I am updating this entry on August 24, 2011 about my teacher and inspiration in my life, Nancy Ohanian. I was able to see her after twenty years!
“Feeling doubtful and uncertain is poison to the soul”
Many people long to go back to when they were young. I truly don’t, although there are a few exceptions, such as my eyesight. I never had great acuity due to my severe nearsightedness.
However, something I took very much for granted when I was much younger was my clear vision. Unfortunately, while in my thirties I developed gray floaters that clouded my eyesight. They are ugly, distracting and have worsened over time. I have had no choice but to accept them. I must regularly see a retinologist.
On top of the many years of my life “stolen” by grief, there are many other parts of my youthful life I wouldn’t want to revisit. During my twenties, I was extremely ambitious and focused upon succeeding as an artist; I would not consider myself that happy. In addition, I was often filled with doubt and uncertainty.
There are not many things about being younger that I long for. I far prefer my current life.
I also believe feeling doubtful and uncertain is poison to the soul.
There is nothing more inspiring for me than believing in myself.
If I close my eyes, I can access a special memory from my days in college.
I loved my college experience, even though I led a sheltered life. I lived at home and drove to college every day. I had numerous boyfriends and several evenings a week I went folk dancing. I was very close with my girlfriends and definitely lived a musical life.
I was not that “academic minded.” I did not apply myself to most of my classes and simply did what I needed to do to get by. By my third year in college, I felt the pressure of deciding upon a major. It was stressful for me to make such a huge decision about my future. I was not ready.
I have a twenty-year-old son. Recently, I could really feel his pain when he was faced with the difficult decision of choosing his major in college.
Even with my artistic talent from childhood, I never felt that it was viable for me to become an artist. I did not really enjoy art that much and it had been on my back burner for a long time.
I had taken a few college art classes, and none of them were enjoyable. Even though I truly did not consider it an option as a major, I felt perhaps I needed to explore art a little further. During that third year, I enrolled in two art classes: a beginning watercolor and an illustration course.
Watercolors inspired me and became my chosen medium immediately. I fell in love with my paintbrush, my paper, and all the control I suddenly found. I harnessed the watercolor technique so quickly that it was amazing even for the instructor.
With my beginning illustration course, I struggled at first. Because I was still learning the watercolor medium, I was not adept enough to express myself. I had to use other techniques, which included drawing and it was very frustrating for me. On my first assignment, I received a “C.”
With that grade, I was slightly discouraged, but also very motivated. The other students in my class seemed so talented and I wanted to improve. Mostly, I was impressed with my instructor and wanted to rise to the challenge. Clearly, she gave me a “C” because she thought I could do better.
My teacher, Nancy Ohanian, had her work published every week in the editorial section of The Los Angeles Times. I was amazed that she was my teacher. She was always very friendly and encouraging; I really liked her. There was something touching about her also. She was very open, while at the same time extremely shy and vulnerable. She described herself as a “loner.”
Over that semester, my technique had improved a thousand fold. It was truly unbelievable. I harnessed watercolors as if I had painted with them my whole life. I now received “A’s” from Nancy. However, I had not forgotten about receiving that “C,” so I worked extra hard to be sure I did my best.
Suddenly, I realized I was applying myself to something!
As I sit typing these words on my computer, I am stopping to close my eyes and access my special memory . . .
It was on a “critique day.” A critique day was when all the students put their assignments on the wall and Nancy spoke about each illustration one by one. I had finished my assignment very late the prior evening. My heart pounded in anticipation of what my teacher would say.
I was pleased because my painting came out well. All the students in the class crowded around it. I received so much wonderful feedback, especially from my teacher. I felt euphoric.
When the class ended, Nancy came over to tell me again what a great job I had done. We were talking for quite awhile after that. Soon I noticed the classroom was empty, and it was only the two of us.
As I remembered the moment when she started to tell me things that took my breath away, my special memory swept through my heart.
I listened to her words raptly. As I walked out of that classroom, I felt like I was about to burst with the knowledge of what she said to me. I willed myself to stay calm.
However, I was overcome with so much emotion carrying my teacher’s words inside. That night, I wrote in my diary about the experience in order to release it. It was such huge moment in my life; I was certain of that.
