wrinkles on its aged face. I picked up the pencil reluctantly. I had not sketched in a long time, and my last attempt had been a simple vase. At first, this task seemed impossible, but after wracking my brain to remember the concepts of sketching – the border between light and darkness, the highlights, the direction of light, etc. – I finally concocted a plan. I reviewed what I had learned and rediscovered how to exaggerate space between objects and parts of an object. As it forced me to sketch with a more perceptive eye, this assignment not only drastically improved me as an artist but also reminded me of how I discovered my love for art.
When I was a little girl, I spent most of my time in a small room in the back of my mother’s alterations shop. Enclosed by four dull walls decorated with nothing but a print of “Young Mother Sewing” by Mary Cassatt (which remains one of my favorite paintings), I entertained myself by climbing on racks of clothing and imagining myself as an adventurer. When I grew tired of these antics, I would sit under Cassatt’s painting and draw and color for hours. When I ran out of crayons, I would snag my mother’s lipstick or her fabric marking chalk. When I ran out of paper, I would run to the nearby supermarket and collect a stack of the coloring books it offered for free. I’ve filled in the pages of at least 50 copies of those books.
Sometimes I would dig through my mother’s box of fabric scraps (which I viewed as a treasure chest) and make clothes for my dolls. I would choose from myriad fabrics of different materials and colors. Then I would match different threads with ribbons which I proudly arranged in color spectrum order. I drew up designs for doll clothes and learned to sew in the process.
When I turned seven, my mom let me take free art lessons at my church. After a few months, the instructor suggested that I take private lessons to advance my skills. My mother brought me to an art studio where I met my first real art teacher. Walking down the hall of paintings, I looked at his works with awe and immense admiration. From that day, the art studio became my second home. My instructor taught me how to sketch still life objects and use colored pencils for cartooning. After I’d developed fundamental skills, he taught me to use watercolor paints. My love for art grew stronger every day, but when I turned 11, after adding the last few touches to my first oil painting, I ended my carefree days at the art studio. My parents could no longer afford the classes, and I was forced to turn my attention to my studies.
Nevertheless, I borrowed every book relating to art in the school library and drew as much as I could. I painted pictures of the farm where we lived and created works inspired by my cultural background as an Asian and American. My love for art was never quite extinguished, even though I had less time for my work when I entered middle school.
In high school, I joined clubs and tried many activities, but nothing could satisfy my thirst for something I truly loved. I remember when an interviewer, to my horror, asked me to tell her about myself. Although this was a simple question, I did not know how to answer. I could have told her about my hobbies, what I wanted to do, what subjects I liked in school, but the plain, simple truth was that I did not know the answers to these questions. What did I like to do? What were my dreams? What did I love?
Then, one day, when I was looking for old shoeboxes in the attic, I stumbled upon Cassatt’s “Young Mother Sewing.” Next to it was a framed image of a richly colored crayon rooster. In the corner of the work was a Sharpie kiss of its creator in sloppy, childish writing – my name.
Distracted from my original search, I dug through the old boxes from my childhood. As I looked through the designs, drawings, brushes, and palettes, a wave of nostalgia washed over me. At that moment, I exhumed my past love for art. At that moment, I realized what I wanted. At that moment, I knew exactly how to answer that formidable interview question. I called my former art teacher, and by the end of the week, I had picked up the paintbrush again and started a new chapter of my life. Ever since, I have spent hours every weekend in the art studio doing what I love.
Art is far more than a hobby for me. It is a passionate need to create and illustrate, and it satisfies me like nothing else.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.