I’m Not Uptight, I’m Radioactive…

I actually made it to the drawing class last night! It’s been far too long since I’ve been able to work in a big open studio space with real models. The class was very small, I think I only counted five artists (including yours truly) and the instructor. Last night we had one model for three hours and he was very good. Models just aren’t appreciated enough…it’s harder than it looks. 🙂


I did about ten drawings…the first several were…well…dreadful, I think, would be the right word. It’s funny how we are so rarely satisfied with our own way of doing things. After a while, the artists began walking around checking out the work of others, and I noticed my work is certainly different from all the other sketches in the studio. I admit, I find myself feeling a bit weird about the great freedom I saw expressed by others. I think I’ve figured out the cause of the weirdness. Here’s my theory…

My mother never understood art at all. My dad appreciated it, and encouraged me. God bless him, he liberated a lot of office supplies from his job when I was a kid, and in an odd way, the C&O Railroad was my first, albeit unknowing, benefactor. I learned to draw on the company stationery, with pencils that were plainly stamped with railroad safety slogans. The problem began once I realized that it was time for me to branch out and learn to use watercolors, oils, pastels…all the things that a growing artist would take a normal interest in.

Mom was just frankly afraid of anything she didn’t understand, and sadly for me…she didn’t understand much. And if she feared it, that meant it wasn’t going to be in her house. This greatly limited the sorts of things I was allowed to have. Popular toys such as Lite-Brite, Easy-Bake Oven, the Operation board game, and anything else that had a battery or, God forbid, a 5-watt light-bulb, were either chock-full of radioactivity or were government listening devices, depending on the day of the week. Anything at all that was a particular shade of bright yellow-green was radioactive. And if a toy was titled “Day-Glo”? Well, Katie, bar the door. There’s all the proof you need that it’s some sort of plot. Barbie, however, remained innocent of any wrong-doing, and I could have all the dolls I wanted. Didn’t really want any, but by golly, I was welcome to’em.

What I DID want…was paint. As a teen, I started sneaking paints and brushes and the like into the house. That was my rebellion. Art supplies. It was as difficult and stressful to paint in my house at age fifteen as it was for my schoolmates to sneak a beer or cigarette. I discovered punk music and began to snarl quite a bit. Safety pins appeared. I began to openly wash sable brushes in the kitchen sink. I began to pour jars of watercolor rinse water down the drain right in front of her. I was that much of a badass. She would scream for hours that it was going to destroy the household plumbing.

So…there’s the reason I didn’t get to use oils until I had a place of my own. There’s the reason I evolved into the kind of artist that is most comfortable working…very small. Because I grew up hiding it. There’s the reason I have a lot of difficulty working large. Even the grocery market pencils and paper I cajoled out of her were so precious and expensive that they MUST NOT EVER be wasted because if I wasted them by making loose, relaxed, free looking lines, (“just scribbling”), well, I certainly wasn’t going to get any more, because I didn’t take care of them the first time. If you’re ever curious about how to create a three-year-old neurotic with OCD, insisting that they never scribble is a great place to start. In grade school, I could not bear to share my crayons, because the clumsy  little twerps would blunt the points. Why could they not color with them the proper way? Wasn’t it obvious that if you consistently rotated the crayon as you worked, you would maintain a fine point? Could they not see that?? Kids learned quickly that if they “accidentally” broke one of my crayons, they would be treated to watching me have what amounted to a complete emotional break-down.


























So that’s the gist of my theory about why I feel an odd sense of dissatisfaction sometimes when I compare my sketches to the much more open and free work of so many others. I am envious of their drips and blobs and splotches. A little jealous of the spatters on the floor around them. They are not concerned at all, it seems, with who’s going to have to clean up that mess. Because for them…it doesn’t matter. They are Artists, with a capital “A”, and the work they do is important. Every stroke is about emotion, personal expression. While my own work seems to so often express an illustration of another’s idea. It isn’t often that I make a mark that I feel is visceral. On the occasions that I do, it produces my highest feeling of satisfaction as an artist. Hopefully, this class will help me make a breakthrough toward something more powerful, if I do the work.

Thanks for reading, looking at my work and supporting me. Find a kid and paint with them. Let it drip on the floor. One day they’ll thank you.


10 comments on “I’m Not Uptight, I’m Radioactive…

  1. Marie Marfia says:

    These are lovely.

  2. Alan Baggs says:

    Thanks for sharing…it’s an important story and good luck to you. “Take the biggest brush you can physically hold and make some marks” is what I told my kids. Keep on going with the great work!

  3. Alan Baggs says:

    Oh and thanks so much for your comments on my efforts Kathy 🙂

  4. Very nice drawings!!! I had two years of nude figure drawing for my BFA and I was shocked the second year when the model came in… he was my roommate. The hairiest boy I knew and someone that I did not want to see in the nude. But, I did appreciate that fact that he was courageous enough to pose. 🙂 Keep up the great work and share!

  5. Sophy says:

    I really like these! I wish I could have real models too.

  6. Teresa Cleveland Wendel says:

    Lovely sketches. I wish I could draw.
    I’m the daughter of a Great Northern Railroad engineer.

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