Channelling negative energy

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Dear Artist,

Yesterday, Catherine Stock wrote, “I wonder if you have any thoughts about channeling negative energy into creative endeavors. The other day, one of my most valued friends and I parted company. I was pretty upset by his obviously calculated quarrel, and went over to my studio and picked up and attacked an old unresolved painting. I’m quite happy with the results. Another time I was irritated with the monitor of a life-drawing class to the point that I almost left, but instead focused on my drawing and did some powerful sketches. Nice to know that good things can come from an upsurge of choler.”

Thanks, Catherine. Creative prowess comes from two main sources — love and anger. Surprisingly, anger works just about as well as love. Trouble is, it’s not as much fun and it kills you sooner.

Accepting and channelling anger, even if used only in a small portion of our active creative lives, is an art worth learning. And while some artists simply can’t work when they’re angry and suffer consequent lack of production, excellent lemonade can be made from some lemons.

Some observers have noted that artists may actually need stress and anxiety to get the best from themselves. Subscriber Bill Cannon wrote, “Mozart, Vivaldi and Van Gogh stretched their genius on struggle, stress and survival.” When we sit down to work with concerns like this, perhaps it is the fresh hope that we know the creative act will give us and the fear that this fresh effort may not work out. “Minds that are ill at ease are agitated by both hope and fear,” said the banished Greek poet Ovid more than two millennia ago.

I’m one of those annoying people who appears to have a perpetually sunny disposition. But stuff happens, as it does to us all. My antidotes may appear simplistic, but here they are anyway:

Plan work zones regardless of mood or conditions.

Through thick and thin, learn to be steady and strong.

Know that relationships are fluid and not everyone fits.

Lose yourself to the empowerment of the creative act.

Be philosophic in misfortune and disappointment.

The big dirt-nap is coming anyway, so keep busy.

Best regards,

Robert

PS: “The greater the tension, the greater the potential.” (Carl Jung)  “Anger controlled is a power that can move the world.” (Mahatma Gandhi)

Esoterica: It’s always been of interest to me that siblings from dysfunctional or negative family environments can turn out in so many different ways. One may be mired in inappropriate life-decisions and repeated failures, while another may rise above it all and happily thrive. Self-esteem is crucial. I’ve made a lifetime study of the nature of self-esteem in artists. It seems to me that developing self-esteem relies on a combination of tangible evidence and gentle self-delusion. For people of imagination, self-delusion may come easily, and this ability is not to be sneezed at.

 

 

In the grip of strong emotions
by Margot Hattingh, South Africa

 

“Mother”
original painting by Margot Hattingh

I adore the live comments — I can almost hear the voices shouting to be heard as if in a great lecture hall, or in a wonderful cafe on the Left Bank in Paris.

With regards to this letter — I believe all emotions, whether negative or positive, are fundamentally pure energy which can positively fuel the creative process like nothing else. Slashing the paint on in anger or stroking it on with love gives material form to invisible energy. Energy is always energy and therefore power, whether it comes from rage, grief, excitement, wonder or love. It is how we use it that makes it negative or positive. Using it to fuel creativity is always positive. My very best paintings, in my own opinion, are those done while in the grip of strong emotions. They generally tend to be the paintings I am most reluctant to part with as well as being the ones that sell first.

 



There is 1 comment for In the grip of strong emotions by Margot Hattingh

From: V. Bridges-Hoyt — Dec 16, 2008

Yes, I have noticed that when I paint with strong emotion, typically a subject with strong meaning in my life, those are the paintings I want to keep. They are also the paintings that generally sell. So does that bring us back the old adage “paint what you know”?

 

 

Frustration has a silver lining
by Jack Dickerson, Brewster, MA, USA

 

acrylic painting
by Jack Dickerson

We do not always need “positive” things going on in our lives to create terrific paintings. We cannot control much of what goes on around us, and we are bound to have “bad” days, caused both by our own challenges and issues as well as those of others. The worst of all is getting into a rut and becoming very frustrated with a painting that will not work. However, my experience has shown me that when any one, or all, of these things happen, it is usually when I am able, in spite of the frustration and blockage, to create a really good piece of work. It often takes longer but there is a silver lining — I always learn something new in forging ahead through my frustration. Ninety percent of the time I produce a good, solid piece of work. We just have to stick with it and keep at it. This painting, although not finished, was the result of such one of those frustrating times.

