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Sarah: Portrait of Autism

This is an old digital freehand painting done back in (I think) 2002-2003. It is my daughter who has autism. The feeling of a difficult year ending (as well as a decade of many changes) I repost it here as a sort of renewal to myself for my own personal resolve as to who I am as an artist.

Perhaps for a better explanation (for those interested) here is yesterday's post on my personal blog, which really tells it all. The post was more aimed at younger artists who sometimes can be arrogant.. But writing it and reflecting while doing so is also somewhat healthy for me to remember the answer to the question of "why" when dealing with the hardships and tough walks through each day in my career.

Here it is:

12-30-09 "HUMILITY"
(blog can be found here: [link] )

Here I am almost 40, and looking back it sure has been a long bumpy road getting to where I am. But "where I am" is really not much different from where I started. Except one thing: huge doses of humility... And that is probably more than anyone can ask for.

On my youtube channel, sometimes I get some real doozies in the realm of negative comments. When it comes to haters, they are what they are. There's no rationalizing them. But I have noticed that apart from the blatant haters, there are other types of people who post negative comments that seem to be motivated in a different way than some of these haters. Sometimes, I will click on their username just to see their profile and try to get a sense of who this person is and what's bugging them.

Some of them are very publicly open to who they are in their identity. I find a lot of them that are college aged or in their twenties, often dabbling in (or their main interest is) art. a lot of times their comments are directed at my techniques in art, (especially the digital realism) in which they seek to discredit my work as "nothing special" or "cheating", etc.

The first thing that comes to mind, is for me to remember when I was in my twenties. There was no youtube back then, and similar internet forums weren't as large as they are now-- but it was pretty much the same mentality... Instead of the web, there were just the real public venues such as conventions, trade shows, etc. where large numbers of artists often attended and got acquainted with one another. The same competitive egos existed back then. And I was one of them.

Even I remember thinking thoughts of superiority in my mind when comparing myself to other artists. (But due to certain upbringing, I wasn't as blatantly out-loud about it as some of the others.)

I remember feeling quite "high on my horse" about my so called talent back then. I remember thinking how superior I was because I got a few breaks in publishing in the comics industry and because I thought I was a pretty good photo-real airbrush artist. But then strange things happen in life... You think you grow up when you turn 18 and have to register for the draft.. But often sometimes there is a second "growing up" period that comes along. And sometimes it isn't so pleasant. And it seems like the more proud and cocky you are, the more unpleasant it is.

For example, my growing up period took place as I exited my twenties. Already married, and having my second child (a daughter) the pivotal day of growing up happened the day after she was born. My younger brother Richard was shot and killed in the line of duty as a police officer. So ironic... I remember Sarah (my daughter) being recorded as the same birth weight and height as he was when he was born (and she actually came a couple weeks earlier than projected. Allowing my brother to be there to see her before he was taken). We kidded around with him and tried to get him to hold her, but he refused saying, "there's plenty of time for that". Next day- he was gone.

I remember the next two years being so dark. The sudden death of Richard brought on severe nightmares, with blood soaked images involving bad people and the murder of my family and primarily my children. Richard had a strong closeness with my son Brandon, who at that time was only 2, which seemed to trigger cross-over nightmares involving Brandon being horrifically murdered. When one of the news broadcasts of the shooting of my brother had another officer describing the amount of bleeding form my brother before he went limp, it triggered some awful horror images in my mind and fed these awful nightmares... They went on for a while causing extreme anxiety and depression mixed with fear and paranoia. For those couple of years, I would not let my family go anywhere without me... Not even a short trip to the store down the road.

Other areas of life seemed to be getting pretty rough. Work had started to disappear a while before that tragedy. But things got progressively worse as the computers took over art in commercial art industries. Financially, we were in shambles. It was a very panicky time as I watched my family struggle to be fed, and guilt and realization about my own abilities as an artist brought me to my knees. With computers ruling the industry, and me not having ANY talent/skill what so ever besides my airbrush and paint-brushes- what was I worth? How did I let this happen? I never went to school or college.. I was as naive as they come.

