40-Something and Making Things

40-Something and Making Things 

Rachel Stofocik

The other day, I read “What it Takes to Turn a Hobby into a Career at Age 40.” Artist and illustrator, Lisa Congdon is interviewed about how she became a successful artist after an already established career with non-profits. Congdon confesses that after a bad break-up she felt the urge to “make things.” Congdon’s story struck a chord. Of course, the struck chord stems not from my success with clients such as the Modern Museum of Art but in that I too, have come to the world of expression pretty late in the game and after hardship. 

After 15+ years in the world of education, I became ill. I could barely eat without becoming sick. Not only was the illness devastating, but I felt far removed from the person that I thought that I was. My full-time career in education became strenuous. My social life was stifled—imagine going to gatherings with friends and not being able to eat or drink—and my family life felt tainted. On one particularly sad, swollen, and nauseous Friday night, I picked up a pencil, and through hot tears, started to draw my daughter, Suzanne. My first art teacher, Ms. McKitrick’s voice came back to me, “draw the shapes and the values.” My tears waned with each fervent stroke of concentration. After drawing Suzy, my mother and my grandmother, the solace I always felt in art classes in high school resurfaced. I took a few drawing and painting classes, and creative ideas I had while teaching became my therapy and joy. 

Congdon also suggests that pursuing a creative endeavor later in life has its advantages because when we are older, we know a little bit more about who we are and what we like. This was true for me. I drew images based on the words that inspired me from the literature I taught for so many years; I drew images that I thought would be helpful or inspirational to my daughters; and I drew images based on the political movements and new voices crying out all around us. I try posting to social media daily to stay motivated. The postings have not only been helpful for me and my family, but individuals that I have not heard from in years as well as new friends have reached out and asked if they could buy some of my pieces or if I could make them a special piece for their daughter, or boyfriend etc. Art has connected me. Similar to Congdon, if someone would have told me that I would occasionally sell some of my artwork or that I would even create art and write stories in my 40’s I would have laughed; however, to my surprise, this month I landed my first illustration gig! Someone I knew from the world of education sent me a message and hired me to illustrate some pieces for a website designed to help students who are deaf and hard of hearing. It has been the perfect first official job, combining my knowledge of what English Learners need, and my passion for visually depicting language. 

The illustration you see below is a simple way to demonstrate the use of prepositions, in this case “under the tree” and “in the tree”. While hearing children have access to language all around them from an early age and thus slight nuances like “on the bus” versus “in the car” are picked up naturally, it is not the same for children whose first language is not omnipresent. So, while I may never be featured in the MOMA, I agree with Congdon that pursuing any new learning later in life has its perks. The desire to “make things” may not always bring in fame or fortune, but it does offer sustenance in uncertain times, connection with others in a disconnected world, and fountain of vibrance in the second half of life.    

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