Drugs, Art, and the Unexpected Benefits of Teaching

A life like mine is dedicated to teaching. I find that sharing what I do is the “ultimate calling,” and teaching is what truly fulfills me. Art isn’t just what I do, it’s who I am, and I try to share it freely. Whether it’s through drawing or painting, or through my writing, nothing I do makes any sense without my students and readers like you to share it with.

inspirational quote by Lee Hammond

I receive many requests to teach over the Internet or create a correspondence course via e-mail. That’s something I can honestly say I won’t do, for I want the “one-on-one” with my students. It’s the personal involvement with the student that makes my heart sing. I want to involve the student through hands-on instruction so they’ll never forget what they’ve learned. Any guidance I could give through an e-mail, I’ve already written down in my books. I would find the e-mail method of teaching very redundant and time-consuming; taking me away from the actual studio environment.

Teaching is very gratifying, for in sharing what you know with others, you give them something special that can’t be taken away. What we learn becomes a part of us forever. But do we really understand the full lesson we provide to people? Whether it’s art, music, or any other topic, most of the time the lessons go much deeper than you can ever possibly realize at the time.

Lee Hammond

Me with my granddaughter Cayla, sharing my love of art at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. At 8 years old, she already loves Monet.

Reconnecting With Former Art Students

I’m always thrilled when a student reconnects with me after an extended period of time. Back when I owned an art school in the 90s, I had the pleasure of teaching many children and teenagers on a weekly basis. Now, many years have passed, and those kids are all grown up. A few of them have returned to me as adults, to continue enjoying their art with me. They now have kids of their own, so the cycle continues.

Not too long ago, I received a phone call from a former student, one that I taught many years back when she was just in junior high. She was, for lack of a better term, a real troublemaker back then, and I’m sure her poor mother had enrolled her in my art classes as a last-ditch effort to give her some direction before sending her off to military school or worse. We got along fine, and the art classes, indeed, seemed to be a place where she felt happy and appreciated.

I lost track of her eventually, as well as many of my other students, after I had to close my school due to health reasons. I reopened as a small private studio and downsized, no longer teaching the youngsters. Many years have come and gone, and now the old art school is a distant memory, as well as are the names and faces of many who learned there.

But one night, her phone call came. She said she hoped I would even remember her, since I had taught so many. I have to admit, it took me a few moments to recall the name and face. She said she felt the need to tell me a story, and what she shared made my jaw drop. You see, this young girl didn’t correct her troubled ways after we split company. She unfortunately went on to become a drug addict. Her love of art dissolved as the need for drugs took over her life. Years of this personal abuse unfolded after my school closed, and she became a sad statistic.

Lee Hammond

A student, who I taught when they were young, brought her newborn baby boy into the studio to meet “Grama Lee.”

The Ripple Effect

But apparently there was something deep down inside of her that really wanted help. So, she got the therapy she needed by entering a drug rehab facility. In therapy, she was supposed to recount the happiest times of her life, and the most miserable times. For this girl, I was apparently part of both extremes, without even realizing it. She told me that her happiest times were her memories of the art classes with me every weekend for about three years. It was there that she made great friends, bonded with me, and found out what a good artist she really was. She had a lot of talent and loved to draw, and my studio had became her weekly safe place. When I got sick and closed my shop, the end of the art classes devastated her, and she went into a downward spiral.

I don’t know everything that happened during those difficult years, as she didn’t really tell me. But, what she described to me as her worst moment was amazing. Apparently one night, she was alone and about to inject a needle of drugs into her arm. She hated what she had become, and wanted to change. She asked herself what she really wanted; the answer was to return to her art. She remembered the classes, and was so ashamed of herself, she threw the needle down. Her memory was not just the art itself, and what I taught her about drawing. Her memory was of me, right after I had gotten sick and was continuing to teach. I was dragging an IV pole around with me in the studio as I worked with each student, for I needed antibiotics on a continual basis. I had a permanent line that had been inserted so that I could administer the drugs myself. Rather than staying at home, I just did it at work, because I still needed to make a living, and being around people was uplifting. She said that the image of me with a needle in my arm, one that I would have done anything not to have, made her so sad.

“Here you were”, she said, “Still trying so hard to do what you loved, and here I was, willingly putting a needle in my arm, and destroying my life!” It was then, at that moment, that she quit. “You saved my life without even knowing it,” she said, “I just thought you should know that.” Now, she teaches art to people less fortunate; those who’ve had the same battles that she fought. She uses art as therapy, and a way of reaching out to drug addicts and alcoholics, to show them a better way. She tells them about me, and how loving what you do is so important. She proves to them that it’s possible to have an awesome life, but it’s up to ourselves to do it. (Like this idea? Click here to share it on Twitter.)

You just never know what gifts you give someone in this life, without even being aware of it. I will never know the full impact of all of my years of teaching art. But this story, and a few others similar to this one, make it all worthwhile. A person visiting my studio once said that he felt something more than art going on in that studio. He believed that the artwork was just a “bonus gift” that people leave with after being there. I think he’s right. It’s not just about a group of friends doing art together. No, its the art of friendship that’s the most important part of all my lessons!

Until next time,

* This story, and others I may share here, are true. I withhold names and change certain details to protect the identity of the people being mentioned. I will never breach the confidentiality of anyones privacy and personal circumstances.

* Stories similar to this one will be included in a new inspirational book I’m writing, titled REACH!. This book will be released in 2016, and will be found with my other books at NorthLightShop.com.

Lee Hammond has been called the Queen of Drawing. That may not be fair these days, since in addition to providing the best drawing lessons, she has also created fantastic books and videos filled with the same easy to follow acrylic painting techniques, colored pencil techniques and more. Click here to see all of the instructional books and DVDs that Lee Hammond has to offer!

**Free download: Easy Acrylic Painting Techniques To Try Today!

You may also like these articles: