Ty, the Rambling Artist
The art of making drawing smiles and making connections, anywhere in the world.
When my friend, Dave was in elementary school, he loved to paint. Each day in his kindergarten class they would have “art time” and he would head right to the easel. He loved the small pots of paint and mixing the colors and the way his brush felt against the paper. One day, during art time, Dave decided that he was going to paint a farm. He painted the barn with it’s big red doors and silo, he painted a black wooden fence surrounding the barn and inside the fence, he painted pigs. Now, as so often happens in the kindergarten art world, he was forced to think outside the box as there was no pink paint. So once he was done, his barnyard was filled with big, beautiful, blue pigs. Dave was so proud of his work. When he put the brush down, he beamed at his work. He had created this. Dave was anxious for his friends to see his masterpiece and so he called his buddy Steven over to see. Steven, who was obviously a budding art critic took a look at the painting and asked about the large blue circles on the paper. “They’re PIGS” Dave said proudly. And how did Steven reply? “Those don’t look like pigs”
Everyone is born with the ability to create. Everyone is born with the desire to be creative and the ability to see the world from a unique perspective. Sadly, we are also born with fragile egos and a need to be liked and accepted. In many cases, it only takes one moment to set us on the path of “I’m not creative” or “I can’t draw” or “I hate art”. In many cases it’s a friend telling you that your creative work isn’t good or maybe it’s a parent who think that, in your best interest, they’re setting you on a more successful path toward business or science. And for many, that is the right path. Where would we be if there were no scientists or mathmaticians or engineers? And yet, so often these paths come with the great fallacy of people thinking that they are not creative.
If you ask most people to name someone creative, they will almost certainly reach for the great artists. Picasso – he was creative. Walt Disney – definately creative. Michael Jackson? Yep. Stephen King – absolutely! You are almost never going to hear someone talk about the creativity of Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish or Kip Thorne – the 2017 winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics because they found Gravitational Waves that Einstein had theorized in his General Theory of relativity. And yet, these gentlemen, concepted, engineered and built a completely new device that could actually measure gravitational waves – something that up until very recently had just been a vague idea. This, is creativity at it’s best and were we not creative beings, there would not be scientific discovery or ideas that revolutionize business. The mere existence of progress proves that we are creative.
So maybe now you’re believing that you’re creative. Great! But you may still be in the “I can’t draw” or “I can’t paint” or “I can’t sculpt” mindset. Maybe doing those things doesn’t interest you, and that’s fine but most of us are born wanting to create some sort of art. Did you ever get one of those big boxes of crayons when you were young? The kind with the sharpener in the back? Did you love Play Dough? Silly Putty? Was finger painting your thing? What happened? You grew up.
This reminds me of another friend of my, John. I met John when I was in my early 20’s. I was teaching a drawing class that was geared toward business types who wanted to find a way to think differently, rediscover their creativity and take a break from the day-to-day rigors of the corporate world. John was a technical engineer for a fiber optics company – which was new and exciting technology at that time. He had a good career but needed to find a hobby to relieve his stress. So the two things that he chose – art and Tai Kwan Do. I was lucky enough to have John in my class. He was friendly, intelligent and willing to learn to draw. And he did. He drew like an engineer – but at least he drew.
After he finished with my class, we went our separate ways and I didn’t see John again for a very long time. Almost a decade later, I was working at Blues Festival. During a break I decided to visit the tent that was sponsored by the local arts guild. There were some good paintings, sculputres and photography in there but a few pieces left me dumbfounded. There, in the corner, amidst lesser works, were these large elaborate Italian baroque-period paintings of Jesus. These were dark, emotional masterpieces with drama in each and every brush stroke. You could almost feel the warmth of the sunlight radiating on the flesh of Jesus. I was stopped dead in my tracks over their beauty and the mastery required to paint with such precise skill. As I’m standing, astounded by this work, I hear a familiar voice behind me. “I got better, didn’t I?” I turned around and found myself face-to-face with John, my old engineer art student. “These? Are these YOURS?!?” I asked in amazement. And yes, they were.
I could tell by looking at John that something had changed. His speech was a little off and his dress was less exact and particular than it had been when we first met. I could tell that something was amiss. This is when he told me his story.
He left our art class more than a decade earlier feeling a lack of confidence as he compared himself to the rest of us. He was “just an engineer”, after all. Not an artist. And so he quit drawing and focused on the Martial Arts, at which he had proved to be very good. Tai Kwan Do became his hobby and his passion and after several years of training, he was ready to test out for his black belt. During the completion of one of the black belt requirements, he took a kick to his head, just above the left eye. John finished the match and was later diagnosed with a concussion from the incident and was told to “take it easy” for a week or so. A week or so later, he was driving to the grocery store when he blacked out. Thankfully, the resulting crash did not cause further injury but he was taken to the hospital for assessment. During the test that they ran, they discovered that when he was kicked in the head, some bone fragments had chipped away from his skull and had begun to work their way into his brain, wreaking havoc as they went. Emergency surgery was performed to remove them and no one knew what his recovery would look like.
When John awoke, he had forgotten many things. He no longer knew how to read or write, he had to relearn how to walk and talk and his mental condition had been regressed to about a 6th grade level. And so, he began to learn as a child learns. He began to work with doctors and therapists and tutors. He also begin to draw. At first, just simple cartoons but it was something he could still do. So he started checking out art books from the library and drawing what he saw and he did that for several years. He eventually became confident enough in his skills that he took an oil painting class at the local community college and as he pointed to the canvas said, “And THIS just started to happen.” I began to mimic the Italian Masters.
John eventually passed away as a result of those injuries sustained so many years earlier, but not before his works moved from the community arts guild tent to several religious museums and institutions throughout the world. He became known as a Master himself with a talent inspired by God and rediscovered by a swift kick to the head.
As adults, we need to learn to trust our creativity. This, in turn, helps us to trust our instincts and our decision-making processes. And this, builds self-confidence and a great ability to solve problems and move forward. It’s about so much more than painting pigs that look like pigs
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.