The Artist Formerly Known as Dr. Carlin


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.
Committed artist at 12
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.


97th General Hospital, and Officer's Club, Frankfurt, W. Germany

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?

29 comments:

Mary Spires said...

Wow! What a wonderful journey! My art journey started with breast cancer.....from your work I saw in Austin, you made the right choice.

Karen Hargett said...

Congrats! I enjoyed reading about your journey - truly inspiring - thank you for sharing.

Katie May said...

How absolutely wonderful! I love your story! And I wish for you the most happy and succesful journey...I have always thought the "used tos" or "should haves" are some of the saddest words...There is something I have written in a little notebook in my purse...It is Walt Whitman..."Happiness, not in another place, but this place. Not for another hour, but this hour." We let life pass by always wishing we had done what made "our soul smile". Good for you for doing it!

K. said...

I think you're amazing and inspiring and I loved reading this piece of your story. Thank you so much for sharing!

Jo Castillo said...

I am so happy you found your soul again. :) You are an inspiration. Thanks for sharing your story.

indiaartist said...

Susan, you have a story! Congrats for following your heart. No day will go dull and you won't look back again. Happy painting.

Dianne Mize said...

I knew you had a smiling soul the first time I saw your work right her on your blog. I gotta admit, when I saw today's headline, I went "What?"
But it's a story to be proud of and gave me goosebumps. Thanks for that. So glad your journey has brought you here.

S.M. Sedwick said...

Wow. Thanks for sharing your inspirational story. You should write a book! (You know, in your "spare time"! *smiles*)

Barbara Pask said...

Wow Susan, Who knew, a doctor. I have this pain in my back I need to ask you about. Just kidding, I think your story is wonderful. Long ago I heard someone say " find something you love to do and figure out a way to make a living at it" the money part isn't always easy but doing something you love is oh so good for the soul. Good luck to you. Barb

Pattie said...

Thanks for sharing your interesting journey. We ARE kindred spirits - always knowing we needed to continue with art, but life gets in the way sometimes. YOU picked the right path. It's evident in your work and your blog. You are in LOVE.

Angela Fehr said...

Thanks for sharing some of your story, Susan. I think the number of comments you're getting is an indication of how sharing our experiences really reaches others.

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.

One of my goals in life is to never be one of those people! Why do we think that creativity must be abandoned to make way for the "important" stuff? I feel like I'm more creative because I have kids!

Susan Carlin said...

Oh, you wonderful artists, you! I came home from the gallery tonight to find your words waiting for me. Thank you for "getting" my choice and sending me into my new life even happier. I'm going to watching your own transformations, too. Here's to learning and risking and betting better all the time!

georgiana ewing said...

Susan, I've been reading your blog for a while now and receive much inspiration from it. Thanks for sharing your history and congratulations on your courage. GO FOR IT!!!

Rose Welty said...

Susan, What a wonderful story to read, thanks for sharing it. I have to say that I started reading your blog just before you opened the studio. As I read about it and the things you went through, well, you just made it all sound very ordinary and do-able, if you know what I mean. I tucked it into my mind to keep for the day when I get close to doing something like that, to remind myself that it can be done. Part of me always says "no, you can't do things like that, you're not that sort of person," but your story will remind me that we can all be risk-takers and I can do it, step by step.

Thanks!

Frank Gardner said...

Good for you! I like reading stories like this. The courage to follow your heart is a wonderful gift. Too many people get caught up doing things that they really don't want to be doing.

Susan Carlin said...

Thank you, Rose and Frank. I think we're all a bit brave to do any sort of art, actually. To put something out there in the world for people - especially ourselves- to judge is a courageous thing. Banding together with other artists is such a comfort as well as inspiration to keep learning.

Mrs. G. said...

This is the most beautiful post-how lucky to feel that your soul is smiling. And this is such a good lesson in that sometimes one door HAS to close in order for the other to be fully opened. Yeah, for you!

Joanna said...

Great post, Susan. Congratulations.

Ann Reyes said...

WOW!!! What else can I say? What a wonderful, wonderful story! You're in the right place now. I know exactly what you feel. I've had a passion to paint since I was 16, but had to teach art to make a living. I retired last May and am in heaven painting all day every day. It's what I've always wanted to do. I'm so happy for you because I am completely on the same wave length. Isn't it absolutely wonderful to be able to paint? I'm so thankful!

Thank you for your kind comments. I'm in the Rio Grande Valley visiting relatives and I'm painting every day, but I got behind posting. I'm caught up now.

Take care and paint, paint, paint.

Regina Calton Burchett said...

Susan - I think that is one of the most wonderful and inspiring "diary posts" I've seen. (The word 'blog' just seems so crass sometimes.)

And I think you are very right when you say: "It seems that part of my new life is to be a voice of encouragement, a beacon for the artists who've been interrupted.

Good for you!! For becoming the full-time artist you were meant to be, and for sharing that possibility with other artists. I'm so proud of you!

Regina

gene said...

Susan,
I was overwhelmed when I watched you paint your father's portrait. Jo told me to read your blog about your journey to where you are today. It is fascinating. I am a fan of Mark Twain and want to add this from one of his quotes:

The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.

Good Luck!

Gene

Julie said...

Congratulations and we wish you continued success and happiness!

painterchum said...

Susan, Just a delight to read your background and how you became the artist you are. Such great encouragement you give to all other hibernating artists!!! I think "JUST DO IT" was your motto before NIKE was invented.!! Way to go kiddo.

BipolarLawyerCook said...

I think I am a writer with a law degree, just as you are an artist, an Artist, capital A, with a chiropractor's degree. And a great storyteller-- thanks for sharing this set of stops on your journey with us.

Smoochdog ~ said...

Often what we do for a living gets in the way of what we want to fo for our life. Congrats to you for making it happen for you. I love the portrait you did tilted "Pink Hat" and Wishes. Truly great work.

Cheri said...

Oh. My. God. This is fantastic! I'm sending a link to this post to my oldest daughter. She's been painting since she was a wee little thing.

ChrisB said...

Oh my gosh! By the end of your post I had tears in my eyes. At first I was most excited to know that you'd lived in Santa Cruz. :) I grew up in San Jose and Santa Cruz is my beloved beach town. Then I was touched by your life story to date. The Universe is truly wonderful and I am happy for your journey back to your true artist nature. Isn't it interesting how we can "forget" that we're artists? Best wishes Susan - you're amazing and I celebrate your life.

"JeanneG" said...

Thanks for the walk down your memory lane. Keep up the good work.

Kathryn Law said...

"And your soul smiles." Oh Susan, this is so uplifting. You're a model and an inspiration to us all. I too was "interrupted", for way too long--but as long as we come back to our true selves eventually, it's never too late.