When I was younger, pencil was my preferred medium. I liked to sketch. And I wasn’t all that interested in painting. In fact, let me be honest – I abhorred the idea of being a “painter”.
One day during my early years in high school, I decided to stop at the local art shop and make a few inquiries about how to get my work sold there in the future. I left extremely discouraged because the owner basically told me that pencil sketches weren’t really a saleable medium. That most people wanted colour on their walls.
This was quite the predicament. I had painted a few things before, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to sketch. In pencil.
So what’s a 15-year-old girl to do when all of her carefully thought out career plans seemingly evaporate before her eyes?
Learn something new.
And get on with your life.
Make it work and get where you want to be.
I’m not entirely sure when it happened, but at some point, the idea of painting was no longer so despicable. I’m sure much of that change of heart came about because I realized that the store owner was probably right. That if I truly wanted to earn a living doing art, that maybe I had to sacrifice a little bit. But not too much. That’s the key to being successful AND happy – knowing what to give up, and what to hold your ground on.
Grade 12 was when it really started falling into place for me. I was 17. My final exam project was a major affair. A series of works which depicted an intangible quality or feeling, in a tangible way. Ooo, symbolism, eh? This was perfect for me, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
My teacher*, God bless her, often didn’t see eye-to-eye with me. And what did we clash over most? My subject choice. After turning in the following series of sketches, she caught me one day going out the door and said, “Wendy, I think you put too much religious emphasis in your art. You need to do something else.”
No one knew it, but she flipped a switch that day. I was angry that anyone would dare say such a thing to ME. I’ve always been “WendyLovesJesus”, even before I formally adopted that moniker when I joined Twitter in 2011. It was never a secret that there was nothing more important to me than my love of Jesus. In Grade 11, I turned out my martyrs altar piece. I was known for being the smart, artsy Christian girl, and now here I was a year later, and someone was telling me to stop what I loved doing and what made me, well, ME.
I nodded and listened and walked away. And then I swore to myself that I would NEVER stop. Too much religious emphasis? How about not enough? It stoked a fire that had been living in me since the day I was born.
Shortly after that encounter, it was time to decide what my final project would be. What did I want to do? Simply put, I wanted to illustrate Bible stories. To fit with the criteria set out, I chose to do a series of paintings which depicted God’s love. You can’t SEE love, but you can “see” it. And that’s exactly what I did.
There was an exhibition of all the works held in the school library and I got to stage my paintings with open Bibles, a red curtain, candles and dim lighting.
It was my attempt to recreate the atmosphere I’d experienced a year and a half earlier during a visit to the Royal Ontario Museum. “Images of Salvation” was a special exhibition of works from The Vatican and other Italian collections. And it was absolutely glorious. It was also the place where I supposedly walked right past Michelangelo’s Pieta and didn’t even notice it. Lord have mercy on me, a wretched, disgustingly unobservant sinner.
My paintings were a hit, even with my teacher. She never said one word about wishing I’d done something else. She told me she was proud of me. And I got a fantastic mark and an art award (two, actually) a few months later at graduation.
This experience taught me a valuable lesson: It’s important that you find something in life that you’re truly passionate about. Something you can get behind and push forward with. Something you’re willing to give 110% to for the rest of your life. Something that you love. Knowing when to give a little to better yourself is important. But it’s also important to recognize the areas you need to stand firm on.
I wanted a career in art, and I needed to adapt and evolve. Today, I can’t even imagine going back to just sketching in pencil. I’m known for my colour work now. Vibrant colour is one of the things that sets me apart from a lot of other artists. I’d have done myself a great disservice had I dug in my heels and refused to try painting in a more serious manner. Turned out I had a talent for it. And now I wouldn’t give up my brush and palette for anything.
That was a necessary change in what I was doing. But devoting the majority of my time and skill to illustrating religious subjects? That I wasn’t about to abandon. It’s what makes me who I am, what I am, WHY I am. I paint a lot of things, but Bible symbolism is what I’m passionate about. That’s what makes me excited, that’s what I love to do.
Do what you love and you’ll love what you do. There’s much truth in that.
The year after I graduated high school, I went back to that little art shop, one of my own pieces in tow. It was, in fact, a framed print of the above “Jesus Heals the Blind Man”. I had never seen any religious works in her shop, but hey, the worst that could happen was that she’d say no, she didn’t want it.
And she almost did. Gave me a big spiel about how religious art doesn’t sell, there’s no market for it, at least around here. And space is at a premium, you know! Can’t take just any painting that walks in off the street. I wasn’t about to beg, so I simply said that if she wasn’t interested it was no problem, I’d look elsewhere. She took it with the stipulation that if it didn’t sell within a month, that I was to come and retrieve it or it would go in the garbage. And she was emphatic that I not get my hopes up – it wasn’t going to sell.
A month goes by and I hear nothing. Six weeks pass and I realize I’d better go and get the darn thing. I look around at the shop and it’s not there. Seeing what was most likely a look of panic wash over my face, an employee asked if I needed help with something. You can imagine my surprise when after explaining about my piece, she laughed and informed me that it sold the first week it was out on display.
I was regaled with a wonderful story about an out-of-town woman who walked in and fell in love with it. Couldn’t stop looking at it, wanted to own it badly. She came back a few days later with her spouse, and they both were head over heels. Bought it, said some very nice things about it, and me, and it was gone. As this was my first “real” sale, you can imagine how delighted I was to hear all of this.
I won’t bore you with details of my anger at the store owner for not contacting me when it sold; or of the insane amount of time it took for me to finally get paid; OR the fact that she failed to honour the commission and price we agreed upon. Chalk all that up to a valuable learning experience and a lesson that people can’t be trusted.
But it sold! Somewhere out there in the world, a Wendy Brydge was hanging on a wall, being admired and appreciated – what every artists wants. And to top it all off, it was a picture depicting something about Jesus. Hallelujah!
I’ve learned that your life is what you make it. Don’t let other people lead you down paths you don’t want to go down, down paths you don’t belong on. Don’t take “advice” from just anyone. You’ll know what’s right when you come across it. You’ll feel it. And you’ll know what’s wrong too. Whether it’s your career, your love life, your friendships… pay attention. Don’t ignore that feeling. Listen. Listen and you might find that God is speaking to you, trying to steer you in the right direction and more importantly, away from the wrong one.
Find what makes you happy and then strive to hold onto it; to get better, to do better, to be better. Money, position, power, fame… all of it’s meaningless if you aren’t happy. And God didn’t say we couldn’t be happy.
As Kenny Rogers sang, “You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run…” So true in all aspects of life. Whether you’re dealing with people, or with paint on a brush: Adapt where you need to, but hold on to what’s important, to what makes you happy, to what you love.
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*Just for fun, I’d like to point out that this is the woman who told me there were only two men in my life – Jesus and Dracula. (See my bio on the side of this page.) Even now it amazes me how well that sums me up!