I was driving across town last night, listening to music, and pondering, as I do. An upbeat 80’s new-wave-ska ditty called ‘I Can’t Help Myself’ by Orange Juice bubbled up through the speakers, and suddenly 2+2 was 4 again. I began to understand what I had been tossing around in my noggin lately. I’m coming up fast on an important personal anniversary, that I’m a little bit hesitant to share, because one year just doesn’t feel like much time in some senses. I’m hesitant because I would like to be further on this road than I am, but perhaps I am far enough for now. On May 9th, 2017, I texted my dad and two of my closest friends “I’m going to be a forensic artist!”; and one year out, I recognize what a brassy and uninformed statement that was, but I stand by it. Sometimes my most boldly naive notions turn out to be the most interesting and rewarding journeys.
I’m reminded specifically of deciding at 17 that I didn’t need to do my senior year of high school, and that I would just jump straight into art school. One of my friends looked at me with his jaw dropped when I told him. “Your parents are going to let you test out?” – it had honestly never occurred to me that they would let or not let me, I just told them that’s what I wanted to do, and we all moved forward accordingly. This isn’t to say we didn’t discuss it, and what it might mean, but I don’t recall there ever being the attitude of anyone deciding but me.
That experience was not without its challenges or long lasting consequences, for better or worse. I do know that I wouldn’t be the artist or woman I am today without those hurdles, and the successes that came with taking a flying leap into the unknown at a young age. I learned that one cannot live on coffee and peanut butter alone, you can indeed fit 2 desks, a full size easel, 2 bookshelves, a futon and a mini-fridge into a 10×10 room, and that older men are best left to their own devices for a variety of reasons. That last lesson I seem prone to re-learning.
So back to May of 2017- I send my text, and immediately dive into more research and study than I ever remember doing in college. By June I was set on attending my first forensics conference, and by August I had immersed myself in a week of overstuffing my brain and watching my hair fluff ever larger in the high humidity of Atlanta in the summertime.
Between May and August a couple things happened that really changed the direction I was set to run in. I had been working a steady graphic design job in the marketing department of an e-commerce company just outside of Portland- a job I had been poking away at for nearly 3 years. By the time I had my lightbulb moment about Forensic Art, I had decided this would be a good place to stay parked while I did my research and slowly felt my way around to understand the lay of the land in my new chosen field. I’d also been seeing a guy that I really liked for a couple of months; we’d started cooking at each other’s apartments and reading the New Yorker out loud to each other, it was disgusting really. A side-note for those who have never seen my bookshelves- I have a shameful love for British Chick Lit books. They all have the same general plot line- girl seems to have it all, good job, cute guy, aspirations for settling into life comfortably- then everything drops out all of a sudden, the job is lost, the guy turns out to not be the dreamboat she thought, and nearly overnight everything has to change and the heroine goes on a massive adventure, learns what is truly important, and of course there is a happy ending. When I was 17 I always thought it would be lovely to have my life be like one of these books- but all the women seemed to be 30ish and established (think Meg Ryan in every movie she starred in during the 90’s). I suppose I could tell my 17 year old self to be careful what you wish for, but I’m too busy with my massive adventure where I learn what is truly important to me. Happy ending still TBD.
At first getting laid off and dumped in the same week seemed like a pretty lame move on behalf of the universe, but if I’ve learned anything from my tendency to leap before I look, it’s that the lame hands you get dealt are usually a hard shove in the direction you’re supposed to go. After a couple days of moping around town I hit the bookstore for some advice, asked my bestie to watch my cat, and drove from Portland to Los Angeles to see old friends and get my bearings. I spent a week visiting old haunts and connecting some dots on the last decade of my life that I hadn’t been able to see at the time. Somehow it passed my notice that I spent my early twenties puttering around Hollywood- and my mid-twenties working in a burgeoning Silicon Valley- and hell, that art show I thought was such a bust at age 20 was right off of Hollywood and Vine?! Going home helped me get perspective, and gave me a lot of respect for the ballsy 17 year old who kicked off this whole chain reaction. So I settled myself in at Canter’s Deli on Fairfax and started considering the options ahead of me- I could go back to a fairly safe career in design, working for some brand or another, on… whatever. OR. I could go full speed ahead towards this new exciting idea, something that really turned a light on inside me.
A month later, another friend was watching my cat, and I found myself at the 102nd Annual Educational Conference for the IAI in Atlanta, Georgia. About a thousand miles out of my comfort zone, I found myself meeting people whose names I’d read in books, and making friends with someone whose art career had paralleled mine in some funny ways- we’d both accepted offers from the art school the other had wanted to attend on opposite ends of California. We both spent our time teaching basic art skills to small children, and were both hellbent on a path to make a way in Forensic Art. I’m overjoyed to say that my friend starts her new position as a forensic artist this upcoming Monday. I have Instagram to thank for introducing me to her, besides our stints in art school, up until this week we lived on separate continents entirely. It has been my good fortune to have made a friend who was so generous with her knowledge and time to have taken me under her wing immediately last summer in Atlanta and helped introduce me to the other artists. Without her help I might have just sat in a corner watching it all happen, with her help I found a friend and a mutual cheerleader in this journey.
Yesterday my rabbi shared a quote from Baal Shem Tov, “Let me fall if I must fall. The one I am becoming will catch me”. A year later, I am not quite a forensic artist. I am not quite not a forensic artist. No one is paying me to do it yet, but I can do it. I have been on a massive adventure, that seems set to continue. The falling didn’t start with getting laid off or dumped, the fall probably began when I started getting comfortable with something less than I had always thought my world would be like. I began to catch myself around the time I sent that impulsive text- and to jump from Baal Shem Tov to Buzz Lightyear, that is when I stopped merely falling and began falling – with style! For the challenges and hurdles of upending one’s life in the span of a year, I wouldn’t change a day of it. Change can be painful, and challenging, but it can also be beautiful and absolutely freeing.
I Know What I Know
Paul Simon has a great song called, “I Know What I Know”, and over the last year, I’ve been getting comfortable owning the things that I know. I’ve also had my eyes opened to the wealth of topics that I have so much more to learn about and am not qualified to open my mouth about. I’ve spent the last 10 years drawing and painting face after face after face (10 years, my whole life, I mean, who’s to say when you start counting?). For most of that time, I had no idea why I was doing this- I just can’t help myself when I see an interesting face. I want to draw it or paint it until I understand it. Lucky for me, the world is full of interesting faces.
This summer, I will be teaching a workshop at the 103rd Annual Educational Conference for the IAI. My workshop will not be about forensics but it is aimed at teaching professionals in the field of Forensic Art some new techniques to up their game in realism, focusing on some shortcuts I’ve been employing for a long time to find correct anatomy, and using graphite to create the textures that make a realistic representation of a face. How to move a pencil and how to deconstruct a face (in the least creepy way possible), these are things I know.
As for the things that I don’t know.. I’ll be sitting with my notebook in hand for another week of overstuffing my brain.