A writer revives an old skill, finds never-too-late joy

Posted in Duff 'n Stuff, Visual Art

Duff ‘n Stuff, June 10, 2013

This week I welcome a guest — fellow writer and former Whidbey Islander Molly Cook, who recently re-discovered her penchant for visual art. Here’s Molly:

“Color is an animal that wags its own tail.”

I found this note carefully written on the cover of one of my long unused sketch books today, and I remembered where I had once been and why.

Two weeks ago I decided – although “decided” is not quite the right word – to put my writing aside and get back to art. Visual art. Painting and collage and pastels and charcoal.  Since then, as I’ve made my way home along a path overgrown with words and agents and big changes in publishing, it’s been like walking toward a place I once loved, seeing familiar sights along the way, and hearing voices that offer a warm welcome.

Anna Mary Robertson, also known as "Grandma Moses," began painting in her 70s. Here she is plein aire painting in upstate New York, where she lived. (Photo courtesy of Hoosick Township Historical Society)

Anna Mary Robertson, also known as “Grandma Moses,” began painting in her 70s and became famous for her primitive style work. Here she is plein aire painting in upstate New York, where she lived. (Photo courtesy of Hoosick Township Historical Society)

I’m not an artist.  Not yet.  But 25 years ago, I took classes in Gloucester, Massachusetts and at Montserrat and Endicott Colleges further down the coast in Beverly.  When I enrolled in the first class, I told the instructor I was a real beginner.  “I can’t even draw a straight line.”  She laughed and told me that was a good thing.  “Art is not about drawing straight lines.”  I took other classes from her and a few months later she told me I should consider art school.  “You have talent.”

I almost cried.  It took me a few years to make good on that suggestion, but I did, finally, as a student at Maine College of Art in 1993.  I headed west again for family reasons after just a year.  I enrolled in art history and sculpture at Oregon State, but things went astray.  The art history professor I wanted to work with received a big grant and went on a two-year sabbatical. The sculpture professor turned out to be an excellent sculptor, but not so much as a teacher.

Because I already had some history of creative writing, I was invited to sit in on a panel about writing one day and met faculty members of OSU’s excellent creative writing program.  I liked them, and the possibility of earning an MFA was attractive, so I signed on and put my art supplies away.  Not entirely, but for all intents and purposes.

I’ve been working hard at the writing game for the last 20 years.  I’ve published two books and written more, been immersed in writing and teaching activities including my Skylark Writing Studio at the Bayview Cash Store and hosting poetry events.  It’s been a great ride, but a tough one with all the changes in the publishing world now, changes that have taken much of the pleasure out of what was once a pleasure.

So a couple of weeks ago as I was pondering the next and possibly last big chunk of my life, I knew I did not want to spend it on the writing train. When the thought occurred to me two weeks ago that I wanted to do art again, I felt myself smile from the heart.  And when I saw a class offered at the Kirkland Arts Center in illustrating children’s books, the smile grew wide.

I sent a note off to Whidbey’s own Deb Lund, children’s book writer extraordinaire, to ask her advice.  Her encouraging reply set off a chain of contacts, information, and thoughts about becoming involved in a world that’s about as happy as it gets – creating books for kids.

So, here I am – about to enter my Grandma Moses phase, I guess.  I’ve saved a lot more of my supplies than I realized, and as I pulled everything together today including some drawings and sketches that surprised me – they’re not that bad! – I felt happier than I have in a long time.

I have no idea where this is going, but that’s exactly where I want to be at the moment.  I’m having fun looking at stacks of children’s books. I know very well by now that it’s important not to let the pigeon drive the bus!  And folks who know me might be surprised to learn that I’ve expanded from my quintessential writer’s uniform – black turtlenecks and jeans – to color.  Lots of color.

That wonderful animal that wags its own tail.

Follow Molly’s Cook’s adventures at her websketch, Good Golly Miss Molly hereCook also lends erudite writing advice at her Skylark Writing Studio website and writes the Technology Road Trip websketch devoted to all things tech-centric.


Upcoming children’s events:

  • “Dig Into Magic with Jeff Evans,” 1:30 p.m. at Langley Library; 4 p.m. at Freeland Library; 7 p.m. at Clinton Library on Tuesday, June 18.  The same way that the magic of books lie beneath the cover of books, the mysteries of the earth lie beneath the ground. Magician Jeff Evans unearths secrets of the deep in his all-new subterranean summer reading spectacular. The surprises are non-stop whether Jeff is mining for precious metals, discovering aquifers of drinking water, or sharing amazing facts about the world’s deepest supercave. Science stunts, creepy crawlies, and amazing magic are buried throughout the show. Funded by the Friends of the Freeland Library.
  • “Dig Into Summer Reading:  Insect Safari,” 1 p.m. Wednesday, June 19, Coupeville Recreation Hall, 901 NW Alexander St. Do you dig bugs? Join entomologist Don Ehlen for an up-close and personal look at the fascinating lives of insects. Examine his impressive collection of specimens and meet a few who are still crawling! Funded by Friends of the Coupeville Library.
  • Summer Cinema: “Wreck-It Ralph,” 1 p.m. Wednesday, June 26 at Coupeville Library.
    Wreck-It Ralph longs to be as beloved as his game’s perfect good guy, Fix-It Felix. Problem is, nobody loves a bad guy. But they do love heroes…so when a modern first-person shooter game arrives, Ralph sees it as his ticket to heroism and happiness. Rated PG; 101 minutes.

Find listings for events for children and families at all Whidbey Island libraries here.

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