The only thing I could try and do was learn computers as fast I could. There was a decent amount of insurance money that was awarded to families of fallen officers, from which I was able to invest in a computer. I tried to learn it as fast as I could at that time, and finally got enough knowledge to get a job at a small local studio that specialized in digital imaging/retouching for ad agencies. However, there was still a lot OJT that was required, and since that was the case I was hired at only about a third of what people in that position made at that time.

Finances were slow to recover, as raises on the job only made it to about half of the standard industry rate before the next big life changer would cause me to change paths once again. My daughter, (at age 3 by that time) was diagnosed with autism. In a typical parental reaction, we of course panicked and scrambled to find out what (if anything) we could do. Unfortunately, insurance did not (DOES NOT) cover autism, and it's treatments. There were some therapies that were known to statistically improve a child's condition, but they were IMMENSELY expensive. And to add to that, it was said that the therapies were only effective if you did as much as possible before age five.

I was unable to get the raise I needed from work, and with our current debts there really was no choices available to us. With what little money we could squeeze for the most minimum amount of therapies, it was calculated that we were gonna go under financially... SOON. We had just bought a house, and were barely able to get it and were threatened to lose it already. (Small price to pay to try and bring your child's mind into this world). So- since we were already doomed no matter what financially, I quit my job.

In my mind, I figured that I was gonna go down slowly anyway- there was nothing to lose. But possibly MORE to gain if I took a gamble. Having now learned some computer knowledge and getting a feel for the commercial art industry, I calculated that there was a chance that I could MAYBE succeed as a freelancer once again. And if I did, there would be no groveling for a raise from anyone, but instead I would be in CONTROL. I could save our home and help our daughter's future.

Well... It wasn't that easy. I showed my portfolio for photoshop/digital work involving photo-real illustration as well as retouching that I had acquired during my 3 years at that job... But no one was biting. Too many competitors in town already offering that service... I was bringing nothing new to the table. (no one knew what the photo-real illustration was. They thought it was photographs, or just more of the retouching). Still, almost losing everything- things didn't start to turn around until about a year later. Even though I really didn't think my comic work in the nineties would be of any use, I included it in the portfolio in once last attempt. That was it. That did it. There was a huge need for storyboard and animatics artists since a few of the local art studios had closed down. The flood gates opened, and from there my other illustration abilities were finally noticed. I have been working steady, non-stop since.

Fast forward to today- We got as much therapy as possible for Sarah. She is now turning 11. She's a funny kid, lots of personality- and with what therapy were able to squeeze in- we can see it has helped. But she is still autistic. She tried to run away twice, both times being picked up at a busy intersection. (when I say "run away" I don't mean in the sense of trying to get away- more in a sense of "wandering off" without any sense of fear or "common sense" as we know it.)

..Because of that, our house is like Fort Knox. Windows bolted so that they won't open past 3 inches, alarm system, lots of safety locks and latches., etc. But it's normal for us. We are used to it. And the reality is that she will ALWAYS live with us. She can never be on her own. And with my God-given art talent, it is my responsibility to use it to create a future for her. Especially in case something happens to us. That's what I live for now, besides the normal providing for a family. My life as an artist is connected to making sure her future is safe, first and foremost. And we still have a long way to go... Especially now that the economy is so bad. But we are doing it. Steadily, and humbly.

Which brings my point full circle. Humility.... The chastening of life. That 20 something version of myself didn't know SQUAT. That puffed up ego that I had (and all other artists have at some given time) amounts to NOTHING compared to the fragility of life... And death. What's more, I see the work that I did back then when I thought I was "all that". It really wasn't all that good. Which makes me question my current work a lot more. Maybe it isn't as good as I might think it is.

