Sharks with legs, on the express train towards Cleveland.  Squirrels who could talk, waging epic battles against Dirty Dog and Nasty Cat.  Friendly spirits who’d leave plastic cups of pudding beneath our beds.  Gods and angels wrapped in clouds.  Picnic tables that could take flight as B-52 Bombers.  Monsters beneath our basement floorboards.  A lovestruck Civil War ghost, wandering, searching for his sweetheart.  And his leg.  Lastly, following each of the above scenarios, the Lone Ranger rearing in his saddle as Silver whinnied into the moonlight.

These are only a few snippets from the stories that were told to me and my siblings as we were growing up.  You see, I was lucky enough to be born into a family of artists and dreamers.  Of course, their day jobs were Historians, Teachers, Parents, Coaches, Aunts, Uncles, Brothers, Sister.  But as soon as a fresh ream of used computer paper was sprawled across our nicked kitchen table, my father would sit us down and start telling stories.  Heroes and unfathomable creatures tumbled out of his pencil as his hand whispered over the paper, our crayons barely able to keep up.  That is where I first fell in love with stories, and where my art education began. 

The youngest of four (that’s me up there with my big sister), I was born in Norfolk, Virginia to a New England father and a New Orleans mother.  My mother eventually lost the War Between Warmth and Cold, and my family moved to Cleveland, OH, when I was five.  That beautiful, tarnished city is where I grew up, where I consider Home to be, and most likely always will consider it Home.  

After earning a BFA in Painting from Miami University (OH) in 2000, I married my college sweetheart and moved to Chicago.  There, I pursued a freelance art career, alongside other typical young-aspiring-artist jobs such as waitressing, shop girling, and the like.  In between painting portraits of dogs, houses, and kids, I’d scratch out a few stories of my own, and create scenes and characters to go with them.  For while I enjoyed painting portraits, my heart was, and always has been, in the world of picture books.

In 2006, despite my life-long assumption that I’d eventually live on the East Coast, we moved deeper into the bowels of the Midwest.  A month after moving to St. Louis, I was pregnant with the first of four children, all born in just over six years.  Because I like to keep things interesting and have little regard for sleep, I also completed my MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Missouri-St. Louis in 2012.  

And now, here I am.  St. Louis is still my Home away from Home, and my days are spent trying not to lose one of my four children.  At night, after the dish washer is humming and the gym uniforms are in the dryer, I flick on my drawing table light and get to work.  The stories that have been rattling around in my brain and thumping in my heart, making my fingers itch to draw and paint, finally have release.  Old stories that have patiently waited, marinating, transforming over the years.  Fragments culled from the tales of my childhood, uncurling, stretching, other storytellers’ words and images that have morphed into my own.  New stories that pop unexpectedly into my head as I drive the car, as my daughter’s feet kick an amber blast of leaves every pass of the swing, as I rock the baby to sleep late at night.  It feels like breathing--sometimes labored, sometimes singing--as my hand, like my father’s once did, and his father’s before him, whispers across the paper.

© Eileen Ryan Ewen 2015