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Inspiration November 11, 2014

I Gave Up on Art a Million Times… But Somehow it Never Gave Up on Me

Have you ever noticed that when the most interesting, life-changing things are happening—when you actually have stories to tell and lessons to ponder and experiences to share—those are the times when you’re too overwhelmed to actually get the words out?  I’m sitting here contemplating all the things that I haven’t been saying since I essentially abandoned this…six years ago.

A lot has happened.  A lot of it was really, really bad stuff.  A decent amount of it was okay stuff.  A little bit of it was freaking AWESOME stuff.

For those of you who remember eMoms at Home and Sparkplugging, it probably seems really out of character for me to have dropped out of the blogosphere and stopped building my personal brand.  If things looked weird or messy on the professional front, that was nothing compared to what was going on in the background.  Things were staggeringly hard for a while.  Like, deer-in-the-headlights, incredulously hard.  My family ended up more or less walking away from our life in DuPage County, looking for a fresh start in Woodstock, IL.  We lost nearly everything in the process.

But, this post isn’t just about recounting the pain and disappointment of the last few years.  It’s actually about celebrating where we are now and being grateful for the experiences that got me to this point.  It’s hard to write these things, to sort out all the thoughts that are trying to hurl themselves onto the screen all at once.  It’s scary to lay myself bare this way, which is pretty funny considering the fact that writing those personal, here’s-what’s-in-my-heart posts used to kind of be my thing.

As I work to revive the blog that I used to love so passionately, I’m sure many of the stories of the recent past will come to light.  Today, however, I want to start on a happy note.  Stick with me here, and you might be just as amazed as I am by the way life comes full-circle, often when you’re not expecting it or have maybe even given up on a dream altogether.

The Big, Surprising, Wonderful, and Kind of Weird News

I am now a coloring book artist.  Didn’t see that coming, did you?  Neither did I.

To be honest, my dreams have always revolved around Art.  Even in childhood, I loved Art like I loved nothing else on this planet.  Coloring books and Spirograph art were my favorite ways to while away the hours.  Unfortunately, I loved Art a bit more than it loved me, because no matter what I did, the outcome never matched the way I saw it in my imagination.  I let this discourage me deeply.  I doubted myself and didn’t have the self-esteem, nor the tenacity, to stick with it and maybe improve my skills.

So, I let it go.  After all, I reasoned, artists can’t make a decent living anyway.  There wasn’t really a point in pursuing something if I couldn’t support myself with it someday, right?  There may have been some sour grapes involved, not to mention an attempt at self-preservation.  If my heart was breaking so badly over giving up Art now, why would I subject myself to a career that would likely be full of rejection and letdown, whether from others or from myself?

The Long and Winding Road

From that point on, I tried to take a different path.  In retrospect, however, I can now see how each step I took was bringing me right back to Art.  Believe me, it was not so obvious at the time, what with hindsight being 20/20 and all.  Standing where I am now and looking back, I can see how all the things that felt like side-trips or a complete change in direction were really building up to something amazing.  It’s given me a  new perspective on how we can unknowingly, subconsciously be pursuing our dreams even when we think we’re doing just the opposite.

I did try letting Art back in during college and experienced a bit of success in photography.  The pleasure I felt in it was soon squelched, though, by a very hard-to-please instructor.  It occurred to me that a career in photography would be like  working for that teacher every day of my life.  Again, my self-esteem and stick-to-it-iveness were just no match for what I imagined would be a life of constantly trying to live up to standards I probably couldn’t meet.  I walked away.

I became disappointed.  Disappointed in a world that was too harsh.  Disappointed in myself for not being better at what I loved and for not being able to find a way to make it work.  Like so many others who feel this kind of defeat, I started drinking…a lot.  And doing drugs…a lot.  I messed up my health…a lot.  The things I did to my body permanently damaged my adrenal glands and thyroid, consequences I still live with today.  Along with the physical issues came a deep, dark depression.  Letting go of my Art dreams (I changed my major to psychology in an attempt to “fix” myself) fed the depression, as did the unrecognized thyroid issue.  My hormones were out of whack, I gained a lot of weight; and I blamed every bit of it on myself.

Those who have experienced depression will likely recognize the pattern.  You don’t just get to feel bad.  You get to feel bad, AND you also get to feel bad for feeling bad.

