How Not to be an Artist

by Catherine Sautter

Magnificent Seven by Eric Saunders

First, grab your Crayola crayons. At the young age of four years old, you are ready to create a new world on a blank canvas. Take the Cerulean Blue and Turquoise Blue; wiggle your double-fisted, ravioli hands up and down the white walls of your mother’s bedroom. Look at the ocean you have made. Smile. Take Maximum Green Yellow; draw the fishes under the sea. Give them long, blonde hair like the Sleeping Beauty. Begin to draw the Little Mermaid’s body but replace Ariel’s face with your chubby, round one. Draw the dimples in your cheek. Take pride in the Atlantic ocean in front of you. Remember to stay silent when you hear your parent’s fighting in the living room. The words of “cheating” and “bitch” do not fit into your small vocabulary. Show your mother your oasis. Try not to cry when your mother steals your crayons and yells at you for ruining her perfect, pure walls. Hug her when she cries on the light wooden floors that have dents in them; notice that some nicks are shaped like ghosts. Do not flinch when she pushes you away. Cry yourself a river anyway. This will be your first memory.

When you turn seven-years-old, pretend to be excited about the new science kit your parents bought you. Feign interest when elementary school starts. Receive high As that your parents will approve of; pretend to care when they call you “gifted.” Pretend to know what that means. Do not add any stress to their lives. Doodle on the side of your composition notebooks. Do not show your mother; she would not care anyway. When you graduate to puberty, express your hormones with drawings. Fall in love with Johnny McCormick. Write his name in newly learned cursive on the sides of your composition books. Definitely do not show your mother. When Johnny McCormick dumps you by the basketball hoop behind the school–the one with the chain net–promise to never fall in love again. Decide to change yourself. Begin to paint instead of drawing. Buy supplies with some of the birthday money you hid from your parents. Buy the cheaper brushes and promise yourself to take great care of them. Use watercolors because they are light in color. They are not as noticeable as acrylics. Hide them under your mattress; the crack beneath your bed and the floor is too obvious.

Tell your mother you are studying for your upcoming planetary exam. Dream of the stars and do not try to understand them. Forget to lock your door. Start painting. When your mother finds you cross legged on the wood floors, look to the ghosts for sympathy. Realize they have none. When she demands to know how long you have spent on this frivolous hobby, do not cry. Instead, show her where you hide your paintings when she begins to tear apart your room for more secrets. Do not cry when she takes your palettes and canvases. Shrug when she forces you to read the monotonous pages of your textbooks on the kitchen table. Keep the lights off when you go to sleep. Paint on old paper by the window opposite to your bed; only use the moonlight. Never memorize the moon’s phases.

            Develop Mommy Issues. Do not listen to your mother’s unnecessary and drab criticisms. Duck when you tell her that her insults are unoriginal. Try to stifle your laughter when she begins her speech about your ungrateful ass. Get smacked in the head anyway. Look to your dad for help. Do not hate him when he does not want to get involved. Realize he has to take your mother’s side; he has a lot to make up to her anyway. Do not trust her with any information other than your grades. Hide your diary under your pillow at night; hide it under the floorboards that she doesn’t know are loose during the day. When tensions seem particularly tight, do not hate your mother. Instead, try to understand her. On rare, tender occasions, tell her you love her.

            Begin your freshman year of high school. Do not laugh at your uniform of collar shirts and khaki skirts. Paint bright blue butterflies your new white converses for school. Sit in your guidance counselor’s office that smells of perfumed feet. When Mrs. Norris asks what classes you want to take, choose AP Biology. When she asks about your art credit, do not “get it out of the way” early because you always save the best for last. Take an extra math class instead. Excel in academics. Follow your parents’ rules. Do not stay out late, always study two weeks in advance, and read a book before bed. When your parents’ friends ask you what you want to be, smile politely and say, “doctor.” Agree when your parents explain that you need a stable career that can support a family; feel pity when your mother reminds you to never rely on a man. Remember she is trapped in this house of infidelity because she cannot afford to leave. Smile tightly and exchange ingenuine handshakes when mother brags about your Science Olympiad awards. Continue to paint at night.

