College At Thirty-five – AN ARTSY JOURNEY #6

Posted on October 19, 2015 by Kate Moynihan | 2 comments

It was official. I was a full time student at Bismarck State College, starting with basic business classes in pursuit of a marketing degree. With flat-fee tuition, I added an art elective. Like the business classes, I had to start at square one – Basic Drawing 101.

In an early exercise, I was scribbling contour lines in an out-of-control pattern as I moved the pencil across a blank piece of drawing paper. I felt like I was back in kindergarten, despite being fifteen years older than most everyone in the class.

I pushed aside my insecurities remembering that at the onset of class the professor pronounced: “Contour drawing is the backbone for improving hand-eye coordination.” I persevered with the kids.

Next up was the tedious detail of establishing the vanishing points in perspective.

Clearly this class was going to take some effort. No longer could I get away with the flimsy techniques of water color I’d learned in Michigan and had been teaching in adult-ed at the local art center. The Bismarck Art and Gallery Association paid me well, and my students were advance painters who seemed to appreciate the handful of knowledge I shared. But now, this professor had me jumping hoops, or should I say connecting the dots with critical detail in ways I had not experienced before.

“This area has good contrast and texture,” he critiqued, his finger pointing to an area the size of a quarter on the two by three foot drawing!

“Errr,” I grumbled under my breath. I had been doing okay pushing myself to practice this realistic assignment when I’d rather be painting loose watercolor washes. But if I wanted to grow, constructive criticism was how I would get there. I bit my lip, listened to his advice and practiced.

Next, I had a color and design class.

In one project, I spent many an hour using eleven horizontal and vertical black lines learning to push and pull positive and negative space until I mastered the concept. Color theory wasn’t any easier, but I found it fascinating, learning to incorporate the psychological effects of color with my nursing knowledge.

That’s all it took, some inspiring classes; I was hooked as an art major, too.

For years, prior to that moment, I had always been a crafter of this and that. As a kid in high school, I sewed aprons in the musty basement of our home in Detroit.

Diligently I followed the same pattern over and over again, stamping out a red gingham or blue flowered apron. I spent hours alone and thought at that point that I didn’t want an art career or “desk job,” as I referred to my sewing business done in isolation. I wanted to be with people. At full tilt, in fact, I ran into the nursing field, enjoying the fast pace of it all and on-the-fly decision making of providing good health. And it had served me well for thirteen years. Now my art passion was itching to step away from being comfortable in nursing and take a chance to grow.

But I was standing on wobbly legs. St. Alexius marketing campaign paid me well, but I knew completion was inevitable. The rare opportunity to design a mascot and art for an entire wing of a hospital would soon be over. Where would I find my next lucky break?

I shuddered as blood thundered through my body. Then my medical knowledge kicked in. I remembered Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – a theory of human motivation. Maslow was a scientist who believed humans conquered life one stage at a time, not moving to the next level until their prior needs had been fulfilled. First, they met their basic needs of food and shelter, and then safety.

I evaluated my needs. I had food – a solo orange and an almost-expired quart of milk in the frig. I had shelter – my basement apartment with the angel of my dead landlady’s mother nearby, or not? What I had most of was an abundance of self-doubt making me feel a long ways from Maslow's next level of need: self-esteem. To overcome my insecurity about my self-taught marketing ideas, I made a commitment to focus on education. I was certain completing a college degree would provide all the answers for me.

So I pushed ahead. But it left one big problem. I had to generate more money to pay for this education. If I wanted to capture the income through art sales I had to reach beyond the Bismarck community. It was time to take the next step in the world of art – developing marketing tools of my own. I needed top-quality photographs of my paintings.

To generate money for this project I pawned a left-over ring from Robert, feeling more relief than sorrow about ditching the gift. I was in Maslow-mode, prioritizing my needs. I put my trust in education, my heart felt safer there instead of attached to a painful sentimental trinket. I was ready for taking the next step.

Duran architects referred me to a commercial photographer, Larry Weller. It turned out his studio was only six blocks away from the apartment. I stuffed the hatchback of the Chevette with art samples and paid him a visit, parking next to a huge truck with big black tires that towered over the hood of my compact car.

Inside I stepped into a quiet reception area. A side door opened and a man filled the doorway. His more than six foot frame made me think the hefty truck I parked alongside could be his because this guy would never squeeze into a pint-size Chevette.

“Hey there, I’m Larry Weller,” he said as he shot off a casual smile. “You must be Kate. Dan told me you needed some presentation photos.”

“I do,” I said, instantly liking his straight-down-to-business approach. I knew his hourly fees were a luxury for me so working efficiently suited me just fine. 

He led me into a spacious, windowless room outfitted with multiple cameras, lenses and flash attachments. Numerous tripods straddled the room and clamp lights pointed sky-ward on extendable poles.

“Let me take your portfolio,” he said, latching onto the case. With precision he removed my artwork. Taking one piece at a time, he propped it and adjusted clamps to balance it just so. He pointed lights up, down, forward, backwards; sometimes almost turning them inside-out, if that was possible.

I watched in amazement. The only thing I knew about photographing artwork was to take the pictures outside for the best light and least amount of glare. But wind, bird droppings, and frigid temperatures never gave me good results.

He snapped away, repeating, “Just one more,” in a deep, mellow voice.

Larry continued to work efficiently and soon announced, “That should about do it.” His carefree smile came to life again. At the time, I didn’t realize that smile would light up my life months later.

I paid the bill. It was reasonable – I only had to eat peanut butter for a week. I tossed my blurry, critter-anointed photographs away. Now, with professional slides, I would be critiqued on the quality of my art. It felt like a small victory. I just had to beat my competitors for a spot in the coveted Minneapolis Uptown Art Fair.


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  • Kate Moynihan

    It’s exciting you’re intrigued with my art journey! It was filled with many odd and surprising happenings as I am sure most of us have encountered in our lives. I’m off to South Dakota for the next crazy turn in the road, to be posted November 2.

  • Mel

    You have a gift for story telling. Can’t wait for the next installment.


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