The things I learn ...
Rambling about the art of making little magical moments.
- get acquainted with how you fit.
In my life, the easel has allowed me to share in so many others lives. I have been a part of many marriage proposals (those are always fun!), I have shared time with guests at some of the biggest and best moments of their lives - weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, first birthdays, last birthdays and I’ve witnessed so many Magical Moments during my time Walt Disney World. Often, I’m simply an observer of what’s happening around me but occasionally, I get to be a piece of the puzzle, I get to help bring everything together. Sometimes what I do is an important part of someone else’s life and those are exceptional moments. These are the moments that explain why I’m so passionate about drawing smiles. I truly believe that fulfillment comes from making people happy - whether it’s giving the man on the corner with the cardboard sign a sandwich or being a key player in the most romantic proposal ever, finding how you fit into the happiness of others can help you find both purpose and passion.
One night, as I was working at my easel, I was approached by a large Puerto Rican family who wanted to all be drawn. They were at Walt Disney World celebrating getting through a particularly rough season of life and they wanted matching caricatures to help commemorate the beginning of a new season of happiness and promise. As I began to draw them one by one, more of their story began to emerge. They were a close-knit family living in Puerto Rico. One of the daughters of this family, was a college student, majoring in communications. She was brilliant, astute and destined for a successful life. She had a great boyfriend and loved life. Several months earlier, tragedy had struck this family when the daughter, Natalia, had been in an automobile accident and suffered an injury that had caused her to permanently lose her sight. The family had made it through the initial treatments are were now settling into the “this is our new life” phase - and they were joyful.
After I had drawn Mom, Dad, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, brothers and sisters, Natalia herself sat in my chair. Eduardo, her boyfriend, introduced himself and asked if they could be drawn together. Of course I agreed and I began to draw Natalia, sunglasses and all, as she told me all about their first trip to Walt Disney World and all of the incredible things they had experienced. Eduardo was smitten with Natalia and it was obvious from the beginning that he was a remarkable young man. He had become her eyes and seemed so happy to have that role. It was one of the sweetest moments in caricaturing I had experienced. I drew them together as the rest of the boisterous family laughed, took pictures and shared the experience with those back home. When the caricatures were complete, Eduardo and her family described the picture to her in great detail, using colorful language and animated gestures. As they told her how much they loved the drawing, a radiant smile crossed her face and she sat quietly for a moment. And then she timidly asked her parents, “Can I have him draw me again?” Everyone, including myself, felt a little confused. Had they described something she didn’t like? Was she not happy. She then looked toward me, smiled and quietly asked, “Can you draw me without my glasses? But not the scars? Can you draw me like I looked before the accident? My eyes were green”
My heart broke and my eyes (along with everyone else in the family) misted over. “Of course I will, I’d be honored”. And so I did. She needed me, a stranger, to be able to see past the damage that the accident had caused. She needed me to look at the scars and see the girl. This was a key moment in her recovery from this horrific life event. She needed to know she was still beautiful and her opinion was still valued. The laughter resumed as I took another piece of paper and drew this beautiful college student as the brilliant, smart girl she had always been and would always continue to be.
I’ve been a part of some incredible moments in my career but this one remains one of my favorites. You never really know when you’ll have the opportunity to positively impact someone else’s life but if you’ve found your passion and if you’re doing what you love, those moments will arise and you will be more than prepared for the task of using your puzzle piece to help the entire picture come together.
“My name is Ty and I draw smiles.” This has become a mantra of sorts or as it’s officially known, my Best Self Statement. I do a good deal of work with a company called CoreClarity. CoreClarity works with businesses, schools and even individuals to help people discover their unique set of strengths and then understand them in a way that can facilitate teamwork, minimize conflict and enable them to use those strengths to find their best lives. Part of the CoreClarity curriculum involves looking at how your strengths show up in you and then developing a short, Best Self Statement that pitches who you are. After a great deal of soul searching, I developed my Best Self Statement and I love what it says… and doesn’t say. It doesn’t say I’m a caricaturist - because I do so much more than that. I interact with people, I create moments, whether it be at the easel or when creating a graphic novel recap for a major corporation, I develop relationships and make people smile. Sometimes drawing that smile is the literal act of putting it on paper and at other times, it’s just bringing out happiness in others. Drawing out those smiles that are all-to-often inhibited in this world. This is what gives me energy. This is what I do and it is who I am.
