Art was my mother's best friend and closest confidant throughout her life. In its ear is where she whispered her deepest fears and darkest thoughts and in return it taught her about life's never-ending beauty. Affectionately known to me as Millie Pete, Mildred Peters Carter taught art in Kentucky, Hawaii and Tennessee, both in schools and at home. Watching her paint was a constant childhood activity for me, and through her practice I learned these life lessons:
My mother taught me never to use black when shading paintings. Instead you use complimentary colors to show depth to an object. As a child I saw shadows as dark places to avoid, but Millie Pete allowed me to see they are never as black as they seem, and that shadows actually help enhance the world around you.
When starting any drawing you begin with small strokes that, over time, will make a bigger picture. In life we tend to look toward people with established relationships or careers as role models, yet we forget how long it took them to reach that point in their life. Knowing the small steps we take are not wasted and contribute to our larger success can allow us to relax enough to enjoy each of those moments.
Work with oils.
My mother's favorite medium was oil paint. Since oil paints take weeks and sometimes months to dry, Millie Pete was able to change elements within the painting over the course of many days before it was complete. This allowed her the opportunity to put her brush down and walk away for a time in order to get a fresh perspective upon her return to the canvas. For me, I know that you never attempt to do anything perfect the first time, and a fresh eye always makes a situation better.
When finished with one project, begin another.
My home is filled with paintings Millie Pete created. Her life was not dedicated to just one piece. Instead, she always wanted to try new scenes, new mediums or a new canvas size. This taught me that life is not one journey, but many. The only constant in life is you, and you should always be ready to complete one experience and set off to own another.
Your work is more valuable when you're gone.
As an art teacher, my mother taught me not only art technique but also art history. She would often laugh at the fact famous artists were more valuable dead than alive, since these same masters struggled with poverty while creating their best work. What I took away from these stories is the idea that passion is always better than profit, and your life's work should be about what you leave behind for others.
Perhaps the biggest life lesson I have learned through my mother's art is the fact it doesn't stop, despite the fact she lost her vision before her death. In my home is a painting my mother did of a man's silhouette, the only image she could make out of my brother in the latter years of her life. My mother's determination to continue to live life, and express it in art, shows that no matter what obstacle you have to endure you simply keep moving forward.
She was my hero, and I'm dedicating the day to encourage others to simply do art. Millie Pete didn't care what your skill level was, she simply asked you to try it on for size. So draw, paint, sing, take a photograph, act, play music...whatever artistic endeavor you feel most comfortable doing, do. Even if it's for 5 minutes, on May 26th commit to expressing yourself artistically. It's what brought Millie Pete the most joy in life, not only for her but seeing others do it too. And you never know...you might realize you've discovered a brand new hobby or profession.