It’s Never Too Late: My Creative Evolution
by Elissa Bedwell
As a child I knew that I enjoyed certain things — drawing, reading, playing, music — but I didn’t realize that these things would become important to me as an adult. I just thought those were the things that kids did. That was what life was about until you became an adult.
As time passed and I grew, I somehow thought that those childish things should be relegated to the past and that I was supposed to somehow find a new way to live: with more responsibility and focus on what I was supposed to become.
Become? I thought I already was?
How was I supposed to suddenly determine the outcome of my life by age 18?
When I started college I had grand dreams of becoming a graphic artist and making my mark in the world of advertising.
I was fascinated with Darren Stevens’ job on Bewitched and wanted nothing more than to bury my head in a computer and Photoshop the crap out of everything in sight.
I also grew up with a passion for interiors and furniture.
When my sisters and I would play with our Barbies, I would spend more time arranging their house than I did actually playing with the dolls.
I frequently moved the furniture in my bedroom around because I liked the feeling that I could create by rearranging everything.
My dad worked a second job as a carpenter and I liked visiting him on the job site and seeing how the houses were put together.
Later, my parents worked together to build a few houses and sold them quite successfully. My mom helped design the layout and distinctive features of the house and my dad would lay out the floor plan and practically build it by himself.
I took a couple of private art classes since my school didn’t offer anything in that arena and eventually taught a children’s art camp one summer under the direction of one of my teachers. I really enjoyed it and didn’t even mind getting up at six in the morning during my summer vacation.
While I high school, I spent two years on the yearbook staff, during one of which I served as the editor. I couldn’t wait for one o’clock to roll around so I could jump in front of our Mac and open up Photoshop 5.0 (wow!) and Quark.
The whole process (taking photos, planning the layout, and writing the stories) convinced me that my future lay in graphic design and I decided that I would pursue it in college.
I was so into it that my parents even took us on a family vacation to Savannah, Georgia to visit the campus of the Savannah College of Art and Design to see if I would like to attend.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have anything resembling a portfolio and I had such a low opinion of my capabilities at the time (mostly due to not having a strong background in the arts) that I decided to just study locally at The University of North Alabama and perhaps transfer to SCAD later.
I never did.
I started at UNA in 1998 and at the time computers were really just coming to the forefront of the design industry.
The small university I attended was focused mostly on nursing, teaching and business.
They had an art department but it wasn’t well funded. The computer lab had only a handful of computers and there were only a couple of classes that dealt with them (at that it was only at a 400 level).
I would have to wait four years to even think of learning any type design software.
I took a couple of semesters of art classes and really only enjoyed one class (Drawing 101). I felt dispair at having to learn the basics when what I really wanted to do was create things digitally.
After much deliberation, I decided to drop the art thing altogether and get a degree in journalism.
Then I tried marketing.
Then I dropped out and decided to just work for a year and see where it would take me. I thought perhaps I just needed some time to mull things over and settle on a direction.
Then I got married and moved and began studying programs like AutoCAD, Photoshop and 3D Max.
The classes were fun but as they progressively got more difficult I realized that the 3D thing was not my forte and changed over to web design and eventually taught classes in HTML.
Those were the days before the world of designing for the internet became as complex as it is today and I eventually gave that up because I couldn’t wrap my brain around things like Java Script, Flash, ASP.NET and the like.
I felt as though maybe I was wrong about my creative abilities and maybe I just wasn’t cut out to be an artist — of any sort.
Eventually I gave it all up and took office and administrative jobs.
I am very good with organizing and running things and have an outgoing personality so these jobs seemed like a good fit. I could talk to people all day and help plan and organize events and in general I was a very happy camper.
As the years passed, though, I began feeling that little rain cloud of melancholy over my head. I knew that my life was about more than just working for a paycheck and watching the clock tick down the seconds until the weekend arrived.
I knew that there was something creative inside of me that was struggling to get out, even as I pushed it back in and told it to keep quiet. It somehow felt less depressing to not acknowledge it’s presence than to stare it in the face and wonder what to do with it.
I finally hit a wall that not only affected my personal outlook on life but it affected my relationships with everyone around me. I was depressed and honestly couldn’t see a way out of my self-imposed creative isolation.
I felt doomed to a life of soul-sucking jobs and no way to express everything I felt inside of me.
After a particularly tearful conversation with my mother over the telephone, she suggested that I try looking for creative inspiration outside of my job.
Perhaps meet with a writer’s group or begin taking painting or piano classes.
That night I looked on CraigsList to see if there was anything interesting in my area and I found an ad placed by a young filmmaker in Birmingham, Alabama.
He was looking for a production designer to help him with an upcoming movie.
I had no experience and no knowledge of what a production designer actually did but I felt compelled to email him and start a conversation.
Little did I know that one simple email would change my life forever.
Though the process of coming into contact with a small but very close group of creative and interesting people, I gained some very important insight about myself and the process of creating.
I realized that I am creative and no “job” decides that for me.
I realized that I need to create to be happy.
I need to get all of that energy and all of those ideas out into the world.
It’s like being perpetually pregnant. Without giving birth to something new on a regular basis, that beautiful energy turns into a parasite and begins the slow process of tearing away at my self confidence, and eventually, my soul.
I don’t have to pigeon-hole myself into a certain medium. I can be a photographer, writer, musician, painter, crafter, cook, makeup artist, interior designer, gardener…anything! As long as I approach it in a creative and energetic way, I can do anything I dream up.
That is a truly liberating notion: “I can do anything.”
Thanks to the pervasive creative genes given to me by my parents, I was born with a knack for knowing good design, but I didn’t even realize the future implications. I just thought that’s how everyone looked at the world.
I didn’t know that this was one of the things that made me who I was…who I am.
I am in the process of completing my interior design classes with great plans for the future and you know it totally involves another blog (as if having two of my own and guest-posting for another weren’t enough).
No longer am I afraid of life and where it will take me.
I have such conviction to bring my ideas into the world in whatever way I choose. My options are literally endless.
The task at hand now is to focus and move confidently in that direction.