Several years ago, my wife, Crystal, who was in culinary school at the time, secured an internship at Walt Disney World. She had worked for them in the past and loved being a part of that experience. The internship was to last 14 weeks and then she’d be home. At this point we had lived in Texas for our entire lives, had two teenage boys and had never given any real consideration to making a major change. But the idea of a 14-week internship evolved, as ideas so often do. By the time she headed off to Orlando, we had made a decision to uproot and replant ourselves in Central Florida so she could pursue her dream of working for The Mouse. We were jumping off a cliff, so to speak. We sold our house, sold or gave away all but the most valuable of stuff and moved ourselves, our dog and our possessions to Orlando in a Honda Fit.
The act of being willing to take a risk for your dreams is an important one but not an easy one. Fear of the unknown is very real but things are rarely as dire as you imagine they could become. My wife and I had become somewhat stagnant in Texas. The recession had hit us hard and we were struggling. That very discomfort that we thought we hated was exactly what freed us up to be able to jump off that cliff. We had each other, we had our kids and our dog. That was all that mattered. There was nothing else to lose. Discomfort led us to “Let’s GO” - and a valuable lesson of pursuing dreams that I hope we never forget.
Soon after we arrived in Orlando, I secured a spot working with a company that provides caricature artists around Walt Disney World. It was, at first, simply a way to begin generating some income quickly while I got my caricature business back on it’s feet. I had no idea the impact that meeting and drawing these people from all over the world would have on my life and my work. In those early days, I would work at one of the resorts or parks almost every night. Crystal was only working part time (as is normal for brand new Cast Members) while she waited for a full-time position to open up so taking every shift I could was necessary. Some nights were busy and the priority was to get as many people drawn as I could but many nights were slower and there was time to listen and share stories and draw smiles. Those are the moments I relished and the moments that help to teach me about passion and happiness. There have been many lessons learned from behind the easel but there have also been many lessons learned from others I’ve encountered on this journey. If you pay attention, you’ll find great wisdom in strangers who may only cross your path for a moment - but that moment can impact you for a lifetime. One of the most valuable lessons in finding my true passion came from an unexpected moment with a stranger.
One night in those early days of drawing at Walt Disney World, I was headed home. The parks had all closed and the guests were settling into their rooms and beds, anxious to grab some much-needed rest and fuel up for their next busy day. The wash-down crews and other third shift workers were starting their days but for most of us, we were headed home. Cast Members from all walks of life, including myself, were making their routine stops for gas or snacks before starting their commutes. As I was waiting in line to pay for my milk, cookies and a tank of gas, there was an older man in front of me in his formal server attire. He looked to be in his sixties and I noticed on his name tag that he has been certified at Walt Disney World as being fluent in five different languages. “Luisao” as his name tag read, was from France and was lightheartedly joking with the cashier. They both shared a laugh, he paid and left. After I paid, I headed out to pump 14 to fill up my tank and finish my day. Luisao was just in front of me, on pump 13, and we were both pumping gas while listening to the pop music being piped through the gas station speakers. Suddenly, Luisao looked at me and said, “This music, it’s pathetic. It has nothing.” I smiled and agreed with him, nodding my head. “There seems to be no real thought given to the lyrics. There used to be real meaning in the lyrics” I added. Luisao stared at me and gave me the universal shrug of agreement. “In my car, I have Pavarotti” he said. I grinned and told him that I had jazz on my radio. He chuckled and replaced the pump handle. “Are you a Cast Member?” Luisao asked me. “No, I’m just a caricature artist at some of the resorts” but, I added with pride, “My wife is a Chef at Epcot!” “Excellent!” Luisao beamed. “I’m a server at Epcot. I’ve been serving happiness for 30 years! It sounds like you and your wife get to serve happiness too.” I then told him that I call it, “drawing smiles.” Luisao grinned from ear to ear, walked over to me and held out his hand for me to shake. “We are lucky people, you, your wife and I, yes?” “Yes, Luisao. Yes, we most certainly are.” I agreed. “Travel home safely, my friend” Luisao said with a wink. “There is much more happiness to serve tomorrow.”
