Finding a Mentor

When I was younger, it seemed easy to find a mentor. Teachers at school and church, relatives, kind neighbors, there were a lot of people to look up to and I had a lot to learn. Now that I’m older, there are still a lot of people to look up to and a lot to learn, but I don’t have a lot of time, and the things I want to know are more specific. It’s easy to miss the structured support and feedback found in a traditional classroom.

But even outside of school, in the middle of a whirlwind grown up schedule full of the usual responsibilities, I have been able to find mentors. There is a saying, β€œwhen the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I’m not sure that the saying completely reflects the reality, but it does have some truth. I don’t think that they just appear, I think there is some searching involved, and some willingness to reach out and ask for help. But there are kind, talented people in this world, willing to answer questions and teach people around them.

When I reached a point that I had questions that were difficult to answer, and I needed help, I started looking for a mentor. I found two wonderful, helpful mentors. Will there be more in the future? I don’t know. Probably. I can’t imagine running out of questions.

So how did I find my mentors?

When I decided that I wanted to spend more time with art than just doodling in the margins of my notebooks, I thought about what I really wanted. I wanted to paint with watercolors. It was something that I had a little time for now that my children were older. It doesn’t take a lot of time for watercolor paint to dry, so I didn’t have to leave things out for curious children to find. I loved the delicate, lovely effect of a well done watercolor portrait.

I looked at classes, but they were expensive and far away. I checked out books, but I didn’t really know where to begin. It seemed overwhelming. I prayed for help. And then I got a Christmas card in the mail from Kathy Decker. She’d painted the picture herself, and then made it into Christmas cards.

Beautiful Watercolor by Kathy Decker

The picture was everything I wanted to learn about watercolor painting. Absolutely amazing. Why did she send me a card? I don’t really know. We go to church together, but I’m rather shy and mostly teach children’s classes, so I didn’t know her all that well. I think she’s a very kind person. She’s someone who does things like donate artwork to charity auctions. She is willing to spend time giving encouragement and advice to people who ask.

And, having seeing the Christmas card, I gathered my courage and asked. I asked for advice on how to paint like she did. She offered to teach me a few lessons. The lessons, and recommendations on supplies, got me started. Her advice and encouragement kept me going.

There were several times I wanted to give up, because I couldn’t make things work or I felt too busy to try. Her advice got me through the hard times. Several times, she came over to visit. She sat by me on the couch, praised my awful attempts, and gently pointed out where an angle was wrong here or I’d needed to let things dry more there before adding any more paint.

She told me stories of when she was learning to draw and paint, and of things her teachers told her. I quote her lessons all the time to my family and friends. I’ll probably include some here in the future. Maybe someday, I’ll paint like she does. Today is not that day, though…

Watercolor of my children that I painted last year

Around the same time, I started writing again. I wrote two novels. They were good, but not great. But, I wasn’t sure how to improve them, and my attempts seemed to make everything worse. I thought maybe I’d improve if I had more writing practice. I also thought it would help me write more regularly if I felt more accountable to write. So, I started this website.

After a year, I thought about the type of novels I wanted to write, and who my intended audience was. I wanted to write children’s fantasy. I researched what children like to read. I learned that they like tales of wonder and humor. I decided that my imagination did okay, but maybe my humor needed work.

And so I checked out books on humor. They said that I needed to practice. But I didn’t really know where to begin. How do you practice humor as a dedicated introvert?

The neighborhood walking group I joined stopped by an estate sale, and I bought a Far Side comic book. Oh. Comics.

I started reading through my old copies of Calvin and Hobbes and Rose is Rose. Six months earlier, when General Conference was approaching, I went looking for the General Conference activity packets that I had seen available for free on the internet in the past. I downloaded them and signed up for the free weekly activity page that the artist Arie Van De Graaff also kindly offers for free. Both the packets and activity pages are wonderful, by the way.

And so, as I was studying these comic books and trying to figure out where to begin, I got an email from Arie about the newest conference packets and mentioning that he had a book of comic strips available on Amazon. A remarkable coincidence.

I ordered it, of course. I ordered it through Amazon, but it came from Arie, signed, with a little picture drawn next to the signature. I replied to his next weekly activity page email to thank him. When he wrote back, I felt brave enough to ask some questions about drawing comics.

Signed title page from Mission DAZE by Arie Van De Graaff

After I drew a couple of comics, I felt brave enough to decide to include them on my website. He gave me some nice feedback. And when, in January, I resolved to get something published in 2018, I thought about my comics. I emailed Arie and asked for advice. He answered my many questions, and I was able to send in my work.

When my first comic was published in the New Era, right alongside one of his, he emailed me to congratulate me. Kathy Decker congratulated me too.

My cartoon in the September 2018 New Era Magazine next to a cartoon by Arie Van De Graaff.

Read more about my first published cartoon in this post.

Could I have done all of this without mentors? Maybe. It would have been harder. It would have taken a lot longer. It would have been much more discouraging. I am grateful for their kindness and encouragement. I am grateful for their good advice. The world is better because there are people in it willing to be mentors. It is worth looking for one. Or two.

What is your experience with mentors? Do you have one? How did you find them? How have they helped you? Do you need a mentor?

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