I spent this morning at a middle school being one of the guests at a middle school career fair. It’s part of a program that the local school district is doing to help kids see what kinds of things are out there and to help them get an idea of what classes they might want to take when they get to highschool and have more choices. A good friend of mine is the art teacher at this school and she invited both my husband (a software engineer) and I to come and talk to students.

We were there with representatives from the Marine Corps, nurses, a sports photographer, a midwife, a theater lighting designer (another friend), firemen and my table neighbor who has her own event photo booth business. The students had a list of questions to ask us about what we studied in school, what a typical day of our job was like or how much money we made. I thought it might be fun to write about some of the conversations we had.

Almost all of the kids I chatted with asked me about my degree. It was on their list of questions. I don’t have a degree in art. That really surprised them. I told them that really you don’t need to have a degree in art to be an artist, you just have to really love making art. (My degree is in education, with a specialty in middle school math. You should have seen the look on their faces when I told them that.) With one student I talked about how art is only a part of my job and that being an artist for me means that you also have to be able to communicate by writing and talking about your work, you have to make budgets and make sure you get paid, you have to run a shop and figure out how to sell your work. It’s like a bunch of mini jobs in one. We talked about how I get to be my own boss and my boss said I got to come be at the middle school this morning instead of sitting at my computer.

We talked about how making art wasn’t something I decided to do as a grown up, but it was something I’ve been doing since I was their age. I only figured out how to make it a job when I was a grown up. They did the math and figured out that meant I had been making art for more than 30 years. And they were totally blown away by that. We also talked about how I make art every day. Just like other people go to work at an office every day. That’s what it means when it’s your job.

The best demo I could show them was to hold up the original piece of painted cardboard that I made this velvet jacket from. That’s it in the photo up above. I didn’t realize what a great side-by-side comparison this was, but I could totally see them see the connection between the two and their eyes get big.

With one kid, I talked about how my very first job was making art. I did bulletin boards for teachers at my elementary school. Then I hand illustrated the newsletter for an organization that my mom belonged to. My first “real” summer job was as a costumer for a summer theater. Looking at it now, it seems completely obvious and inevitable that I would be an artist “when I grew up” but it totally didn’t seem that way to me when I was a middle schooler. I don’t know what I wanted to be then. I think I used to say I wanted to be an author.

I learned that when the Marine Corps brings rifles and swords to their demo, you will be upstaged no matter how cool you are. But I could also see the kids who spotted my table full of brightly colored fabric and made a bee-line over to me. Those are my people. I knew we’d find each other.