If I could describe my emotion, it would be amazement that my teacher was certain my future was limitless and success was just around the corner for me.
Yesterday, I had that exact same feeling as I faced my former teacher in my studio!
She sat in a chair across from me while I serenaded her on my guitar. Upon the walls of my studio were many of my paintings. At the age of fifty-one, I could enjoy the knowledge that all of my artistic ventures came true.
“It’s as if your heart is outside your body”
I wrote this story; because there were few words to describe the thrill of seeing my college art teacher, Nancy, after at least twenty years.
Even though we lived on separate coasts, it didn’t matter. From the very beginning, I shared my musical journey with her. I always emailed her my songs and stories, and we had stayed close. She often watched me perform on the Internet at Kulak’s Woodshed, an open mic venue that broadcast the performers on the web.
On Sunday, Nancy and I had a wonderful lunch together and we both giggled incessantly. After lunch, she came back to my home. I raced upstairs to bring down my guitar. I closed the doors to my art studio and opened the case. Nancy sat across from me and said she would listen for as long as I wanted to play. I closed my eyes and sang song after song.
With her eyes shining she said, “Judy, when you sing there is such an aura of beauty flowing from you. It’s as if your heart is outside your body.”
I relished those moments singing for her.
How interesting it was for me to hurtle through time and have the exact same emotions I did on that day when she banished my doubts about whether I would become an artist. For a few months now, I have not had any doubt about the success of my journey.
Still, sharing my passion with my teacher after so many years was definitely a highlight in my life!
Here I am, once again, emailing with my college illustration teacher. When I took her class, I was definitely undecided as far as my major. It was the beginning for me. Through all these years, I’ve always enjoyed sharing my illustration success with her. When I was teaching for a few brief years, it was because of her support. I was able to teach Illustration at Cal State LA, CSUN, Otis Parsons, and UCLA Extension to supplement my income during the early years of my profession. Of course, I followed her lead, and enjoyed coming to her classes to do demonstrations while she still lived in Los Angles. This exchange is due to my recent decision to share an original painting with her in honor of her birthday.
On Feb 23, 2010, Judy wrote:
Okay, you have a selection now – let me know which one I can share with you!
On Feb 23, 2010, Nancy wrote:
Thanks!!!! Hmmmm, they’re all so good!! How about the walnuts?
On Feb 23, 2010, Judy wrote:
Good choice! It will represent us both,” coming out of our shells, up against the wall, and trying not to go nuts!” I’ll send it soon.
On Feb 23, 2010, Nancy wrote:
Thank you Judy!
I can’t believe you are sharing that with me. I like your description of why it appropriate. Hahaha!
However, I don’t know if I want to come out of my shell. Hahaha! Too
On Feb 23, 2010, Judy wrote:
I am sharing it with you, but don’t give me a grade on it. You can only come out of your shell when you are ready. It took 50 years for me. Another word for shell is “tough exterior.” You are one tough lady.
That being said, the nutmeat is exquisite, sensitive, and tender – definitely worth sharing.
I was enjoying college. I was dating, folk dancing with my friends, and life was very carefree.
I had no intention of majoring in art while in college.
I struggled with the perplexing decision of what I should major in. I didn’t enjoy making such a huge decision about my future. Although I had good grades, I wasn’t academically inclined. I was anxious about how I would be able to decide a major since time was running out.
Although I was artistic, I went though a period of time where it was too frustrating for me. If I drew something that was imperfect, I’d have to start over. I started over so often! Although I was good at drawing mazes, I hadn’t done much other art.
I took a few classes, but wouldn’t have remotely considered an art career. I loved music and my guitar, but realized that wouldn’t be something to major in.
Then I took a class in watercolors, and I found my technique! It was a joyous discovery when I accidentally used a different paper to work on. I loved the effect of the smoother surface for my minute details. Later on, I graduated from working with traditional watercolors to dyes. The brilliant and smooth resulting washes in dye were gradually tamed, as I learned the properties of each unique color. The downside of dye is that my work can never be displayed, because dye colors are transient and quickly fade away.
