Tuesday, August 18, 2009

An artist's journey

Today's guest is artist/miniaturist ALICE ZINN, whom I met through our wonderful group, The Camp. What a journey! Thanks for sharing, Alice!

Alice's table at a Miniatures Show

from Alice Zinn:

This morning I was reading a review of the new movie "Julie & Julia" and it mentioned Julia Child's finding her "calling" to be a French chef rather late in life, in her thirties. It reminded me of my childhood, when an adult would ask the 5 or 6 or 11 year old me, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I always answered with the same, rather annoyed response, "What do you mean, I AM an artist!"

Apparently, I was born knowing what I wanted to "be". There was no question, I more simply WAS an artist. What direction that would take was the question. Not MY question, but it should have been that of my parents. Unfortunately, they were of the ilk that sort of lets a child do their own thing. I pretty much brought myself up. My Dad, when I wanted to go to college asked "Why, you just will waste all that money getting an MRS (Mrs.) degree!" (Didn't he, at least, think that would be a better way to find a husband with an education that would enable him to have employment that would support me well?)

My Mother, a pretty good hobbyist/artist, loved playing at drawing and clay with me when I was young. But she never did anything to encourage getting me any further lessons in the arts toward the idea of my having a career. She didn't even suggest my going to school to be an art teacher.

In those days women, especially pretty women, which I was, were assumed to have a future as housewives. No one could know, or warn us, that a lot of my generation would have to work, and due to an ever soaring divorce rate, actually support ourselves.

I've always thought that the idea of families spending a fortune putting kids in all sorts of lessons and after school activities was ridiculous. As a huge tennis fan I hear of parents that put tennis rackets in their child's tiny 2 or 3 year old hands! How did they KNOW this kid would grow up to BE Andre Agassi or Serena Williams? The answer is, they didn't. The just lucked out with kids who had the "calling" and "God given gift" to do well in their "parent chosen" field. With luck, the kids also loved what they were good at.

Can you imagine how many more proteges we'd have in a lot of fields if children were exposed to them in order to find their callings when they are young? Not only artists, but scientists, sports figures, and more could or would benefit from being able to dabble as children and find, not only what they excel at, but also what they love to do! Maybe all those after school activities will lead to that.

I hope so. Especially for those in the arts.

Prototype museum case, about 3½ inches high, with a California Valley Quail inside

I didn't have those activities to learn from. But I did have books. My first grade teacher told us on the first day of class, when she opened that HUGE "Dick and Jane" book on an easel at the front of the classroom, "Once you learn to read, you can learn anything else by yourself".

Opening my matching little book on my desk, I entered a magic place, and I took those words to heart. After learning to read, I honestly do not remember learning anything else in school until I got to sixth grade! I was such a voracious reader that my Mother would sometimes have to take me to the library several times a week, as I'd got through my "7 books only" in a couple of days! I learned everything that school was about to teach me ahead of the class.

I not only read novels, but loved "How-to" books. "How to" make puppets, or doll clothes, or stuffed animals, how to paint or draw or sculpt. All my answers were there!

Making a living in any of the Arts is not an easy thing. My first foray into trying to do so was at 13, when I hated baby-sitting and built (with my Dad's help) a puppet theater, constructed a cast of marionettes and put on puppet shows at kids parties. It was a good supplement to a small allowance from my parents. For a little while, in high school, I designed and made outfits for local rock and roll bands, using a $40 used Singer sewing machine I'd bought with my marionette show profits. My next job, the summer after high school, was as a "dollcraft" counselor in a children's day camp. It paid at the end of summer, $300 for eight weeks work. I was beginning to see that the arts did not pay well!

I entered the workplace trying to find a way into department store window design. But they only wanted people would could show them a portfolio. I settled for a very uncreative job as an executive trainee. I was miserable. It lasted 50 weeks. By then I had gotten married and my husband was a graphic artist. He taught me how to do "paste ups and mechanicals", a term for putting together the elements of type and picture into a cohesive ad, mostly designed by someone else.

