Being an artist is a strange thing. No one ever tells you that you are an artist, you don’t need training to become an artist, and going to art school doesn’t necessarily make you an artist. Yet, I was waiting for the day that some golden envelope would arrive at my door to officially announce to the world that another artist had been bestowed the esteemed title. It doesn’t happen like that.
Making, creating and experimenting have been a part of who I am literally as long as I can remember. I won my first art contest in kindergarten and, by the eighth grade, had received the top award in both woodshop and sewing. I had quilter’s hands by the time that I hit high school. And yet, I never even thought I would have an opportunity to embark on a creative career. In fact, I suffered a pretty life-changing bout of anxiety and depression three years into college.
I knew what I was supposed to be doing – at least on paper. I was a great student and school was relatively easy for me. I was doing the “right” thing: enrolled in a new leading science program in college and working the afterschool restaurant job for extra cash. Except, I was incredibly unhappy, which physically manifested itself in such a way that I could no longer ignore the problem. Thanks to the support of my family, I moved back home to the island of Hawaii.
I found a great little job at a coffee shop after moving home and pretty soon the craft boxes came back out and my creativity began to flow again. The next 10 years would be a decade of self-work and self-discovery. I would have several jobs experiences including ziplining, snorkel tours, volcano tours, concierge services and food service. The only constant throughout was my motivation to keep creating. All that time I could never quite find peace and happiness. I knew that I had a talent and passion for creativity and design but, for some reason, I guess I thought I wasn’t good enough to consider making this my career.
And then Upcycling came into my world. As an environmentalist and avid ocean-goer I was becoming consumed with our growing solid waste issues – especially living on an isolated island with such limited space. I became motivated to repurpose materials I was seeing being discarded (and finding on local beaches) into new and usable items. The final results were surprisingly durable and quite beautiful which, in turn, inspired me to create more. Eventually, I had enough “inventory” to try out a local craft fair. Before I knew it, I was a year into selling at markets – yet I still didn’t consider this could be anymore than a “side-gig” and certainly would not have called myself an artist.
Then, one day, it kind of just happened. I was sitting at my very non-exciting and non-fulfilling day job wishing I was working on my art and my products. I thought about all of my role models – no one told them to become self-employed, open a risky small business or move across an ocean on a chance. They were the ones who saw their destiny and took that risk. Here I was, unhappy, looking at my own destiny but waiting for someone else to get me there. That’s when I realized that it was entirely up to me. I decided to quit my mind (and butt) numbing “secure” day job and pursue my upcycling passion full-time. It was not an immediate transition and certainly not an easy one. It cost me a relationship and my best friend at the time. It has eaten my savings account and essentially erased any social life I had. I am now, however, doing what makes me most happy.
The struggle isn’t over and it never will be. Life itself is inherently risky, so why not take on that risk ourselves? I can say that is it easier to cope with my own chosen struggles than the ones forced upon me by circumstance. Getting to where I am now has been quite a journey. 10 years ago, I would never have dreamt that I would be working for myself one day and certainly never thought that I would be referring to myself as an artist. I went from thinking that artists were these rare creatures to believing that there is an artist within each and every one of us – you just may not have found your medium yet. Whatever you are, don’t wait for someone to come along and tell you. Go out and make it happen, or at least try. I assuredly have not succeeded in all of my endeavors and (as cliché as it sounds) it is my failures that have defined my character and made me who I am: a creator, a teacher, an activist, an environmentalist and an artist.