 

 

Anger’s energy
by Dolores Ewen, Saskatoon, SK, Canada

 
I stick by Gandhi. Anger is a marvelous form of energy that seems to have deeper tanks of electricity than love. Love tends to pacify, sooth, and put one in lullaby mood. Now if you get angry because someone or something you love is threatened, you possess continuing power. I have done electric paintings which only I love because they are so abstract. I keep them to remind me of the power I can use. I have written whole songs, whole three act plays, and numerous letters using the juice of anger. The thing with the letters is to let them sit for two or three days. Then, when the first explosive carbon is gone, you can compose out of the diamonds that coolly remain. I am sometimes suspect of “Anger management Workshops” because they intend to render the emotion dead. They should aim for insight and the power to accept oneself as angry, with control.

 

 

Emotional Freedom Technique
by Theresa Bayer, Austin, TX, USA

 

“The key”
acrylic painting by Theresa Bayer

I simply cannot paint when I am angry or depressed. I have to be in a good mood from the outset, otherwise I will not enjoy painting, nor will I paint very well. For dealing with negative energy, I use the Emotional Freedom Technique, an energy healing system developed by Gary Craig, which combines acupressure with psychology.

 

 

 

 

The necessity of intensity
by Jean Sonmor, Wolseley, SK, Canada

 
Anger, or any strong emotional reaction, basically opens the glandular taps, injecting chemicals to stimulate and arouse us to action. Flight or fight.

This surge in energy is useful when controlled. Actors, even the great ones, do not stop being nervous about performance. They learn to channel their nervous energy into the intensity that carries past the footlights or through the lens. It is this contained emotional intensity that we as audience see and interpret according to the context of script, plot etc.

Perhaps, for the artist, being aroused to strong emotion like anger can provide the raw material (intensity and raised energy) that one can then channel into the deep concentration and action that helps us to focus on the work at hand.

Bad paintings often lack intensity, just as bad dramatic or musical presentations lack intensity. Intensity is a quality that only the artist/performer/composer/writer can apply, and once applied it remains part of the finished work. Art of any kind endures because it is intense enough to elicit an intense response from the viewer or listener. Thus ‘good art’ can disturb, calm, uplift or make us laugh. ‘Great art’ has depth and intensity that is transcendental and lasts for centuries. Even through vast cultural changes it remains art for the ages.

 

 

Complex emotions
by Carole Ann Borges, Knoxville, TN, USA

 
I used to use my anger to fuel all kinds of creative efforts. My rage was like a pipeline directly connected to the dark depths of my being and what was brought up after being scanned for the universal rather than the personal was recognized as art. The raw edginess and the honest strip-tease-like showing of parts of me that others could relate to were highly encouraged.

As I moved to higher spiritual levels, it no longer felt authentic if I only expressed dark images. This caused some people to like my work less. I have to admit there was a transition period during which my vision faltered and I never thought I would be strong again. It took a lot of faith to pursue totally different perspectives, totally new emotions and subjects and attitudes, but one day there it was! I am now capable of moving fluidly through many ranges as I am a very complex person. Anger alone at one time inspired me, but it was joy that lifted me into realms beyond limitation.

 

 

Channelling holiday stress
by Peggy Guichu, Phoenix, AZ, USA

 

Frenzy<br>oil painting by Peggy Guichu

“Frenzy”
oil painting by Peggy Guichu

Getting together with family isn’t my most anticipated endeavor. I’m the one in my family who always wants to make nice. But during the holidays I’m put to the test. Two years ago I did a painting between Thanksgiving and Christmas. My husband finally begged me to take it down. He felt so much anger coming from it that it was distracting and depressing to him. I tried everything I could to cheer it up, but the drama just wouldn’t go away. Gesso was my only option. I do think that stress and conflict can produce some powerful work. Perhaps, for many of us, painting is our way of escaping reality. During times of high stress, the strength that it takes to shed it comes out in our work.