Almost everything that I’ve learned has been self-taught. I developed my very own personal technique of painting. I began to improve with every painting I did from the very beginning. I can see my progress, because so many of my beginning paintings are still hanging in my parents’ vacant apartment.
With only a fair mastery of watercolors, I enrolled in my first illustration class. I was blown away that the instructor was quite an established illustrator. She was an editorial artist, and almost every Sunday I would see her drawings in the Los Angeles Times editorial section. Her name was Nancy Ohanian.
Nancy was an inspiring and demanding teacher. Her passion was a catalyst for me. I decided I could become an artist like her. I was no longer confused any more!
During the time I was in Nancy’s class, I connected with her. She was easy to talk to, and very encouraging to me. I hesitate to say this, but from the very start I considered her my friend.
I remember writing about Nancy in my old diary. I looked at my words from that time in my life, and I was very moved by something I had written.
Recently, I shared my diary entry with Nancy. She gave me permission to write this story.
“My Teacher, My Mentor”
This is the story of a mentor and a friend. Connections with former teachers in my life have inspired me so much.
Beyond what I wrote in my diary, I knew how important Nancy was to keep me focused on finding my way in my art career. Ironically, I haven’t seen Nancy for perhaps twenty years. Before that, we saw each other on only a few special occasions.
One time we went hiking together. She came to my baby shower for my first child. I know that because I found a picture of her there!
Before I had children, we used to talk on the phone for hours. My very first job for Celestial Seasonings was obtained through the same agent as Nancy. Nancy told her artist representative all about me and arranged for me to bring my portfolio to show her agent.
The agent said she’d find me work. I received my very first high pressure illustration assignment. It was an illustration to be used in the coupon section of the newspaper (FSI ad). It was an illustration for Celestial Seasonings. I had one week to complete it for which I would be paid $2,500.
It was exciting and terrifying! I didn’t sleep that week. I learned so much!
I turned in that job, and it came back to me – something had to be completely changed! There was no time to redo it either.
This was my first experience about how I needed to be resourceful. I repainted the area that needed changing. I cut it out and glued it over the first painting!
My job was accepted. I was exhausted! But, there was only one problem. The agent would not pay me.
Nancy felt terrible about my bad experience with her agent. Later on, she had problems with her, too. We both laugh about it now.
Once I had graduated, I returned to Nancy’s illustration classes and did watercolor demonstrations. I enjoyed doing those demonstrations very much. At that time, Nancy was teaching at California State University Los Angeles. I applied there with her encouragement, and began my first part-time teaching job.
I’ve taught illustration in four different venues since that time. With Jason’s challenges, it became too difficult for me to continue teaching.
I still keep in touch with several of my students. One is a very good friend.
“Messages of Love”
Nancy taught at Cal State Los Angeles. In 1992, Nancy moved to New Jersey and to teach at Rowen University.
Through the years, we stayed in touch. We have communicated fairly infrequently.
During my mother’s recent illness, I sent out an email to all my friends sharing what was happening. The key to my survival, during that difficult time, was the love and support that I received from my friends.
Nancy and I began to have some lovely email exchanges. Actually, lovely is not the word for it.
Nancy’s messages were especially comforting to me.
Comfort flooded me with energy, and sustained me when I was falling down. I would like to share some of my exchanges with my former art teacher. Nancy Ohanian has been a professor of art at Rowen University in New Jersey since 1992.
What can be said to comfort and strengthen you, your mom and family!!!!
Just know I am right there with you in spirit, sending my love and support your way. It is impossible to describe how difficult is your burden, Judy. You’re not alone!!!! Again and again. You’re not alone.
You are the most tender and sensitive daughter in the world and clearly your mom is aware of what you are doing for her.
Frankly, you cannot do more. Know that. Hang in there, Judy. You are doing your best.
Go with your gut and accept every moment. Accept yourself. Accept your mom. Accept life as it is.
I love you Jude!!
You totally understand how hard this is. I am doing as best I can. I already miss talking with her so much. I’ll continue to keep you posted and try to accept this situation.
Ps. I had a call the other day for a huge art job. Tough timing, but an amazing thing to actually get in this economy.
