Making it Happen

How I went from dumpster diving in search of materials to building my way up to what I considered a “real” artist

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Photo Credit: E S

The symptom of grandiose kicked into my manic tendencies when I was in my late twenties. I had so many ideas, so many things I wanted to do, a list of achievements I was determined to get under my belt.

These ideas ran circles in my head while being a full time mother, a full time student and a full time employee took over my everything. The mania fueled me and gave me the energy I needed to keep it all together while never growing tired.

I would have no awareness of this until a decade later when the manic high hit the lowest of low, but I did learn a great deal along the way. The most valuable lesson — we’re able to start something out of nothing, all you need is an idea.

It’s the foundation for every goal.

It’s not about the amount of money you have to start something. It’s about starting with the resources already available to you and building from the ground up. It takes work. In reality, money means nothing.

You must do the work.

I attended high school at Studio Arts Company. I’ve been madly in love with creating art for as long as I can remember. It’s my outlet. It’s my sanity. It’s my contribution to the world. When I was a freshman I believed it was what I would be doing with the rest of my life.

I would be filling the dark spaces with color.

I would go on to graduate and life would forge a path of it’s own. It was no longer about my passion or dream. It was about survival. Years passed and each and every day I would think about all the things I wanted to create.

As a single mom, money was always tight. My hopes and dreams were sketched in pencil on a spiral notebook for a total cost of $2.00. I knew I wanted to be an artist but the money wasn’t there.

In order to do so, I’d need to make it happen with what resources I had and while maintaining my full time job in order to financially support my family. The years and the spiral notebooks piled up.

While out tossing our household trash one day I saw a stack of house paint in gallon size cans sitting on the ground outside the dumpster. Each were less than half full but it was enough to paint a few paintings on sheets of wood laying around the shed.

I’d make sure my responsibilities were tended to and after my children went to sleep I would stay awake through the night and paint. I was finally putting my talent and spiral notebooks to work and it felt euphoric.

I took the paintings to First Friday, an art festival that takes place in downtown Phoenix once a month. All five paintings sold and I made enough cash to buy a set of acrylic paints and canvas sheets.

I used the set of acrylic paints and canvas sheets to create and sell more paintings. Five years later I have a fully stocked studio, own an Etsy shop and I now present and sell my work at local events here in Iowa.

Dumpster diving was my main stream of materials for the next several years and although I live nowhere near a dumpster now, here in the farmlands of Iowa, garbage has still made its way into my studio.

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Credit: E Sauter and her Zenfone camera

Without the generosity of others, selling my art to earn more money to buy more supplies to make more art and well, garbage — none of it would have been possible but I also don’t think my journey would have been equally as rewarding if I stood at the starting line with pockets full of cash.

I also think it was my true path as an artist, and a person. I didn’t consider myself a “real” artist when all I could afford was creating with garbage. I look back now and realize how hindering this thought process was.

“There’s no “correct path” to becoming a real artist. You might think you’ll gain legitimacy by going to art school, getting published, getting signed to a record label. But it’s all bullshit, and it’s all in your head. You’re an artist when you say you are. And you’re a good artist when you make somebody else experience or feel something deep or unexpected.” -AFP, The Art of Asking

It seems to be the standard norm in western culture to put our dreams aside for a life where we maintain our survival as each day passes us by. We only have so many days, though. To look back and realize I invested myself in a paycheck rather than what my instinct believes I should be doing dictates a life with little meaning and an open void.

We focus on the notion that there are too many obstacles in our way, or we lack the time or the capability. These are just excuses developed out of fear or necessity, our programmed logic that dreams are intended for the back burner while expectations of life get in the way.

I did. I took the one thing which eased my soul and abandoned it to give my my soul to the grind. There’s been a few times when I’ve questioned if I’d be making art today if I hadn’t found the house paint by the dumpster that day, so many years ago?

My children grew up and became creatives in their own way. At one point my daughter decided she was ready to get serious about making music. I dug out an old microphone and digital camera buried inside of a box in the storage room.

Playing the guitar I bought her a decade ago, a piano she inherited and her cellphone as a recording device she made it happen. She utilized the resources she had to start something that would help her sustain in the future.

It’s amazing the things we’re capable of doing when we take what little we have, bleed our souls and do the work. We open the door to new and endless possibilities.

The world needs this type of determination, just the same as we do as individuals. In my experience, it requires ingenuity to build your way from the ground up, not money.

And, perhaps a dash of mania.

Newspaper reporter in Eastern Iowa. The views expressed are mine alone.

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