 

 

Bring on the anger
by Susan Burns, Douglasville, GA, USA

 

“Geisha”
original painting by Susan Burns

I would go so far as to say we could use a lot more anger. Anger is what makes change. Anger doesn’t take us by surprise if we know and are aware of ourselves. We rejoice that anger is here to give its message. It is great if we can put that message into art or into marching to protest prejudice. The problem comes when we turn anger into adrenalin and become addicted to that, because it makes us feel powerful. Then we choose not to actually look at what we are angry about! Adrenalin will shrink each and every organ in your body if used improperly, and eventually kill us. Psychologists no longer tell us to conquer anger out by beating pillows. It causes a rise in adrenalin levels. Our awareness of ourselves is all that matters. We can not help others to do this. Everyone must inquire for themselves. This is an inside job. Our responsibility to the world is to be aware of ourselves. Period!



There is 1 comment for Bring on the anger by Susan Burns

From: Linda Mallery — Dec 17, 2008

Your Geisha is wonderful. So strong yet so delicate. Thanks for sharing her.

 

 

Anger with dealer fuels work
by Georgeana Ireland, Irvine, CA, USA

 

“Flight” (segment) original painting by Georgeana Ireland

It is true that anger has fueled some of my best works. The adjacent painting was created after an important gallery partner failed to cancel/reschedule our appointment and I showed up to meet the unprepared and unexcited (about my work) “other” owner. You can guess how that went. I went home after more than 2 hours of commuting and painted furiously to Flowbots’ “No Handlebars” on repeat for about 3 hours. I was going to name the painting #$%^ you #%% Gallery but instead I created Flight. More often my works are created in love.

 



There are 2 comments for Anger with dealer fuels work by Georgeana Ireland

From: Anonymous — Dec 16, 2008

I really like it.

From: Anonymous — Dec 17, 2008

I like it too! And the image of you driving for two hours enraged while listening to “No Handlebars” is hilarious!!! It sounds like something I would do. Sorry you had a bad experience, but, wow!!! You made a gorgeous painting from it. I guess you should see the whole thing as a blessing!

 

 

Painting for sister’s short life
by Lesley Humphrey, Houston, TX, USA

 

“Four seasons” (3/4) original painting by Lesley Humphrey

Four years ago my young sister Elaine passed away after a rapid, tragic battle with M.S. I found that paintings of horses (my bread and butter at the time) or jaunting around the countryside looking for images to paint seemed frivolous. I was bereft of images; completely and utterly incapable of painting. Mourning the fact that she had not had the four seasons of her life, I decided to paint them for her. First was winter, when life seems lost beneath the frost, yet the earth is pregnant with new life, hidden from sight. She lived the springtime of life, was married, and had three lovely children of her own. I feel she was robbed of the summertime: In middle age, while many of us bask in the sunshine of our accomplishments, here she is leaving the bounds of earth toward something which we all hope is there.

The fact is, these were extremely difficult to paint. Not so much from an application point of view; from a pain point of view, for I went through all of our memories, hopes and fears. In the end, even though several people wished to purchase the series, I felt they were truly not mine to sell. A price tag seemed terribly wrong. All four (fall not shown) now hang in the foyer Women’s Center at Tomball Regional Hospital, as a gift in remembrance of Elaine Margaret McHugh. It’s amazing to me that not only does everyone enjoy them, they all prefer the summer, which was agony for me as I let her go. After all this, I could paint again. Only better and from a deeper place than ever before.

 



There are 7 comments for Painting for sister’s short life by Lesley Humphrey

From: Rick Rotante — Dec 12, 2008

Very moving. Thanks for sharing with us.

From: Anonymous — Dec 16, 2008

Leslie, your paintings are a beautiful tribute to your sister Elaine. Hugs, Vernita

From: Sherry Purvis — Dec 16, 2008

What a wonderful tribute to your sister and the love you shared.

