In my last post I explored how others perceive how I do what I do, which got me thinking about how responsible I really am for what I am able to do artistically. I now realize that like anything in life, many things usually contribute to one outcome. First, I was lucky to attend schools with strong visual art offerings. This is becoming increasingly rare in our country's schools systems. Second, I had the support of a parent and stepparent to pursue and develop my talent. Despite financial challenges, they found it in their budget to hire a private art tutor when I was 13. Stan Myers still lives in Rockford, Michigan, painting beautiful watercolor harbor and sailboat scenes. He had me read the classic Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards and diligently perform the exercises. I highly recommend this to anyone getting started--learning the fundamentals of drawing is vital to anyone pursuing art, even if your ultimate intention is abstract painting.
Unfortunately my parents cancelled Stan's sessions when I began failing Algebra in 9th grade so I could focus on that. Not sure about that logic, but that's how it goes when you are a kid.
Third, the artist gene runs strong in my family. My grandfather on my father's side and my mom were both artistic. My grandfather, Tys Damstra, was born in rural Friesland, Netherlands. He took an art correspondence class by mail to develop his artistic skill. He created delicate, realistic, yet somewhat folklorist, landscapes of his Frisian countryside. The scene above shows a view from his house during World War II as Holland was occupied by the Germans. The trees are stumps because they were all cut down for firewood. My grandfather was skilled in many other ways as well--woodworking, making wooden shoes and a successful house painting business. I have fond memories of mornings in his basement woodshop, gluing and painting little creations while he crafted amazing furniture. The drawing table he made for me is still in use in my studio. To learn how my grandparents took their five children to the U.S. after the war and other fascinating stories of Michigan immigrants, check out The Sweetness of Freedom by Martha Aladjem Bloomfield and Stephen Garr Ostrander.
My mom also had artistic aspirations (see image below). With training she could have been very good, but art was mainly therapy for her. When she died a few years ago, her home was filled with paintings of the beaches and tropical places that brought her warm calm and happiness in this cold Michigan climate. Her biggest gift to me, however, was her support of my abilities and belief that art was worth pursuing.
Finally, I have to mention my brilliantly talented sister, Emily Damstra. Emily is a scientific illustrator whose work includes coins for the Canadian Mint and Smithsonian exhibits. Her precision and attention to details in nature are amazing.
Whether creating art is to make a living, get you through a war or to keep you warm through a Michigan winter, it is a hugely beneficial pursuit. I wouldn't trade it for the world.