Changes an Artist Goes through

Art is such a beautiful process, even spiritual in a sense. When I look at an empty canvas or screen, or whatever I’m working on, I always think to myself, “Hmmm. How am I feeling today?”

There’s a range of emotions that could be fit for me to be feeling. I can’t answer why making art in any medium, like painting, drawing, or digitally, resonates deep within. Perhaps this is just something that was always destined to be a part of me.

Ever since that first piece of printer paper and Crayola crayons, or any knock-off of those reached my fingertips, I connected with art.  

But like many kids who go to public schools with a mixed background, making art from middle school to the end of high school was not a top priority. I was raised by a Dominican mother and a Black father who were big on being practical and going to college. They always told me to strive for whatever I wanted, but it was clear what type of studies or job they’d rather have me choose. Accounting, business, or law was all they ever talked about. As one of the few in my family to go to college, it felt like I was being pressured to study something unimaginative. I got wrapped up in a different subject to eventually strive for another career when I graduated. I wasn’t even close to considering myself an artist.

Wanting to draw and paint never went anywhere. Throughout the years, the desire just lay dormant in my body, waiting for the day when it could come out again. I’ve always loved cartoons. I would doodle frequently throughout classes. Many of my doodles consist of faces or characters emulating the styles that I’ve seen on TV. Anime, The Simpsons, The Boondocks, and The Fairly Odd Parents: all have inspired my characters. To this day, you can find little doodles containing big eyes or a comical face on the margins and sides of my notebook paper. The suppressed artist in me was waiting to burst out. It was hard to ignore the fact that I’d rather be doing that than taking notes.

Looking at this journey, I started with one thing: acrylic paintings on dollar store canvases. The beginning of the pandemic left me and millions of others with lots of free time. My routine changed, the things I liked to do changed, and I changed. What sparked that change was discovering something that I had forgotten about.

The summer of 2020 was one of the hardest moments I’ve ever experienced. I moved back to my childhood home in Pennsylvania suddenly, then went through a major friendship breakup with three of my closest friends. After that, I was left heartbroken by a guy I thought I loved. I had major depression and was fragile like glass–anything would make me break down. Every day I would sit in the tub and just cry until I couldn’t anymore. There was an unhealthy cycle with the way I was treating myself and how I was allowing others to treat me. I was grieving all of the relationships, burnt bridges, and confidence that I’d lost. I was simply shedding old skin to grow new skin.

Those events were significant to my growth as a person. I took a lot of time to look at myself in the mirror, to see how I may have played a part in the continuing of my pain. As time went on I started to heal, and that’s reflected through the hand-drawn tears, color explosions, and references to real life in my paintings.

Two winters, two springs, and two summers later, I can faithfully say that I am different–a better–me. As I started to dabble with digital art and the use of other tools, like pastels and charcoal, I slowly came to realize that those heart wrenching experiences when I first came home were vital to my ongoing growth in every aspect. Physically, mentally, and spiritually, there was some sort of transformation in me for the better.

I’ve used the heartbreak from my broken relationships, especially the one with my ex-boyfriend, as a driving force for my creativity. Although I was going through one of the darkest times of my life, I was determined. I used all of the misfortunes and self-worth issues I struggled with as a way to transform, much like a butterfly. A butterfly goes through many phases in its short life cycle but each is just as important as the last, and that is what makes them beautiful creatures.

When I started to realize I was the butterfly and there was no limit to my growth as a person, living in that truth became easier. I stopped reliving the past and focused more on the present. My work effortlessly started to evolve into becoming less about heartbreak and more about empowerment. My confidence grew with the ability to show my art proudly on social media. I also started to share some experiences about my struggle with mental health, with others that I knew. Much of my art is to convey deeper emotions I often feel, like anger, sadness, loneliness, frustration, self-love, and spiritual growth.

Today I am still healing, with the belief that we all will have to do so at some point or another in our lifetimes.

It is a continuous process.

Today much of my work has progressed into mixed pieces of acrylic painting, charcoal, and digital works. There’s a slow-changing focus on charter design presented in my work these days. I’m hoping that one-day success will garner from the struggles I’ve had and those I may yet encounter in the future.

When you’re in the dark, you have to TRUST that you will find the light again.  

Ileana Reed is a Cinema, TV, and Emerging Media major, and excited to finally be a senior at Marymount. In her free time, she loves to write and create art. She makes acrylic paintings, charcoal drawings, digital art, and now also prints.