Coming Around a Bend…Or So I Thought

I tried to keep a grip on my sanity, and Art was there for me.  I drew, I painted.  There were crafts and jewelry making, knitting and sculpting.  My love for Art was reignited, and this time I felt a stronger faith in my own abilities.  I didn’t pick my work apart or disparage it as much as I had in the past.  In fact, with the amazing support of my parents, I even started to feel as if I could make a go of earning money from my work.  I set up a little business creating hand-painted furniture and murals.

I had finally done it, right?  I found confidence in my artistic skills and a way to earn money for me and my newly born daughter.  It seemed too good to be true.  Because, of course, it was.  While my confidence was much better on the Art front, it started to lag when it come to the business end of things.  I was just a hippie single mom with a degree in psychology.

Once again, I realized I was going to have to take a step back from Art.  This time, though, I wasn’t dreading it so much.  I actually see it as if art gave me a gift that day.  It let me off the hook—temporarily, at least—and sent me off to pursue a more traditional career.  It didn’t do so without ulterior motives, however.  It was sending me out into the world to learn the business skills I needed in my toolbox in order to make an Art career possible.  I was excited and felt what may have been the first really big surge of ambition of my entire life.

Then Things Got Even Better

Off in the “real world,” I was making the best of a job in computer training when Art came by for an extended stay.  My job broadened to include graphic design and developing marketing materials for my company.  It was a wonderful marriage of Art and business, and I spent the next six years pretty happily doing this kind of work.  Things got even more interesting in 2008 when I founded Woo Jr., a blog network that I thought was the culmination of everything I’d been working toward.  I was doing crafts with my kids and earning a living.

A really good living.

So good, in fact, that my husband quit his job to start his own business, while I was able to support a family of five in a $300,000 house and paying off tens of thousands of dollars in debt.  It was amazing.  I had finally made it.  Art and business had come together, and perseverance had paid off!

Just Before They Got Worse

Then came 2013, and it brought with it utter chaos.  Life imploded.  My business was systematically dismantled before my eyes.  Google made a change to their interface that cost me so much of the traffic on which my blog revenue depended.  As if that weren’t horrifying enough, the ad network I had been working with for a long time changed their target audience.  I watched my income drop in half and had no recourse when we lost our house.

I was devastated.  Losing the money, the house, the life we’d grown accustomed to was certainly devastating, but perhaps even worse was the complete disillusionment I felt.  We’re always told to “follow your dreams” and that if you just “don’t give up,” you can achieve anything.  Well, that was obviously a bunch of horseshit.  I had followed my heart, had found a career that I loved and that suited my strengths, and now it was all being ripped away from me.  What had I done to deserve this?

Depression threatened to make a return.

And Then…

We downsized.  We moved.  We evaluated our life and goals and the reality of the situation.  What all this introspection brought us was actually pretty awesome.  I saw full well that my life had fallen apart because it had to.  It needed to so it could come back together in a new and different way.  We had to break out of old patterns and beliefs and shed what didn’t serve us.  As we moved to an adorable new town, we found that we quite naturally fell deeply in love with it.  As an added bonus, my husband’s commute dropped from more than an hour to less than ten minutes.

While we left a lot of the past behind, it turned out that Art decided to stick with me.  And this time, when it came knocking, I was able to answer without preconceived ideas of how things needed to be.  And what it had in store for me was completely different from what I would have imagined for myself.

Through random happenstance, a publisher happened across some mandalas that I had drawn years ago.  They wanted to know if I would be interested in drawing an entire coloring book full of them.  The answer, of course, was “YES!”  Remember back when I shared that my favorite pastime as a child revolved around coloring books and Spirographs?  Someone literally offered me the opportunity to combine those things—and I can’t believe I’m about to say this—but they offered me the opportunity to do so professionally.

Life Has Come Full Circle

Ups and downs.  Ins and outs.  Life has thrown some stuff my way.  You know what has always been there, though?


I thought I was giving up on my dreams.  I intended to be practical and was likely also suffering from an overwhelming fear of failure.

Guess what?  I failed anyway.  Or, so I thought.  From the outside, it certainly looked like it.  What I understand now, though, is that while I felt like I was watching my life vanish before my eyes, I was really watching a new one emerge.  I went with it, and I was astonished once I was able to take a step back and realize what a full-circle time this is.  I am doing Art—Real Art—and I’m even making a living at it.  That roller coaster of jobs, skills, and experiences have all come together in ways I couldn’t have anticipated.  I have been unconventionally prepared to be right where I am.

I am a professional artist.  That is amazing to say.  Better yet, I am a professional artist who knows how to market myself, to build a following, and to keep the business aspects of it all on track.  I have learned to manage my time and my money.  And I basically get paid to color and draw mandalas…You know, those things that look a whole lot like Spirographs.


