by Christine Mix copyright 2013
by Christine Mix copyright 2010
Hard times... most people experience them at least once in a life time, and sometimes more. It doesn't matter if you're rich or poor, what religion or political views you hold, what country, city or village you live in, what color you are or how many fingers you have. Hard times come to us all, in many forms. It could be a fire in you apartment building at midnight, that sends you, your family and neighbors out into the streets. You could black out from asthma in the middle of a hot Summer day, and find yourself kissing the pavement with a broken nose. It could come in the form of a job loss, a sudden road rage or a terrorist attack from out of the blue, that could end your life, or that of someone you love. It could be cancer, arthritis and loved ones with alzheimers. Hard times can be ice storms, hurricanes, famine, homelessness, earthquakes, or war. Hard times test our courage, and our ability to survive and to persevere, with that inner knowing, that life is short. Yet, no matter how the hard times effect us, somehow, we carry on.
I remember years ago, while living in Florida, I was painting scenery for theaters, and interior decorators, while I painted and wrote children's illustrations and stories in the wee mornings and late evenings. One day, while painting bookshelves for a private client, my right hand started cramping up. The more I pushed through the weeks to come, the worse it got, so I painted with my left hand. The result was development of chronic tendonitis in both hands. I remember what my hand surgeon told me back then. She said, "From now on, no more large pieces. Stick to those lovely little watercolor paintings you do so well. That's the direction you want to go in.” That year, I lost the complete use of my hands for approximately three to four months and it took nearly a whole year to recover. Luckily I didn't have to go through surgery, but, there was a lot of physical therapy and struggles with everyday life that needed to be overcome.
During that time, I had to drop all of my freelance designer work, and just focus on healing. Luckily I was staying with my sister at the time, while, making the transition to move back to New England. Unfortunately for my sister, my one month visit turned into a one year stay. It had caused a burden for her and her husband, because I wasn't able to work to pay my rent, or even do the simplest house chores. What I was able to do however, according to my doc's instructions, was to manage to paint children's illustrations, five minutes, and eventually, fifteen minutes a day, alternating between both hands. This put a little stress on our relationship, as my sister couldn't understand how I could paint, and not do the dishes.
Life does have it's miracles though, and it pushes us in the direction of our right path, no matter how many obstacles arise. Sometimes miracles arrive in the form of an old lady. My mother introduced me to her wonderful neighbor from Sweden, Deloris Mertens. Deloris was a countess, a composer, and a writer. When she saw my portfolio she asked me to paint a couple of illustrations for a couple of children's stories and songs she had written over the years. After reading the stories and meeting Deloris, I was thoroughly inspired and hopeful again. We knew that it would be a challenge to get the stories published in a world where editors prefer to pick their own illustrators for stories they take on, (and they do so for a good reason). So, we went about it with our eyes open. I did it for the experience of creating a storyboard, a dummy and it added a couple of new paintings to my portfolio. Although we agreed on no payment, Deloris did throw me a little money here and there, throughout the process, we both kept our copyrights, and she let me keep the paintings so I could sell them in the future.
As a result, one of those two illustrations, Silver Harmony, (above), became one of my best selling images and a favorite by the art directors and agents whenever they see my portfolio. Deloris has since passed on, but, her inspiration and beauty lives on in her memory.
Later that Spring, I was painting a dragon on the street at the Lake Worth Side Walk Painting Festival. An older woman was pushing her young grandson in a wheel chair, and they stopped in front of my little square where I was painting. The boy asked me, “Is that a dragon?” I answered, “Yes, his name is Spike.” Then the boy smiled, and he stayed there and starred at the dragon for a little while longer. Before they left, his grandmother said, “Thank you for making him smile. He hasn't smiled in a very long time.” That's when I knew, it was okay. My dream had come to me. Even if I got hit by a mack truck that day, I did my job as a children's illustrator. I made at least one child smile in this world. And that's what it's all about – that's why we need to draw, paint, and create, whatever we need to create.
That year, I learned to pace myself, not to push, and I found a new way to go about painting, writing and to follow that dream career I held so dear, and to never quit. And yes, I did make it back to New England.
There have been several more hard times since then. My father had alzheimers and in the end, colon cancer. Once again, I found painting and writing to be my life preserver, while taking on the role of caregiver for both of my parents. This time that life preserver came in the form of a real children's illustration assignment from an educational publisher, Teacher Ideas Press, from out of the blue. Illustrating Write Out of the Oven! By Josephine Waltz, carried me through.
I remember what my father once told me, “Life is like sailing a boat,” he said, “sometimes when you're out on the sea, a storm comes up and blows you off your course and all you can do is just hang on tight and ride out the storm. And don't worry if you get blown off course, you may find that you've gone somewhere you've never planned to go, but, that's okay. It's like taking a little side trip off of your path, and you learn a few lessons along the way. After you've learned those lessons, then you can get back on course and sail on, with new knowledge you didn't have before.” With my father's words, I've learned to let inspiration act as my lighthouse in a sea of storms.
Dreams don't come easy. By following our dreams, we find that our dreams aren't just about us... they belong to a bigger picture. Whenever we put our creations out there to the public, we're affecting the world around us, and hopefully, making this world a better place, even if it is for only one moment in time.