Why I'm Glad I Didn't Go to Art School

When I was a senior at Eisenhower High School, back in 2002, I had a fantastic class schedule. My first two hours were a block class of Vocational Mechanical Drafting IV, followed by two hours of Graphic Arts, then an independent study class for 2-D Art, and English was my last class of the day. It was pretty clear which end of the building my heart was with by the time I finally reached that senior year.

One day a representative from the Art Institute of Chicago came and did a presentation on their school. I was convinced I had to go there. How exciting at 18 to think about moving to the Windy City to start the next chapter of your life among other young artists. I never felt like I fit in in high school, surely art school would be my home. I had decided. I was going to study graphic design in Chicago. Done deal. I shared my enthusiasm with my parents and they were on board.

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Yearbook Exhibit A: Me painting at an art night at Ike. Note the quote (which I'm sure I didn't exclaim...); the art is for everyone's protection. Also,  notice the painting on display is the one featured in my previous blog. Fun stuff.

Yearbook Exhibit B : Me in drafting class with my then favorite Weezer shirt and hoodie combo and my Wonder Woman style metal cuff bracelet.


I packed up my portfolio and my dad and I drove down to Chicago. We watched another presentation about the school, toured the campus, and I had a portfolio review. It was all thrilling! I was on the cusp of adulthood and I was going to embark on this journey independently in a brand new city. The advisor told me at the review that based on my work and high school transcripts that I was accepted. My heart sang. I was good enough!

Then came the official application and tuition information. Dad said we would take it home and talk it over, but I knew I would be going there. I just knew it! Wrong... When we got home mom and dad had a long discussion and decided that $35,000 a year for school was just too much. Now, I realize I could have gone off and done it anyway. I could have gone out and got into all kinds of loans and pushed my way through the resistance, but I trusted my parents. It didn't make sense for me to spend $140,00 on an education that would land me a $30,000 a year job (on average out of school, and if you're fortunate enough to land a good job!). I'm no math major, but seriously... that's crazy! I'm glad they told me I shouldn't go and I'm glad I listened.

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When I went back to my high school I told my art teacher, Ms. Cebula who I loved so much, all about it. She suggested I look into The College for Creative Studies in Detroit. After all, in state tuition for a smaller school had to be more reasonable... Ms. Cebula was awesome enough to set up an appointment for me at CCS to have a portfolio review. My mom signed me out of school early, and I loaded up the Bronco to head to Detroit, on my own this time. This was before GPS, it was before smart phones. I remember using MapQuest to print off turn by turn directions and keeping that close by the whole drive down. I was excited again, but much more nervous. I had been to Detroit many times for concerts and sports games, but never by myself. Amazingly enough I made it there without getting lost at all.

My meeting went well. My portfolio was reviewed. My transcripts were examined. I was accepted and I was thrilled. Then came the paperwork and tuition information. It was $25,000 per year. I thought, $10,000 a year less was a bargain! Surely this was the place for me. Wrong again. At this point I protested by saying I wasn't going to go to college at all... I was going to be a tattoo artist or paint murals...

After cooling off my parents assured me I should go to college. They told me I should have a degree to give myself a better chance at a good job and that I should seize the experience of going away to school. This time around we looked at tuition prices at Universities in Michigan that had Graphic Design programs. The two I was most interested in were around $8,000 a year, and so I became a Central Michigan University Chippewa.

When I went for freshman orientation I started out being excited, but ended it being very upset. I remember getting my list of first semester classes and wanting to cry. Not a single art class, but I was enrolled for "Economic Development of the Pacific Rim." Not really a topic that sparked my interest. Thankfully, I was able to swap that for a 2-D design class. Unfortunately, the first assignment in that class was to learn the color wheel. I went back to my dorm room and cried. I. Should. Not. Be. Here. I thought. I am not being challenged. This is insane.

I set up a meeting with an academic advisor to sign my major, plan out my path to graduation, and have a little protest about some of the introductory classes. I bought my portfolio and was able to get a pass on Drawing I in exchange for a higher level design class in my later years. It wasn't much, but it was something.

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North Arts Studio at CMU in winter.

 I took photography the same class as bronze casting. So many great experiences!

I took photography the same class as bronze casting. So many great experiences!

As time went on, the classes became more challenging and ultimately I did grow as an artist and as a person. I learned so much. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to double major in Graphic Design and Sculpture, with an Art History minor. If I had more time and money I would have totally triple majored with photography (or quadruple majored with printmaking if I had taken it before my senior year). Somewhere in my junior year I realized if I stayed on for a fifth year I could also complete my teaching degree, so I went ahead and did that too. Options are good.

More so than all the classes and education... I met people there that never would have come into my life if I had gone to school somewhere else. People including my husband and lifelong friends. I also learned that you should never cut your own bangs. Just don't. Looking back I'm glad I didn't go to art school. I ended up exactly where I was supposed to be. I'm glad I didn't resist, or stay mad, or give up. I am the person I am today because of the sum of my experiences. Seeing as this is my tenth year of being a freelance graphic artist (a graphic artist who paid off the last of her student loans last year!!), I feel very good about where I'm sitting today.

NOTE: The dollar amounts listed in this blog are the best I can remember from 17 years ago. If my numbers are not one hundred percent accurate, I would not be shocked.

The great motivator

For those of you who don't know me well, or at all, I have a strange diet. People are puzzled when I talk about it. I try to be vague, so I don't have to go into all the details. This week I was dismantled by potato chips. You read that right; potato chips. I had not eaten a single solitary potato chip in three years. Three years! As a former carb addict, if you would have asked me three years ago if that was even possible I would have laughed in your face, probably while shoveling handfuls of cheese and butter covered popcorn in my mouth.

Last weekend I got cocky. I ate two lightly salted Better Made potato chips and they. were. incredible. I felt fine and was SO EXCITED. I waited a few more days, then I had a small handful of those same chips. After a few more days and I stood with the bag at the kitchen counter reveling in the fact that I had had them twice with no repercussions and I went for it. I ate three or four handfuls... an hour later I was folded up like a cheap suit. I was done for. Destroyed. For the rest of that day and the whole next day I was useless and angry. I’m still hurting, but I can at least think straight today.

I've written and rewritten this for the third time now and I feel like it's time I should just let it go. The purpose of this blog is to share experiences. I am a graphic artist, wife, mother, entrepreneur, and a human… I’m human. Do I really need to say that out loud? I think I do. People are inherently imperfect. Today I want to focus on where I came from, as a person, and as an artist; an origin story if you will... Here it is.

I’ve decided thirty four is going to be the best year yet. I’ve never been more comfortable in my skin as I am now. I’ve never been more confident in my skills and ability to speak my truth. I’m ready to push out of my comfort zone. I’m a very private person and an introvert, so writing a blog is scary. I’m also a bit of a control freak. I like to appear a certain way... Put together, even-keeled, on top of life. Some days I do have it all together, but other days I’m a hot mess. Those are the days I don’t like to talk about. I’ve discovered that my experiences are not unique and there’s no reason to hide away my imperfections and struggles, because we all have them. All of us.

They say all great art comes from pain… and though I don’t like to talk about it, I’ve been through kind of a lot, physically. It feels counter-intuitive to even type this because I have never really considered myself “sick” and I come from an amazingly loving, supportive family. I am not here to complain, but this is the truth about me. I don’t feel well a lot more than I care to admit. I was sick a lot as a child and have been riding this roller coaster of ups and downs what feels like all my life.

The reason this is important for me to share is that I have autoimmune issues; more specifically gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and hidradenitis suppurativa (HS). I was diagnosed with GERD at ten years old, after months of traumatic searching for answers. I was diagnosed with HS around fourteen, before it had an actual name. I also have this undiagnosed chronic migrating joint pain, mainly in my hands, that I feel *fingers crossed* might be under control… for the moment. When I have flare ups I’m in pain. When I'm in pain I am crabby and have a hard time focusing. They usually last for a week, sometimes two or three. The worst part is I don’t know what causes them and I don’t know how to fix it. I also refuse to see a traditional doctor anymore. I’m done. I am a fortunate soul that I can survive this way, at this time. I am in no way criticizing anyone who seeks traditional medicine for relief. This is my way to deal, whatever yours is, more power to you.

About three years ago I started the autoimmune paleo elimination diet to see if I could pinpoint foods that cause flare ups. It was not fun, but I did learn a lot and have eliminated the things I know for sure cause flare ups for me. I’m still on that diet for the most part, but was able to add in quite a few more things without issue. I call it the “joy free diet.” I’m grain free, egg free, dairy free, soy free, pork/beef free, legume free… I basically eat chicken, fruits, veggies, nuts, and coconut/olive oil.

I’ve had numerous people comment, “Oh, I could never do that!” or, “I don’t know how you do it!” I’ll tell you right now it is not fun, but pain is the reason I do it. Pain is a great motivator! I reached a point where I hurt every day for weeks and weeks and I didn’t know what else to do. Most of my symptoms are now fairly rare, comparatively, but it’s very hard to travel or be social on any level, because so much revolves around food. It’s also something I hate talking about. I don’t really like talking about myself at all, as I dislike being put on the spot.

Picture being out at a company dinner with your husband and all you can order is a salad, hold the chicken (because cross-contamination is real!) bacon, egg, cheese, and dressing… and you forget your olive oil… Mmm, dry lettuce and some tomatoes that may or may not give you heartburn later!  Aaaand cue the questions about my horrifying food choices while the people around me enjoy steak, bacon cheeseburgers, fries, fish tacos, and cocktails. *Sigh* Introvert level: should have stayed home.

So, how is all this relevant to me as an artist and a business owner? Think about how health and food affects you daily. It’s something most people don’t even have to consider. I cook all my meals from scratch and I have to plan ahead for everything. This lifelong journey of seeking better health does not define me, but it is a distinct facet of who I am. It made me feel like a misfit in my youth and it makes me want to opt out of a lot of social situations as an adult.

Beyond the health part of who I am, I’ve always felt like a walking contradiction. I’m really reserved, but also very passionate. I’m both innovative and reflective. I’m very creative and very organized. I’m a total introvert and I also care deeply about people. Art has always been the way I express myself. There is no right or wrong answer in art. It’s not an equation, it’s an emotion. I want to share a painting I did when I was sixteen or seventeen.


When I was a teenager this is what I needed to express. It wasn’t because a boy had broken my heart, or because I was denied the car I always wanted… I created this because this is how I felt. Incomplete, with unanswered questions, and pained. I’m not sharing this because its particularly good (I mean, that forearm is like twice as long as it should be and she hardly has a face…), but because it is an accurate depiction of the heaviness I felt in my teenage years. Art lets me let go of some of the things that weigh me down.

As an adult I don’t feel like this painting anymore. It reminds me of how uncomfortable those years were and I am so grateful for where I am today. I still have days where I feel like my chest is on fire, or I wake from a dead sleep shaking uncontrollably on the inside, or like there are razor blades in my hands, or I have painful cysts that make me not want to move a muscle, or like my mind is clouded by a dense fog… but those days are getting more and more rare. This, along with wanting to be more family focused, is why I started my design sabbatical. I'm not looking for sympathy. I feel like this is a part of me and I don't need to hide it anymore.

When every other part of your life feels like a gift, the bad parts become more tolerable. For now, I’ll keep eating like a crazy person and having intense gratitude for all the good in my life.