Dreama Tolle Perry » Artist and Writer

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The SERIOUS Artist: A Story of Sex, Cats and Couches

Eddie Collage/Brushing the Fur/Favorite Things

In order to get the full impact of what I am about to speak of, one needs sound.

Lucky for you, this story has that.
What I need for you to do is every time you read the word SERIOUS imagine you hear this dramatic music:

So first we practice.
When I was a young gal (30 seems REALLY young now) I wanted to be taken as a
SERIOUS (cue dramatic sound bite) artist.

Being a woman, a housewife, a mom, a daughter, a daughter-in-law, the sibling of an artist, I feared not being seen as a 
SERIOUS artist.  (When the sex is F  AND an artist, it comes with its own particular set of baggage.)

In my view, you were either SERIOUS or you were a hobbyist (i.e. –someone who settled for creating things that only your family would ever want and only then because you had made it with your own little hands).

I studied what the SERIOUS artist would be like so that I could clone myself into one.
I amassed a ton of art books because that seemed like a good place to start—my thoughts being, “I have a library full of amazing knowledge—therefore I must be a SERIOUS artist.”

I built a studio with flat files and framing stations, deep utility sinks and awesome lighting.  I was sure this would help shape me into a SERIOUS artist.

I proceeded to angst about the creative process.  I journaled pages of “I am filled with self-loathing” and “I am not a real artist—I don’t have the magic ‘it’.”  Pages and pages, proof positive that I was indeed getting very SERIOUS about my art.

I joined art organizations which allowed me to have further conversations on the angst and horrors of being a SERIOUS artist.

HOWEVER, I did have some missteps along the way.  Like the placing of 2 white couches and a white rug in my new studio.  Any SERIOUS artist would have known a work space should be utilitarian and devoid of any fufu stuff.  (Not to mention that I also put up a Christmas tree complete  with stuffed cats dressed as Claw Monet and Vincent Van Cat.)

There were also wardrobe issues.  I couldn’t seem to get into wearing funky painter’s clothes.  I liked wearing my “good clothes” when I painted.
did not look like a SERIOUS artist.
I was too clean.

Even my husband pointed out that I didn’t seem to be like the other artists he knew. (I inserted SERIOUS in front of that in my mind and felt so exposed for the fake that I clearly was.)

I worked for years at becoming a SERIOUS artist with somewhat limited success.  I had occasional brushes (pardon the pun) with it—but nothing I could sustain.  I knew I was faking it—how long before I was found out??

Looking back I can see when it all began to unravel.
It was when I went online with my art.
I was painting away, posting new paintings frequently, having fun and totally forgetting myself. Forgetting about my quest to be a SERIOUS artist.
I quit entering competitions.  I stopped hoping one of the famous galleries would discover me and want to make me their queen for a day.

I forgot I was supposed to be angsting.

I just painted and had a good time.

I think I realized I had gotten off the SERIOUS artist boat and boarded the dinghy of no return when I did my first few paintings of Eddie the Cat and Phyllis the Mouse.  I had so much joy in doing them that I forgot all about the years of endeavor to be taken seriously until—I got ready to post them online.

I actually saw my SERIOUS artist life flash before my eyes.

What would everyone think?  What SERIOUS artist paints their cat with a rodent (sorry Phyllis) doing the hula and having lunch?

Me and only me.
I looked around at my shabby chic NEAT studio, my mostly paint-free clothes, my mouse infested artwork, and my colors of the rainbow paintings.  I had to admit to myself that  I was not very good at gallery openings and shows (I’m actually a closet introvert).  That if you took color away I probably wouldn’t paint at all.  That sometimes I’d rather write than paint and that I have been known to use valuable time to do a silly painting of Eddie for his cat room.  There are even more gruesome details that I am to embarrassed to put down here.

After thinking long and hard on it— I arrived at a few conclusions.
My belief in who and what a SERIOUS artist was had been totally made-up

by me.
There IS no one size fits all definition of the  SERIOUS artist.  It occurred to me that maybe it was

okay to be me.
That it was okay to be happy first and let that feeling help me decide where to go next.