From: Susan Avishai — Dec 16, 2008

You have translated your sadness into something tangible that communicates and connects you to others. It’s no wonder you could then paint from a better place. They are wonderful pieces even without the story but so much more with it. Thank you for letting us in.

From: Nina Allen Freeman — Dec 16, 2008

Your Tribute to your sister brought tears to my eyes and made me think of the loss of my neice. Molly was 18 when she died 5 years ago of Cystic Fibrosis. At times like that I am unable to paint and I am in awe of your paintings.

From: Diane — Dec 16, 2008

Beautiful paintings!!

From: Susan Connelly — Dec 16, 2008

Your paintings are a beautiful tribute to your sister. I am happy you found the perfect home for them.

 

 

Family dynamics
by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, Port Moody, BC, Canada

 

“Vancouver snow peaks”
acrylic painting by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki

Regarding your interest in siblings coming from dysfunctional families and turning in different directions of success, I think that the family influence is often trivialized. Families are considered “bad” if, let’s say the dad is a drunk or “good” if the parents stay together and didn’t fight. Actually, families are the most complex social environments, running 24/7 with subtleties and oddities. There are “good” parents that are angels to one child while sabotaging the other. The “bad” dad may be the most supportive of child’s talents. One child may turn out to look like everyone’s least favorite aunt and is difficult to love. I am simplifying because there might be countless reasons why siblings’ lives end up very different. My point is that the family is not the same for every child, and the parents are not always to blame — they do as they learned from their parents.

 

 

Rediscovering art through misfortune
by Sara L. Fisher

 

“Bougainvillea Blossoms”
watercolour painting by Sara L. Fisher

Due to a drunk driver auto accident, I became unable to work. I was now “disabled.” That word was too hard to contemplate, terrifying. I was an Interior Designer with a business to run, a Mom with a toddler, forever in the Rush mode. I did not know how to do disabled. Finding myself with a lot of time on my hands, I finally picked up whatever paintbrush and paper I had in the house and began to paint. I had been longing to paint for several years but never had the time to indulge myself; now I did. The loss of my marriage, career, and finally my house, acted as a catalyst. And so with a 20-year-old paintbrush from my college days and a piece of drafting Mylar I created my first Painting, Abstract Floral. It was exciting beyond words.

When painting, I can lose myself — I am transported, surrounded by the brilliant sunlight of South Florida, observing all the infinite majestic details of nature, the magic of the pigments, the glowing colors. Physical discomforts of the present melt away. There is a peace and joy unparalleled: It soothes and calms the spirit, mind and body similar to meditation, giving me the strength to deal with life’s daily challenges.

Ironically, misfortune brings with it some good: it forces us to re-evaluate our priorities. For me, I rediscovered art, my passion. I hope my paintings bring others the joie de vivre I feel when I am painting, and remind them of a simpler time in their life when the wonders of the world were huge, and their troubles small.

 



There is 1 comment for Rediscovering art through misfortune by Sara L. Fisher

From: Winston Seeney — Dec 13, 2008

I had a serious cancer operation a year ago, and followed it up a few months later with a near fatal chemotherapy reaction. I have to admit, that during my winter of darkness the muse was gone. Maybe its because I was too weak even sit upright to watercolour. As time passed and I returned to my art, my paintings were locked into perpetual darkness. But…there were moments, when I painted a couple of marvellously symbolic works which tell the story of my journey and I doubt if I will ever part with these reminders of my walk through the night.

 

 

World of Art Featured artist Rebecca Thompson, Arkansas, USA

 
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Claudio Diluca of Rome, Italy, who wrote, “Your letters are full of useful technical hints, psychological and cultural aspects. Many thanks. If I’m allowed, especially as a resident in Italy, I would like to remind that Ovid was one of the most important Latin poets!”

And also Carole Pigott who wrote, “I agree that agitation does stir up the creative juices, but when the solitude one needs to create drives the agitation to a point that it becomes obsessive, I listen to the tapes of Echart Tolle’s The Power of Now to calm it down to non-invasive thoughts to at least a manageable roar.”