Note: This post took me days and days to write, and then I almost threw it out because it was pretty much atrocious. My long time dear friend Lorna Doone Brewer took pity upon my soul and rewrote this for me so that it became fit for human consumption. I’ve hired her many times in the past to write for me, and she would be the first person I would hire if I needed a writer again. So if you need a writer, Lorna is THE SHIT. As in, good shit, ya know?

  • Kelvin Kao
    Kelvin Kao
    November 12, 2014

    Hi Wendy! Wow. That was a lot that you went through. I guess I’ve mostly seen the upswing from eMoms at Home to Sparkplugging. And then there seemed to be a dip where you weren’t sure about the future of Sparkplugging. And then you seemed to be doing well and pretty happy with Woo Jr. but from that point on you sort of dropped out of the bloggosphere. I sure didn’t know all the crazy roller coaster rides since then!

    Certainly not to the degree of what you went through, but I started out as a software developer for feature phones. And when the recession hit, compounded by the arrival of smart phones, the whole platform dried up. But that means I started learning to develop on the iPhone, which, turned out to be a great industry to be in at the moment. So I’ve come to expect to throw away a good chunk of what I know every few years. Enjoy it while it lasts, and when whatever it is runs its course, I’ll go learn something else new.

    That said, I’m single, no kids, no house, so I am not that concerned if one job doesn’t work out. You’ve shared your earlier stories, though, how you worked as a camp counselor, which allowed you to earn an income, but more importantly, free room and board! I figure you can stand up again from ANYTHING.

    I realized that I need to surround myself with creative people and performing arts. During college, I took a quarter off from my theater company to focus on the school work. That turned out to be quite miserable. I, too, need art in my life.

    I know a comment shouldn’t be the length of a blog post, but hey, still shorter than your blog post. And I’m just so happy to see you back, and being splendid as well. 🙂

  • Wendy
    November 12, 2014

    Kelvin, I am incredibly impressed that you remember that story about being a camp counselor – WOW! But you are right about technology being somewhat of a throwaway industry. If we don’t adapt we get left behind in the blink of an eye. I guess that makes me a little happier to be on this new road of doing coloring books. As much as I love technology, I don’t get off on having to stay on top of it 24/7 just to make sure I can put food on the table. 🙂 Thank you so much for stopping by and taking the time to comment!

  • Hugh Hollowell
    Hugh Hollowell
    November 12, 2014

    So, for the first time in perhaps six years, I am writing a comment on a blogpost you wrote. And this is the raw honesty infused with hope that I remember. Glad to see you back, and glad you did not give up. And always remember that failure is always an event, never a person.

  • Crystal Foth
    Crystal Foth
    November 14, 2014

    Wow – thank you so much for sharing the ups and downs – I really can identify with so many parts of that story. Whenever I have felt lost or needing guidance, I’ve always gone back to art. It’s led me the right direction so far. I’m at a cross roads right now too, where if I could create art full time, I’d love it. I manage art studios, so my day to day helps thousands of people each week be able to attend art class – I love that I work to promote art, but for so long was not making art myself. I’m back at it now – thanks to you. I first heard you on a podcast interview done a few years ago and I wondered where you went when I visited this very blog after hearing that interview – then recently I happened upon finding you again and I’m so glad I have. You inspire me daily and I look forward to following your creative endeavors as they unfold. You are a professional artist, with major kick ass skills in so many other areas. I can’t wait to see the awesomeness that awaits! 🙂

  • Amber Stell
    Amber Stell
    February 10, 2016

    “Lorna is THE SHIT”

  • Vinita
    March 17, 2016

    Hi Wendy,
    Just heard your interview on “Unmistakable Creative” ! I just can not tell you what it means to me to listen to your story, your thinking , and you remaining true to your art. It is just what I needed to hear ! You have inspired me and strengthened me in so many ways by being honest and by sharing your story. Thank You ! For digging deep around one’s own beliefs , need that brutal honesty so one can not hide behind walls . You have lived this truth and worked on it . Hats off to you.
    Thank you for sharing.

  • melody
    April 26, 2016

    Wendy – I wasn’t a reader of your blog before and I found you tonight searching for the best pencil/pen to use with coloring pages. You are now my favorite Blogger!! I love that you laid it all out there and shared it all with your readers. I am thrilled that you didn’t give up – that Art came back prepared to stay. Thank you for inspiring me

    Cheers to you

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