On the Thrills and Fears of Pursuing a Childhood Dream

I think most children have dreams and aspirations that end up falling by the wayside.

When I was little, one of the first things I wanted to be was a writer. I used to write little stories on the clunky, 2000-era family iMac about princesses, named Cissy, who saved herself, and princes that existed as ultimately unimportant entities in the story.

Needless to say, I did not end up becoming a fiction writer. While I’ve always enjoyed writing, hence this blog, I never believed it to be one of my strong suits. Perhaps those stories served a different function: an escapist fantasy where little girls could be princesses who were brave and smart and could save themselves from the onslaughts of the world, a different storyline from the classic European fairytales I continue to be fascinated with.

The second thing I wanted to be was an artist.

I don’t remember a time when painting or drawing wasn’t in my life. We have family pictures of me as a child sitting quietly at the kitchen table with my age-appropriate art supplies, carefully painting butterflies and people with overly long necks and odd proportions, all with smiley faces. My parents continue to marvel over the facts that I rarely drew stick figures and that I always drew happy things, and they like to juxtapose the constant moving energy of my little sister with my innate ability to sit still for long hours.

On the Thrills and Fears of Pursuing a Childhood Dream - Cissy's Art Café
Me as a child, quietly sitting at the table making what my dad calls barbouillage.

When my mom moved my family to Shanghai, my dad helped enroll me in an extracurricular art class. I can attribute the majority of my technical skill to that teacher, who taught me about shapes and shading and drawing from life – and more importantly, about patience and kindness and the impact a good teacher can make on a child. He explained the fundamentals of art to me when we could not yet speak the same words. By the time I was fluent in Mandarin, we were communicating in two languages.

My mom mentioned multiple times that I spent more time on art than any other subject combined. Her comment was true – when I was 10, I quit ballet to take a then-conflicting second art class with the same teacher.

When I turned 13, I moved to Connecticut to go to boarding school. I was across the world from my family, confused by culture shock, but there were a few things I was good at that helped me familiarize: math class, of which I was enrolled in two simultaneously, and Pre-AP art class, with a teacher that would end up becoming incredibly important in my journey.

At this point in my life, I thought I wanted to go to college to study Physics and Math. Both of my parents had Ph.Ds, my mom’s in Physics and my dad’s in Electrical Engineering. I had grown up in a household where STEM was honored, where I was told that “one could walk fearlessly through the world if one grasped math, physics, and chemistry.”

My high school art teacher wanted me to go to art school. He spent the four years he had with me in high school trying to convince me out of studying Math and Physics. I think he was further convinced that I should go to art school after my failed attempt Junior year to take a year off of drawing. I crawled back to the art studio half a trimester into the year.

He did partially succeed – I did not study Math or Physics in college, which in retrospect, would have been a nightmare. I went to M.I.T. for architecture, which ended up being one of the few decisions in my life that I still question regularly.

I knew I did not want to go to art school, because I did not want to starve. What can I say? I like food.

On the Thrills and Fears of Pursuing a Childhood Dream - Cissy's Art Café
My drawings, made in high school of the two art teachers that inspired me and cultivated my artistic tendencies into what they are today.

Today, I am a graphic and user experience designer at a small audiovisual consultancy in Manhattan. It’s my first job out of school. It’s ironic that I spent so much time trying to pursue something “sensible” and somehow, I ended up doing something that combines my artistic side with my logical, rule-driven architecture training.

With more free time, I’ve been able to take more time out of my day to pursue my art again. I still drew in college, don’t get me wrong, but I was once prolific in the way I churned out artwork. Now, it requires a little more motivation, but I think I’m slowly getting back to where I was. I miss the way child-me used to paint without questioning or comparison.

As I continue down my artistic journey, I have been posting artwork to my Instagram fairly regularly. My drive to post new content regularly helps me reach the activation energy I need to pull out my paints to continue painting, and it has become a space where I post anything relating to my creative journeys: painting, drawing, crocheting, bullet journaling, and sewing.

