By Ruth McGraw
Drawing and painting were always easy for me. When I was five, I drew a giant green peace sign on my parents’ freshly painted wall. Needless to say they were less than pleased, but that was when I knew I wanted to paint every wall, everywhere.
In what feels like a former life, I served in the Marine Corps and then as a Civil Service agent, and achieved my bachelors in Homeland Security and Emergency Management. I am very proud of my service and grateful for the friendships made and life lessons learned.
However, those days are passed. I finally realized that the taxing paranoia of constantly waiting for the “worst case scenario” was inhibiting my growth as a person. I was tired of expecting and seeing the bad in the world.
Sixteen years ago, prior to joining the Marine Corps, I enrolled in art school in upstate New York close to the town where I grew up. After a very short time at school, and after the events of September 11th, I started believing the the path I laid before me as a future artist would not benefit anyone other than myself.
After a friend and I promised each other to join the Marines, I quickly dropped out of art school and enlisted. Much to my dismay, that friend never ended up enlisting. My father, nearly as mad as when I drew that peace sign on the wall, chased me around the house ready to kill me, mainly due to the wasted money that was just spent on all those art supplies for school.
Continually being told to color in the lines and follow the rules will in time strip them of the desire to do something different or try something new.
Today, I am an art teacher at Young at Art in Ocean Beach, San Diego. It is a local non-profit that brings art to the children of our small community. Art classes have been dropped from many of the public schools in San Diego so this is the only opportunity some of these kids have to experiment with different art projects.
The creative center provides lessons in oil, acrylic, watercolors painting, pastels, photography, ceramics and more. The director, Kim Howell, is an amazing woman. Her vision for the school is giving these children and the community the gift of creativity. Each class is small, with a few teachers so no child is overlooked. Although I have not been there long, it is perfectly clear to me that being an artist is very different than what I thought it was in those days before I joined the Marine Corps.
At Young at Art we want them to go nuts, get dirty, make a mess, be a kid. Children are already creative, so essentially we are nurturing that skill. Otherwise it is lost. Continually being told to color in the lines and follow the rules will in time strip them of the desire to do something different or try something new.
We want them to stand out; to be bold. Every time one of our kids says, “I never thought I could do that” or “look what I did” I see their confidence build, and it makes my heart melt. And I know we are on the right track. The other teachers and I can see every day that we are making a clear, positive impact on these children.
Teaching art enables me to use my talents as an artist for the benefit of others and it helps me see how much beauty is in the world.
Ruth McGraw is CEO for Marvel Tactical Design and an art teacher