And also Janet Morgan of Brooklyn, NY, USA, who wrote, “I worked as an Expressive Arts Therapist with adult cancer patients for 18 years, and always told them that you can paint in almost any mood or state of mind, except nausea — nausea stops a lot of things!”

And also Claudio Ghirardo of Mississauga, ON, Canada, who wrote, “One of the great things about anger is that it can be a source of great strength. It can literally ‘push’ you being your boundaries and if applied to art, it can force you to go being yourself to new horizons. Elvis Costello, said it best, ‘There is something wrong with you if you don’t get angry about something.’ ”

And also Helen Zapata of Phoenix, AZ, USA, who wrote, “This is also why I do my best housecleaning when I’m annoyed at my husband.”

And also Steve Koch who wrote, “I wonder if perhaps at another time you might wander into the arena of the worthwhileness of putting a watermark on work that is shown on the Web.”
 

 

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Channelling negative energy

 

 

 

From: Richard Mazzarino — Dec 11, 2008

Channeling emotions is at the center of all creativity. Anger is one of the most potent of emotions. Many frustrated attempts have given way to works I can say I’m proud to show. Love also produces fascinating works with much the same power as anger. If we can train ourselves to operate under these conditions, the results overtake what we do normally. Unfortunately anger shortens your lifespan. The flame that burns brightest burns fastest. But, for many, that is a price worth paying.

The problem with love as a catalyst; as pertains to one other person; is the source becomes mundane, routine and thus diminishes over time. It’s very difficult to maintain that at the level it needs to be to produce great works. Now the love of humanity is okay but it’s hard to get too worked up as in the single love to maintain momentum for very long.

As stated, artists need a healthy dose of self-delusion. I doubt many would keep producing art without it. We are faced with constant misunderstanding and rejection and still come back and work. This is why so many artists lose their edge when they become successful. Poverty contributes to anger while anger leads to frustration, frustration leads to creative bursts of energy that rule other emotions. If you can put this on canvas, the results would be amazing.

From: Paul b — Dec 11, 2008

Self-esteem makes the best artists, scientists, bank robbers and murderers. We all share the same bag of emotions and fall into the wonders of them.

But what is my negativity and anger doing for me other than extracting creativity. It might be re-mapping my brain to seek more of the same, to look for seek out more anger.

Anger begets anger.

From: Catherine Stock — Dec 12, 2008

I think I should have expressed myself better in my original letter. I meant that working through a high state of emotion, be it sorrow, anxiety, pain, stress as well as anger, can have surprisingly creative results, though anger does tend to sharpen one’s senses. Emotionally, I feel much calmer and happier having exorcised the negative energy, which is the real bonus. Better to neutralise anger than beget more.

From: Jeanne Long — Dec 12, 2008

You mention your study of self-esteem and art; I’ve been studying no-self and art. It seems that people often notice that creativity flows through them when they get all thought of self out of their brains. Often this happens without intention, and the artist states, I don’t know where this came from; something (someone) else seemed to paint it, or it seemed to paint itself. I think if we are studying inner workings, we almost universally have witnessed that happening at least once. It seems to happen more often to those who aren’t thinking about the rewards of their work, but are merely one with the process while it is going on. Along those lines, one may want to consider the possibility that there really is no “self” at all since no one creates their physical body, and each consciousness is so much the same as every other. Why not consider the possibility that we are all a function of the great creative process and that we don’t need to have self-esteem at all? We can instead have gratitude for the gifts that flow through us when we get ourselves out of the way, and enjoy the lives that have appeared, and are independent of individual volition.

From: Janet Sellers — Dec 12, 2008

In the last month, dad died, 3 of our beloved cats were poisoned and died, I may be about to possibly lose my house, and a year of outside job efforts have come to no avail… so in this extreme situation, today I will focus on my art and not the chaotic dispersion of the worry habit.

On the positive side, my health is the best in a decade, the sun is shining today, my kids are successful at school, and I have a lot to love in my life.

Onward, art, carpe diem!

