My earliest memories of creative practices were of writing poems and drawing for my Italian Great Aunt Christine. I would sit at the table on her sun porch. She kept paper and pencils in the drawer and this was all I needed to be happy. A creaky rocking chair next to a big window overlooking her backyard provided a place where I could observe the changing seasons and arrival of tiny birds. A red cardinal balanced on a snowy branch would inspire my poetry. After the winter, blooming forsythia and lilacs would beckon us to search the yard for signs of spring. I wrote about my feelings and the beauty of the living world around me. Aunt Christine would post my poems on a pastel flowered tablecloth tacked securely to the sunroom wall. She honored me with a gift of my own writing space. Her time was spent nurturing my artistic nature without judgment or criticism. She would tell me I was a poet and I believed her.
|Good Intentions, Acrylic on Paper|
I grew up in a family of artists, writers, and designers. My mother was an artist, interior designer, and space planner. My father was a man who loved books and music, especially Italian opera. It was the world I knew by heart. I was born both right and left-handed and my elementary years at Our Savior’s School changed my writing and art because my teachers would not allow me to use my left hand. This altered my creative response. It wasn’t until many years later that I would remember this by witnessing my left-hand writing, drawing and painting as naturally and easily as my right hand.
|Collaboration, Acrylic on Paper|
It was the summer of 2003, during an art teachers’ institute at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York when I learned my story. I was awarded a grant-funded experience where 21 high school art educators were given a month of studio space, classes, gallery tours, lectures, a mentor professor and time for total immersion in our art studies. My proposal was to explore the creative mind by using both hands. Out of curiosity, I wanted to learn how our creativity could be turned on through the use of both our dominant and non-dominant hands. When I began my research on this subject I did not remember being born both handed.
For thirty days I was completely free to spend as much time as I wanted in my studio space at Skidmore with my fellow art teachers from across the United States. It was quite a privilege to have earned a chance to do my writing and art without the daily distractions of the outside world. I eagerly began my journey with a smaller, well-centered studio space filled with natural light from above. I started each morning with a strong cup of coffee and journaling, free writing to stir my thoughts. I did not plan a schedule but rather allowed myself to move from one process to the next guided by my inner desire. I would write a page with left and right hand each day and gradually noticed that my left hand began to awaken. At first, I would consciously choose to put the pen or brush in my left hand and as time went on my hands would shift back and forth naturally without prompting.
I had large sheets of white and brown Kraft papers pinned to my studio walls with charcoal, Conte sticks, and a box of oil pastels openly inviting me to draw when ready and willing. I became perfectly content in my little sanctuary and craved more and more time to write, draw and paint. My left hand wrote in uncensored, more intuitive terms, liberating my words without a constant critic. The drawings I did with my left hand were more abstract and seemed to arise from my unconscious mind. The work of my right hand was always very precise and intentional, with a persistent voice of commentary whispering supervision. One day as I was drawing large figures on paper I wrote outside of my drawing, “Today I find great joy being a left-handed artist.” I paused to notice what the words said and wondered in that moment if I was born left-handed and then had my natural hand changed to my right?
Upon returning home that summer I called my Aunt Pat in Sante Fe, New Mexico. My mother had been deceased for many years so being close to my aunt, my mom’s older sister, I thought she might remember If I had been a left-handed child. When I spoke with her she answered me with great certainty that I was truly ambidextrous and that my mother, who was also an artist, knew what a gift this was. She said my mom went to speak with the principal, requesting that I be allowed to use both hands. My teachers at Our Savior’s Grade School, however, did not agree and set out to discourage the use of my left hand. I had no memory of this. Somehow through Divine guidance perhaps, I was brought to Saratoga Spring that summer of my 50th year to rediscover the use of both hands. Ever since that summer, I have been writing, drawing and painting actively with both hands and often paint simultaneously to create my abstract expressive pieces.
As a professional book illustrator, I was educated at Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida, where my mother also went to school. After graduation, my husband and I with our two young daughters moved back to my hometown of Springfield, Illinois, where I worked as a free-lance book and editorial illustrator and began teaching art. Ten years later we moved back to Sarasota, Florida where I became interested in the expressive arts. I found that I really wanted to study Art and Healing at Ringling College so I enrolled and completed studies in 2012. This was life-changing for me and helped me to fully reconnect with my authentic art spirit. My art began to evolve and emerge as I was able to let go of my self-imposed expectations and embrace this part of myself who had been silenced.
The drawings and paintings shown in my story today are all done with both my right hand and left hand. Now I am able to find great joy knowing that my creative energy is free and true. I have a grateful heart because my life’s journey has led me to a place where I have dreamed of being . . . where my art informs me. Peace.
This is Week 46 of Artists Tell Their Stories. Thank you for reading and sharing Patrice's story today. To connect with Patrice and see more of her work, please visit the following links: