My Journey with Art

The first art class I attended was an extracurricular class on Chinese “Ink Wash” Painting. It was taught along with my calligraphy class when I was in first grade in Hunan Province, where I was born. Back then, I was also attending weekend classes on dance. When I progressed to middle school and the academic pressure kicked in, my weekends were piled with courses on English, Math, Biology, and Physics. Even so, I wanted to keep an art class on my schedule. I picked drawing, and I am glad I did.

At that point, the drawing course was more like a training rather than a passion for me. Just like any other middle-school kids in China, I was put into these costly extracurricular classes by my mom, not because of my interest, but rather as an extra skill that would make you stand out when applying for high schools or colleges. Luckily, I moved to the U.S. before high school and avoided the distressing “Gaokao” (college entrance exam) journey for higher education. However, with full excitement, little did I know, the other big challenge awaited me in overcoming the language barrier and cultural shock. With a crude understanding of English, I started eighth grade in the U.S. My classroom experiences soon grew into two extremes: I was either very bored in Math or Art class or could not even follow along in any other classes.

During the often arduous days of adjusting to the new environment, art became my voice when I was struggling to find one. When I was frustrated, inspired, broken, or just in pure serenity, I went to my pencils, my pens, and my charcoals. When my heart felt certain ways that my brain could not express in Chinese or English, my hand knew how to describe it. I never knew what the sketchbook page is going to end up like while going into it, and each sketch is an emotional journey untold to my brain but recorded by my hand. Soon I was selected and accepted by the Anne Arundel Gifted and Talented Visual Arts Program, a county-wide visual arts program for students in 8th-12th grade with ten Saturday classes and field trips per semester. The program opened the door to the art world for me, and gave me a platform to develop my ideas and explore all types of media.

I then went from expressing myself through pencil marks to brush strokes, and I developed a passion for portrait painting. The process has not always been easy, and sometimes the deliberate practicing was full of frustration and pain. Whether good or bad the artworks turned out to be, I kept going. When I graduated from high school, I completed two AP art classes, sold four commissioned works, and designed a poster on substance abuse coalition which later was printed into 25 copies and distributed to the health center at the local public schools. At that moment, I realized art is more than a study for me. It has become this universal language I’ve acquired, to explore the world around me and to embark on the road of self-discovery.

Though I became a business major in college. I spent most of my free time in drawing, painting, and visiting art shows. No longer in a setting in which I was given guidelines to what type of art I should be creating, I began to seek inspiration and ask myself, what I type of art I wanted to create.

Looking back, human is still the center of my art.

I indulge myself in painting or drawing human faces. They fascinate and engage me because for every portrait I create, it is not only a photocopy of that person but a record of the relationship between us. I began to incorporate other elements to the portrait with a purpose to tell the story of the face in more details. Moreover, my art also started including more flesh, that is, not only the faces but also the body. Most of my art speak on culture and gender equality, which reflects back on my own experience as a woman. Some of my art speaks on identity, which reflects back on my experience as an immigrant, or being the only child and living under high expectations. Some are inspired by my favorite books, movies, and people, and some are simply created for the wonderful experiences I have had.

Now working full-time as a consultant, I truly appreciate the work-life balance my current employer offers. Having time after work allows me to continue to practice art, which at this point, feels no longer like a hobby or additional commitment. It feels like my best friend, and it has become part of my life that I cannot imagine living without. Once in awhile I cannot help but paint and draw.

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