From: Sheila Dunbar — Dec 12, 2008

I have been dealing with the sudden loss of my husband of 40 years earlier in May of this year.

For several months, I could NOT paint. He was my muse and constant companion. He and I had enjoyed trips to Maui and so I took a trip there this past month to see if it could help me deal with my loss. I took water colors with me. I found myself wanting to do watercolor sketches and I spent hours “putzing” with the paint. It began to become enjoyable. Compositions started forming in my mind: a process that has always been the beginning to some of my favorite paintings.

When I returned home, I began painting using my acrylics that had lain dormant for six months. It feels like a catharsis. I play the music that soothes me or excites me and I paint….paint…paint…it feels so therapeutic.

As I said, I don’t know if grief is a positive or a negative energy. I believe it is some of both. It can be healing and it can also be destructive. Whichever it may be, it feels wonderful to paint again.

From: Terese Amig — Dec 12, 2008

I don’t remember the specifics, but in the last three weeks, there was an article in I believe the science section of the New York Times stating the brain lights up in the same sections for love and hate.

From: Stella Reinwald — Dec 12, 2008

Several years ago, I began an abstract painting that I had every expectation of making “serene and lovely’— perhaps a near replication of a serendipitous and visually pleasing painting I had done previously. But the painting (almost aggressively) asserted a mood of its own and despite my conscious intentions, kept repeatedly turning in another direction entirely. It seemed to insist on being ugly! After struggling for several hours with it, I finally resigned myself to the situation and decided that if ugly was what it was to be, then let it be truly, fully, and apologetically ugly. After it was more or less complete, I stood back and viewed it as though for the first time and wondered, “What the #@*! is this anyway?” The answer came to me as quickly as the question was posed.

It was a depiction of the state of the union, painted on the day the State of the Union Address was to be delivered by President Bush in 2002. I had been gnashing my teeth for several days about what this dolt could possibly tell us that was the least bit hopeful or positive—or even simply insightful—and this was my subliminal answer. Political chaos. Environmental degradation. After some of the anger and frustration had been discharged, I was able to return to my more “intentional” mode of painting.

From: Rick Rotante — Dec 12, 2008

It’s wonderful to hear stories about opening up and letting what happens happen. This is the process we should all aspire to and relish when it happens. This is the true communication of artist with the world. Many pieces are too guarded and self-conscious. They are painted with purpose i.e. to impress, to sell.

I feel for Shiela, Janet and Stella in their hour of sorrow and believe this is when art can be a catharsis, therapeutic, healing and the most honest. When we let our guard down, for whatever reason and let the emotion flow is when we are communing with a higher power and the “painting paints itself”.

Working through isn’t easy. Being vulnerable isn’t easy but as Jeanne says this might be when we are the most self-less and allow a side of ourselves to emerge that we keep sheltered within, afraid of exposing our inner feelings. Inner feeling is what painting should be about.

From: Dorenda Crager Watson — Dec 12, 2008

I haven’t yet decided if I am an eternal optimist or just self-delusional. :)

From: Patsy Tyler, Antrim, Northern Ireland — Dec 13, 2008

One of the best gifts I have ever been given was from my dear friend Carol Cox, who invited me to this bi-weekly letter. It is always worth reading, and you manage it twice a week, Robert! Thank you. I find the comments about painting when angry, depressed, or happy very interesting. About five years ago I was in the depths of severe depression, not being able to see a way out of the cause (which has thankfully since been achieved). At the time I belonged to the South African Society of Artists, so was trying to paint regularly. I found that every time my depression was at its worst, if I went upstairs to what had been my son’s bedroom, and picked up my brush, within ten minutes I was soothed. That painting, one of my first, was chosen for exhibition, and did not sell, I am glad to say, because it means so much to me. Nowadays frustration stops me from painting: the only space I have is in a non-insulated portacabin, where my fingers freeze to agony within five minutes. Oh well, c’est la vie! Pray for my sanity until I discipline myself to solve this problem!

