Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Heather C. Williams, Visual Artist, Tells Her Story

My story is about SEARCHING. To me, drawing is the simplest, most powerful, creative and inexpensive art form capable of doing DEEP, CREATIVE SEARCHING. I feel that it is essential for all of us to learn HOW TO THINK more clearly, critically and creatively. The good news is that drawing can help all of us practice this.

As a child I was fascinated with drawing as a way to learn about the world around me and within me. I drew my thoughts. I drew my feelings. I drew my parents arguing to better understand them. I drew birds and animals. I drew stories. I liked a boy in 4th grade and wanted to get to know him but was too shy to approach him directly, so I found a photograph of him and got to know him a bit by drawing his face. 

My kindergarten teacher told my mother to encourage my drawing and mom was happy to do this. Drawing and painting were activities she used to bring her mind and body back to wholeness from a serious nervous breakdown at age 19. Mom spent 10 years living in an upstairs bedroom, and then, at 29 years of age, in 1941, she felt strong enough to leave the house and go to a local USO dance where she met my dad, a much younger US Army Sergeant. 

Mom was always a quiet person, not a social person or a big talker. She also was not a deep thinker. My dad was the deep thinker, philosopher, and questioner of life. I think I am a bit more like dad. But, like mom, I find drawing and painting to be healing, centering and a valuable way of feeling connected.

Mom, Pencil on Paper, 18"x20"
This is an observational drawing of my mom two years after her very serious heart attack at age 89. She sat completely still, hardly saying a word, while I drew her for 2 hours.

Dad, Prismacolor Pencil on Rives Paper, 8"x10"
This is an observational drawing of my Dad done a few weeks before he died from cancer in 1992. He was staying with me while getting radiation treatments at the Veteran’s Hospital in Milwaukee. These two drawings kind of connect me eternally with my parents.

Mom’s JourneyPen and Ink on Paper,  8"x10"
This is an emotional/intuitive drawing that I did of my mom while I was sitting next to her as she lay in Intensive Care hooked up to many machines and could not speak. The year was 1999. I sat next to her bed, held her left hand in my right hand and drew with my left, or non-dominant hand. I started by just scribbling. I did not know where I was going with this drawing. It took hours and hours. At one point there was a mean-looking spider in the bottom right corner and I saw it as a creature coming to take mom away. Thankfully the spider turned into a smiling snail that told me “this will take a little time”. 

The whole drawing expresses my mother’s journey in the sea of unknown possibilities. At one point the doctors talked about hooking her up to a ventilator. My sister and I told them, no, mom would not want that. Amazingly, mom began getting better the next morning. She survived and lived another 7 years with the pacemaker. 

During this time with mom, I discovered what I call Intuitive drawing. I continue to practice this kind of drawing today. I quiet down, relax and focus my mind on the highest Truth that I know and I spend one minute focusing on this Truth. Then, I draw a line or a squiggle and letting my intuition or imagination take that line and develop a drawing. 

I write about this in my book, Drawing as a Sacred Activity. In the book, I offer three different kinds of drawing exercises: Observational Drawing, Emotional Drawing and Intuitive Drawing.

My book, Published by New World Library, 2002

My SEARCH took a DEEP DIVE when I left home to live in a college dorm at age 18. My parents loved me and to prepare me to live in the world safely, they told me their beliefs about what I would find in the world. However, I did not see what they told me I would see. So I concluded that what they told me was a belief or an opinion. But it was not the Truth. 

That’s when I began to look around and ask this deep question that no one seemed able to answer: “Is there such a thing as Truth...or is it all opinion?”  Be aware, dear reader, (especially if you are a young person), that if you have a deep question that cannot easily be answered – it will begin to drive your life and take you places far beyond what you presently know. 

In 1968, I left college and went to San Francisco to explore hallucinogenics. Below is a self-portrait of me at age 22 after spending a year doing hallucinogenics. My friends were panhandling on the street and I quietly wondered: Is this how I am to live the rest of my life? I was pretty lost and I knew it. Thankfully, I finished college in 1970 and went back to San Francisco to search for a teacher to help me answer my BIG QUESTION about Truth. 