On Dec 12, 2009, Nancy wrote:
All I can say is you are amazing. Stay strong Judy!! Stay strong for yourself and your mom.
I’m thinking of you and I care very, very much!!!
Love Nan XX
I appreciate your thinking of me. I am in a bubble of pain, but I’m hoping for the best. It’s so hard! Glad I can share with you.
On Dec 28, 2009, Nancy wrote:
Thanks for the update. It does sound as though the writing is helpful for you to sort out all the feelings and give shape to what is happening.
Seems healthy for you. Good to know your mom is improving. Your loyalty and commitment are amazing.
I am reading your emails regularly, Judy, and supporting you with my thoughts and prayers.
Love, Nan XX
On Dec 30, 2009, Nancy wrote:
That’s great news all around!
Glad to hear your mom is doing well. Glad about your illustration assignment too!!! You must be the only illustrator in town who is working at the moment. Yes, the timing is perfect.
Hoping things continue to improve and you’re able to focus on your painting.
Have a wonderful day, Judy!!
Thanks, Nanc. I do feel lucky about the project. And you’d be proud of me; it’s all digital. I never thought I’d figure that part out!
Hope all is well with you. Stay well!
On Jan 21, 2010, Nancy wrote:
It is very interesting that my brother was raised the same way, and yes it hurts. At the same time, unfortunately and amazingly, we do rise to the occasion. We recognize our strengths and weaknesses when we are tested. You are shining, Judy. You are doing everything a loving and devoted daughter can possibly do for her mom. There is nothing more that can be asked of anyone. Your mom knows that and you can live with yourself knowing your decisions were compassionate and made to the best of your ability with the information provided. The doctors are also making their decisions based upon info we may not be aware of at the moment. Everyone has limits.
I believe you are doing everything with thoughtful consideration in spite of the stress. You are doing amazingly well. Judy, as hard as it is, just stay the course, stay strong and stay connected to everyone who supports you in any way you need.
On Jan 26, 2010, Nancy wrote:
It’s Tuesday!! Finally!!!!
I have been reading your emails as though reading a book of life’s wisdom and compassion. (I so wish I was Jewish. Hahaha!) Your thoughts are so very tender, insightful, loving, reflecting exactly the person you are. Through all your difficulties you have kept an open mind and open heart. (That just blows me away.) You have expressed your feelings with sensitivity to everyone involved. You have shown me first hand that we can become stronger and wiser by accepting our feelings (no matter how painful), being honest about them and about who we are. You are and always have been one of the most incredible women I have ever known. How fortunate to know you and “meet” the caring friends with whom you have chosen to surround yourself.
What an honor you are to your mother and your family. How interesting it would be if your mom could someday read the email exchanges documenting the last few months. What you have shared and how you have shared your experiences have become a tribute to your mom and effectively a tribute to yourself.
Rest in this single moment. Ahhhhhhh. :O)
Lots of love,
Thanks, Nan. I love you so much. I can feel your hug. It’s so helpful to hear this.
I am so in the moment. Ahhhh!
It would be interesting to share this with my mom. She said to me the other day, “Our roles are reversed, now I’m the child!” I told her, “Roles don’t matter; some thing’s never change – especially our love for each other!”
Love always, Jude (your former student!)
On January 29, 2010, Judy wrote:
Okay, since you sent me an image, I’m sharing two illustrations with you. I’ve got such a big smile – thanks so much, Nanc. I still remember when you gave me a “C” on my first illustration assignment in your class. I’m sure you don’t remember, but it was a black and white editorial illustration. I did much better when I took up watercolors.
These three paintings that I did for Frito Lay were done about three months ago. I don’t think I had picked up a paintbrush for a year at least. Therefore, I was very proud that I still remembered how. It was difficult for me to try to keep them “loose.”
I am also very stuck on the digital. I love it, but I also hate the fact that it killed my business! Let’s hope 2010 is a great year for both of us!
Hahahahaha! You’re too funny, Judy!!!
Yes, I have nightmares about giving you a “C.” I deserve it!!! You’re so awesome. I tell that story to my students. Oy, yoy, yoy!!!
