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Late Bloomer: Dreams Have No Age Limit

Some people were born with talent. I wasn’t one of them

Late Bloomer: Dreams Have No Age Limit

Late bloomer. That was me. In fact, maybe I would never bloom at all. I was nearly 60 years old and still searching for something I did really well. When friends from church encouraged me to join them at an art class, I hesitated at first. Now here I was staring at a blank canvas, with a photograph of a sunflower beside it. I’d taken the photo 16 years earlier on a family vacation to Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home in Indiana. When the picture was developed I saw that a couple of bees and the sun’s reflection teamed up to make a kind of smiley face.

Something about that happy sunflower caught my imagination. I wrote a poem about how the sunflower reflected the sun with its smile just as we ought to reflect Jesus’s love with our own. I called the poem “Divine Reflection,” and passed out copies to friends. I considered trying to turn the poem into a children’s book, but I couldn’t find an illustrator who was interested in working on the project. I reproduced the photo on bookmarks and cards. I hoped people would see the same joy in it that I did. So when my new art teacher told us to bring a picture to copy, I knew just which one to choose. But that didn’t mean I could do it. The blank canvas stared back at me, and I wondered what I was doing in this class.

“First thing we’re going to do,” my teacher, Debbie, said, “is grid off the picture and the canvas.” She then explained how to break up the picture into sections. That way we wouldn’t get overwhelmed trying to paint everything at once. That made sense. It was easier to recreate things that way.

As I followed the gridding instructions, I thought back on my past attempts to make artwork. In junior high I couldn’t wait to start my art-class elective. My enthusiasm was short-lived. The teacher didn’t seem to think anything I did was good enough. I stopped trying my best. After a few harsh criticisms I dropped the class altogether.

Then I got up my courage to enroll in a drawing class in college. Unfortunately, I was the only psychology major in a room of full-time art students. I could barely keep up with the amount of sketches we were expected to do—much less match the other students’ quality. My confidence took another hit. After that my creative energies were restricted to hobbies like the origami Nativity I made for the Christmas tree at church, my needlepoint projects, poems and photographs. Until my friends talked me into Debbie’s art class.

“Now that your picture is broken down,” Debbie explained, “focus on sketching what you see in one of those little squares. Just one. Don’t think of it as part of a bigger picture. And don’t guess at where it fits with the rest. Just reproduce that one square. When you’re finished, move on to the next.”

I sketched what I saw, wondering what it would be like to be one of those people who had natural talent. Like those students in my college art class. Or my daughter, who really had a knack for drawing. Or my mother-in-law. Her talent was for gardening—another area in which I had no skill. I shuddered, recalling the long-ago day when I “helped” my mother in her garden. “What did you do?” she cried when she found me proudly showing off my hard work. “You pulled out all the flowers—and left the weeds!” So much for gardening. I’d never so much as touched the dirt again. The rare times I considered asking my mother-in-law for gardening tips, I stopped myself. What was the point?

Little by little, square by square, while my mind wandered to past failings, a picture came to life on the canvas before me. A good picture. Created by me! I almost couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t just that the picture looked better than I expected. I felt proud of myself for working at it, sticking to it, enjoying the process. All those times I’d given up trying, or didn’t try at all—that had hurt my confidence more than any criticism could.

I wasn’t going to let that happen again. All those years I’d wanted to turn my poem into a children’s book, but couldn’t find an illustrator? Why couldn’t I be the illustrator!

I set a new goal in January 2012: finish 12 illustrations for my poem. The next year, Smiles for God From a Sunflower and You was published—and I was a first-time author and illustrator at age 60. A single sunflower had brought me more joy than an entire field of flowers. And speaking of flowers, now I grow my own sunflowers and nurture a rosebush from my mother-in-law’s garden.

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