Childhood is the closest thing to utopia
Being an artist is about tapping back into that ideal.
Note from Elle: I am currently on vacation so I invited a few authors to write guest posts on utopian topics while I’m away. This week, I want to introduce you to Heather Rampolla, an abstract painter whose work is such an inspiration to me. I’ll be back next week!
Childhood, I think, is the closest experience to utopia. It’s idyllic. The unknown is seen as innocent and adventurous versus a threat.
Steve Chandler, author of Creator, shares how in childhood, not knowing equals the best time ever. He talks about The Divine Unknowing and how it’s where everything creative comes from. The unknown is a frequent place artists put themselves in—creating from nothing, creating perspective to lead the viewer—these are great skills in creating art but maybe also for creating a more utopian life.
Reaching 40 this year, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on Little Heather. Turns out she’s always been my Creative Muse so, like Picasso, I invite her into the studio. (Picasso before entering his studio would turn back his internal clock to when he was a child.)
In my childhood, I was relentlessly creating. As an infant, my mother would find me awake from my nap quietly and contently painting the walls from my crib. As a four-year-old, I’d run colorful marks all along the expansive white hallways in my childhood home. I’d expressively scribble marks on nearly every photograph we owned and if any camera were left out, I’d use all the film to photograph my little sister as model. As an adult, I think of my poor mother. Yet I have no memory of being scolded for these actions.
I remember, as a child, my mom attending fashion design school. I was surrounded by luxury fabrics and materials. I would watch her paint figures on these gorgeous sheets of pressed watercolor paper, and then watch her turn these images into reality. I was enamored. She’d even make miniature evening gowns for my Barbie dolls—which I credit for my early affinity with dresses and luxury. Her “sewing room” was a bedroom converted to her studio. The hall closet was filled with all her high-end beads, pearls, sequins, and feathers. I loved running my fingers through the tiny beads and collect the fallen ones hiding in the carpet. She’d lay out large rolls of fabric to cut, much like a painter with raw canvas. I loved the space she took up, the scale of the creation process.
My father is a talented landscape designer who uses colorful exotic plants as his medium to “paint” and express beauty. My father has always loved flowers and color, so much that my sister and I were named after flowering plants. My childhood yard was very much like viewing a large-scale color field painting; it was an immersive and sensory experience we played in. My dad planted a flowering tree for each of us to climb, one purple, and one pink, our favorite colors. He developed these trees as a focal point, which the rest of the design supported. It felt like my own magical secret garden to escape in. It was otherworldly.
My parents had their own businesses making their “art,” and still do today. My childhood experiences didn’t separate Business vs. Creative, and I was never discouraged to pursue creativity for a more practical endeavor. For me, it was more than knowing “I want to be an artist”, rather, it was knowing that “Artist” was my calling.
As a young adult, I found myself in the business world. My creativity and intuition were leveraged as tools and accelerated my success. I managed a gallery, connecting with artists and collectors, which oddly led to me working as a corporate bank manager and officer. I loved the professional experience and connecting with people. My world expanded to the possibilities of potential, the people behind successful companies, and their habits. I was keenly interested in the relationship between creativity and business. I suppose being surrounded by entrepreneurs felt familiar to my childhood experiences with my parents’ work.
At the time, I was a very young and scared female helping successful people manage their money. I hid the expanse of my creative self behind the armor of my business suit, along with any fear. And it worked, for a while.
The bank president, mentoring me, pulled out a folded check in his wallet that he wrote to himself for a million dollars as a manifestation tool asking, “Heather, what would you do with a million dollars?”, which is akin to “what would you do if you won the lottery.” My answer brought him a confused stare and tilt of the head. I always knew that without the worry of money, I’d choose to have a space for all sorts of art making, create art amongst the shelter of the mountains, and receive mentorship from the living greats.
One day, I experienced an intense vision. Similar to the wardrobe in the Chronicles of Narnia, there was a floodgate of water bursting through those magical otherworldly doors. I was attempting to hold back these waters, but knew it was inevitable before the flood of these deep waters would break open on me. I knew what this vision was telling me. Leave this comfy career to paint and be an entrepreneur. Stop holding back the depths of my creative voice. It required a lot of trust in the unknown but I knew it was something I must do. I had no choice in the matter, really.