Artists, even the SERIOUS ones, come in all shapes and sizes.  They wear funny clothes, expressive hats…or not.  They work while others sleep…and vice versa.  They work with the best of materials while some work with found materials.  Some paint on linen only while others do amazing angel paintings on brown kraft paper.  Some are articulate and some are very shy.  Some love capturing the delicate details of life while others have a broad sweeping vision.

I am glad that things finally came to a head for me.  Happy that I had to investigate where all those crazy ideas of who, what and how a SERIOUS artist was supposed to do, look and be had really come from.

Always judging myself for what I wasn’t sure wasn’t much fun.

I love the silliness of me.
I paint in my PJ’s with hair standing on end—without getting any paint on me 🙂
I talk to Eddie and play everything from opera to Maroon 5 while writing.
I’m terribly messy AND terribly neat–all at the same time.
Every time I paint, I wonder why it took me so long to get in the studio.

My quest for the last few years?

To forget the serious and just be happy!

Cue theme song:

What’s your definition of a SERIOUS artist?
How well are you matching up?

You are the one who decided what the definition was in the first place.
You are the one who can change it.


 You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist. ~Nietzche




  • Lisa Cohen - November 21, 2015 - 10:27 pm

    I simply adore this post. It has inspired me to just paint for the sake of painting and get out of my head. I’m a wife and stay-at-home mom and am at the beginning of this art thing so self-doubt looms large when I stop painting and start thinking about it too much, Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading my mind and sharing your story and struggles (and joys). Oh…and I just ordered all of my painting supplies for your upcoming online class. Thanks for the heads-up earlier today about the list being similar to your in-person classes. Now I get to wait for a happy mail package! YAY! Happy weekend and Happy Thanksgiving!! xoxoReplyCancel

  • Linda Rupard - June 29, 2014 - 6:52 pm

    What an awesome post. I love it. You are such an inspiring artist and writer. I enjoy all your cat stories and the wonderful paintings with all that glorious color.
    Thank you Dreama for sharing.ReplyCancel

  • Anonymous - March 31, 2014 - 6:19 pm

    Oh my goodness, so true. The light bulb came on when I realized that painting just for fun created work I loved and others too. “To thine own self be true” became so clear.

  • Cindy Berg - March 26, 2014 - 11:03 am

    WOW – you spoke to my soul. I am now a follower of yours. I am also sharing your positive messages to my gals that I mentor in prison. Thank you for reminding us to hold onto our love and joy.ReplyCancel

  • Theresa Taylor Bayer - March 23, 2014 - 12:12 pm

    I totally agree, Dreama! I believe in happy. My paintings come out looking happy even when I’m in painting in a bad mood. Of course, who needs that stupid bad mood! When that’s the case I reach for a Harry Potter CD and play it while I’m painting, and before I know it I’m flying high on my own brushes, having great adventures while the painting paints itself.ReplyCancel

  • Kathleen - March 23, 2014 - 10:43 am

    This was an incredibly weird feeling to read something that was written about me but by someone who has never met me! How could you know what my life has been like??? Thank goodness I am finally coming to the place where I am more interested in just doing the art than becoming a Serious Artist!! Thank you Dreama, I always feel on top of the world when I find you in my inbox! You are a blessing!ReplyCancel

  • Christine Debrosky - March 15, 2014 - 2:10 am

    This gets to the essence of why we paint. thank you!ReplyCancel

  • june - March 11, 2014 - 1:00 pm

    Thank you, Dreama, for this post, but not only just this post – but also for all that you do to inspire me, encourage me, support and teach me, to help me to believe in myself and my creative path, but also, for making me smile during the tough times and the sad times. Especially most recently. Thank you so much, Dreama.ReplyCancel