I only wish I had all Judy Ungers in my classes!
I totally LOVE your paintings, Judy! You still have it!!! You didn’t forget! I often wonder if I could still draw the way I did. It has been so long. Once in awhile I will pick up my pens just to see if the feel is still there. I think it is, but I believe I may be a bit rusty. Hahaha! I guess I don’t have the patience at the moment to draw as the ink ever-so-s l o w l y seeps out of that tiny pen.
Judy, NO ONE illustrates food like you do. NO ONE. I understand how you feel, that “digitalia” (Haha) killed our business. Yes, it really has changed the business SOOOO much. I don’t get any jobs anymore, except about one or two a year. In fact, these days I make very little from my syndicate! I feel so fortunate to have this teaching job, even tho it is in NJ. Yuk!!
You are so good with color, contrast and composition. And don’t you just love making splashes. Hahahaha! I’m really into splashes! I so wish you were here. I would beg you to teach an illustration class. I am still learning about color. It’s really challenging. You seem to have a very special understanding of it. It has taken years for me to finally create a palette I am comfortable with on the computer. I imagine it will be another difficult challenge if I ever start using paint.
Really fun “talking” with you, Judy, and seeing your beautiful work!
I am still thinking about you and your mom. If you begin feeling burned out with all your emails and decide to take a break, I will understand!!!
You get an “A+” for being you!
Love Nan XX
Thank you so much for your message. I’ve been smiling all day about it, and only now was able to write you back. To tell you the truth, I did deserve that “C.”
What can I say? Before your class, I wasn’t sure I’d become an illustrator. How lucky I am to have such a loving friend that was my teacher when I was 20 years old! I don’t have time to write what I’d like at this moment, but let’s definitely stay in touch more. Your digital work, and the switch you made from B & W to color especially inspire me.
I’ve thought about going back to teaching again at the university level part-time. Someday, I am going to come visit you in New Jersey and lecture for your classes. I know you’ve invited me before, but I’m really feeling that it truly will someday happen!
On Jan 29, 2010, Nancy wrote:
You’re an incredible mom, Judy. I loved the stories about your children.
You have a wonderful family.
I am happy your mom is feeling better.
It has become a very sweet month. Thanks for letting me be a part of your life.
Love Nan XX
You have always been a part of my life! What a blessing to have a sweetness come from so much trial and tribulation. I have been given such a gift, and I love sharing it with everyone. I can only hope my mom has a good quality of life, and maintains her health for years to come. However, I always know now how lucky I am to have found so much support from my whole family and friends.
I am going to transcribe for you something I wrote in my diary in 1978 (word for word):
Diary Excerpt from May 15th, 1979:
Yesterday was an experience that I shall remember for the rest of my life. Another human being – one who affects me – whom I admire – I touched her, Nancy Ohanian – successful artist, loner – told me that she feels comfortable with me, something she’s never felt before and that I remind her of when she was 19.
And now I suppose I should know that I’m special. I’ve heard “versions” of that before – but this is from a qualified artist, but – it was not applied only in art! In life! Of course I want to believe that – what will happen to me? I feel very inspired.
I want to reach out to this teacher – although she might not want me at all. Maybe I want to intrude upon her loneliness. I don’t know. But yesterday was a historic moment in my life – see – I’m not older looking back at what I’d done in my life – now is what I will do – what I will become. And I’m going to become something!
That is SOOOO humbling, Judy! Scary!
Please don’t feel you must remove the loner or loneliness part. It’s true.
You inspired ME. You inspire me. YOU taught ME. YOU TEACH ME.
One thing is for sure. You have become a hell-of-a-lot better than I, compared to whatever you may have thought about me as an artist and a human being.
I could never reach you, Judy.
Love Nan XXX
Sorry, Teach, but there is no comparing human beings. I am insulted when you say I am better than you. Who can judge whether one person is better than another? If there’s anything I’ve learned in this life, we certainly don’t choose many circumstances that befall us in this world.
You are an amazing artist. You have reached me and beyond, for sure. Let’s both continue reaching higher and higher in life together.
Love you, Jude
MY DIARY ENTRY ABOUT NANCY IN 1980.
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