In 2001, I drew the above portrait after a gloomy period of questioning my career as an artist. My slow progress made me wonder if what I had envisioned for myself was nothing more than a fantasy. My discouragement dissipated after turning on the Oprah Winfrey Show. I was reminded that any obstacle I faced was minuscule in comparison to what she had been born into. She is black, female and perhaps the worst sin of all, ample in size. Yet none of this has stood in her way of becoming one of the most influential women in the world. Yes, Oprah’s life clearly shows anything is possible. There is much to hope for.
Born in rural Mississippi to an unwed mother, Oprah was left to be raised by her grandmother, Hattie Mae. Oprah remembers at age four, standing on the back porch churning butter. Her grandmother, called to her as she hung cloths on the line, “Oprah Gail, you better watch me now, ’cause one day you gon’ have to know how to do this for yourself.” But hope had already made a nest in Oprah’s soul. She refused to accept her grandmother’s vision for her future. She knew deep inside her life would be more than hanging clothes on a line.
Growing up, I think the same thing that perched in Oprah’s soul breathed in mine too. Looking back I remember cultivating hope as a kid by saving my drawings for biographers who would one day write about my life as an artist. Then, as a teenager, I wrote to Norman Rockwell for advice on how to become an illustrator. The encouragement in his response confirmed that my dreams where indeed possible. Hope is the tiny spark of light barely seen that pulls us forward. Without its flicker, I never would have taken the initiative to save my art or contact my hero.
2014 is going to be a good year. It’s the year for reaping what we’ve so patiently sown. It’s the year when our long-held dreams will be brought to fruition. No matter where we stand, we can see the glimmer of a better day. How do I know all this? Because 2014 is the year of hope. It’s time to fan that flame.
A painting for a Mother’s Day card I saved for my biographer when I was eight.
“The clock is ticking fast. Burn the candle large.” – Diane Sawyer
I thought I’d be further along in my career as an artist by now. When I was a girl, I dreamed of the fruits of my talent being respected and compensated monetarily. I saved drawings with Cray-pas on Manila paper to make it easier for my biographers after I died. At age 57, I’ve had some measure of success. A painting I did of Oprah hangs in her home and my portrait of Chelsea Clinton was displayed in her mother’s private study when she lived in the White House. What is lacking is the kind of recognition that includes a steady income. Without a husband to support me, I would have thrown in the towel long ago. In retrospect, I’m shocked I didn’t realize how difficult it is to make a living as an artist sooner. That glitch in my perception may well be part of my gift. Surely without that kind of naivety I would have given up long ago.
Last week long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad gave me new hope. She calmed my fears of being washed up. If she can swim from Cuba to Florida at age 64, a feat she failed at 28, surely it’s not over for me. Entering the third act of my life can only give my work more depth. My experiences over time have added a vibrancy to my art that was absent in the struggles of youth. I’m refreshed by Nyad’s assurance, ”Never, ever give up. You’re never too old to chase your dreams.”
No matter how uncomfortable it is, keep stretching, keep believing. Risk is an extension of self-love. If you were born to sing a song, sing it. Whatever gift you were born to give, give it. Live it. It’s no accident we can’t turn back the hands of time. There is a season for everything. The gift you came to share may just have reached its full gestation and is about to be born into the world. And in perfect timing your audience waits…ready to receive it…with open arms.
Reference photo for the above illustration from my soon to be released book app, Glory in the Morning.