Self Portrait, Pencil on Paper, 22” x 29”
In San Francisco, I met Thane Walker, who became my teacher, at The Prosperos School of Ontology. One day, I distinctly remember grabbing my remaining mescaline tablets and flushing them down the toilet when I heard Thane say: “Drugs may take you to a new, different, even higher place. . . but you always have to return to where you started. If you want to LIVE in a higher place – you must do some work on yourself!”  

So I began “working on myself” by taking Prosperos classes, talking with counselors, and wouldn’t you know - I could see that my ego was caught up in my drawing! So I decided to temporarily stop drawing so that I could study my ego and learn about the deeper Truth of my Being. I said silently to myself, “If ART is meant to be part of my life – it will return to me.” And it did. But it took a few years.

I moved to Mt Shasta in 1971 to do more intensive work on myself with Liz Andrews, HWM. Then, in 1972 I moved to Santa Monica to live close to and work at The Prosperos Inner Space Center. In 1978, after 6 years of classes and working on my memories, beliefs, attitudes, etc., I became a Prosperos High Watch Mentor. A High Watch Mentor is a degree that means, I have committed myself to keep the “High Watch” (to look beyond materialistic circumstances to reveal the eternal and boundless reality always present in the midst of things). The Prosperos School of Ontology continues, to this day, to be the greatest influence in my life.

The self portrait above, at age 45, is an expression of myself as an artist and High Watch Mentor, practicing self-observation, or  nonjudgmental seeing.

 Max, Oil Painting,18 “ x 24"
For the next 5 years, I was an apprentice to Master Artist, Jan Valentin Saether, where I learned not only WHAT to look for in order to draw and paint what I see, but also how to grind pigments, boil mediums and work with oil paint. I have done many oil paintings but this one I did of Max is probably my favorite. Max is Cindy’s grandfather. Who is Cindy? Keep reading, and you’ll find out at the end of this story.

Eduardo, Pencil on Paper, 8” x 10”
I am deeply grateful for what Mr. Saether taught me about letting go of seeing things you can name (tree, cup, face, man, woman, hand) and instead looking for vertical, horizontal and diagonal directions. Paying close attention to where the directions intersect is also something I practice.

Jesse, Pencil on Paper, 8”x10”
The portrait above is of one of my students named Jesse. Recently, I retired from 15 years of teaching Special Ed and ART in the Vista Unified School District. Whew! Teachers are searchers! Being a teacher in the public school system is an amazing and very valuable experience. You are part of a huge system. You cannot just teach what you want to teach. You have to collaborate, prepare activities that inspire young minds, create rubrics & websites & blogs, manage behavior issues, write reports, call parents, be observed by administrators – just to name a few things. 

My last four years were at VIDA (Vista Innovation and Design Academy) a public, magnet middle school in Vista, California. At VIDA, I learned the value of Empathy as a central part of the very creative Design-Thinking Process. Before I was a public school teacher, I was a Teaching Artist who taught a wide variety of students. I was also an assistant teacher for 10 years for the International Louise Hay Teacher Trainings held around the world (Mexico, Italy, England, Canada, Australia, Hawaii and the continental United States). 

I used art to engage all kinds of people. I taught drawing to inmates in the Milwaukee County Jail and brought art activities to people with eating disorders, manic depression, schizophrenia, autism, developmental disabilities, traumatic brain injury, homeless, helping each to express themselves creatively. ART searches every kind of brain cell and brings it forward and shares it with the world.

Cindy, Prismacolor Pencil on Rives paper, 6”x9”
Cindy is my life partner. We met in 1993 and got married in 2008, when it became legal in California. Cindy teaches nurses. Together, we help each other to blossom! I am deeply grateful for her love of the home and her marvelous skills in gardening and cooking. She is also a very talented artist.

This is Week 35 of Artists Tell Their Stories. Thank you for reading and sharing Heather’s story today. To connect with Heather and see more of her work, please visit the following links:

No comments:

Post a Comment