  • Charles Wallis Art Space - March 10, 2014 - 12:25 pm

    Cool stuff girl!!ReplyCancel

  • Charles Wallis - March 10, 2014 - 12:25 pm

    Cool stuff girl!!ReplyCancel

  • Rosita Henley - March 9, 2014 - 10:40 pm

    Adele Bower, I like your definition. Dreama, love your post. ReplyCancel

  • Ekaterina Chernova - March 8, 2014 - 7:02 pm

    Dreama I’m a huge fan of your paintings: 1.colors! the colors are so soft and clear 2.lovely scenes. 3.and the subject – a lovely mr. cat painted into a lovely scene in those amazing colors – i love them:) Any workshops in New Zealand?:)ReplyCancel

  • Janis Commentz - March 8, 2014 - 3:09 pm


    YES! I made some decisions just yesterday – putting the “too much activity” on hold! Thanks for your affirmation AND perseverance!!ReplyCancel

  • Karen Johnston - March 8, 2014 - 12:43 am

    Wonderful story Dreama, now I know I’m on the right track!! I have spent 20 plus years thinking the same thoughts and nearly gave up! Now I love the way I feel about my art life….my mantra is…”Live Life, Love your Day” Thanks for sharing:)ReplyCancel

  • Sharon Hodges Trainor - March 7, 2014 - 8:18 pm

    Dreama, your thoughts could be me today! I have some natural talent but I’ve been that frustrated serious artist for 74 years. I was a sculptor to begin with, had many gallery offers, back in the days of agents, etc. I also was married and had four beautiful daughters. I choose the husband I loved and the responsibility of raising those girls seriously. I continuously dabbled in art every different medium you can think of, serious all the time. The daughters grew up and have families of their own; my husband passed away ten years ago. Yesterday I was studying different palettes of various artists I like including you. I love color; it makes me happy. Today, the paints are out and I am going to “be happy” just laying the colors down. Thank you, your thoughtful sharing means so much to me today and I am positive I am not alone, You are indeed “the Cat’s Meow”ReplyCancel

  • Laurel McBrine - March 7, 2014 - 6:57 pm

    Amen to that sister!ReplyCancel

  • Gloria Callahan - March 7, 2014 - 5:50 pm

    Dreama, love your post, measuring up to your own standards can be tough and we are our own worst critic.

    On a lighter note, because I work on a very time consuming manner and media, when I finish a painting I have always played a select few victory songs to celebrate. This Happy song has been at the top of the list for over a month now, just love it, and can’t sit still when I hear it!ReplyCancel

  • Vikki Bouffard - March 7, 2014 - 5:05 pm

    You have no idea how much I enjoy reading your posts. This one is excellent and just what I needed to hear! You have been blessed with amazing painting and writing talents laced with great humor! Perfect. Thanks again.ReplyCancel

  • Judy Baker - March 7, 2014 - 2:29 pm

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. This is SO me. Had a few weeks of joyful painting–took a break from painting to do other things and now am back to hear that ole voice of doubt. You’ve picked me up again. Thanks a bunch!ReplyCancel

  • Patricia Rhodes Christensen - March 7, 2014 - 1:23 pm

    Wow! Your post is SO spot on! You have struck a nerve for me for sure! I am older than you and have struggled with feeling validated as an artist for so many years! I have also quit entering competitions trying to guess what will please judges with subjective opinions – such a waste and draining of creative energy! Thank you for sharing your heart and giving hope to so many! Paint on…ReplyCancel

  • Julie - March 7, 2014 - 1:19 pm

    Oh, I’m soooo glad you’re not a SERIOUS artist, Seriously!! I always call your paintings “Happy Paintings,” and I’m delighted to know have a lot in common. :o) P. S. I liked the “Happy” video–I’ll probably have that on my mind all day–Haha!ReplyCancel

  • Donna Vacca - March 7, 2014 - 1:12 pm

    When I read your posts, it feels like you are speaking directly to me. You have a lovely gift of speaking your mind with such clarity. Your writing and art touch me like a warm ray of sunshine leaving a smile on my face! Thanks.ReplyCancel

  • Patricia Awapara - March 7, 2014 - 12:28 pm

    You are as talented in your writing as you are painting. I believe this story will be those that most can relate. I am in my 40’s and it was only a few years ago that I gave my self permission to paint what I want. I Love painting with color as well. Which is why I enjoy your style immensely. (i will soon buy one of your pieces..for real!! I haven’t yet, cause I quit my day job to paint… so I am in a tight budget for now :D)

    In my 30’s I thought that to be a SERIOUS, as you said, or successful artist I had to think and feel like them, just as you mentioned above. The truth is that I wanted to be happy (like everyone else) regardless of how it would affect my artistic path.