            Freshman and sophomore year will come and go. It will turn into a blur of books, awards, new clubs, and painting. When Michael Corter asks you to Homecoming, say yes. Wear a beaded, yellow, flowy dress that your mother says is slutty. He is handsome, a year older, and a star soccer player. You will think he plays goalie when he really is a defender; pretend to know what that means. You become friends with his friends. You begin to hang out with the popular kids. You are invited to a party. You will not quite remember what happened. You will refuse to see him again.

            Fall into depression; this is critical. Become obsessed with your schoolwork. Dive into the deep end of your AP Physics I class. Etch the equations into your brain. Use the formulas as a safety net. There is certainty in the math; there is comfort in the numbers. Exhaust yourself. Lose interest in painting. Begin to take melatonin. Try to accept that you will never know what happened that night. You will not tell your parents; do not cry.

            Apply to college. A lot of colleges. Your dream school. Your safety school. Become so busy with school, friends, and depression that you forget about the hidden water colors under your bed. Hold your breath when you receive your first letter. Exhale when you get accepted.

            Decide to go to UCLA with a major in Physics on the pre-med track. Blow out the candles on your eighteenth birthday. Smile for the camera. Tailor your maroon gown to the middle of your shins. Wear conservative heels. Pull your hair back tightly. Cover your bony shoulders with your white dress that falls just above the knee. Display your colorful chords with pride. Your parents are proud of you; they are just so proud that you are finally beginning to seem like yourself again. Pretend to be excited when your father gifts you a lab coat for graduation.

When you begin to pack for college, bring the essentials: your bright pink toothbrush, your favorite pair of vintage, high-waisted Levis, and old science notebooks filled with uniformed drawings of molecules. Search the empty crevices in your room for left behind treasures. Find twenty dollars in your sock drawer. Find an old diary from childhood. Read the first page: “Johnny McCormick told me he liked how orange my face looked today. I think I’m going to marry him.” Decide the content is too cringey to continue investigation. Discover your water colors. Some old, worn out paintings are still squished between the mattress and the bed frame. Smile lightly and pack your palettes and brushes gently between layers of sweaters. Wonder how you never felt the canvases while sleeping; sleep well that night.

When you begin school, fall into a state of depression again. To not wake your roommate, paint by the moonlight once more. It is more comfortable this way. Decide that painting is too romantic, too intimate to do in the daylight. Out of habit, keep your paintings hidden once more. Decide to take an amatuer drawing class your second semester. Accidently sit down next to the boy with dark eyes and tight ringlets of black hair in your art class. He will smell like pressed coffee and light cologne. Laugh when he gives you his number; call him anyway. Let him love you and decide you love him too. Decide you like the way his hand feels in yours and giggle at his terrible drawings. Become so consumed that you forget to paint. Decide that drawing is more important.

When he finds your hidden paintings under your mattress and the unwashed, white linen, try not to be embarrassed. Blush when he praises you for your talent. Laugh when he asks you to paint him. Do it anyway. Decide it looks horrible. Hang it up on the wall together. Sit silently as he reads and you paint. Do not catch him admiring you. Instead, let him fall in love with the water color on your fingertips, the way the brushstrokes hit the darken pages..

Apply for a double major in Physics and Fine Arts. Take happiness in your new classes. Love the pops of color they add to your life. Do not flinch when your parents discover your second major; do not show fear when your parents threaten to stop funding your education. They did not send their daughter there to get some bullshit degree. Painting is not a career. They will not support a pointless hobby for the rest of your life. Do you want to fail? We did not send you there so our grandchildren can grow up in the ghetto. You are not talented enough to support yourself through painting. You are not enough. Offer to pay half the bill. Fall into student debt. Decide it was worth it.

