How I Became an Artist

by Evelyn Jordon

I never dreamed of being an artist when I grew up. It wasn’t that my family wasn’t supportive. I hear stories all the time about a boy or a girl who wants to be an artist but their parents want them to go to college and become an engineer or a doctor. That wasn’t the case for me at all.

My parents were supportive of whatever career field I chose and were ambivalent about whether I went to college or not. My dad has his Associate’s degree and my mom never went to college, and they both became entrepreneurs and started several different successful businesses over the years. (My mom’s thriving print shop is for sale, by the way. No printing experience required. It brings in a good income, and she will train anyone who is interested in how to run it.)

My parents had a lot of kids to raise and left our career choices completely up to us.

No, it wasn’t lack of parental support. It wasn’t even lack of role models. My grandma is a professional artist. She mostly paints watercolors and acrylics—scenery of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, wildflowers and berries, lifelike portraits of the grandkids, some colored pencil. She ran her own gallery for years, and taught art classes in the local community. At 85 years old, she still paints. You can check out her work here.

One of my grandma’s recent paintings

The Secret

My secret took root in middle school.

It was the belief that I wasn’t good enough to be an artist. My grandma is an amazing artist; I was nowhere near as good as her. But she wasn’t my only excuse. There were also the high schoolers. Our middle and high school shared the same art room, and as a twelve-year-old, I saw their incredible artwork hanging on the walls, silently compared my abilities to theirs, and self-consciously concluded that I was better off pursuing something else.

So for my freshman, sophomore, and junior years of high school, I ignored art. And then when I was a senior, I decided to take art as an “easy” class to escape from my AP courses. Turns out I loved art class and my work was suddenly not half-bad!

When I got to college, I decided to take another art class. It felt like a frivolous 3 credits to spend money on, but it was incredibly enjoyable. I still didn’t think about becoming an “artist,” but I did keep all of the projects I made in class, and secretly looked at them from time to time to remind myself that my art was pretty good. I also made a painting here and there, but nothing consistent and usually with an audience of one (myself.)

The Push

Fast-forward to 2017. That January, I decided to “paint more.” I gave myself a challenge: to do 30 paintings in 30 days. It felt like a great accomplishment, and after the challenge was over, I held an art show of my work, and some of it sold!

A collage of all 30 paintings I did for that challenge

I made a couple more random paintings here and there, and even got two commissions—one from my aunt and one from my 7-year-old niece. It could have ended there for me for another couple of years. I wasn’t pursuing an art career. I was just making art casually for fun.

But TJ (my boyfriend at the time—now husband) saw something in me that I was embarrassed to admit to myself. He saw talent, skill, potential. He also saw an opportunity for us to work on our crafts together, as he was pursuing his own fledgling dreams of woodworking at the time. He gave me a pyrography pen and told me to learn how to use it.

There was a bit of a learning curve, but it was satisfying to watch the smoke curl up and to see the burned marks on the wood, forming into something beautiful. I make a couple small drawings and did some lettering, but he didn’t think I was pushing myself enough.

One of my early works of pyrography

He bought me a fancier wood burning pen and encouraged me to level up. He said, “Babe, do something more detailed and interesting. Do a Samurai.”

So…I did!

The Samurai I wood burned

How I Became an Artist

It’s impossible to pinpoint when I became an artist, so how do I explain how it happened?

As I look back at pictures from 2013 onward, I see an increasing amount of art that I created. Paintings. Pyrography. Photographs. Collages. Sketches. It’s an unexpected visual transformation, a realization that I was an artist long before I recognized it.

So how did I become an artist?

I made art. I put it out there. People liked it and I sold some of it. I got asked to make more. I made more and got better. I retreated a little bit. I had a desire to create again (or, in recent years, TJ pushed me back out there.) I made more art and put it out there and it sold and I got more requests, and I made more and got better.

Like the Michelangelo angel, I was there all along. I just had to chip away at the parts of me that were hiding until I was visible to myself.