Ty, the Rambling Artist
The art of making drawing smiles and making connections, anywhere in the world.
One of my favorite moments drawing a crowd of smiles came way back when I volunteered to draw at Grief camp. This was a camp for kids who had lost one or both parents through illness or tragedy. It was a wonderful operation run by some fantastic people and backed by the Camp Fire Girls organization. I was always flattered to be a small part of it. Each time that I performed at this event I would pack up after I was done and go to my car. There inside the car, all alone, I would burst into tears. After several minutes, those tears would run dry and I would smile a little, then chuckle at some of the things the kids would say while I was drawing them. That is when I knew it was safe to drive without the tears to muddling up my vision. Driving home I would recount the conversations I had with these resilient young people.
The kids were allowed to come back to camp every year until they were eighteen. So, many of these kids would come every summer. They loved it. They loved how special they all were to one another as this unique group at a summer camp just for them. You could tell who the first year kids were compared to the veterans. It was so obvious, and rightfully so. Imagine losing your mom and dad in a fire or auto accident when you were only twelve. The first year kids always had a counselor with them as their buddy throughout the entire camp. I learned later that this was by design and brilliantly orchestrated by a team of young well-trained councelors.
I was brought in on the last big night of the summer camp to draw a crowd of smiles at their big camp dance. It was a street party celebration on the tennis courts. I was always surrounded by kids asking questions about art and drawing and being creative. The common ones, such as “How do I know what to draw?” “People are so hard to draw. Aren’t they?” and “When did you master this?” I would always answer while drawing someone at the same time.
“I’ve just learned to see differently.” Id tell them. “I like to start with the eyes. ”
“Because the eyes have it. And yes, people can be difficult, but some of the most wonderful things in life are people.”
And so on.
One year, one of the these kids I drew was a first-year girl, about twelve, who had just lost her both of her parents to cancer, within a year of each other. She had then been adopted by her mother’s brother, who had gotten her involved with the great folks at the El Tosoro Grief Camp. To her this was a scary, wild, out in the middle of nowhere place and she just wanted to be alone, it was her natural comfort zone to be withdrawn deep inside herself. Her body language showed she couldn’t cave into herself enough. Her counsellor/camp buddy was a young college student who was working on her masters in Child Psychology. She was a future super hero. She did all the talking for this young girl. I drew as gently as I could, careful to make my lines clean and simple. I didn’t want to clutter this up or make anything confusing to the eye. I wanted to make a simple clean line drawing of this young girls face. She was so sweet, and pretty with her huge brown eyes and soft features. She had soft golden-brown curly hair that rested on her shoulders. You could just tell by looking at her that there was someone special inside her shell. She used to be someone who was a walking embodiment of sunshine and joy.
I had finished the drawing and before I showed her, I noticed that we had drawn a crowd of quiet, smiling on-lookers of kids and counsellors. They all seemed to silently give me a look of “well done” so I turned the drawing around to show my little subject and her camp buddy. There was a paus, then the councelor smiled and winked at me. Then the little girl looked up with some encouragement from her camp buddy. She stared at the drawing, then slowly her eyes got a little bigger and brighter. A smile started to grow on her face. A warmth begin to fill her face. A little tear escaped the corner of her eye and she said “I look like my mom.” I got a big hug from her and a very enthusiastic handshake and hug from her camp buddy. She said to me In a whisper in my ear “That was the wedge we’ve been waiting on all week to crack her wall open. Thank you.” Then they walked off to have a what I assume a wonderful little visit.
I went on to finish the night drawing more kids, not too many first year kids, but a bunch of bright, brilliant and resilient young people who are all tackling enormous personal tragedies together. It was one of many remarkable nights drawing at El Tosoro. I’ve drawn a lot of special groups in my four decades of drawing smiles, but never have I been so personally rewarded with my work than drawing at grief camp. That little girl changed me, more so that I helped her. She helped me in ways I will never be able to describe. So thank you young lady. You were my wedge into my wall around my heart. I shall continue to make this world a better place for others as often as I can. I think I owe a large part of that motivation to you.
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.