In My Own Little World This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

March 3, 2014
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“She’s in her own little world” was the phrase my mother often used. And so I was. In pockets of time between softball practice and piano lessons, I escaped to my bedroom floor. Planted on my tangled blue rug, I sat for hours, studying the illustrations of picture books. I quickly descended into a realm in which each brush mark or loop of ink was examined with respect and intrigue. Fingers twirling the rug’s snarls, eyes fixated on those paint strokes; I did not have the faintest desire or attention for the world beyond my door. And then, there would be a knock. My mother’s warm eyes as she set a plate of apple slices beside today’s book. With this gesture, I left the realm of paint strokes. My mother’s thoughtful act was a detail just like Barbara Cooney’s miniscule flowerbeds in Hattie’s Wild Waves. Yet, I could bite and taste those apples. The arrangements of tulips were far away in a fictional world I could never reach. And at moments like those, I dreamt that I would one-day make such enchanting images, ones that could transport you to a world of beautiful subtleties and detail.

From years of inexperienced musings, I have a drawer filled with notebooks of characters and scenes. I recall during relaxation time at summer camp, while other girls read teenybopper gossip magazines, I worked hard at those musings. I remember arranging my assortment of Pip Squeak markers and fine-point Sharpies on the faded blue quilt of my top bunk. Feeling so proud as each flamboyantly dressed businesswoman or jazz dancer was completed. And I never forgot to label each figure with an equally outrageous name such as Belinda Schaffe, the beret-donning host of a makeover television show.

My doodles became more refined as they gained an audience. For decades, my father has compiled an annual Christmas CD, which is sent to friends and family. At my father’s prodding, I began to design silly holiday cartoons to squeeze around the song list and on the CD itself. I finally graduated to the front cover in 2010 with a scene of elves gathered around a hot chocolate stand. My work was far from perfect. In fact, the hot chocolate stand’s banner lacks a “t”, reading “Chrismas 2010.” Yet, I felt closer to my dream. People were seeing my work and showing approval. The usual slew of e-mails congratulating my dad on a “great mix” now also noted my artwork.

Absorbed by the chaotic transfer from middle to high school, I let my pursuit of those captivating drawings deescalate. With my free time occupied by cross-country practice and voice lessons, I resorted to the corners of class notes to express my musings. When there was a lull in a French grammar lesson, my pen drifted from my list of conjugations to the margins, where I recreated the characters of summer camp, this time with more precision and realism.

My hiatus from working towards my dream ended during the spring of my freshman year. I distinctly remember sitting in my advisory period when I heard the announcement for a competition to become the school newspaper’s new cartoonist. I am not sure why the notice intrigued me so much. I had never seriously pursued art outside of elementary classes and summer camps. My dream was a sort of distant fantasy; one that I thought could never be achieved without training. And yet, the prospect of a public way to display my own characters and details excited me. I took the chance of another time commitment, entered the contest, and won. My dream gave me the motivation to attain my own platform of self-expression. I had become successful in a fantasy that had seemed impossibly far away.

I have been working as the newspaper’s cartoonist for almost two years now and am delighted to see my work every time it’s published. My skill has improved overtime, both in artistic ability and interpretation of subject matter. I am still nowhere near Ms. Cooney’s flowerbeds, but am proud of the progress from my Christmas elves to my representation of President Obama. Just as Ms. Cooney carefully manipulated those tulips, I have learned to honor events such as the Navy Yard shooting in Washington D.C. in a respectful, yet relatable way.

I hope that one day, the details of my own pictures will be examined by a child and bring them to their own realm of precision and detail. Maybe they too will move on to create their own world of niceties, starting in the corners of their notebooks.

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