The journey to becoming Artist has been treacherous at times because it comes with the greatest risk: the fear of not achieving that which I desire most. There was a lot of fear when it came to allowing Creative Heather back in the driver’s seat. It required that I lean on my husband’s financial support, which was not easy for me. When my parents divorced, I was a little girl, and as I watched my mom become a single mom, somewhere inside me I decided I was never going to put myself in a position of vulnerability of relying on another—including my own parents. I became self-sufficient and independent at an early age.
Life, however, has a way of bringing up events, forcing you to grow and heal your wounds, and when you refuse to accept, the lessons get more and more intense until you surrender. Once I committed to becoming an Artist, I was met by some serious resistance in the form of things outside my control. There were subsequent near-death experiences with family members, and actual loss of family. When tragedy kept coming my way, I began to get fearful to enter my studio and create. Every time I’d pick up the pieces and start painting, another family tragedy would appear. My body associated the trauma with making my art.
Old habits were still present too. I found myself distracted by the opportunities of real estate. When I left the bank, I started helping my husband with his real estate business and built upon the systems and structures he already had in place to support more free time—in other words stop trading time for money. It was absolutely a supportive system, but I had deviated from more passive endeavors to those that were time intensive. While the extra money was good, my lack of time to create was not the place I wanted to be.
One day I came home to water pouring out of our double doors. My earlier vision manifested, literally! I called it “The Flood.” It wiped my slate clean. The damage was extensive and required every single item to come out of the house. We moved into a rental for a complete house remodel. As soon as we moved, COVID hit the world. My art and my real estate business came to a complete stop. The weight of it all took a significant toll on my body and my health. Life forced me to slow down, remain still, and heal.
Becoming an Artist has taken me on the darkest paths of my soul so that I could heal old wounds. After The Flood it took nearly two years of full-time rest and focusing on repairing my health. I was forced to develop new habits. For the first time, I leaned on others’ support—My husband, my family, a team of qualified health professionals. Slowing down wasn’t optional—but really hard at first. There was shame for not reaching my art goals on my original timeline. I felt way behind. But the beautiful thing about resting and healing is the clarity you receive which allows you to go even deeper more efficiently.
I began working with an Artist for mentorship, choosing someone further along the path willing to hold space for me to reach my goals. I sought accountability to not deviate from the work and to break this pattern of running away from that which I wanted most.
Wanting to heal my relationship with water, at the beginning of 2022 I created a collection of art called Healing Waters. The process involved applying layers of water like acrylic paints on Belgian Linen—a technique similar to Helen Frankenthaler’s soak stain method. Each layer felt like a cooling, soothing salve to the soul.
In May, I released another body of work about cultivating our own stability- in the current world, all we’ve been through collectively, and any unknowns of the future. I took symbols of strength- trees and rocks, broke them down, and mixed them into the paint.
I took the summer off to play. Little Heather was finally in the driver’s seat. I went deeper into my healing. I wanted to create art for me—not to produce or sell.
I wanted to see what might develop if I allowed exploration into the depths of me, and what I might create without the pressures of selling or promoting. It was here that I uncovered my original wound—feelings of abandonment from my parent’s divorce. Little Heather misinterpreted her naturally creative self and her world as unsafe and became keenly aware that those I love could leave me at any time, and this fear was driving my decisions for better or worse.
The path of healing and building my art and career hasn’t been an easy straight road. While surely there are more lucrative paths if one’s goal is earning potential, for me it’s the most rewarding path, the path of living one’s life purpose. I’m grateful for the generosity of artists ahead of me whose mentorship left me guideposts along the journey my own path, from making the art we’re called to make, and earning a significant and supportive living from it.
I’m still on the journey and in many ways feel like I’m just now beginning. Except this time there’s no fear, because Little Heather knows she’s safe now.
Don’t run away from your dreams, no matter the pain. Keep showing up. Do the work. Heal. Rest. You’ll get there faster if you do.
Even though the world can be a painful place, I paint to tell the story of strength and beauty. Our stories are often a shared experience. Through my work, I want to leave the viewer with a sense of hope and resilience. In the process of creating, I get to live in my own utopia and paint with reckless abandon.