I got several jobs in that field and ended up in one where I did the designing. I finally was making good money with my art. Writing has always been another creative outlet for me, and in this job, I got to write copy as well. I eventually got to design the whole ad campaigns.

I stayed with that kind of work even after my first divorce. About four years later I remarried and my husband came along with two little girls. At 24, I believed it was best for them if I was a stay at home Mom, so I quit my job and began freelancing, creating a studio in my home, long before working from home before fashionable.

Alice (right) with friend Jill

It was the early 1970s. One of my dearest friends and I played tennis together. I'd met Jill in high school in an art class. We were bored with the commercial tennis gear and designed our own shirts to wear. We'd gotten so many compliments on the shirts, we went into business making them. My first real business, "Tees From Two", was born. That lasted several years, while I still did free lance work in graphics. After all, an in home design studio can be used for many purposes! So I basically had two part time design jobs.

Sample Tees!

In the late 1970s, I fell into miniatures! My second husband, Harold Zinn, who was a very athletic guy, broke his leg and wanted a project. I had him build me a dollhouse shaped shelf of my own design to display some little collectibles I had been acquiring since my youth. I had no idea that there was a miniatures hobby or industry.

By accident, I found out about a chapter of NAME that was forming locally and went, bringing a sampling of things I'd made for my dollhouse with me in an egg carton. One of the members of the club, Peggy Muloolly, had a miniature shop and asked if I would re-create some of my show-and-tell items for her shop! (Peggy's shop, Miniature Manor, on LI in NY is still in business!) My new business was born! That was March 6, 1977.

All of the artistic things in which I'd "dabbled" over the years had finally come together! I realized I couldn't have had any better training to be a professional miniaturist than the myriad things I'd created over the years in so many different areas of the creative arts. I finally had discovered what I kind of artist I wanted to be when I grew up! A miniaturist!
A job I hadn't even know existed!

When Harold and I divorced in 1980, I had to make a conscious decision as to whether or not to make designing and making miniatures a full time business and try to support myself with it. I went to adult ed and took a course at in Small Business administration. That helped a little, but not enough. So I turned back to my first teachers, books and read all I could about running a home based business.

If I'd had a different kind of parents, and better counseling, knowing what I know now, I'd have gone to California and tried to get a job in special effects for the movie industry. That sure would have been fun! And probably paid a lot better.

I won't kid you. It hasn't been easy. Supporting oneself with ones art is hard work, It is not always fun. There are aspects of the business I hate. I've gone without a lot of luxuries. It's not a part time job, or even the equivilant of two part time jobs. It encompasses every waking hour, in one way or another!

But I followed my calling, and thirty-two years later, my miniatures business is still going strong. Every day I am thankful for all that being a miniaturist has brought me, being my own boss, not owning an alarm clock, friends all over the globe, and loads of fascinating travel. Those are my rich rewards.

Now, with aging joints in my hands, and my eyes not what they used to be, I wish retirement, or even semi-retirement was an option. My own business didn't make enough to provide for my retirement.

My suggestion to you is, when someone asks your child what he or she wants to be when they grow up, listen to their answer. Ask them yourself from time to time over the years, you may get clues as to what areas of education to foster in them. That gift will make their lives a lot more fulfilled and easier than any toy you give them when they are small.

Now, at 61, if someone asked me what I'd want to be when I grew up, I'd finally have a new answer, "I'd like to grow up to be spoiled!"


Anonymous said...

What a luxury spoiled would be! But we'd probably be bored. The journey keeps us going...xoxox

Camille Minichino said...

Alice also has a great recipe for an omelet in a bag. Can you post it here, Alice?

Anonymous said...

Great interview with our Alice! I really enjoyed it! Thanks for taking the time to talk to her and for her to tell us her story..... I always wondered how you became the fabulous designer that you are Alice?

Judy who wishes she was spoilt too but then again happy is a very good thing to be too!! right!!!