I can recall the moment very clearly, as if I were still sitting there. I remember the exact position of my desk amongst the sea of other kindergartners. One after the other, kids were asking me to draw them a princess. I felt deliriously wanted - powerful even. At age five, I was wheeling and dealing in princess art and I was hooked.

Kindergarten Princess Drawing
Kindergarten Princess Drawing

Deciding to be an artist was the easy part. I was lucky to have a natural inclination and was readily encouraged by others.

The years sped by as I learned how to color within the lines and properly shade my subjects. I became very good at following directions. Gold stars abounded.

When it came time to apply to colleges, I was accepted at Rhode Island School of Design, as well as Boston University. I chose BU because I feared going to an all art college (a decision I question now, but it was what it was). None of my friends in high school were artists, so the thought of being surrounded by other artists, scared the hell out of me. Besides, I had taken a trip to Boston once and had a good time.

So off to college I went. Things went great in the first year. My knack for doing what was asked was paying off nicely.

Then along came 'Steven', a fellow classmate and a wild ball of creative passion, with paint (and coffee) all over his clothes, pulsating with talent, and grinning from ear-to-ear as he talked about art, music, literature, and his favorite - comic books.

We hung out a bit, but mostly I wanted to run the other way. Next to him, I felt stupid and dead inside. I had nothing to contribute to his discourse on art and literature. There were no artists I was passionate about. I had barely paid attention to art history, and had, in fact, been quite insular in my artistic endeavors up to that point.

Each outing of ours left me unsettled. Since Steven fit the bill perfectly of the tormented great artist, and I had zero of his passionate quirky qualities, a deeply disturbing voice held court in my head, “Well, maybe you're not really an artist”.

Though a major player, Steven was just one of many catalysts in college that began to rock my world and deconstruct my identity. My carefully honed way of negotiating the world was now in question.

In fact, doing what others asked was no longer working as before, especially in my life drawing class. I would stand paralyzed at my easel, a chorus of my teachers’ instructions swirling in my head, “focus on the light...no, the gesture...learn your anatomy...” My drawings were pathetic and clearly reflected my anxiety and confusion. I was lost in a sea of other people's opinions and passions.

I became painfully aware that I had no sense of who I was as an artist, what moved me, or what I was passionate about. I had been too busy pleasing my teachers. I managed to graduate just fine, but knew the 'real' work was about to begin.

Like a detective on a mission, I entered a very exploratory phase, discovering and pursuing the things that intrigued me, most of which were far removed from my college studies.

After being mesmerized by the puppet scenes in the movie Fanny & Alexander, I volunteered at a local puppet theater. They graciously allowed me to borrow their books so I could learn how to make a marionette. I also did caricatures, learned how to paint on silk, and took on a no-holds-barred approach to mixing media.

Marionette Puppet by Lynn Nafey
Marionette and cat Isak

I also started working with a creativity coach, Sandra Shuman, who helped free me from my inner critics and learned ways of what art “should” be. Part of the work involved delving into the subconscious by paying close attention to my dreams. Happily, my artistic voice began to emerge and I experienced a rich and fabulous flow of creativity.

This was the creative well from which my 20 year career as a jeweler sprang. One day on a whim, I made some jewelry out of glass, string, and paint. I was tickled with the idea of selling these, so I packed them up in a suitcase and marched them around to stores until one agreed to accept them on a consignment basis.

Painted Glass and String Earrings
Painted glass and string earrings from early days.

Though the early pieces were not big sellers due their impracticality, my work evolved into a painted-metal jewelry line, and after a lot of tweaking, sold quite well.

Earrings made with painted metal, aluminum, and sterling silver
Earrings made with painted metal, aluminum, and sterling silver

I absolutely did not intend to make jewelry for 20 plus years, but time just blitzed on by. Though there were many enriching facets, running the business and traveling to shows was incredibly demanding. I was always on the verge of burnout and found myself lamenting how little time I actually had to be creative.

I felt a growing discontent and a fear I would never get back to that deeper vein of creativity that was so precious to me. When I would come across an artist's work that moved me, I would cry for all that I had left behind and felt lost to me.

Clearly, it was time for me to make a change. The crashing economy was nudging me closer, having eroded my already modest profit margin. Plus, I now had the good fortune of having someone to lean on financially during my transition. There was no reason to stay stuck.

So there I was, after 20 years, once again asking myself, “Who am I?”

Thus began another exploratory phase, which is ongoing, and will continue to my last days. As I experiment with new processes and delve deeper into my voice as an artist, I feel a world of possibility opening up.

Still, I remain wary of the “pleaser” that lurks within, and am reminded of a dream I had of a caveman, who in order to fit in with the others, not only painted his face a startling mix of yellow, pink, and blue, but mutilated his mouth to make it bigger. I will refrain from sharing the other bizarre and gory details, but suffice it to say, he was giving up his individuality to fall in line with the rest, so I dubbed him “The Pleaser” and made this crayon drawing.

"The Pleaser" - crayon on paper

Seeing how unquestioningly he followed these strange customs, I took it as a not so gentle reminder to stay true to myself.

Looking back, I am thankful for all my growing pains and how they have made me into the person and artist I am today. Perhaps a bit more 'tormented', but way more passionate and alive.

Still, it is nice to think back to that magnificent day in kindergarten. No self-consciousness about making art. No identity crisis. Just me, a couple of crayons, and my imagination.


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Carolyn Randall


It was wonderful to read about your journey, and I appreciate that you shared that personal story. It made me think about my life as I go forward I to retirement. And I am so pleased and excited for you in your new artistic endeavors! What an exciting time for you.

But, it must be said, your 20 years making jewelry was not just a diversion from your true artistic path (alright, that's overstated a bit...). But the point is that your jewelry is sublime, amazingly creative and beautiful, and has brought pleasure to many many people. I still get comments about it all the time, and then have to tell people that you are no longer making it. Isn't it nice to know that your creations continue to live on and make people happy?

I wish I lived closer and could come to your first art show tomorrow, but ah well, Boston is a little far from Washington DC. Best of luck with it, I hope it is a great success!


Lynn Nafey


Thanks for reading my blog and posting such a lovely and thoughtful comment. It does gives me great pleasure to hear from those who still enjoy and wear my jewelry. And in fact, as I walk this new path, not a day goes by that I am not reminded of the countless ways in which I grew creatively, personally, and professionally during my jewelry career. Perhaps, sometime down the line, I will be exhibiting my art in the D.C. area. I'll be sure to let you know!

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