    Nowadays, I am happy, not only where I am, but also how I transformed. I learned to be in peace with all these, finally… heehee… (still working on other stuff though) and even though I do make a huge mess every time I paint (even my face and arms, have no idea how I do it) I am able to laugh about it.

    I started a blog about three years ago, to share my painting, my experience and also my not so good writing skills. The response and support has been amazing! So, to finalize thoughts…

    You are a true inspiration! Your sincerity about how you feel, is what resonate with many. Bless your heart!

    Keep up the good work, the colorful pieces and happy themes. (oh! and keep on writing! 😀 )
    warm wishes,

  • Tracey - March 7, 2014 - 12:23 pm

    Thanks Dreama, you’ve filled us with Joy this morning as you’ve done so many times before! What a start to morning Yoga!ReplyCancel

  • Monica - March 7, 2014 - 9:46 am

    Wow Dreama-
    Just what I needed…In the midst of getting the house ready
    to sell and tossing stuff anxiety(tons of art magazines telling
    me how to be an artist…etc.) and feeling blue… Till I read
    your post and loved the video. Now that my little studio
    is being cleared out of extra stuff, I will have the clarity to
    go in there and splash some Caribbean Blue on a canvas
    for a happy morning despite an impending move! Thank you
    Thank you thank you! Best, MonicaReplyCancel

  • Jo-Ann - March 7, 2014 - 7:51 am

    Once again you’ve given us the gift of smiling. Your blog, your colors, your paintings make me HAPPY. I’m SERIOUS about this! Thanks, DreamaReplyCancel

  • Sarah sheffield - March 7, 2014 - 7:11 am

    You hit the spot again with this post. Great reminder to be yourself.ReplyCancel

  • Kimberly Conrad - March 7, 2014 - 2:31 am

    Thank you Dreama!! Your never cease to inspire….:):)

  • Joyce Corns - March 7, 2014 - 2:18 am

    Hmmmm. Coincidence? I think not! I have spent the past 10 days beating myself up because I just want to paint happy,colorful art that makes ME feel happy and joyful again. I just want to have fun with my art again. Thank you for writing an essay that gives me the permission to do just that. Seriously!ReplyCancel

  • Nicola McLean - March 6, 2014 - 11:04 pm

    I’m so glad Sandra shared this on Facebook. What a great post and one that I think we can all relate to! I often worry that I have too many styles and use too many different mediums to be taken seriously as surely serious artists have only one instantly recognisable signature style. ReplyCancel

  • Valee Sewell Penn - March 6, 2014 - 11:00 pm

    Wow Dreama! This is EXACTLY what I needed to hear. Thank YOu! You have given me renewed vision for fun painting, and hopefully, there will be an “Indy & Spot” book by the end of the year!
    You are just “The cat’s Meow!’ ( translation.. You are THE BEST!)!

  • James M. Coulter - March 6, 2014 - 10:58 pm

    Thanks for such a wonderful little story Dreama. I have followed a similar path, throw in some abuse of drugs and alcohol with some minor jail time.( I sketched the inmates while I did my 15 weekends.) Van Gogh was one of my key “Role Models”, Ha! ReplyCancel

  • Maria Bennett Hock - March 6, 2014 - 9:59 pm

    I LOVE this post. I remember when I took your class you placed a dob of pink paint in a sea of green where there was no pink on the source photo…you looked at me and said ” I did that just because it makes me happy” I learned so much from you…but most of all I love that moment.ReplyCancel

    • Dreama - March 6, 2014 - 10:15 pm

      Aww Maria! Thanks for sharing that 🙂 It so important that we allow ourselves to give in to what makes us happy 🙂 !ReplyCancel