But the biggest point in humility here is the respect for others above all else. The point to telling this story wasn't about "poor me". It wasn't to make you feel sorry for me. I'm fine. I am blessed. I told this story as an example to anyone else out there who is the equivalent to the 20 something version of me... All this that you see on my site-- my status as an artist-- it is all just worldly superficial crap. Everything could change tomorrow. It is what is behind that art- and WHY I do it that counts. I look back at my younger more arrogant self, and I realize that my perceptions of others and their work was SO WRONG. My perception of my SELF was wrong. No one knows what the other person is going through in their life- or is GONNA go through.

These young people that criticize my art technique, trying to equate it to nothing special---you have no idea how special it has become. Respect would be nice. But more than that, for your own sake- humility is a must. Had I realized my real status back then, I would have been able to see what I needed to do to prepare for my family's future. Certain things on that tough road would not have happened. Arrogance blinds us. We close the doors to better learning because we believe we are already there. When I was brought to my knees, it was almost too late- but once I opened my mind, I learned a whole new world of skill and talent in my ability as an artist- and continue to do so.

I try not to dwell too much on the fact that had I been more humble and allowed myself to learn at an earlier age, we could have bypassed the whole financial burden and could have very easily provided at least twice the therapy for Sarah, and sooner. But I guess everything happens for a reason, and with that I can at least share it with you and let it be an example to anyone whom it might help.
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© 2009 - 2021 chrisscalf
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I so resonate with your story. I am also the parent of an autistic child and it was a very difficult journey when he was little.

I'd love to talk more.  I'm a writer looking for an artist.  I like  your style and may have some long-term work to offer you.

Here's my website so you can see the style of art I'd like you to work in.

I hope I hear from you, Chris.  
AgnosticDragon's avatar
I have autism and a number of other health problems. I do not know what is typical. I did not seek a diagnosis until I was 30 years old because I thought there was nothing that could be done about it. You mention your daughter wandering off. I think people with autism are prone to get lost. I think it has something to do with sensory processing. I am sensitive to light and easily get headaches. I used to take acetaminophen every day but realized that that was not really addressing the problem. I hope your daughter finds her way.
chrisscalf's avatar
AgnosticDragon's avatar
DisAccountDead's avatar
in fact, it's just a girl. Tiny Neurodiversity Icon Adorable Girl Anime Emoji (Double kawaii wink) V6 
Topaz-Highway-888's avatar
this portrait of Sarah is a divine work of art in so many ways
it's beautiful
pink Rose in teardrop crystal vase dewless pink Rose in teardrop crystal vase dewless pink Rose in teardrop crystal vase dewless 
:) I 'm here  (da) to support my  one, non spectrum child... one, out of 4 :) I could list a small alphabet of whats all's common here  but thats just boring.  hugs! Your photograph is breathtaking, I am literally still crashing around figuring out the site. I look forward to checking out your work :) Creativity is good for the soul. Predominantly I'm more of a hobbiest.. i think... Well ahs ever givine me $ for art, written fiber or otherwise . Wishing yoo a fabulous evening & week to come! 
chrisscalf's avatar
Thanks so much. Good luck to you.
Centurion030's avatar
More than understand. My wife and I have two boys, 9 and 5, who have Autism. The youngest will start therapy soon like his big brother.
pikachulover16's avatar
#awesome not that she has ASD but that I another link in the chain of ASD that includes me
evryrosehasitsthorns's avatar
I'm very glad this could be added to my group, The-Spectra. It's evident that I have Asperger's, though that only came to my attention relatively recently, at 20 years old, and I'm realising how little I knew about it, despite being obsessive about anything neurological or psychiatric. I've learned a lot about myself, about why my life has been the way it has, and why I am the way I am. The whole world should know as much as they can about the spectrum, in my opinion. I'm sorry I couldn't read all that you wrote, but I read as much as I can, and I do love your message about humility, a quality that I hold very high in regard. Your daughter is very beautiful, and you sound like a wonderful mother. I wish you all the best.
WarriorCatSoulStone's avatar
she's gorgeous :) and nice technique :)
xevozzez's avatar
Very beautiful...I am twenty years old and I tend to find (a little bit: proud and cocky) of myself in your experience...That "cocky" thing only blinds us,it makes us feel champions when we are not,that is why there is a difference between "cocky" and "confident".
I can only wish you the best,your story marked itself in my mind,I hope that you and your family are good,I've been watching your drawings and YT channel for some years and the only thing I can say,from the bottom of my heart,is that I am proud for you :).
Best wishes,
Great post. Thanks for sharing.
JaqErant92's avatar
This is very good. I wasn't diagnosed until this last Autumn, even though I am now 20. Looking back on my childhood, it's hard to believe it didn't happen sooner. Yet, my family knew nothing of Autism in those days. I had my ears covered in lots of old pictures.