From: Russ Hogger — Dec 14, 2008

I paint a lot of acrylic paintings on paper for a very good reason especially when I’m in the experimental and let it all hang out mood. When things are not working out I can feel the tension rising so I merely tear up the painting and toss it. The feeling from this is a sense of renewal and all is right with the world again.

From: Jo VanderWoude, Jo.VanderWoude@usd.edu — Dec 15, 2008

I believe that if you work in anger rather than letting the artistic process lift you from that dark place, that anger is memorialized in the finished product. Does anger have power, you bet it does. If you want your art to reflect that anger than go for it. I believe the following story would have had a different outcome if Bob May had created out of anger and despair rather than the desire to give his daughter the gift of love, comfort and hope.

A guy named Bob May, depressed and brokenhearted, stared out his drafty apartment window into the chilling December night. His 4-year-old daughter, Barbara, sat on his lap quietly sobbing. Bobs wife, Evelyn, was dying of cancer. Little Barbara couldn’t understand why her mommy could never come home. Barbara looked up into her dads eyes and asked, “Why isn’t Mommy just like everybody else’s Mommy?” Bob’s jaw tightened and his eyes welled with tears. Her question brought waves of grief, but also of anger. It had been the story of Bob’s life. Life always had to be different for Bob. Being small when he was a kid, Bob was often bullied by other boys. He was too little at the time to compete in sports. He was often called names he’d rather not remember. From childhood, Bob was different and never seemed to fit in. Bob did complete college, married his loving wife and was grateful to get his job as a copywriter at Montgomery Ward during the Great Depression. Then he was blessed with his little girl. But it was all short-lived.

Evelyn’s bout with cancer stripped them of all their savings and now Bob and his daughter were forced to live in a two-room apartment in the Chicago slums. Evelyn died just days before Christmas in 1938. Bob struggled to give hope to his child, for whom he couldn’t even afford to buy a Christmas gift. But if he couldn’t buy a gift, he was determined a make one — a storybook! Bob had created an animal character in his own mind and told the animal’s story to little Barbara to give her comfort and hope. Again and again Bob told the story, embellishing it more with each telling. Who was the character? What was the story all about? The story Bob created was his own autobiography in fable form. The character he created was a misfit outcast like he was. The name of the character?

A little reindeer named Rudolph, with a big shiny nose. Bob finished the book just in time to give it to his little girl on Christmas Day. But the story doesn’t end there. The general manager of Montgomery Ward caught wind of the little storybook and offered Bob a nominal fee to purchase the rights to print the book. Wards went on to print, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and distribute it to children visiting Santa Claus in their stores. By 1946 Wards had printed and distributed more than six million copies of Rudolph. That same year, a major publisher wanted to purchase the rights from Wards to print an updated version of the book. In an unprecedented gesture of kindness, the CEO of Wards returned all rights back to Bob May. The book became a best seller. Many toy and marketing deals followed and Bob May, now remarried with a growing family, became wealthy from the story he created to comfort his grieving daughter. But the story doesn’t end there either. Bob’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, made a song adaptation to Rudolph. Though the song was turned down by such popular vocalists as Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore , it was recorded by the singing cowboy, Gene Autry.

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was released in 1949 and became a phenomenal success, selling more records than any other Christmas song, with the exception of “White Christmas.” The gift of love that Bob May created for his daughter so long ago kept on returning to bless him again and again. And Bob May learned the lesson, just like his dear friend Rudolph, that being different isn’t so bad. In fact, being different can be a blessing!

Jo VanderWoude

Sioux Falls, SD

From: Suzette Fram — Dec 16, 2008

Thank you, Jo, for this wonderful, uplifting story.

From: Martha Griffith — Dec 16, 2008

RE- Genns comment about –if your original does not sell– your prints etc.– of it– won’t either!!! I wonder if he realizes that a lot of people can’t afford the original– & are happy to buy a print–or whatever– of the original??????–or did I not get –the message!!!

From: sandra — May 10, 2010

Hi I haqve read your comments– I begin to paint and have no idea of the outcome–images appear out of nowhere– very happy person I am — just a question if anyone has had the same– thanks

 

 

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