I've been a chiropractor for 22 years. And this month I ended my practice in favor of a life of (and a living made by) painting. I feel some sort of need to publicly acknowledge the transition I'm undergoing, and this blog is my "public." So, let me try to tell you what's happening.
I decided to be a portrait artist when I was twelve when I met two men making their livings painting portraits. That told me that the well-meant 'wisdom' asserting that one could NOT make a living as an artist was hooey. I began practicing drawing faces from photographs and from life and by age 14 or 15 I could get a reliable likeness each time I drew someone's face. But I didn't know I was ready to rely on that skill for my living at the end of high school. So, circumstances being limited, I joined the Army. Not good. Not good for me, anyway. But as awful experiences often hold gifts in their horrible hands, I did start doing portrait sketches in the officers' clubs and enlisted men's clubs in Frankfurt, West Germany while I was stationed there.
Within a couple of weeks I realized I was making more drawing faces than by working for the Army. I got out and moved to Santa Cruz, California and got a contract with the military to provide pastel portraits at the PXs at Ft. Ord in Monterey and at the Presidio in San Francisco. I did that for about six months and then stepped away from the military altogether. For 10 years I made my living painting pastel portraits in malls from Thanksgiving to Christmas and then, later, I added summers in resort towns to my year. Eureka Springs, AR for two summers, Estes Park, CO for one, and three summers on Cape Cod in Provincetown, MA.
That's where I derailed. I'd had my daughter by then and couldn't figure out how do portraiture any other way than the way I'd always done it: in public from sittings for long hours in concentrated seasons. I went home to Kansas City from Ptown the end of the summer of 1982 and fell in with a persuasive group of chiropractic student friends who felt sure I should become one of them. Don't we always want our friends to be just like us? I protested that I wasn't that kind of smart, but they disagreed and before I knew it, I'd enrolled. Like chiropractic school wasn't the most grueling experience possible for a mother of a baby! But pretty soon I discovered I was that kind of smart and came out on the other end of those years a doctor. I sold my house in K.C. and moved to San Antonio to escape harsh winters, then opened my practice.
Behind the scenes, even in school, I did portraits when people discovered I could paint. In San Antonio, in 199o, I submitted the winning design for the official Fiesta poster and enjoyed a little flash of local fame.
But I was isolated as an artist. I'd never joined an art group of any sort and so my art and my skill progression languished in the shadow of making my living in another way. I can't explain it fully, but in 2002 I started to 'wake up' and remember who I was at my very core. A patient, a new pastel painter, invited me to drive up to Austin with her for a meeting of the
OH. MY. GOD. My people were there! People who could speak Pastel and Art and Portrait! Since that time I've driven that 70+ miles to Austin monthly to go to meetings and be with my people. I'd discovered the magic and motivation of OTHER ARTISTS!
I joined other groups, I started demonstrating at some of them, when asked. I began giving workshops. I taught classes. I took some workshops given by the jurors of our annual exhibitions. I won awards. Omigosh, that is heady stuff! I traveled to Raleigh for the Int'l Assoc. of Pastel Societies' biannual convention. I traveled to Boston for the Portrait Society of America's annual convention. In 2005, I taught myself to paint in oils by painting 5 paintings a week for that year. I sold most of them on eBay and by the end of the year I felt a lot more confident with oils as well as my beloved pastels. I was immersed in the life I'd always dreamed, but hadn't thought really existed.
But I was still treating patients. Now, I love them. Some I've treated for over 20 years and have watched their children grow up and become patients. They became friends. But I knew my new life was outshining my old life. And when I was sure my art sales were able to support me, I submitted a proposal to the city for a small gallery space in La Villita, the Historic Arts District in downtown San Antonio right by the Riverwalk. And in November I found out my proposal had been accepted! Susan Carlin Art Studio and Gallery has been open since the beginning of February this year.
Until a couple of weeks ago, I'd been trying to see patients on my day off, one day a week. I was completely insane. I had to finally let go of my ties to my old life and start having those conversations with people that begin, "I'm so sorry, I'm not treating patients any longer. You see, I'm an artist..." It's been hard letting go. I've been responsible for these people for so long. But there are other chiropractors (right?) and I've earned my artist life again. (Right??)
Hard or not, I've closed that door.
Now, in the Gallery, I can't tell you how many people come in and get this wistful, longing look in their eyes and mention, sadly, that they "used to do art," "used to paint before I had kids," or something similar. It seems that part of my new life is to be a voice of encouragement, a beacon for the artists who've been interrupted. I was interrupted. I take full responsibility for that now. Not everyone who claims their artist self (for the first time or after a long time) has to make a living at it to be a "real" artist. They just have to do some art. Whatever that is. Music, arranging furniture, putting food on a plate in a beautiful way, writing, drawing, painting, crafting, knitting, singing.....
When you "do art" you are an artist. And your soul smiles. My soul is smiling.
At least, that's the way I see it. What do you think?