Every Person Has A Story

every_one_has_a_storyLook what Lucy’s 2nd grade class, the Mitchell Elementary School librarians and I created in just one week! When the librarians learned that I am an artist who creates world maps, they asked me if I would be interested in working with the second graders who were doing a unit on recycling, to create a map out of outdated text books. I jumped at the opportunity and suggested we attempt to get it done before Multicultural Night in mid-April (our initial meeting was in mid-March and we had to schedule around spring break). Amazingly, we did it!

IMG_6391

Up-cycled Text Book World Map: The Making Of

Over the course of a week, I visited with Lucy’s class for an hour on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. By Friday I had the finished piece sent off to be framed!

On Monday, the kids, teachers and I tore all our favorite images and words out of about 20 books. These were text books for young elementary readers filled with rich material and beautiful imagery with titles like Don’t Forget to FlySing It to the Sea, and Window to the Sky – not at all what you imagine when you think back to the text books we had in high school.

1

Back at home, I went through all the torn images – there was a plethora of subject matter: animals, plants, planets, dinosaurs, landscapes, people. When I make my maps I like to focus on messages of diversity, inclusivity, and unity among humans – acknowledging our differences and celebrating them! Remember that’s why I never include political boundaries. For that reason, I decided it made sense for our final work of art to focus on images of people. The 4-foot piece would hang in the library, be titled Every Person Has a Story, and would be dedicated to the kids’ amazing teacher, Mrs. Kirlin, who is retiring this year.

On Wednesday we spent an hour gluing in the library – some kids worked on words, the others on images. Back at home, I used my big map template to cut out the continents and glued them onto the background. I Modge Podged the whole thing and on Friday we just hung the finished piece up in the library and talked about what we learned.

2

What the Kids Learned

• Recycling helps save our planet and up-cycling is a great way to make art!

• You can accomplish SO much when you work as a team. Mrs. Kirlin helped them do the math and we figured out that what they accomplished in 2 hours would have taken me, an artist on her own, 48 hours (or more)!

• There are lots of different people who live on this planet – we may look different, eat different foods, make different music and tell different stories, but we all have the same desires: to feel safe, to be loved and accepted, to learn and to grow.

• When they see the final piece framed and hanging in the library I hope they get a sense of accomplishment and pride from getting to share their hard work with the world. Perhaps there’s a budding artist or two among them who has been left with the inspiration to grow up and make this world a more beautiful place.

6T9A8357 copy

What I Learned

• A paradox: working with children is exhausting and invigorating at the same time.

• There is satisfaction in getting my message of world peace and acceptance across to a group of school children whose minds are open to learning and willing to listen. However much I hope that my art can help towards making positive change in this world, I know that there are grown-ups out there who will never get it.

• I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to give back, in my own special way, to this amazing school that is working so hard to build a strong educational foundation for both my daughters!

• I have said it before and I will say it again, but Sophie and Lucy really do have a love/hate relationship with my art. Sometimes I think they see it as a third child that they have to compete with for my attention. But they also understand the joy of making and being creative and I can tell that there are moments when they feel proud of what I do. It was so AMAZING to include Lucy and her classmates in the process of making this piece. Although, I did put my signature on it (just to make if feel like a piece of Fine Art), the piece isn’t mine at all… it’s theirs.

3

 

Why I Quit My Dream Job to Become a Professional Artist

A friend told me recently that when she tells others about me she says “Charlotte quit her dream job for her dream job.”

It’s true. Sort of. I just quit my job as a designer, photographer and art director at Denver Zoo to pursue being a professional artist. Am I crazy? Maybe, but hear me out.

The story of how I came to work at the zoo is one of vision, perseverance and serendipity. It’s a long story, a good one, but one for another blog post. Suffice it to say, when I started there, it was the closest I could get to my ultimate dream job. For six years, I was continuously challenged and I grew exponentially as a designer, photographer and leader. I got to work with the most amazing, talented and dedicated people and at any point, I could walk outside my office and be in the awe-inspiring presence of lions, tigers, polar bears, gorillas and hundreds of other species. More importantly, I was working for an organization whose mission lie in engaging guests, inspiring their connections with animals, and motivating them to take conservation actions. We worked towards improving the lives of animals on grounds and throughout the world. Since I was a young girl I loved animals. I felt a deep connection to them and I dreamed of working with them. My job at the zoo felt like a dream come true.

So why did I quit?

First of all, I’m going to put this out there to set the record straight – my ultimate dream job is to travel the world as a wildlife photographer. It never truly was working at a zoo; it isn’t really to be an artist; and being a web/graphic designer for the past 15 years was just a smart career choice and I am good at it. The idea of being an animal photographer is what drove me to the zoo in the first place.

My number one priority in life right now is being in a happy, loving supportive marriage and raising my daughters to give them a good childhood with a secure, solid foundation – something I didn’t have as a child. If I were to pursue my ultimate dream, I imagine I would be getting up and going on faraway adventures for weeks on end, leaving the girls with an absent mom, feeling abandoned – not to mention it taking a toll on my marriage. But, I’m not one to let go of my dreams just because I chose to be a mother. Just the opposite, actually. I want to teach my girls to follow their dreams and the best way to do that is to live by example. Being a zoo photographer, to me, was the closest I could get to being a wildlife photographer while still being able to take my girls to soccer and dance, volunteer at their school every now and then, throw amazing birthday parties, and build a loving mother/daughter bond. I did my best to do those things while I was working at the zoo, but it was not easy. Actually, it was really hard and stressful and that whole mother/daughter bond thing, well, I wasn’t so confident that I was succeeding.

