Sunday, January 09, 2011

My First (creative) Love

The summer after high school I worked in the graphic art department of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. It was an internship position I earned on the strength of an essay, (ironically, because I was far more interested in becoming an artist than a writer at that time in my life), competing against high school seniors across the country. It was a fun, albeit brief, interlude before I entered art college that fall.

One of the unexpected bonuses of that summer was that my bus into DC, from the Maryland suburbs, arrived at the Mall an hour before I had to be at work, downstairs past the elephant in the rotunda entrance. That meant I had an hour to wander through the Natural History Museum, exploring all the corners I had missed on childhood trips, with no one around but the cleaning crew, Monday thru Friday, all summer long. How I wish now I could have the opportunity to do something like that at the American History Museum! But at that point in my life, this was the ideal situation to have landed in.

It was during that summer internship I learned that Robert Bateman, my favorite wildlife artist, whose work I then aspired to, would soon have a large showing in the downstairs gallery of the museum.

After my internship ended and Bateman's show opened, I went back into the city several times to see his Portraits of Nature collection in person. It's one thing to see these paintings in the pages of a book (no internet back then), reduced from their original sizes. It's quite another to stand in front of them, many large as life, and see the brush strokes, the surprising color choices, the textures, the little squiggles of paint. I learned more about painting in the hours I spent standing and gazing at this collection of Bateman's work than I did in two years of art college.

Paintings from the Portraits of Nature showing, Washington DC, 1987:

Paintings 1983-1986

Paintings, 1980-1982

Paintings 1977-1979

Paintings 1967-1976

Robert Bateman's main page

It's been nearly twenty years since I've painted professionally. About that long ago I began writing, which quickly became and remains the master creative passion in my life. But I've decided it's time to set up shop again to paint.  I'll still be writing full time. In fact this month I've begun a proposal for a sequel to Kindred, just in case a publisher is one day as interested in seeing it as I am in writing it. I'm also working on a proposal for a third stand alone book set on the frontier of western North Carolina/eastern Tennessee in the 1780s.

Anyone else starting up new creative pursuits in 2011, or like me, reviving old ones?

photos by cliff1066, and krossbow


  1. How neat to hear that you're taking up your brush again. Will you be sharing any of your paintings in future posts? I'd love to see some.

  2. Anonymous1:32 PM


    It's so exciting all you are doing! As for me - I've acquired a cello and am self-instructing (which... is eerily similar to self-DEstructing...). Also, I intend to dig down, down, down... and discover/revive the poetry in my soul. But first! I am growing wise to the tactics of resistance.... :-)

  3. What an exciting internship you had! Interesting that you got it from an essay contest. Shades of things to come. I'm so excited that you are returning your art! I hope you share some of your pieces with us. Have you ever thought of writing and illustrating a children's book?

  4. Kav, I did write a children's book, and even played around with a few illustrations for it. Here's a couple of posts with snippets from that story BEAR COUNTRY. And some older artwork of mine.

  5. Keli, see my message to Kav above for a link to some older artwork. And yes, I'll share anything new I finish. But it may be quite some time before that happens. I'm thinking of starting off with a largish one.

  6. Doree, the cello? Hello! That's the instrument I'd pick above all others to learn, if there were enough time in my week. I need three of me. One to devote to writing, one to painting, and another to explore whatever musical talents might be lurking in my soul. I hope to hear you play one day, friend. I'm sure it will be beautiful in time. I hope you keep at it. I think it suits you! XO

  7. Lori, thanks for sharing the link. Your artwork is awesome! Clearly you are multi-talented. I'm sooo impressed and glad to hear you'll be dividing your time between writing and painting. Whether your fingers are tapping keys on your keyboard or holding a paintbrush, things of beauty abound.

  8. I love Robert Bateman's work! If I could capture the same lifelike clarity in writing that he does in painting...ah!

    As for other creative pursuits, I'd love to find time to practice harp more (Celtic, not concert).

  9. Keli, thanks for that. I'm sure to be very rusty once I finally pick up pencil and paintbrush again.

    Lynn, Yay! Another Bateman fan. And yes, to be able to write life like he paints it, that would be something. And you're also a fan of Celtic music! If I had to pick only one style of music to listen to for the rest of my life, it would be Celtic, from trad/folk to modern Enya-sounding stuff, I love it all.

    Writing, painting and music are all full time pursuits, if the goal is excellence. There isn't enough time/energy in a day for all three. Or even for two. One will have to take precedence. This is a dilemma I've faced all my life, since I've been drawing and writing from my earliest years. It used to be painting took first chair, now it's writing. Perhaps one day it will be painting again. Writing demands much more from me, and I like that.

  10. Funny you should post this. I used to quilt. Not the normal quilts with patterns like "Turkey in the straw" I quilt pictures. The view from my front window, flowers, birds, trees, etc. I haven't done any since I started writing and I miss it. I was contemplating doing a quilt that ties in to my current novel. After reading your post I'm definitely going to do it.

    S.P. Bowers (Spesh)

  11. Sara, I'm so glad you've been inspired to quilt again. I love quilts and have given it a try in the past, but I'm pretty hopeless with a needle or even a sewing machine. I've seen picture quilts. They're beautiful. A quilt tied in to your novel sounds like a perfect place to pick up the thread of that pursuit. :)

    I figured, regarding painting again, the key is to set up a spot for it that doesn't have to be taken down and stored away every time I'm done working. That's too much trouble for the little time I have to devote to it now. I can't have a big drawing desk like I used to have before I began writing, but I'm finally being proactive here and creating a small space to work. Not so easy in a packed full shoebox of a house, but I'm determined!

  12. Good luck finding the space. My DH made me a special quilting frame that rolls so only a few feet of the quilt are showing at a time. Saves a lot of space, and in a pinch it can be rotated vertical to sit against a wall. Isn't he a sweetie? Of course he probably did it so he could watch TV again but whatever.

    S.P. Bowers

  13. Sara, that's sounds perfect. Too bad I can't roll up a painting the same way. I work on gessoed boards. :)