Art, Fear, and Purple Mountains


Shut down as an artist

An 8th grade art class filled me with exuberance. I sketched, explored pastels, tried watercolor. I filled tablets, doodled on margins, and saw the world with new eyes.

One day my joy came crashing down like a landslide, burying my joy in rubble I am still digging out from. Something about my watercolor of a landscape with purple mountains deeply offended my teacher. She posted my painting on the bulletin board near the principal’s office. Along with a D, a barely passing grade, she wrote, “There are no purple mountains.”

She could not have chosen a more visible spot. I could not have been more humiliated. Maybe she was just having a bad day. What I heard was: “You are not an artist. You will never be an artist. You have no artistic vision. You have no taste. You do not count.”

The class had been my joy.

Reclaiming my artistry

Stuff and nonsense.

Hannah Hinchman gave me permission to enjoy sketching once again, but she could not return what that eighth-grade teacher stole from me. For that, I needed photography.

The egg of my fears cracked slightly when I took a course shortly after retirement. Two retired teachers, both gifted photographers, taught us to play with our cameras. They shared the “rules” for a good photograph and how to break them when artistry demanded a different vision.

Eyes opened, I began carrying my camera everywhere. I had accepted the adage that cameras are a barrier to actually connecting with the world around us. The opposite proved true. Camera in hand, I came to observe more closely, to look at angles, anomalies, and associations.

Beyond the scenes my lenses captured, I reconnected with storytelling. When I viewed the photos on my computer, I heard the stories whispered by trees, sidewalks, and fire hydrants. From time to time, I wrote those stories alongside the photos I posted on Facebook.

Small Scale Stories – only slightly off kilter

The kind responses of friends and strangers encouraged me to begin posting the tiny tales on Instagram. Now I’m pulling them together into small collections. They are little books to give to cousins, colleagues and children, books to inspire a closer connection with the world around us, to stimulate our imaginations and encourage love for everything we touch or see or feel.

People have asked what to call them – micro stories, tiny tales, shorter-than-short stories…??? A few weeks ago the name came to me, along with a tagline—Small Scale Stories – only slightly off kilter.

The first book is now on IngramSpark, a POD (print on demand) publisher, as well as a major supplier of books for libraries and retailers. The proof copy is on its way to me. As soon as I’m satisfied with it, the book will be available for order by any book store and will soon be available on Amazon. That Tree Talked to Me will be followed by other collections of small-scale stories that have fallen on receptive hearts.

Notice to doubters 

This is a message to people of the ilk of my 8th-grade art teacher: Try not to impose your own fears on the children, students, friends and colleagues around you. Your vision is as narrow as theirs, but their vision is unique and worth sharing.

It is also a message to anyone silenced by inner critics: You can add only a drop to the ocean of creativity, but that drop may be what changes someone’s life. Your song, book, drawing, dance or culinary creation is your unique gift to the world. Be generous with it.


  2 comments for “Art, Fear, and Purple Mountains

  1. sterling haynes
    January 14, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    I am glad you “kept digging”

Your comments keep me blogging!

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