When I Grow Up

by Gina Stogran on June 06, 2020
Little Gina proudly holding her fish she caught in front of her dad’s boat.
Pencil drawing of Thumper from Disney’s Bambi done by Gina as a child.
A pencil and crayon drawing done by me, Gina, as a child. The scene was from an etching on my great grandmothers thimble that she used for her appliqué quilting that I would work on with her.

Some of us are lucky. Some of us know what we are going to do with our lives at an early age. We know our calling as if there was never even a choice. For me, my path was always clear. I was going to be an artist. Not just any artist, but a Disney animator. That's right! Back then, I was all mermaids, singing teapots, and talking forest animals.

Growing up, I didn't use expensive art supplies and online tutorials (they weren't a thing yet). My art was Crayola colored pencils, black Sharpies, and good old yellow #2’s on scraps of

I doubtlessly followed my path until my sophomore year of college; everything was falling into place. I attended my first class of the Intro to Animation course and I was PUMPED! My professor entered the classroom, sat on the lab-style table, and introduced himself. He, a graduate student of animation, explained the course's goals and briefed us on the types of projects we would complete. I remember how his love for animation and his creative soul shined brightly as he spoke. Then, as if to stab me straight through the heart, he finished his introduction with, "If you want a career in computer animation, you'll need to move to New York or L.A."

What? No! Damn you reality, slapping me in the face and killing my childhood dream. That's not where I want to go! I want to draw cute things in the sunshine and whistle while I work!

I found myself asking the question I so happily avoided in high school. What do I want to be when I grow up? Only now, each moment of exploration comes with a hefty price tag. Tuition, room & board, meal plans, books, supplies, and the list goes on.

"What you SHOULD do is take some business classes." That was my dad's suggestion. Business classes? I couldn't think of anything worse!

Drawing done in high school of roger rabbit. Medium - colored pencil
College drawing class project - charcoal still life.

During my college search, my dad drove me to the city for an admissions interview at the Art Institute (turns out, we're not institute people), he then quietly supported my decision to go to a state college instead. He didn't protest my animation major (though he often used the phrase "starving artist"), and he worked hard to pay the bill. He was a man in a 2-daughter household, a man of few words. His only other college advice to me was, "Don't get pregnant." That one he was totally right about.

What I DID do was graduate with a degree in graphic design. Diploma in hand, I dove into the career pool. Unfortunately, that dive quickly turned into what some might call a belly flop. I’ve never been the graceful type, but that’s a story for another day.

Anyway, last Christmas I designed and installed a "Superhero City" in my nephew's bedroom in his new house. The project was crazy, as all of my projects are, and required some extra help to finish in time. Late Christmas Eve, my parents and I spent hours in their cold, damp, northern basement painting the tall buildings (that's right, 5-foot tall buildings made of foam and Bondo) bright red, yellow, and blue. "See, all that money for my art degree is finally paying off," I joked.

The next day, my husband and I finished the install. When we revealed his finished room, my nephew squealed with joy and his eyes lit up. My dad stood next to me taking it in and jabbed me with his elbow. "Hey, you should do this. It's really good. People will pay for this kind of thing."

Twenty-some years later, I find myself here again. What do I want to be when I grow up?

Perhaps I’ve been looking at this all wrong. Maybe growing up isn’t in the cards for me. Who cares? I’ve grown older, I’ve done things, I’ve gone places, I’ve learned, I’ve loved, I’ve lost, and through it all, I’ve realized what’s actually important in life. Are my experiences and creativity enough to create my own opportunities? Do I have the courage to put my whole self out there? I think so. Though I admit, this journey would be easier if I had at least learned to write a business plan. But don't tell my dad.

Me and my dad dancing on my wedding day
Me at Disney posing for pictures like a kid. Never grow up.

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