I’m a self taught artist and enjoyed arts and crafts throughout my childhood, but it took a children’s summer camp to make my confidence and personal style grow.
In spring 2013, I was a substitute teacher hurtling toward summer. I could see the impending walls of “real adulthood” on the horizon and appreciated the years of summer break wouldn’t last forever. I didn’t fancy returning to my usual fallback of teaching swim lessons and coaching the local swim team for three months, where the daily summer temperature was regularly above 40c/104F.
I started researching summer camp. And that led me to Friendly Pines in Prescott, Arizona. Camp counsellor positions always include daytime teaching or supervising an activity, and the application asked me to rank my ability on a dizzying array of activities: archery, guitar, horseback riding, swimming, sewing, hiking, riflery, arts and crafts, land sports, singing.
To my surprise I was asked to send some examples of my art. I completed a few quick sketches and was asked if I’d like to develop the camp’s first dedicated Drawing and Painting class.
Something funny happens at camp: to the children, your activity is your identity. I was the artist. The kids expected me to be the expert in all things art. No one at the camp was better at art than me, just like no one could play guitar better than Matt, or knew about the zipline better than Ian. It’s not necessarily true, but when you get strapped with a flattering label…roll with it.
Camp is a test of endurance, and you have to take down time whenever you can snag it: 10 minutes here, 5 minutes there. The gathering of the whole camp to join in cabin groups after activities, or meet before mealtimes or big activities, meant we’d be sitting on a bench for 10 minutes. I started sketching people during these little windows – the campers and fellow counsellors, always busy and always moving – and the more I drew, the quicker and better I got, and a few campers showed me that they also brought a drawing pad to camp. We had an impromptu art club. First session at camp, I had about 40 children sign up for my class and I was ecstatic. By the end of the summer, I was teaching over 200 and there was a waiting list. I had a reputation.
I spent my one day off a week walking around the town of Prescott after doing my laundry and found the art store. I used some my camp paycheque to purchase a haul of artist grade watercolours and spent the next few years experimenting, learning, faltering. And, as with camp, I squeezed in 15-20 minute windows – a lunch break, or after dinner while out on the back porch chatting with my mom over a glass of wine.
I post my current pieces on my artist Instagram account – check it out, and if random animals and people sketches are your thing, please do give me a follow!