The fact was we were a family with two full-time working parents and at the end of each day, we were exhausted. The kids were exhausted from the school day and then nearly three hours of aftercare in the school cafeteria. My husband and I both had long commutes. He came home drained after 45 minutes in traffic and then having to get dinner ready. I experienced stress having to rush back in time to get the girls to soccer practice on time. There was a lot of tension and one too many bottles of empty white wine in the recycling bin.

That was our day-to-day reality. So yeah, I was setting an example for my daughters to follow your dreams… but at what cost? True, I wasn’t off traveling the world but I also wasn’t being the present, calming, consistent force that I felt a mother should be.

So that was part of it. A big part of it.

And then there was this calling to be an artist and all these signs telling me “it is time.” 

IMG_6609
This graphic illustrates the plethora of influences and inspiration that I experienced pointing me to my calling as an artist.

Some of the primary reasons I left my job to be an artist were:

  • I turned 40.
  • I read Big Magic.
  • The 2016 presidential elections were a wake-up call. I started to understand the deeper meaning behind my world maps and felt the need to share them with the world.
  • I went through 6 months of therapy recalling childhood trauma and came out of it free of anger and resentment.
  • I got Best of Show in the Arts Brookfield Show.
  • I was asked to be on the Board of Directors for Athena Project, an arts organization empowering women.

And… finally… my husband and I spent a lot of time and energy exploring what was possible financially and what was best for our family. I have always been the one in our relationship with lofty, ambitious, career-focused dreams – the over-achiever. Scott is grounded, smart, hard-working and not without his own dreams. His though, have always been based on family and living a good life, here and now. It was hard for him to understand why I would want to leave a job that I loved. He even said, “I don’t know how you can be hash-tagging #ilovemyjob one month and then wanting to quit the next.” So I shared with him everything I have just shared with you here and then he shared with me that ever since he met me and learned that I was creatively driven that he dreamed of some day supporting me as an artist. So now we both get to work towards our dreams.

Here’s to the start of new adventures – to finding success as an artist, to being the best mom and wife I can be, and to sharing this journey with you!

 

First Real Adventures for my Traveling Feet

The girls and I (and my feet – they are like a new character in life) traveled to the Bay Area, California for Spring Break. We visited my close friends from college, Megan and Michael, and their three kids Maya, Walter and Alex.

Our days were filled with fun activities and adventures: beach play by the harbor in Sausalito; a ferry ride past Alcatraz from Sausalito to San Francisco; a visit to the sea lions at Pier 39 and later to the Marine Mammal Center; a walk through Muir woods (Lucy puked on the way from the windy roads); multiple drives over the Golden Gate Bridge; getting creative in Maya’s homeschool art class; and a mini road trip down the coast to the beach and boardwalk of Santa Cruz.

Megan and all five kids were patient with me as I stopped to take photos of my feet whenever there was a idyllic backdrop. My ultimate goal was to get a perfect shot in front of the Golden Gate Bridge because the final product of this art project really is a series of photos in front of iconic locations around the world. But there were lots of other fun opportunities to take photos of my feet. In Muir Woods, I lied down on the ground in order to get the perspective of the tall Red Woods. A woman with a stroller commented as she walked by.

“Cool idea. Wander and wonder, hmm,” she read my feet while I pointed them up towards the sky.

“Thanks, yeah, it’s an art project,” I said, looking up at her from the ground.

“She makes world maps,” Sophie added, “wanderandwonder.org.”

And we all laughed, because it’s obvious the girls already have a love hate relationship with this foot thing. Actually, I think Lucy could care less at this point. She’s 6 and has other things to think about. But Sophie, who’s 9, rolls her eyes and acts annoyed whenever I sit down and take off my shoes but then out of nowhere, totally unprompted here she is promoting what I’m doing with pride to a random stranger.

It will be interesting to see how I get my family on board with this project as we continue traveling. I know Scott is not thrilled with the idea. I know I’m crazy and it may seem ridiculous to others. I know it’s silly. But it’s really fun! And I happen to enjoy the fact that I don’t take myself too seriously. And honestly, I love having an excuse to take off my shoes everywhere I go. Other friends have been supportive and encouraging – our friends Mike and Lori encouraged me to take off my ski boots at the top of a mountain peak at Copper Mountain; Megan offered to stop the minivan whenever I wanted while driving through San Francisco and helped me look for the best views of the bridge. I’m so grateful when people are accepting of my crazy ideas. Artists need that kind of support because the fact is we are constantly battling self-doubt and it makes it twice as difficult to do the thing we want to do when our loved ones aren’t supportive. I guess I should have a heart-to-heart with my family before we travel the world. I understand my girls needing to rebel against everything I do, but it would be nice if I could get acceptance from my husband.

With or without support, this project is happening and I am excited.

04

Sky Lanterns

Last week my family went to Lantern Fest, here in Colorado. What an amazing spectacle.  I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. Amazingly, I was able to take a moment to take it all in, amidst taking photos, video and helping my kids and husband actually light our lanterns (which was no easy feat!). I’m always torn between being in the moment (being true to the Buddhist in me) and capturing the moment (being true to the photographer in me). I usually manage to do a little of both.

I do remember being in the moment when I said to Sophie, “Isn’t it beautiful? Isn’t it amazing?”

And she responded by saying, “Yeah Mommy, can you make me one of your maps that looks like this?”

Absolutely.

lantern_fest_01lantern_fest_02lantern_fest_03

And… here is the result. I love it.

lantern_fest_04

You can view the entire album of the lantern festival on my Flickr account.