  • Christine Holzschuh - March 6, 2014 - 8:57 pm

    I read a blog the other day (Seth Godin)and he was talking about becoming the kind of “artist” you want to be and that you should be a servant to the one you want to be like….soooo Dreama, what can I do for you?ReplyCancel

    • Dreama - March 6, 2014 - 9:57 pm

      Eddie is very demanding and has run through a barrage of sitters—sooo are you available? 😉ReplyCancel

  • Roxanne Steed - March 6, 2014 - 8:32 pm

    Thanks for writing this so very well Dreama… so everyone can know this!! Some of the conversations we had last summer at your France workshop were so absolutely FREEING for me!! That is one powerful message!!!! (hallelujah sister!!!) ;-DReplyCancel

    • Dreama - March 6, 2014 - 9:58 pm

      Roxanne! My pleasure. I only speak the truth 😉ReplyCancel

  • Kathleen Barnes - March 6, 2014 - 7:49 pm

    Wow, did I ever need that little tale! why in the world do we beat ourselves up so badly for not being some imaginary person? I have a degree in art and I still wonder if I am a “real” artist at times. Maybe just being you is the very best thing you can be. Thank you for the reminder.ReplyCancel

  • Durinda - March 6, 2014 - 7:46 pm

    Seriously?? Ha! I think you cared too much about what other people perceived as an artist. I have been in awe of all you have been able to do and still manage to have a happy (normal?)life as a wife, mother, and sibling (and cat momma). I would put you in the category “Super Artist” which is way above Serious Artist. Who wants to be serious, anyway??ReplyCancel

    • Dreama - March 6, 2014 - 10:14 pm

      Durinda—I agree, I should have known better–I am not all that good at staying SERIOUS for extended periods of time anyway:-)ReplyCancel

  • Sandra Busby - March 6, 2014 - 7:36 pm

    I can SO relate to this post! You’re talking about me!!! What a great post Dreama. Thank you for making me feel normal :0)ReplyCancel

  • Barb Eiben - March 6, 2014 - 6:46 pm

    Thanks for the above…..lately I have been wondering what type of artist am I …not being happy with my work lately and feeling frustrated. I need to relax more and not be so difficult with my self. Hopefully you can guide me along when I get to France. Barb

  • De Selby - March 6, 2014 - 6:18 pm

    Hey! Get out of my head, quit reading my mind! Except for the ‘neat’ part. I’m looking forward to meeting you at Artists’ Attic this month. Even with 50 paintings in the gallery, and a lovely Gallery Hop, most days I don’t feel like a ‘real’ artist. What is it with us introverts?ReplyCancel

    • Dreama - March 6, 2014 - 10:03 pm

      Dear De Selby (AKA REAL ARTIST) it looks kind of ridiculous when you put it in print doesn’t it.

      50 paintings in a gallery and still not real 😉

      Time for a new definition 🙂 !! See you in Lexington!ReplyCancel

  • Adele Bower - March 6, 2014 - 6:16 pm

    Dreama, I’ve read that the definition of a writer is “a person who writes.” Maybe a serious artist is simply a person who paints or draws”.ReplyCancel

  • Beth McGale - March 6, 2014 - 3:53 pm

    Hi Dreama,

    I love this post, I had to check that I didn’t write this in my sleep! This is me, all of it. I walked out of a technical drafting job I have had since the dawn of time. I couldn’t take it anymore. Home to a art studio my carpenter husband built me. It too has all the books… etc. Just the other day I called about getting back into drafting because I was not a “real” artist. I have been upset ever since, until I read your post today. I am an artist…. and right now I am painting Leonard, my cat that just passed. He looks like Eddie. I miss him.

    Thanks so much.ReplyCancel

    • Dreama - March 6, 2014 - 4:10 pm

      Beth–it’s a Tragedy/Comedy. When I can stand back and get a good look at myself I get so tickled at the ridiculous stuff I get in my head. Egads!—glad the story has saved you from yourself 🙂

      Hugs to Beth the Artist!

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