You will apply to medical school. This is a key step. He will tell you that it isn’t who you are; that your parents have forced a dream upon you. Listen to him but decide not to hear him. Ask him if he could support a family with a career in film. Tell him he is not talented enough. Tell him he will fail and you will not fail with him. Get accepted to the University of Pennsylvania. Have an awkward celebratory dinner. Realize you will be separated from him. Try to convince him to follow you to medical school. Do not cry when he refuses. Leave for the airport too early in the morning for him to say goodbye. Stare out the window and try to absorb the last bits of Los Angeles. Do not think about him. This will hurt.

Begin medical school; these years will fly by too quickly. Forget the beauty in the art you once knew. Fall too deeply into the anatomy textbooks nestled beneath your nose. Decide you like medical school; believe your own lies. In between classes, find a man who is funny and charming but not him. Let Darren capture your interest; begin a partnership with him. He is more of your friend than your boyfriend but you shrug it off. Distract yourself. Forget what it felt like to wash paint from your skin. Your hands smell of sanitizer. Fall into a routine; marry Darren.

Decide that Darren is a good partner; join a practice with him after you finish your fellowships together. Decide dermatology was always a great fit for you. Decide Maryland is a fun place to live. When you move into your new apartment with Darren, discover your hidden moonlight paintings when packing. Do not cry when you remember what you lost. Throw them out instead. Only keep the ones before him. Do not show Darren.

Become pregnant with your first child. Discover the gender of the baby is a girl. Cut your hours shorter in the practice because it is too taxing to stand on your swollen feet all day. After Amelia is born, take maternity leave. Nap during the day. Darren will be too tired after work to take care of his daughter anyway. Do not hate him for it.

After a couple of years, your practice will grow. Your parents will be proud of the daughter they always wanted. They will fall in love with your life. Their perfect daughter and son-in-law make such a great team. Believe this is the definition of successful. Learn how to make briskets. Do the laundry. Wash the dishes. Vacuum the floors. Hire a nanny when you begin to feel overwhelmed. Decide it’s always felt overwhelming.

Forget to notice Amelia growing up. Immerse yourself in work. Order exactly 20 boxes of blue, disposable gloves on the first of every month. Refill the sanitation bottles. Fill out too much paperwork. Argue with insurance companies. Notice the gray hairs twinkling in the fluorescent light. Begin to dye your hair; do not acknowledge how many chemicals you are willingly placing on your scalp.

Develop a fever one day. Dismiss the nanny. Take Amelia to school yourself. When Amelia comes home from kindergarten with a painting kit, watch her double-fisted, ravioli hands paint on the blank pages. Fall in love with her tiny brush strokes.

“I painted Mommy. Do you like it?”

Giggle at the ugliest drawing of your face; do not take offense to the exaggeration of your nose and the small beady eyes that reflect back at you. Take pride in being the muse of your daughter.

“Can you paint me again?” 

Take her to the white walls in your bedroom. Show her how to create an ocean. Do not forget to draw the yellow fishes. Remember the seaweed. When Darren comes home and finds your beautiful, messy, ugly painting, do not show fear when he is angry.

Instead, mourn what could have been.


Catherine Sautter is a third year Creative Writing and a United States History double major at the University of Miami. In previous years, she has participated in Original Oration competitions where she actively engaged in social justice and persuasive writing. While her career aspirations lie in environmental justice, writing continues to be her passion.

Eric Sanders (b. 1963, Philadelphia, PA) discovered the joy of painting at age six when his father first gave him art lessons. He continued to paint throughout college but upon graduation from George Washington University (Washington, DC) turned his focus towards building and establishing a successful entrepreneurial career. For three intervening decades, his brushes lay dormant. Following the sale of Sanders Industries in 2014, Sanders returned to making art full-time and established a studio in Manhattan Beach, CA. Concurrent with his artistic practice, Sanders is actively involved in philanthropy and established the Sanders Family Foundation, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit charity, in 2015. The Foundation supports organizations fostering sustainable change in developing countries with a specific focus on initiatives directed towards women and children. Sanders will transfer 100% of the income generated by the sale of his artwork to his Foundation for reinvestment in philanthropic initiatives further underscoring his deep commitment to socially impactful endeavors. Sanders lives and works in Manhattan Beach, California and is the devoted father of two boys.