On the Thrills and Fears of Pursuing a Childhood Dream - Cissy's Art Café
My current Instagram feed, at the state it was since writing this post.

I’ve been slowly gaining followers and creating a little community in my corner of the Instagram world, which I’m really proud of  – and at one point last year, I drew a mood tracker for 2018 that took off on both Instagram and Facebook. It prodded me to create a printable of it, and I opened an Etsy shop – something I’ve wanted to do ever since in high school but never had the courage to go through with it.

Since then, I’ve put a lot of thought into whether or not I wanted to take the plunge and offer physical art prints on the shop. Many of my friends are enthusiastic supporters of me, and with their encouragement I ended up deciding that yes, I did want to offer prints. My full-time job and some other random opportunities that have come my way have given me the economic freedom to be able to invest in the tools I would need, which I am incredibly grateful for. There are quite a few pieces that I have made and am really in love with, and my hope is that other people will love them too.

A week ago, after doing quite a bit of research, I lined up all my Google Chrome tabs so that I could bite the bullet and purchase all of the items I would need to start making prints. I had to do it quickly, while the idea was fresh in my mind, before I could convince myself out of purchasing everything.

While I had the money to buy the printer and the other materials, it was still a non-negligible investment that has me terrified. I am not a spender. I am miserly and I love my financial spreadsheet, created and tailored by me to fit my needs, color-coded in rainbow to make it pretty. I keep telling myself that it’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t pay off, which of course it isn’t, but I’m really hoping I don’t end up wasting all of that money.

While I’m putting my art out there, I’m scared that I’ll find out I’ve been living in a bubble filled with extremely loving and supportive friends. I mean, I know my friends are extremely loving and supportive, and I definitely do live in a little bubble that I’ve manufactured for myself by the friendships that I’ve made and maintained, but I hope that there are some random people out there who like my work. I am an introvert, and putting my work out there to speak for itself is terrifying in many ways. Instagram is one thing. Monetizing it is something completely different.

At the same time, I am filled with excitement over this new endeavor! I’m excited to see how my artwork translates onto printed paper, and I’m excited to send out my first print if that ever happens. I’m excited to test out my fancy printer and to see if I like the paper I purchased. I also ordered some sticker paper samplers, and I’m very excited to test those out as well. I’m excited to see if this can become a lucrative business for me, and I’m extremely thrilled to be attempting to pursue my childhood dream: one that I wrote off when I was much younger and somehow have come back to.

I put all of my heart and soul into every piece that I do. I enjoy observing little details, committing them to memory, seeing how I can translate them in my own artistic language. I find solace in the way paint spreads on paper. I have childlike glee when I smudge charcoal and watch the shapes form on their own. I don’t think I’m the best artist, and sometimes I go through intense spells of self-doubt, but I try to imbue every drawing with the joy that I feel every time I pick up a pen or a paintbrush. I really, really, really hope that translates.

When I graduated from M.I.T. I felt petrified from a sense of not knowing: not knowing what I was going to do with my life, not knowing if and how I was going to change or impact the world. I don’t know if that’s a necessity for me anymore. My mom remarked recently that I’m a people-pleaser, and I agreed.

I realized at some point last year that I’ve always just wanted to make people happy.

The happy smiley faces that I used to draw as a child still persist in my artwork, albeit less explicitly. For me, creating art is truly a joyful experience, and I hope that sentiment carries through into my prints.

As my parents said, I create happy things. I hope they can make you happy too.

On the Thrills and Fears of Pursuing a Childhood Dream - Cissy's Art Café
Coming Soon.

Check out my Etsy shop when the prints start getting finalized! In the meantime, I’ll be posting updates about this endeavor on my Instagram.

On the Thrills and Fears of Pursuing a Childhood Dream - Cissy's Art Café

1 Comment

  1. Sonya
    January 31, 2018

    Yes x1230198 ! I relate to so much of this, and I bet there are a lot of other people who do as well – really happy you are taking the plunge 🙂 Also I’m glad you’re doing prints of your travel sketches! They are beautiful ~


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