“How did you learn how to draw?” “You’re so talented” “I wish I was creative”. I have heard some iteration of these statements over and over and over again since I first began drawing caricatures at the age of 15. And my answer to these questions and compliments is usually something like, “Everybody is creative” or even the more daring “Everyone can draw” People at this point usually give me a sideways glance and chuckle - or even roll their eyes in disbelief. “I can not draw” is a standard response, at which point the topic is usually changed to something less uncomfortable for them, (I LOVE talking about how everyone can draw). The thing that I’ve noticed through the years is that I rarely have these conversations with kids. You know why? Because most kids know that this is true. Most kids know that they are inherently creative. Most kids know that they can draw. And when you were a kid, you knew this too. We’re all born with the ability to create and we’re all born with the ability to draw or sculpt or paint. At a young age, these things are usually encouraged. Parents buy their little ones easels and finger paints and crayons. These are staples of childhood - and almost all of us used them on a regular basis. And yet, somewhere along the way, most adults “unlearn” how to draw. Maybe it’s when, in school, the priority of math and science begins to top creativity. Maybe it’s when our parents start to deem that it’s time for us to put away “childish things” but at some point, most people stop using those crayons or that play dough or the finger paints. At some point, we stop getting the warm fuzzy affirmation for our creative endeavors and we then begin the process of unlearning how to be creative. We’re molded into the expectation of what a successful person looks like in today’s world. Smart, cunning, logical, responsible, hard-working and ladder-climbing - and sadly, it seems that our culture has made these attributes and creativity or artistic ability mutually exclusive. At some point “being an artist” becomes a criticism more than a compliment and this is done to the detriment of our society.
When I first met my wife, back in the fall of 1994, I was working exclusively as a caricaturist. In fact, had it not been for caricaturing, it’s entirely possible that I wouldn’t have met her at all- as at one time, she was simply a smile to be drawn who sat in my chair. My wife would tell you that she had always been attracted to the artists, musicians and other creative types. But the difference with me was that this was my life (not just a college hobby) and that from the first moment we met, we were serious. As we went through those early stages of dating and met each others families and friends, I became keenly aware of those in her life who weren’t thrilled that she had fallen in love with a professional artist. One of her ex-boyfriend’s mothers even had the gall to outwardly express her disbelief that Crystal was marrying a “street artist” (presumably instead of her son). Thankfully, my wife knew something that so many others had unlearned - that being creative was an attribute - not a defect.
With creativity comes a great passion for life, an ability to see value in things that others may not, the courage to frame your world and to be different - to stand out - to express emotion and vulnerability. And yet, these are things that begin to be weeded out of our consciousness at a fairly early age. We go from our parents proudly posting our scribblings on the refrigerator to encouraging us to strive for conventional success. We go from proudly wanting to choose what we wear to wanting to look like everyone else. We go from a need to express ourselves to a need to fit in. Fitting in is not necessarily a bad thing but it shouldn’t have to happen at the detriment of one’s creativity.
So if it’s commonly accepted that most of us tend to “lose” our creative abilities and artistic talents, how is it that I can confidently tell each and every person who sits in my chair “Everybody IS creative”? That’s simple. It’s because everybody IS - not everybody WAS. Creativity is innate, it’s in our souls. It may get stifled but it never disappears. People need to be creative and, much like nature, creativity will find a way. It will leak out - but the process of trying to keep it in (and SO many people try) just creates misery.
As you can imagine, I have been drawing for as long as I can remember. When I was a child, my life at home was not always easy. My parents divorced when I was young and I was often left on my own. No one was there to stifle my creativity or to make me think that drawing was a waste of time. In fact, in my teens I was shipped off to East Texas to live with a friend of my dad’s, who was a brilliant painter. He encouraged my artistic abilities and gave me a love of watercolor that I still have today. But when it came time for college and my parents were responsible for paying for my education, my dad told me that he would absolutely not pay for me to waste my time getting a degree in art. I was going to major in business, or he was not paying for school. So I went off to Tulane - majoring in Marketing and, as you can imagine, I failed. It wasn’t that I was able to handle college, it was that I was not pursuing my passion, my true self and I was much more interested in drawing caricatures in Jackson Square than I was studying statistics or accounting. Later in life, I would go back to school on my own terms, studying art and those classes and professors and lessons still impact me to this day. I’m not saying that no one should major in business or accounting - heaven knows we need people for whom numbers are a passion to keep the rest of us organized, but I’m saying that passions can’t be forced. Pursue what you LOVE. Allow your children to pursue what they love and we will all be happier, more successful and creativity will make a comeback.
