Serena and I met because of a cookie. (Most of you will not be surprised in the least by this.) When I was a little girl, my grandmother made delicious Christmas cookies dipped in icing and loaded with colorful sprinkles. I’d eat them by the handfuls. It was a recipe that had been passed down from a few generations. I never knew if it came with my relatives from Italy or if it was more of an Italian-American invention. I tried to find out if they had a proper name. I’ve never seen them in stores or online. I went into a few Italian bakeries around Little Italy and described the cookies, but everyone just shook their heads no.
Then I saw a photo of the exact cookies on Serena’s blog. A neighbor had made them for her during the holidays. I dashed off a note to see if she knew the name of the cookie. She asked her neighbor, but no luck. While I still haven’t learned the name of these cookies, I had the opportunity to get to know Serena a bit. I was inspired by her no holds barred attitude toward creativity. I had a feeling she would be a perfect addition to the Shine family. And, boy, was I right! (I love it when that happens.)
Quitting the day job to live a creative dream
by: Serena Kovalosky, Artful Vagabond
I’ve always had what I call an “Artist Mind,” although I never realized it growing up. Ever since I could hold a crayon, much of my time was spent drawing or making things from whatever I found around the house and in the neighboring woods as creating became a natural extension of my daily life.
My bedroom doubled as a studio, a private, sacred space where I could be myself completely. Although surrounded by many artful friends in school, I never felt I was an artist, yet at the same time, I didn’t really fit in with the majority of my fellow classmates. So my high school years were spent wondering why I was drawn to these artists when all I really wanted to be was “normal” like everyone else.
Growing up in rural New York in the days before internet severely limited my exposure to professional artwork, until my first visit to an art museum on a senior class trip. I remember standing in the middle of the gallery at the Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, NY, staring open-mouthed at all the paintings by the great masters that surrounded me and saying, “This feels like home.”
Despite that watershed moment, I pushed my creative instincts aside in favor of making a living at a “real” job.
Years later, I found myself sitting at a desk in a corporate office, telephones ringing and emails piling up, wondering what was the heck was wrong. I had everything I was brought up to want in life – a great job, excellent friends, and a wonderful apartment in Montreal, a city I adored….yet I often felt I wasn’t being fully myself. It was as if life was a game and everyone knew the rules except me, and the only way I felt I could survive was to emulate these people so I’d somehow belong.
Just before turning forty, things started to unravel. Working long, stressful hours in addtion to a relationship that was falling apart heightened the sense that I no longer knew who I was anymore. More and more evenings were spent drinking and partying, which would temporarily calm the rising anxiety that was becoming my constant companion.
Finally, I snapped.
Right in the middle of the workday.
I had been like a tightly wound coil ready to spring, and although I have a naturally calm and peaceful character, a minor altercation with one of the company’s salespeople set me off. Taking an early lunch, I headed straight for Mount Royal, a wooded area in the heart of the city, and climbed to the top of the mountain. Relaxing on a bench overlooking downtown Montreal, I was able to quietly observe the bustle of the city below with its unending traffic and people frantically rushing about in their corporate suits, in and out of skyscraper office buildings. “I used to be one of them,” I thought. “I don’t want to do that any more.” And in one breath, I let it all go. I wasn’t going to go back.
Then I started thinking about that day at the Hyde and I knew exactly what my next step needed to be. I had to start creating again.
So I quit an 18-year career to become an artist – with no formal training, no money in the bank, no income and no idea about the business of selling art. It probably wasn’t the smartest way for me to do it, but at the time, it was the only way. Renting a studio loft in a renovated factory in Montreal’s art district I went from pin-striped suits to paint-splattered jeans literally overnight. Many of my friends envied the courage it took to leave a profitable career and follow a creative dream. Most of them, however, thought I was nuts. But I knew that for me, this was the way to sanity.
I was immediately drawn to working with gourds, but constantly had to shake off the little voice of doubt that said, “You quit your day job to work with GOURDS?” But the natural forms of these gourds reminded me of my childhood walks in the woods and grounded me as I made the transition into my new creative lifestyle.
I was nervous and excited arriving at my studio for the first time, and a bit concerned I wouldn’t be accepted by the other artists in the building since I didn’t consider myself to be a “real” artist…..at least not yet. I left the door open as I worked and soon there was a woman with a painting smock standing in the doorway.
“Hi, I’m Marilyn. Welcome to the building!” she announced cheerily.
I introduced myself rather tentatively but she walked right in, clearly interested in my work. “I’m a painter. My studio is right across the hall,” she informed me. “What’s your medium?” So I explained about the gourdwork and to my great surprise, she was actually intrigued and quite impressed. We talked at length and I soon met more of the artists in the building and began experiencing that same wonderful feeling as during my initial visit to the Hyde all those years ago. I had not only come “home,” but I had finally found my tribe.
Despite my initial lack of knowledge, there were many artists in the building who were willing to share their knowledge and show me the ropes as I built up my portfolio one sculpture at a time. I continually raised the bar on my work until it was getting accepted into fine art galleries and museum exhibitions and I would eventually create a gourd sculpture that would be selected for a prestigious museum exhibition at…..you guessed it – the Hyde. I had finally come full circle.
Little did I know, as I was creating that first little gourd ornament in my Montreal studio fifteen years ago, while everyone thought I had lost my mind, that I was have been able to take my dream this far. I am thankful that I have become stubborn enough to do what I feel in my heart, despite the well-intended opinions of others and that no matter how challenging things get, as long as I’m working my passion, I will always survive.
Serena Kovalosky is a professional artist, writer and cultural entrepreneur. She maintains a daily blog on the creative mind and adventures in food, art and travel on her Artful Vagabond site: http://www.artfulvagabond.com. Serena’s sculptural artwork can be viewed on her website: http://www.kovalosky.com
Coming up next on SHINE: Naomi finds the healing power of plants through Therapeutic Gardens.