I believe everything does happen for a reason. What would be the point in living if everything was just chance? That mindset never made much sense to me.

I guess I should stop rambling now. :D

Great job on the picture.
Reint-van-Dijk's avatar
ClyMaxx's avatar
Hello Chris, I love the portrait. It has sort of a special look to it, capturing the kind of reality that one might mistake from a photograph or in person.

You are one of my favorite artists. I thought that before I read your story, but after knowing your stance on art and your pursuit I have come to respect you vastly more than being a faceless man who works furiously to make his art look real. I love your idea of humility and it opened my eyes. My pursuit in art won't be the same as yours, but it will be different knowing the wisdom you gave me.

Your work on Youtube is astounding and I hope I can achieve that level of finesse. I will always remember your analogy of realism to a musician practicing a masterpiece and I use it frequently to argue the same points you do. I am glad you found real success but it wouldn't be anything without the hardship. So keep going with your work, it's so much better now that I know what you work for.
GabrielHaley's avatar
Hello, Chris.

I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for sharing this story.
Four years ago, I stopped doing art. Just like that.
I wasn't happy with anything I was turning out, and my creative spark was, quite frankly, extinguished.
I then decided to focus on other things in my life, such as music, relationships, and writing, and after
some time, forgot entirely about art.
About a year ago, I happened upon your YouTube account and thought "This guy's art style looks familiar".
I picked up my copy of Star Wars: Legacy 42: Divided Loyalties [link], and realized, that you were the artist behind the cover.
This sparked my interest, and I plowed through every single one of your videos, with ravenous intensity, and
slowly, but surely, regained the long lost confidence in my own artistic abilities.
I don't know if it means anything to you, but I'm gonna say it anyway; I am where I am today, because of you,
and your YouTube videos, and I couldn't be happier. I have, after years of consideration, decided to pursue a career
as a freelance artist.

I cannot claim to understand what you go through with your daughter on daily basis, but I can kind of relate to her situation
because when I was little, I was shuttled between different (psycho)therapists. Things escalated, and escalated to the point, where I was eventually taken away from my parents at the age of twelve, by the child protective services, because my parents didn't know anymore how to deal with my various problems in school, and social life.
I spent the next three years institutionalized in a juvenile psychiatric ward, where I received intensive treatment for my severe depression, anxiety, and borderline personality disorder.
Well, it's been seven years since all that bullshit started, and I am happy to say, that things are better than ever.

Your story has touched me on a deep, and personal level, and I'm proud to call you one of my idols.
Sarah is a beautiful young girl, and I hope she will go on to lead a safe and prosperous life, despite her disorder.

Take care, and may the Force be with you.
chrisscalf's avatar
Thanks so much for you kind words. And thank you for sharing your story. :-)
GabrielHaley's avatar
MageMoon's avatar
My little brother has autism. He is the sweetest guy I will ever know. Nothing seems to upset him.

Well except for the occasional occurrence when a hero gets into trouble in any of his favorite shows.

His peers at school do not understand why he is the way he is, and it is very heart breaking when he comes home with letters stuffed in his backpack of how everyone hates him. Yet he stays blissfully unaware. I'm not sure what part of that was more painful.

He is a very smart lad, and he will always be dear to me. And while this drawing was not of my little brother, it still holds a special place in my heart.
adribas's avatar
could you please tell me the sofware you use to film the art process?? your artwork is beautiful
La-Pilla's avatar
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