Once upon a time, my wife would have told you that she is not creative. She loved creativity, she craved creativity but she thought she couldn’t draw - so therefore she was not creative. And yet, creativity would pour out of my wife on a daily basis. She can plan fantastic events, she can write, she can cook, she loves art and photography, she gets design. But because the SKILL of drawing or painting or playing an instrument was not something she had developed, she assumed, wrongly, that she was not creative. How many of you who think that you’re “not creative” enjoy crafting or scrapbooking, or pouring through Pinterest and making a mental list of the things you’d like to try? Creativity. Thats what that is… and it’s calling out for a more prominent seat at the table of your life.
So let’s get past this mis-held idea that you are not creative or you are not artistic or you can not draw, because it is truly my belief that eliminating this hurdle opens us up to all sorts of possibilities in life. It frees us to explore who we truly are and what we truly want. There is a conventional wisdom that says, “If you want to be successful, find something you love and find a way to make money doing it” That’s great advice but so many of us have reworded this in our head to “Find something you’re good at and find a way to make money doing it”. The bad news here is that we all have things that we are good at that we don’t necessarily love. You may be great at balancing books - but accounting doesn’t fill your soul. You may be great at typing but data entry just isn’t for you. Don’t mistake passion for ability. Do they often go hand in hand? Yes! But they may not necessarily be one in the same and the mistake of thinking this could have a huge negative impact on your life.
We all need to find our passion - what really fills our souls and then we need to let those passions spill over so that we can positively impact the lives of those around us. I’ve been fortunate enough to do this but the road hasn’t been easy. After my wife and I married, I quickly switched into “family mode”. I needed a “real job” (yes, I fell into the “real job” trap, too) and a steady income with insurance and benefits. Those things are very important, when starting a family. I would never say that they weren’t. I took a job quickly working as an art director for a local newspaper. The job provided those things that I needed and there were things about it that I truly loved. I loved the people I worked with, I loved the clients I was able to work with. I got many opportunities to explore the arts in my city, which I also loved. What I wasn’t as crazy about was the drab office environment, the hours spent alone in my cubicle, surrounded by concrete cinderblocks and grey paint. And I really didn’t love creating newspaper ads. That didn’t fulfill me in any way, shape or form. I needed to connect with people. I needed those relationships, and thankfully, I was still drawing caricatures at parties and still had that outlet that truly gave me joy. Was I good at advertising? Sure. Did I love it? No. I would spend the next decade or so in the advertising world - loving some aspects of it such as the collaboration with a team, the photo shoots and the drive to create but I would always feel stifled by the corporate environment, the cubicles, the red tape of corporate hierarchy. Those things drained me and if I wanted to be my best self, I needed to find a way to escape.
So maybe you are already doing what you love. If so, keep doing it, explore, find the creativity inside of you, figure out how you can use your creativity and passions to bring joy to other’s lives. Success will find you. It may not be all monetary success but it will be personal success, validation, peace. There is a great peace that comes from doing what you love and using it to inspire others. And if you’re not already doing what you love? It’s not too late. Finding your passions is a process - learning to leverage them into a life you love takes even more time. Give yourself permission to explore, allow yourself time to adjust. This is a journey that we’re on - and it comes more quickly for some than for others. And if you are doing what you love but don’t have room for creativity in your job, then I’d ask you to be open to changing those thoughts. People working in a company who are not only allowed, but encouraged to be creative are happier, more productive and your business will reap the rewards of new ideas, inspired thought and progress. These days, I spend my time, not only drawing smiles, but showing businesses how they can encourage creativity to better solve problems and achieve success and it’s perhaps the most rewarding work I’ve every done. Stay with me, be creative, let’s change the world.
From Ty Walls:
After four decades drawing smiles I often encounter remarkable people. I've learned to create little special moments for people from all around the world with my simple smile-drawing skills. But sometimes, life creates little magical moments for me. This blog is my attempt to share them with you.